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Japanese media in Hawai'i seeing major changes

By Matthew Marzi

The face of Hawai'i is one that is constantly changing. Different ethnic groups have come to the islands and left their mark, some staying and others fading away. The Japanese have been a particularly influential group in Hawai'i's history. Their media have also played a large part in the ethnic press found on the islands. From television to radio to newspapers, there is no non-English language that dominates Hawaiʻi the way Japanese does, but whether or not it can remain in that position has come into question recently.

The Japanese population grew exponentially near the turn of the 20th century with the influx of plantation workers. From 1886 to 1924 there were nearly 240,000 Japanese immigrants in Hawai'i, at one point reaching 40 percent of the state's population. But the Japanese population has been declining in Hawaiʻi for many decades, according to information from the United States Census Bureau. In 1990 there were 247,486 people of Japanese descent living in Hawaiʻi. By 2000, that number had shrunk to 201,764, and recent estimates released from 2006 report a total of 194,208.

Decline of the Hawai'i Hochi

Hawaii HeraldThe Hawaiʻi Hochi is prime example of the negative effect that the decline of Japanese speakers is having on Japanese-language media outlets. Founded in 1912, the eight-page paper published in Japanese has been the longest-running foreign language paper on the islands, serving originally as a voice for the plantation workers who emigrated here from Japan. At one time it was part of a political movement to empower and unify the plantation workers, allowing Japanese Americans to become one of the most powerful groups in Hawaiʻi.

But today the paper, published six days a week, is a shadow of its former self. Currently the staff is just 60 people and shrinking, cut nearly in half from its peak of 100. The Hochi's facilities, located in Kalihi, look as though they have not been updated for a few decades, and their printing presses are ancient when compared to those of The Honolulu Advertiser or Star-Bulletin.

Estimates put the Hawai'i Hochi's circulation at just 7,000, and that number is quickly dwindling as its main source of readership is dying off. Advertisers have taken note of the shrinking audience, and only a small number of companies still advertise regularly in the paper.

This decline in the Hochi's readership can be at least partly attributed to the aging of the Japanese American community. The 2000 census showed that nearly 13 percent of Japanese-Americans are older than 65 years of age. Many are second generation, or Nisei. In America, the groups are divided into Issei (first generation), Nisei (second generation), Sansei (third generation) and Yonsei (forth generation). This aging has caused the Japanese speaking and reading population to shrink in particular.

The Hochi's distribution is limited now to mail only in order to save money, but still is not turning a profit. The Hawaiʻi Hochi owns its own printing facilities, which has helped it stay afloat. The company publishes numerous high school newspapers, the Long's Drugs coupon books and the Hawai'i Catholic Herald's publication.

In an effort to draw in more readers, the Hawai'i Herald was created in 1980, written in all English. The bimonthly paper consists mostly of feature stories about local Japanese Americans, but it too has seen a decline from 10,000 in the 1990s to about 5,000 today. However the Herald has taken a step in a modern direction that the Hochi has not: going online. (www.blogged.com/blogs/the-hawaii-herald.html) If promoted correctly, the Herald's website, which features text, photo and video, may help the ailing company make a comeback.

However, the Hochi and Herald's owner, Japan-based Shizuoka Shimbun, remains supportive of the ailing papers. The media conglomerate is not pressuring the Hochi to become profitable, but at the same time it has no plans to invest much more money into the company. Shizuoka Shimbun has been absorbing the financial losses of the Hochi since it became unprofitable.

Another issue affecting the Japanese population in Hawaiʻi is the lack of immigration in recent years. Today Japanese-born citizens number less than 20,000, only 9.3 percent of Hawaiʻi's 210,162 foreign-born population, behind China and the Philippines. The lack of Japanese speakers can also be seen across the United States, as Japanese fell from the 11th most spoken language at home in 1990 to the 13th in 2000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However it remains the second most spoken foreign language in Hawaiʻi, with only 4,000 fewer speakers than Tagalog. But compared with other Asian languages, foreign-born Japanese know English much better, and perhaps prefer it, with only 36 percent saying they did not speak English very well.

Despite these statistics, Dennis Ogawa, president of the premium cable television station Nippon Golden Network, is confident that the number of native Japanese speakers will increase soon. "There's a group that is coming up, and it's not a dramatic rise but it's a rise and it will continue," said Ogawa. He is referring to the Shin-Issei, or "new immigrants," whose numbers are steadily increasing in Hawaiʻi and the mainland. Ogawa says that these are mostly women who are looking for a more independent lifestyle in America. The Shin-Issei are also part of Nippon Golden Network's core audience according to Ogawa, which has helped network's audience grow.

A 'Golden' television network

The Nippon Golden Network consists of a package that includes three premium cable channels; one has a similar format to HBO or Showtime, featuring subtitled Japanese movies. Another channel features a variety of shows from various networks from Japan, with about half of its content subtitled. The last channel is a direct broadcast of NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, without any subtitles. The network can be accessed in Hawaiʻi through Time-Warner for about $32 per month.

Ogawa is confident that the Nippon Golden Network, or NGN, will continue to remain strong, and is not facing demise like the Hawaiʻi Hochi, despite the fact that he too is seeing a decline in his audience. "This is the way it's going to happen; the Nisei are dying off ... so you're going to see a drop-off," said Ogawa. "But there's a new group. And that group has come of age in terms of trying to cultivate more sensitivity and more sense of cultural heritage, and that's the Sansei (or third generation)." Ogawa says he thinks that this group, along with the new immigrants from Japan, will help his corporation as they become more interested in Japanese: "That group is becoming older and older, and the older you get the more ethnic you become." NGN currently has 15,000 subscribers, and with Ogawa's estimate of 3.5 people per household, that puts viewership at 52,500. Those numbers seem quite impressive when taking into consideration the fact that the entire station is only run by five people, all of whom are Ogawa's relatives. This lean company structure has allowed NGN to stay healthy in an unfavorable market.

Robyn Furuya, vice president of radio station KZOO, also remains optimistic about Japanese language media in Hawaiʻi. Since its inception in 1963, KZOO, which is 1210AM in Honolulu, has maintained a steady audience. "It's a plus/minus thing, as the older generation passes away, then you have the new first generation," said Furuya. "I would say it's pretty stable."

Japanese radio bucks the trend

KZOO is a radio station that is almost completely in Japanese. Its programming schedule includes talk shows, multiple news hours and Japanese music at night. KZOO also broadcasts a few of the top talk shows from Japan, as well as original programming about local news and island life. the station's main goal is to accommodate the Japanese American community, people studying Japanese and the Japanese tourists by keeping them in touch with news from both sides of the Pacific.

Furuya contributes the continued success of the station to the community roots that KZOO is known for. "We serve the Japanese community in Hawaiʻi," said Furuya, "And we're very involved in that community. We have a statewide high school speech contest, and every year we have a karaoke contest." This involvement has allowed the station to develop a strong reputation on the islands that allows it not to have to do much promotion. "People know that we're here."

And while the Hawaiʻi Hochi is continuing its decline and the Nippon Go lden Network remains a small niche station, KZOO is able to remain competitive in the radio market. "Ratings-wise we're probably the third or forth AM station, and as far as response, I would put us up there with KSSK." She attributes this to the fact that the station can be accessed at no cost, as well as the ability to draw in younger and broader demographics than the Hawaiʻi Hochi. "We serve the Japanese community in Hawaiʻi as well as the tourists, and the new first generation," said Furuya. "You'll always have the high school students who study Japanese, and plus if you're maybe part Japanese you may be interested, and there's a lot of non-Japanese who want to live in Japan."

While the aging of the Japanese population is evident, Furuya, like Dennis Ogawa, has noticed the new group of Japanese immigrants, called the Shin-Issei, becoming more influential. Their effect is even evident inside KZOO's studio itself. "Most of our announcers, they've married American citizens, and they are Shin-Issei," Furuya said.

Both Ogawa and Furuya see a steady future for Japanese language media in Hawaiʻi. It's unknown how exactly these three corporations' futures will pan out, but Ogawa said he believes that Japanese-language media will always be a presence: "In Hawaiʻi there's always going to be a need, and it may shrink or it may grow, but it will always be there."


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