Editor Keeping Magazine a ‘Service’

Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

KOBE — David Jack knows he cannot please everybody with the product he puts out, and if the truth be known, in recent years he has stopped even trying.

“We can’t publish a magazine for people who want to live totally in the ‘ghetto world’ of their own culture, on the one hand,” says Jack, 56, executive editor of Kansai Time Out magazine.

“On the other hand, we cannot publish a magazine that will please the Japanese ‘culture vultures’ who like sitting on tatami, painting sumi-e. It’s a problem, isn’t it?”

Though it has become less of a problem over the years, one fact is beyond dispute: For 17 years, the Kobe-based Kansai Time Out has remained the primary source of information and networking for the region’s foreign community — all the while staying true to Jack’s ideal of the magazine as a “service” to readers of all nationalities throughout western Japan.

Jack places the current circulation of KTO at 12,000, most of which is over-the-counter sales. The cover of its October 1994 issue boasts a new look for the magazine, along with 96 pages of articles and advertising.

The only foreign-run monthly publication in western Japan takes its name from the popular British magazine Time Out. But the similarities end there: Jack has sought a style for KTO that differs from anything else on the Japanese market.

One aspect as of late that has distinguished KTO from its regional counterparts is its treatment of the recently opened Kansai International Airport. Outside of informational articles over the years on the airport’s development and services, KTO has gone out of its way to avoid the cheerleading approach seen elsewhere in the mass media.

“We anticipated overkill on the airport, were fed up with it,” Jack says frankly. “So, we decided not to put it on the cover (of KTO). I thought our readers may feel the same. We try to understand what the reader is feeling.”

It is a process that has taken some time. A native of London, Jack first arrived in Japan in September 1974. He moved to Kobe and took up professional teaching positions to get by.

He was involved with KTO from the beginning, when its first issue was published in newsletter form in February 1977. Its style followed along the same lines as another magazine called Kansai Action that had stopped publishing in 1975.

In late 1977, Jack took over the reins of the KTO editorship and was eventually joined in the publishing duties by his wife, Sachiko Matsunaga, who many today view as the backbone of the magazine.

The two also started their own publishing company, S.U. Press, to oversee KTO and other projects. With a touch of British humor, Jack attributed the company initials to a nonexistent “Sannomiya University” — named after Kobe’s main business district — or metaphorically speaking, the “school of hard knocks.”

A scan of those earlier issues shows just how hard it was: KTO was first printed in black and white, ran 20-odd pages cover to cover, and was entirely a volunteer effort.

By October 1979 when KTO changed to a magazine format, it was charging up to ¥100 per issue, a third of its current price. The magazine began full-color printing from its March 1981 issue.

KTO’s current issue sports a slight change in the magazine’s look, including thin banners running along the top and bottom of the front cover that denote the main stories inside. Not to mention a new logo as well.

The contents of articles in a typical issue of KTO may range in diversity from traditional houses in Nara to an Osaka radio station to Kyoto festivals to record stores in Kobe. But the one element that ties them all together is the common experience of residents who live in the Kansai area.

“In Tokyo, you’ll find some highly glossy magazines,” Jack says. “You’ll find an elitist spirit. I think if we try that in Kansai, it won’t work.”

Over the years, KTO has broken more than its share of barriers in the Japanese publishing world. One of the biggest hurdles to clear has been a tightly controlled distribution system; another has been trying to convince retailers large and small that an English-language publication is worth stocking.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve done some pioneering work because it’s not easy to get on that counter,” he said. “We couldn’t get into Kinokuniya (bookstore) for three years.”

In securing its own survival, however, KTO has also paved the way for competitors in the field. Today, regionally based magazines like Kansai Forum, Kyoto Journal and JAMM, among others, sit right next to KTO on the store shelves.

But Jack is not too worried about the other magazines cutting into KTO’s slice of the Kansai market. Unless, that is, the market becomes overcrowded.

“People don't realize there’s not room” for excessive competition, says Jack. “It’s like fierce animals in ecology: You can’t have too many tigers eat each other.”

But so far Jack is satisfied KTO is holding its own. The magazine has worked its way up to four paid employees on staff and as many computer terminals with which to work. Yet even now, as in the beginning, the bulk of the effort in putting out each issue of KTO is voluntary.

As are the nonprofit causes Jack is involved in outside of work: One is the Kansai Bangladesh Project, which helps support a 100-child orphanage in Bangladesh. Another is Field Work Japan, a branch of an international organization he works on from his home in Sasayama, eastern Hyogo Prefecture, to promote sustainable development in countries where it is needed.

Though Jack has been looking over the past few years to pass the reins of KTO into other qualified hands, for now he says has no intention to move on. Whatever happens, Jack is confident KTO will get by in the future the same way it always has: through word of mouth.

“As a magazine, given our climate here, word goes around. People know about Kansai Time Out in New Zealand before they get here — somehow,” he says. “So, we work on that…It’s not by chance that it happens.”