Twenty six years and running is impressive. What has kept KJ going? What sets it apart?
JE: Volunteerism! KJ would not exist without all the people who have supported us as contributors and staff over all these years. Our biggest and most important distinguishing feature is that no one, including the core editors, gets paid. Despite that, or perhaps in some ways because of that, we have attracted a very dedicated network of very generous and talented writers, artists, photographers, contributing editors and interns locally, within Asia, and beyond.
People share what they feel strongly about, not just what they can get paid for, and we do our very best to give their work first-class editing and design treatment, and to place it in appropriate context. We find many established writers enjoy the opportunity to work with us, and at the same time, we make a point of mentoring new, often previously unpublished writers to help them develop their talents. Artists’ and photographers’ work is also a vital element, and we are delighted to provide exposure.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
KR: KJ doesn’t follow mainstream media trends or “breaking” stories, or commission articles on specific topics – we more simply aim to reflect the diverse interests and concerns of our contributors. Interviews and profiles are an important part of KJ, also translations, local “encounters,” and poetry, fiction and reviews, though we don’t think of KJ as specifically a literary publication.
We seek to explore; we don’t have an agenda, though we may favor material with a constructive viewpoint over negative criticism. We have also been exceptionally lucky in having the freedom to cover a wide variety of themes (often in special double-issue “bookzines”) without having to chase advertising or being confined to a certain predictable niche. That also made it possible for us to concentrate on developing our content and design. Our diversity had one drawback – bookstores never knew where to place KJ on their magazine racks.
John, on June 28 of this year, you were honored by Japan’s Cultural Affairs Agency for the magazine’s significant contribution to dissemination of Japanese culture. Can you tell us a little about the award and the feeling you had when you learned that you would be receiving it?
JE: It’s their Commissioner’s Award, made every four years. This time it went to 12 people in total, including myself, and two of our contributors, artist Sarah Brayer and photographer Everett Brown. At first, I thought that there were other groups and individuals in Japan much more deserving of such an honor than KJ, and then I thought about all of the day-to-day work we have done and all of the creative contributions we have received over the years, and I thought, “Yes! It is nice to be recognized!” This honor is really shared with everyone who has been part of this somewhat unorthodox enterprise during the past 26 years.
KR: This award came at a very good time for us, just as we are getting back on track now with our regular publishing schedule — we just released our 77th issue, which runs over 200 pages. It’s a big confidence boost to know that KJ is valued for what it is and does. We were likewise hugely encouraged in the past by being shortlisted for nine years consecutively in the Utne Reader’s Alternative Press Awards, in categories including Local/Regional Coverage, Writing Excellence, Design, General Excellence, Cultural/Social Coverage, and Best Essays — and winning that award in 1998 for Art and Design Excellence.