To the ones who showed courage :
If you walked around Tokyo’s Ginza, it is dazzling at every corner. The Tsutaya store is lit in pale yellow lights and katanas (Japanese sword) are being sold for millions of yen. Pierre Marcolini hides in an alley but queues don’t seem to end. There are shops where five generations of the family have gained expertise in making the finest sweets and a huge clock tower reminding of the old and the new. Yet, 50 years back, this was turned into a fortress which the world witnessed on television.
The streets of Ginza boiled in blood and revolt. Dissent was out on the streets and no shield and no barricade could stop the students from wielding their iron rods on the police. Symbols of the protectorate of power, the police, lay injured. Red flags were raised and visors and smoke became inseparable garments. Student newspapers’ harsh criticism was far more pointed at times than the questions raised by the mainstream newspapers. Such was the opposition against the US-Japan Security Treaty and the questionable land acquisition by the government for Narita airport, then Japanese PM Nobusuke Kishi had to resign while US President Eisenhower cancelled his visit to Japan. The diet was dissolved and power faced a blow.
50 years have passed and Kishi’s grandson, Shinzo Abe, occupies the PM office. The student revolution led by Zengakuren, died down. Student newspapers which once questioned the authority, started writing about new plants growing in the campus. The idea of internationalisation was minimised to meeting foreigners over a drink and studying abroad. The public apathy was aching and being a foreigner, just to witness it in front of my eyes, was appalling.
50 years since the revolution, I found myself discovering Japan as an international student. I was writing since I was an elementary school student and over the years, the media fascinated me. I would be lying if I say that I did not tear-up when I saw Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’. The sheer power of media to make truth accessible to all was my infinity stone. So, it was natural to me within the first few months to search for such voices on the campus. Alas! The university and the other former imperial universities, had no trace of an English newspaper. It could definitely be argued if an English language newspaper is really a necessity but in the process of internationalisation, I saw it as a huge potential to bring the Japanese academia to the level of a layman’s understanding. Something which was far more accessible.
2 years since then, the establishment of ‘The Sentinel’ took its own tides and turns. On one hand, we were able to reach more than 100 global cities and about 7,800 readers while on the other hand, we had no funding and the website got hacked on the New Year’s Eve of 2017. The stories we did for ‘The Sentinel’ were far from the accepted norm. The team took no step backward and asked sharp questions to the administration. ‘The Sentinel’ did not shy away from the massacre of 3,000 jobs at Tohoku University even when the administration expressed displeasure in publishing the story. It tracked down stories ranging from North Korean workers in Poland to the student who escaped from the university after nearing his arrest on charges of drug possession or usage.
‘The Sentinel’ did not stop asking questions.
Such is the freedom that is practiced, it was made clear to the team that the newspaper should not shy from publishing its own criticism. It should not hide from making its own finances public with balance sheets kept ready. The only thing that the newspaper has to protect is its own principles and integrity.
Over the last 2 years, ‘The Sentinel’ spearheaded the establishment of NESMAJ : National English Student Media Association of Japan. Keio University and University of Tokyo joined in as founding members and thought at an infant stage, NESMAJ was established with an aim to generate conversations between various student media groups in the country.
What began as a small team of three members and especially through discussions with Rohan Raj (Who went on to become the Managing Editor) in the corridors of the student dormitory, expanded to a team of 10 and also undertook volunteer activities such as imparting soft skills to high students at a local school in Sendai. The newspaper brought together talent from Venezuela, Germany, Thailand, China, Phillipines, Japan, Indonesia and India and tried its best to make a shift in the Japanese society. The Sentinel cannot be thankful enough to Prof. Yumiko Watanabe at Global Learning Centre for supporting it from the beginning to now.
Yet, there have been failures and as a leader, the responsibility shall be entirely mine. At times I expected too much and my communication broke down. I cannot offer anything more than a sincere apology to the team and the readers. To hold on to this newspaper would be utterly selfish and robbing opportunities from the younger members. Considering these, I decided to resign from the newspaper and pass the baton to Shenelle Lim and Arun Balaji as joint editors of ‘The Sentinel’. This, I hope, shall help in furthering the progress of the newspaper.
In a society where questions are often seen as a disruption rather than catalysts for change, ‘The Sentinel’ is an experiment worth trying. It shall encounter many more challenges but whenever the history of student English media shall be written in Japan, ‘The Sentinel’ cannot be ignored.
To the power of truth, dispelling all fear,
To the voice of the youth, In a little world here.
With this, signing off,
November 9, 2018