Our podcast The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, from See Through News, starts Series 6, Teetering – how a Hawaiian beach bum held my career in the balance, with a journey from salariman to Ass Prod
In Episode 1 – Japan in 1993, we view the world then from the perspective of a young Londoner with a strong but ill-defined ambition, and learn how he came to swap his lucrative career as a salariman to climb the TV news ladder as a lowly Ass Prod.
Written, narrated and produced by SternWriter
Audio production by Rupert Kirkham
Podcast sting by Samuel Wain
Series sound composition by Simon Elms
If you enjoyed this series, why not try these ones…
- Series 1: The Story of Ganbaatar – the only qualified deep-sea navigator in Mongolia
- Series 2: Betrayed – A Tale of Christmas Spiritual Pollution
- Series 3: Life on the Edge – Taiwan, China, America and the Moment I Realised Mrs. Wang Was Mostly Guessing What Her Husband Said
- Series 4: The Quiet Revolutionary – the heroic role played in a plot to assassinate the King by someone you’ve all heard of
- Series 5: A Classical Chinese Dirty Joke, Told Thrice
The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories is a See Through News production.
See Through News is a non-profit social media network with the Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.
For more visit seethroughnews.org
Episode 1 – Japan in 1993
1993 was a particularly interesting time to be in Japan.
For 125 million Japanese, it marked the beginning of the end of its Bubble Economy. Though no one knew that at the time.
For my employer, the future was bright. ABC News reigned as America’s top-ranked news network. In the news business, everyone knew that at the time.
For me, aged 28, it was a turning point in my life. No one knew that until now, because I’m about to tell you this story for the first time.
Now for us all – the 125 million Japanese, the international media, me – 1993 revealed new fault lines in Japan’s relationship with foreigners.
The story I’m about to tell you was a crossroads for me, but … well, I’ll leave you to decide if it bears any deeper significance.
I won’t be the one to claim it exposed the first cracks in Japan’s self-confidence, as its Bubble Economy burst.
You won’t hear me saying it’s a profound parable of national exceptionalism.
Even though you just did.
Like all stories, the story you’re about to hear means different things to different people.
What mattered to 125 million Japanese may not have mattered to American TV news. What mattered to American TV News, may not have been important to me.
And you may not even believe half of this story, even though it’s entirely true, largely.
Let’s get on with this pivotal moment in my life, and the role played in it by an affable Hawaiian beach bum called Chad.
For a start, I should explain what this 28-year-old Brit was doing in Japan in 1993.
It had been two years since I’d quit my high-flying executive job in London. I was into my second year as Associate Producer at the ABC News Tokyo Bureau.
I was starting to feel a bit less of a fraud. When asked what I did, I’d now reply ‘TV news’ without sounding apologetic or surprised.
It was a steep learning curve. When I got the job, my only qualifications were a degree in classical Chinese poetry and 4 years trading textiles at a Japanese company none of my friends had heard of.
My friends found the textile trading thing particularly amusing. I was, and remain, among the least fashion-conscious people they know.
Becoming a journalist was maybe less of a surprise, but a TV journalist? Well, that was a surprise.
I’ve always been a word person. At art galleries, I spend more time reading the blurbs than admiring the paintings. I’m more wordsmith than artist.
I fell into journalism as a stopgap. The story I’m about to tell you isn’t just about the moment I teetered between victory and defeat, vindication and humiliation.
It’s also about a personal moment of truth that took place at the heart of a knife-edge geopolitical crisis.
Two years before, in 1991, I moved to the most expensive city in the world without a job. I soon found myself in a tight spot.
As Emperor Hirohito described Japan’s wartime progress in December 1945, events had not necessarily developed in my favour.
A few months before, I announced my own unconditional surrender to the business world. My friends and family barely raised an eyebrow.
I told them I was quitting my sensible job to move to Tokyo to be an environmental consultant for major Japanese corporations.
They nodded and said good luck. Maybe, the moment I left the room, they rolled their eyes and shook their heads at each other. I couldn’t say for sure. I’d left the room.
But I understood their relaxed attitude. For four years, I’d tried and failed to explain my first post-university job to them.
I didn’t really think I was cut out to be a businessman. Neither did anyone who knew me. Even if I had been, explaining my job would have been a challenge.
My employer, the global trading company C. Itoh, bought and sold everything everywhere. But – no one had ever heard of them.
Nobody believed me when I insisted I worked for the world’s biggest company – bigger than General Motors, Exxon or any other pre-internet giant of the time. Nothing.
They were impressed by my frequent business trips, and familiarity with London’s Japanese restaurants and bars.
I amused them with tidbits of Japanese corporate culture. I told them I had become a salariman, the Japanese word for ‘businessman’. This only encouraged them to think of my job as no more than an eccentric diversion.
They were right, as it turned out. Had my friends and family known how much I was getting paid, and how rapidly I’d risen through the corporate ranks, they might have suggested giving it a couple more years. They might have subjected my quixotic plan to more scrutiny.
But they didn’t. So it was that I landed in Tokyo in 1991, with a suitcase containing my only suit, good formal office Japanese, and a head full of dreams.
In Japan, my former employer’s status was stratospheric. Personnel Departments of various top Japanese corporations quickly agreed to meet me.
But after a few weeks, and a dozen or so meetings ending in mutual embarrassed silence, I realised the job I’d made up for myself didn’t exist.
Plan A was a bust. My savings were evaporating at an alarming rate. If I wasn’t to slink home, tail between my legs, I needed a job quick.
A writer friend wangled me temporary membership of the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club, as an impressive place to have meetings.
One day, a hand-written note appeared on its notice board. The Tokyo Bureau of ABC News was looking for a ‘temporary researcher’.
I called their office manager in my best formal Japanese, and landed an interview with the Bureau Chief. I mentioned I had an Australian passport, via my Sydney-born mother, in case that might grease the wheels.
It was only as I knocked on their bureau door, and saw the logo, I clocked it was the American ABC News, not the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. That was one potential embarrassment dodged.
Well, I blagged my way into the temporary job. After a few weeks I was offered, and gratefully accepted, a full-time position as a local- hire Associate Producer.
I had no idea what an ‘Associate Producer’ did, but on the English side of my bilingual name card, I was amused to abbreviate it to Ass Prod.
That’s how I came to be in Tokyo in 1993, a year and a bit into an entry-level job in the completely new world of TV News, for which I had no training and barely any experience.
And that’s when a Hawaiian beach bum called Chad had me Teetering between victory and defeat.
In Episode 2, Seduced by Sumo, we start to get to grips with this story.