Rafu Shimpo (newspaper)


Established in 1903, the Rafu Shimpo is the only surviving Japanese ethnic bilingual daily in California. Under the ownership of Toyosaku Komai (Henry T. Komai) and his descendants, it has been perhaps one of the most influential print media in Japanese America since its inception. Before the Pacific War, generally representing the views and interests of urban Issei merchants and big farmers, the Rafu Shimpo occupied a central place in the internal politics of the ethnic community. Intended for Nisei youth, its English section began in 1926. After the wartime incarceration, the Rafu Shimpo had the honor of being the first ethnic publication that resumed operations on the West Coast. Since 1946, it has exerted tremendous influence over public opinion among Japanese Americans all over the continental United States and beyond.

Origins[edit]

The birth of the Rafu Shimpo (L.A. Japanese Daily News) dates back to 1903. While Los Angeles still held a relatively small Japanese population until the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 catalyzed the coming of many Issei from Northern California, three local residents found a business niche for their own vernacular paper to cater to the need of their fellow L.A. Issei. This marked the beginning of the Rafu Shimpo, which had an initial circulation of 250. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 enabled the paper to increase its daily circulation to over 400, because local residents were starving for news on the crisis at home. As a large number of remigrants entered Southern California from the north and across the U.S.-Mexican border after 1906, the Rafu Shimpo also devised effective marketing schema such as a beauty contest of local shakufu (bar waitresses), a ploy that was enthusiastically received by bachelor male workers in its growing readership. Meanwhile, a new vernacular daily called the Rafu Mainichi Shimbun came into being in 1904, albeit with a smaller circulation.

In 1910, the Rafu Shimpo was engulfed in a bitter dispute that drove a wedge in the ethnic community. At that time, Los Angeles' agricultural industry saw an attempt by a coalition of Italian, Chinese and Japanese farmers to organize a new produce market on Ninth Street and San Pedro Avenue. They were discontent with prevailing discrimination at an Anglo-run produce market on Third Street and Central Avenue. While most Italian and Chinese farmers sided with the Ninth Street market movement, Los Angeles Japanese were split into two groups backed by the rivaling dailies: the Rafu Shimpo was in support of the Third Street market, while the Rafu Mainichi supported the Ninth Street Market. The latter, however, soon reversed its position to join the former in their opposition to the new market faction—a move that dissatisfied many of the Rafu Mainichi's editorial staff to the extent that they parted from it to form a new paper, the Rafu Asahi Shimbun. After three months of bitter struggle, which entailed mutual boycotts and editorial slanders, there was a truce between the two sides, and yet, the aftermaths of the Bankers' Panic sent the Rafu Shimpo into insolvency in 1910. A group of Issei businessmen, including Toyosaku Komai (Henry. T. Komai), subsequently acquired the Rafu Shimpo. In line with the existing rifts within the ethnic community, the Rafu Asahi remained a chief competitor until its liquidation in 1921. Established in 1916, the Hokubei Hochi was another major Japanese daily in Los Angeles until the Nichibei Shimbun of San Francisco took it over, renaming it the Rafu Nichibei in 1922.

A Mainstream Voice[edit]

The 1920s was marked by Komai's shrewd management that increased the circulation of the Rafu Shimpo to well over 8,000. The editorial staff encompassed renowned Issei writers like Shiro Fujioka, Shogo Muto, and Masao Doto. In 1926, Komai decided to print an English section in the Rafu Shimpo's Sunday edition, and Louise Suski, a 20-year-old UCLA student, was hired as the first English editor-in-chief. Under this young Nisei journalist, the Rafu Shimpo began a two-page daily feature in English along with cartoons for Nisei readers by the early 1930s. George Nakamoto and Togo Tanaka subsequently joined the English-language editorial staff. Along with editorials and reports concerning community politics and Nisei organizations, the English section also carried articles on ethnic sports leagues and pop culture in its attempt to cater to the specific needs of youngsters. The Rafu Shimpo also published a Yearbook and Who's Who of Japanese in California during the 1930s.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, the Rafu Shimpo was perhaps the most mainstream voice of the Southern California Japanese community—especially that of big farmers, downtown merchants and urban residents—that was mired in controversies and internal conflicts. The tense relations between the L.A. Japanese Association and the L.A. Japanese Chamber of Commerce, which merged in 1929 before breaking up again three years later, mirrored many fault lines between farmers and urban merchants, the haves and the have-nots, and Issei of different prefectural origins. The contestation that the Rafu Shimpo had with the Kashu Mainichi Shimbun took shape along these fault lines in the 1930s. Founded shortly after the demise of the Rafu Nichibei in 1931, the Kashu Manichi was a major threat to Komai's newspaper business until the Pacific War. Its charismatic publisher Sei Fujii was especially popular among small farmers outside Los Angeles, who tended to view the Rafu Shimpo as an ally to the Issei political establishment and big business interests in the city proper. Starting in 1935, the Beikoku Sangyo Nippo (Sangyo Nippo) occupied a third spot in the public discourse in Japanese America of Southern California. It specifically articulated the interests and visions of landed Issei farmers, who refused to negotiate with militant Mexican labor during a series of prolonged strikes—a position that often proved harmful to tenant farmers and working-class Issei.

Wartime and Aftermath[edit]

The Pacific War caused the suspension of the Rafu Shimpo. As the leading daily in the region, it was allowed to serve the needs of local residents until April 3, 1942, one week after its competitors folded. Its final editorial promised the readers, "Before long we will be your 'Rafu Shimpo' again," despite the uncertain future associated with the forced removal and incarceration. Komai hid the rotary press, Japanese printing type, and other equipment under his building floorboards with an intention that he would come back to Los Angeles to resume the newspaper operation. On January 1, 1946, the Rafu Shimpo managed to publish the first postwar issue before any other Pacific Coast Japanese press did thanks to Komai's foresight. Able to capture the initial business opportunity as more and more former camp inmates returned to the area, it established itself as the most influential Japanese ethnic publication in the continental United States in the postwar period. The Rafu Shimpo's circulation jumped from 500 in 1946 to over 20,000. Its postwar competition in Southern California included the Kashu Mainichi (1947–92) and the Shin Nichibei Shimbun (1947–67). With the death of Toyosaku Komai in 1950, the Rafu Shimpo's ownership was passed on to his son, Akira, and then to Michael Komai. While other Japanese American print media—including all its local competitors—have ceased operations, the Rafu Shimpo still publishes bilingually four times a week along with an online edition. Catering to not only native-born Japanese Americans but also Shin Issei and expatriates from Japan, the Rafu Shimpo enjoys the support of Japanese-speaking readership, which constitutes as high as 70% to 80% of the total. As of 2013, it is one of the only few surviving Japanese ethnic newspapers in the West Coast.

Authored by Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania

For More Information[edit]

Nakna Nikkeijin Shogyo Kaigisho, ed., Minami Kashu Nihonjin Nanajunenshi. Los Angeles: Nakna Nikkeijin Shogyo Kaigisho, 1960. 264-274.

Hayashi, Katie Kaori. A History of the Rafu Shimpo. Osaka: Union Press, 1997.

Rafu Shimpo website. http://rafu.com/news/.

"Rafu Shimpo: Voices of the Community in Print." KCET website. http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/little-tokyo/rafu-shimpo-voices-of-the-community-in-print.html.

Yokoi, Iris. "LITTLE TOKYO : Extra! Extra! Rafu Shimpo Is 90's" Los Angeles Times, September 13, 1993.