“Nishiogi Donburi:” Writing the Community, Connecting to the Community

A group of writers, photographers and editors come together in a publishing project that not only documents the local community but helps create community ties. Paper-based community journalism is not dead in Tokyo.

As newcomers to Nishiogiology, we were lucky to find a group of much more experienced local urbanists. One of these is Arita Natsuki, the editor of “Nishiogi Donburi” a one-sheet local free paper. A 28 year-old designer, Arita shared with us a stack of back numbers printed on bright monochrome heavy paper and illustrated with both photos and hand-drawn figures. Politely serving us tea, she described the philosophy and history of the paper. All of the 20 or so members of the editorial board, including Arita, are volunteers. Except for Arita herself, all the others live in the neighborhood. The ad revenue from local businesses can only cover printing costs. It is essentially a non-profit operation. 

On a day off from work the editors gather together over tea to discuss possible topics and plan the next issue. Aside from introducing local restaurants and shops, each issue focuses on a topic ranging from local wildlife to the town's underground rivers For example, Arita said, most recently they ran an issue covering the area’s live houses: “There is more of a reputation here for antiques, recycle shops, used book stores, etc, but surprisingly there is a lot of music. One of the editors is in a band. Another has a part-time job in a live house. So we decided on a special issue on live houses. After we decided on a coordinator, everyone did interviews, took photos, and used those photos to make illustrations.”

For the volunteers, the goal of producing a local paper is not just introducing the city to “Nishiogi newbies,” it is also about finding a way to connect to the community themselves. The summer 2014 issue ran a conversation between the first editor of the magazine, Kitao Toru, and the second editor Omiya Toyo. Kitao said that when he first moved to Nishiogi, he didn’t know anyone, and he wanted to find a way to fit into the local community. Since he had worked as a writer before, he decided to start a paper for people like himself who were new to the community, which could also be a way to meet people and fit in. He found a group of writers and illustrators to help out. His first interviews were with the owner of a building supply shop and a local billiard parlor.

According to Arita, distributing the magazine face-to-face to neighborhood shops is also a way of making and sustaining ties to the community. All of the roughly 6,000 copies are distributed in person to roughly 100 shops. When she visits, she always asks how they are doing and what they thought of the previous issue. Although there is an infrequently updated website, the editors don't want to go digital, she said. Paper and face-to-face delivery are a much better way of staying in touch with the local community. (Farrer, June 24, 2015, edited March 15, 2017)

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