An Interview with Hiroshi Kanda
“When I started covering professional baseball I couldn’t imagine working in the U.S…Now I can cover the highest level of baseball in the world – that’s exciting.”
“I like living in New York, except for my rent. It’s terrible.”
“If you are not bilingual it is hard to cover the manager or opponent’s players.”
“Ichiro speaks English very well and Johjima too. When they talk to their teammates they don’t need translators. But when they talk to media they use it.”
Hiroshi Kanda: Interviewed on January 18, 2007
Position: baseball writer, Kyodo News
Born: 1966, Tokyo
Education: Osaka University, 1991, Art History
Career: Kyodo News 1992 –
Personal: married, two children
Favorite restaurant (Japan): Bungo, Osaka, “good sushi”
Favorite restaurant (U.S.): Pam Real Thai, NYC, 404 W. 49th St. “the best Thai in the city”
Favorite hotel: Sailport Resort, Tampa, “during spring training – beautiful view of the ocean”
From the Kyodo News website:
Kyodo is a nonprofit cooperative organization run on an annual budget, primarily made up of membership dues and revenues from nonmember subscribers.
Kyodo’s Japanese-language news service is distributed to almost all newspapers and radio-TV networks in Japan. The combined circulation of newspaper subscribers is about 50 million.
Kyodo has some 1,000 journalists and photographers. More than half of them are posted at the Tokyo head office, assigned to political, financial, business, city, sports, science and cultural news desks plus various government offices and business organizations. Others work at five regional offices and 48 local bureaus across the country.
For international newsgathering, some 70 full-time correspondents and 40 stringers are posted at 50 places outside Japan. News coverage focuses on the Asia-Pacific region, where some 50 staffers, including local employees, are posted at 19 places. The second largest concentration of correspondents is in North America, followed by Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.
Q. How big is your sports staff in the United States?
A. Two baseball writers and one editor in New York, one baseball writer in Los Angeles, one more in Seattle, and now one in Boston.
Q. Will you have a full-time reporter in Boston to cover Daisuke Matsuzaka?
A. Yes. He will live in Boston and will cover Daisuke Matsuzaka all season. Even if Matsuzaka pitches once in five days he will cover every game of the Boston Red Sox. On the days Matsuzaka does not pitch the stories will be shorter.
Q. How many Japanese players get this type of coverage?
A. Four players. Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima in Seattle, Hideki Matsui in New York. And now Matsuzaka.
Q. Why is Matsuzaka a big story in Japan?
A. We have no professional basketball or football. Baseball is the biggest professional league in Japan – it is our national pastime. Matsuzaka won the national championship of high school baseball – it is so big in Japan. Not so many people watch college baseball – most colleges with a good baseball program are in the Tokyo area. In other areas people follow high school baseball – each of the 47 prefectures has their own team. People are crazy about high school baseball and he won the national championship. He was a first round pick of the draft and won 16 games in his first year as a pro.
Q. Is Matsuzuka easy or difficult to cover?
A. Do you mean is he good for media?
Q. Yes, is he good for media?
A. Okay, but I have never covered him. I think he is good for media. Since he was 16 or 17 he has been covered by most Japanese sports media – he should get used to being covered.
Q. What about Ichiro?
A. I don’t say good, but that’s his style. Same thing in Japan – he didn’t change at all. Everyone knows that’s his style. He doesn’t say much every day. But when the season starts, or the season is over, or the first half is over, or he plays in the All-Star Game, he will talk. When he has a press conference he is very talkable.
Q. What about Matsui?
A. He talks every day. Because of his playing for the Tokyo Giants, which gets the biggest media coverage in Japan, like the Yankees – he has a long history and he can deal with it. He has to. He made his style in Tokyo.
Q. If Seattle plays the Yankees how much do you write?
A. One long story – two or three short stories.
Q. How would you describe your job?
A. When I started covering professional baseball I couldn’t imagine working in the U.S. Free agency started in 1993 in Japan – until then no player could come to the U.S. I couldn’t imagine a player like Matsui or Ichiro playing in this country. In the last five years everything has changed and now it seems like every star player is coming to the U.S.
Q. When did you come to the U.S.?
A. In 2003, with Matsui. I was covering the Tokyo Giants. I came on the same flight as Matsui. My wife and children came after me.
Q. Do you have a good job?
Q. What do you like about it?
A. I’ve been a baseball writer – I covered Japanese professional baseball more than 10 years. Now I can cover the highest level of baseball in the world – that’s exciting.
Q. Your thoughts on living in New York?
A. I like living in New York, except for my rent. It’s terrible.
My family likes it. My two children (ages 12 and 8) are in public school in Manhattan.
Q. What is the hardest part of your job?
A. I cover more than 150 games a year. The first year I covered more than 170 games including playoffs. Sometimes a flight is cancelled or delayed – anything can happen – but I have to get to the ballpark.
Q. Is it a physical grind?
A. A little bit – especially the second half of the season.
I get to the ballpark at about 3 – the clubhouse will open at 3:30 so you have to be there. I’m there until after midnight.
Q. Is your beat competitive?
A. I think so.
Q. Who are your main competitors – who do you worry about the most?
A. I don’t want to tell you.
Q. How many Japanese reporters will be in Boston?
A. I’m not sure. On Opening Day almost every Japanese sports media will be there. More than 50.
Q. And later in the season?
A. Maybe 20 including TV.
Q. Which American media do you rely on for information?
A. Associated Press. New York Times. New York Post. Daily News. I watch ESPN and read ESPN on the web.
Q. Is Japanese coverage different than American?
A. The story is not different. The way we cover baseball is different. In Japan they don’t open the clubhouse for media. You have to go to the ballpark earlier and wait for players in the parking lot or in front of the clubhouse.
Q. Are your stories about the game or personalities?
A. Mainly on the game, but sometimes personal. That’s because I write for a wire service.
Q. Japanese newspapers are more gossipy and personal?
Q. Is covering Major League Baseball a good assignment for a Japanese reporter?
A. Yes. I think so. If he likes to travel in the U.S.
Q. Are most Japanese reporters bilingual?
A. Some are not. If you are not bilingual it is hard to cover the manager or opponent’s players.
Q. Are the players’ translators helpful?
A. Ichiro speaks English very well and Johjima too. When they talk to their teammates they don’t need translators. But when they talk to media they use it.
A. They don’t want to make mistakes.
Q. Do you miss Japan?
A. Not really. I know I’ll be back to Japan. This is my fifth year – it will be the last season. They told me. It’s not in my hands.
Q. Will you be sad to leave?
A. It’s okay.
(SMG thanks Hiroshi Kanda for his cooperation)