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Kyoto Journal, Ken Rogers (interview)

Kyoto Journal is a non-profit magazine focused on “society, beliefs, traditions and new developments through a lens of Asian experience.” The magazine has contributors share Asian insights in the form of special features and interviews as well as creative writing and reviews and more. The name Kyoto Journal is a physical location, as well as “a place of deep spiritual and cultural heritage, and has been the measure of such things here in Japan for more than a millennium…Essentially, Kyoto Journal is a community that transcends place, while respecting and celebrating regional and local identity.”

How did you get involved with Kyoto Journal? What made you want to become a part of the Kyoto Journalteam? How did the journal start?

I actually had the privilege of helping to found KJ, back in 1985. An active writers’ group of mostly expats had formed here in Kyoto, meeting at the photographer/editor John Einarsen’s house. We soon realized that in our diversity of interests, we had the basis of a magazine.

All of us had been living here in Japan long enough to have realized that most mainstream Western media presentations at that time lacked a nuanced appreciation of the cultural richness and depth that we saw around us. Reportage was generally Tokyo-centric, and either absurdly sensationalized or heavily exoticized. (This hasn’t changed all that much, by the way…) We wanted to create an independent alternative to this superficial coverage, to better reflect aspects of the Japan that we were learning about — avoiding the academic esoterica of publications at the other end of the scale, and the narrow confines of primarily “literary” content. We were interested in providing a channel for first-hand material, including critical but culturally-sensitive social commentary, without any over-generalizations about “the Japanese.” KJ remains exploratory; our intention is to bring together material that is of value in encouraging greater intercultural awareness and appreciation.

John had previously edited a local zine called Kaleidoscope; some us had contributed. We decided to create a foundation of some kind, though we had no business plan. Somehow we were incredibly fortunate in finding a willing sponsor, Shokei Harada of the Heian Bunka Center, the textbook wing of a Japan-wide calligraphy school. He supported KJ as a quarterly print publication for a total of 75 issues, from 1986 through 2010 – a wonderful publisher who let us take the magazine in any direction we wanted. I can’t imagine that happening these days.

We decided from the start that the magazine would be non-profit and all-volunteer; no payroll. That became a key aspect — and I am sure it allowed KJ to be much more productive and creative than it ever could have been if we had made it conform to a more business-oriented model. (That all-volunteer aspect extends to our contributors as well; they receive a one-year complimentary subscription, together with our deepest appreciation for sharing their writing or artwork).

Steve Suloway was KJ’s managing editor from 1986 through 1993. By the time he left Japan, I was ready to take on that role. I had already been writing, copyediting and proofreading for KJ since our first issue, and I had worked for a while in film editing in Australia (16mm B&W, news and current affairs, for the national ABC TV channel). Not surprisingly, cinematic considerations such as pacing and pausing, excising excess, jump cutting, maintaining focus and continuity etc also apply when editing text.

In fact, for more than 30 years in Japan now, in addition to my university international office job, I have been a professional proofreader/rewriter of almost every kind of material produced by Japanese translators. That’s like having a free 24/7 pass to a fully-equipped mental gym — or working in a kind of syntactic bodyshop, doing major realignments, makeovers, and a whole lot of buffing and polishing. It’s a great way of keeping in shape as an editor, or writer, and also gaining insights into what’s going on here behind the scenes.

What are some challenges you face, being the managing editor of Kyoto Journal?

There are two aspects here, the organizational side and working directly with contributors to help draw out the best in submissions. I don’t see my role as so much dealing with ‘challenges’ — this may sound like a cliché, but it’s much more about opportunities, as we get to bring things into existence that would not otherwise have taken shape. Our special bookzine issues reflect this. We have gone into depth on a very wide range of themes including Word, Sacred Mountains of Asia, Street, Media in Asia, Heartwork, Gender in Asia, the Silk Roads, Tea, Korea, Kyoto Lives, and even Biodiversity. We learn so much from doing these issues, in some cases working with guest editors.

Contributors provide us with f