The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


March 2014
The First 50 Years
The ACCJ Journal celebrates its golden anniversary
Custom Media

March 1964 was a memorable month in many ways. The first Mustang rolled off Ford Motor Company’s assembly line; “Jeopardy!” made its debut on NBC, with Art Fleming as its initial host; a jury in Dallas found Jack Ruby guilty of killing Lee Harvey Oswald; while Richard Burton married Elizabeth Taylor. For the first time.

It was also an important month for the US business community in Japan, with the publication of the first edition of the ACCJ Journal.

The magazine was always odds-on to outlast the Burton–Taylor union, but few could have predicted at the outset just how relevant and influential the publication would become, and how long-lived it would prove to be.

Over 50 years the Journal has grown into a critically important resource for foreign business executives here, our Japanese counterparts, and the broader international community.

“When I first arrived in Japan, 24 years ago, it was something of a relief to have a magazine with a business focus available in English because there were so few English-language publications back then,” said Mike Alfant, founder of software company Fusion Systems and president emeritus of the chamber after two spells as president.

“The Journal is the primary persistent means the chamber has of communicating with its members and the greater business community here,” said Alfant, who is originally from New York City. “And I say ‘persistent’ because it will sit on a table in someone’s office, which makes it accessible to many more people and gives it a shelf-life long beyond a web version of the magazine.

“It is a critical part of our outreach to a wider community,” he explained.

Alfant oversaw the chamber and the magazine during one of the most testing periods in Japan’s recent history and is proud of the members’ reactions to the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

“We responded very aggressively to the disaster, firstly by staying in business from the very first day of the earthquake,” he said.

The chamber swiftly raised around ¥75 million, which was distributed directly to schools, small businesses, and individuals in the disaster zone who were judged to be most in need. The organization served as a clearinghouse for information and brought in experts to brief members on areas of concern.

Inevitably, the Journal served to keep members updated on the latest developments in the situation and shared stories of all the good work that companies and individuals were putting in to assist in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster to strike this nation in living memory.

“I think the most memorable articles in the Journal were those surrounding the events of March 2011 and our members’ responses,” said Ernie Olsen, country executive for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

“The Journal is at the heart of the chamber’s communications and it is the one thing that every member will see, so it is an important part of our foundations,” he said.

That sentiment is echoed by David Wouters, who founded the InterSearch Japan management consultancy in 1976 and has been a part of the chamber since 1969—making him its longest-serving member.

“The Journal expresses the opinions and direction of American business in Japan, and it is important in providing us with effective guidance to maintain successful business and social relationships with out host country,” said Wouters, who is from New Jersey and has chaired four committees. Today he is vice chairman of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Task Force.

Pointing out that the publication has always been “informative and dealt with important relationships and trade issues” with Japan, Wouters added that it helps to give the chamber a “credible identity” at the same time as offering a positive reflection of the US way of life—“who we are and what we stand for.”

The publication is also a “source of pride” to the staff, according to Aron Kremer, who worked for the chamber for nearly 11 years and is now director of marketing and communications at the Tokyo American Club.

“The chamber is a wide community of businesspeople, involved in many industries, who use the chamber in different ways,” said Kremer. “The magazine is where all the activities and successes of those efforts come together for all to see.”

And while the interviewees of this story were happy at the improvements in the publication over the years, including in the brief span since the title was taken over by Custom Media K.K., they all have opinions on how it might be improved further in the months and years ahead.

Kremer, for example, suggests that it might be useful for a quarterly rundown on the issues that each committee is working on, while Olsen of RBS would like to see a version of the magazine created for the iPad, including an audio option for commuters.

“A section in Japanese makes a lot of sense, for the Japanese readers,” said Greg Story, president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan since 2010, a member of the Kansai chapter since 1997, and in Tokyo since 2001.

“If you want to influence locals, speak to them in their language.”

Elizabeth Handover, the Japan Partner for Lumina Learning, was one of the founding members of the ACCJ Women in Business (WIB) Committee and believes the magazine could take a more proactive stance in women’s issues in the chamber.

“I would like the see the magazine be more leading-edge in featuring women’s business-leadership growth in Japan, and see more photos of women in the magazine,” said Handover, who serves as co-chair of the WIB committee and writes a monthly column for the Journal related to women’s leadership.

“I also think it would be helpful to have articles featuring male business leaders who speak out on their role in actively supporting diversity within their companies, and who can give more evidence that shows the advantage to their company’s bottom line,” she added.

Ultimately, Handover believes, the potential that is within the Journal is for it to be as innovative as possible and to bring more thought leadership to the readers.

President Emeritus Mike Alfant said he particularly likes to see stories and photos about members taking part in chamber events as they “create an affinity” with readers. He added that he’s “old fashioned” and likes the feel of a magazine he can hold in his hands rather than accessing the information solely online.

“It is one of our most important branding tools,” he said. “It’s great to see it in airport lounges as we do want it to get out there beyond the immediate vicinity of the chamber—and I especially enjoy seeing a copy of the magazine that someone has brought to New York or Washington D.C.”