Chapter 27 – As a Correspondent, in Japan


1. Finding an Office
2. Nihon Keizai Shimbun
3. Scoop Fever
4. The Blind Wool-Market Manipulator

Arriving in Tokyo in the middle of an especially vile summer, I had to set about opening an office. 

It had to be a big one since I had to cover both news and advertising. Technically it was a bureau.

And since I had to cover all news, both domestic and foreign, technically I was a foreign correspondent, though I did not feel like one.

1. Finding an Office

Most Western media and correspondents in Japan in those days sought links and office space with major Japanese media.    

My first move was to visit the Asahi newspaper people. 

The Asahi with its national circulation and progressive slants seemed closely to match The Australian of those days.

It was the obvious choice for a tie-up relationship, and hopefully I would get an office there in the process. 

But the Asahi people showed little interest in The Australian, or News Ltd. 

A long connection with Peter Robinson had led them to hope for a tie up with the Fairfax group in Australia. 

Knocked back by Asahi, and quite rudely, I went to Nihon Keizai, which in those days was also fairly progressive. 

It had also hosted my father’s lecture tours to Japan in the early sixties. 

2.  Nihon Keizai Shimbun

Ohnoki, with whom I had got on well during his Sydney visit, took me directly to the Nikkei president, Enjoji Jiro. 

There the Ohnoki/parental connection was more than enough to guarantee my being quickly offered a large office on the sixth floor – the newsroom floor – of the main Nikkei Building in Otemachi.

In those days Nikkei was home for only a handful of foreign correspondents, and they had all been shunted off to the eighth floor. 

I don’t think the News Ltd. people ever realised the deal I had got them. 

(Eventually, I was to transfer to a small office in the UPI news-agency, partly to cut Tokyo costs and partly to be close to the UPI telex machines which I had to use to move copy to Sydney. 

(Later, the Fairfax people were to abandon Asahi in favor of the Nikkei eighth floor. By that time Nikkei was beginning to move to its current conservatism, making it a closer match for Fairfax.

(Then years later as Murdoch and News Ltd moved rightwing, The Australian would eventually embrace tie-ups and offices with the rightwing and nationalistic Yomiuri-Sankei groups.

(Newspaper musical chairs, played to an ideological tune.) 

3. Scoop Fever

Having got my prime office space, it was then up to me to get some prime Japan news. That was not easy. 

My first exclusive – a salt project in Western Australia – took a month to find and ended up as two paragraphs on the finance pages. 

But gradually the confidence grew. 

And as my newspaper reading ability improved, I discovered that I could beat my competition simply by getting Australia-relevant news items from the Nikkei galley proofs before the paper went to bed the night before. 

My Australian competition – in those days mainly the ABC, the Melbourne Herald and the redoubtable Max Suich representing Fairfax – all had to wait till the next morning to get the same news. 

Another trick was to get hold of the many small trade magazines writing about resource purchases and other dealings with Australia. 

That also gave me a few leads since the competition could not read Japanese and had to rely on assistants, who often missed the good stories. 

(Already I was being infected by the scoop bug.

(The flip side to all this excitement, however, was that in journalism you are only as good as your last scoop. 

4. The Blind Wool-Market Manipulator 

One of my better scoops came during a serious slump in Japanese purchases of Australian wool. 

Buried deep in the Nikkei’s commodity price pages was an article about an octogenarian Nagoya speculator, Nobuo Kondo. His splurging on wool futures had helped to create an earlier wool boom in Australia and Japan. 

But the time had come for his futures contracts to be unloaded.

Potential buyers knew this, and had backed away from the market, forcing prices down to basement levels. 

As a result Kondo faced enormous losses, and quite a few Australian farmers faced bankruptcy.


By any standard it was a great story. 

It combined human interest (Kondo also happened to be blind, and lived in a closely guarded palace) with news of great importance to the Australian economy, plus an insight to the very volatile state of Japanese markets. 

Fortunately the editors back in Australia recognised it as such, and ran it prominently. 

Australian TV channels even began flying people into Nagoya to locate and interview the reclusive Kondo. 

But the Financial Review, which hated to miss out on any story, let alone a major Japan business story, then ran a belated front-page piece from its own Tokyo correspondent trying to claim that Kondo and Japan’s wool futures market were not very relevant anyway. 

(In fact, Japan was buying 50 percent of Australian wool, much of it on a futures basis). 

Sour grapes, and of a rather dishonest nature.