Front cover of the most recent KTO magazine
First published in 1977, KTO is the oldest English language information magazine in Japan. "With almost no English language media available back then, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for non-Japanese residents to obtain reliable information about the communities in which they lived," says Christopher Stevens, who joined the KTO editorial team some 11 years ago, and has been serving as editor-in-chief since 2003. "KTO's original mission was to commit itself to local non-Japanese communities by delivering necessary information to them." The magazine started life as a 4-page, newspaper-style publication featuring only the very minimum of information. However, the number of pages as well as the volume of information contained kept growing over time in response to reader requests such as "Where can I try XX in Japan?" or "Where can I find YY cooking ingredient?" After going through several updates and changes in both size and page volume, KTO is currently published as a 72-page, irregular-size A4 magazine.
Back numbers of KTO from 1983, 1988, and 1997 (from left to right)
Christopher Stevens, KTO Editor-in-Chief
A report on Nishinari by Christopher Stevens
In Steven’s opinion, Kansai outperforms Tokyo both in terms of the food culture and the people's friendly, passionate nature. "When I talk to people from Tokyo, they are often less expressive, and this makes it hard for me to appreciate what they are truly thinking," laughs Stevens. "In the United States, from which I originally came, there is a similar rivalry existing between people on the East Coast in places like New York, and people living on the West Coast in the State of California. It seems to be a universal phenomenon that people divide themselves into regional-based groups, this is something that really interests me."
During the past 30 some years since the KTO’s inception, the information tools available to foreign residents in Japan have evolved significantly. It is much easier today to obtain a variety of information in English, thanks to the development of the Internet. Other English information magazines and newspapers targeting non-Japanese have been established as well. Through this transition, according to Stevens, KTO has started adding more "unwanted" information to content rather than "wanted" information. "Many of our staff members, in some way, have unusual tastes and they are not so interested in mainstream themes. We would not select topics that other media are likely to cover. On the other hand, we also understand that it would do us no good if we only included topics of fringe interest in the magazine. The unique qualities of KTO are found in the balance struck between information that is sought-after by our readership, and more unusual stories that would not make the copy of other media."
On the corner of the front cover of every issue of KTO, there is a Japanese sentence that translates to; "Kansai Time Out is a bridge that connects foreign countries and Japan." According to Stevens, it is also the magazine's mission to feature more information that would inspire its Japanese readership. "Many Japanese, for example, have a stereotypical image that equates foreign residents of Japan to being English teachers. The reality, however, is quite different. Some non-Japanese residents of Japan are business owners, while others may be carpenters and so on. I think it is our job to discover and introduce such people and their lives to our Japanese readership. Although our main target is non-Japanese residents in Japan, a primary goal of KTO is to find the best way by which to introduce, in English, all the wonderful things that happen in Japan, especially here in the Kansai Region, to both other parts of the country and other areas of the world. Many tourist guides published outside Japan use their own in-house writers who would probably visit Japan for a short period of time and write articles that often include misunderstandings and misinformation regarding the country. By contrast, the great thing about KTO is that all of our writers are actual residents of Japan and therefore they are able to uncover and deliver some fascinating local stories that would never be noticed by overseas-based tourist guide writers."
It is the non-Japanese viewpoint from which KTO has continued to observe changes in Japan and Kansai. The magazine successfully captures Kansai as a treasure trove packed with refreshing surprises that Japanese themselves have rarely noticed. While it is often said that Kansai is losing its energy, KTO may help find clues for revitalization, clues that the Japanese themselves could never imagine. KTO is sold at major book stores in the Kansai Region and Kinokuniya chain stores around the world. It is also available from KTO's homepage. Whether you are Japanese or non-Japanese, KTO invites readers to experience an in-depth look at the Kansai lifestyle.