I, Tokyo: Najib El-Khash

Peek into the lives of international Tokyoites with our I, Tokyo series

By Time Out Tokyo Editors |
i, tokyo
Originally published in Time Out Tokyo magazine issue 11 (June 2016)


A reporter and producer at Risala Media and founder of the Arab-Asian Network, Najib shares a bit of his life as an international journalist in Tokyo.

Did you come to Japan to be a reporter?
No, I studied filmmaking in London and I came to Japan on a scholarship for graduate students in cultural studies. I started writing some articles for Arabic newspapers in my spare time, then I started reporting for Arabic television stations. Because of my background in studying filmmaking, TV work was relatively easy to get into. Gradually my work took over my studies.

As a journalist who reports news all over the world, what are some of the things you take into account when reporting?
I try to achieve a balance between what viewers and readers want to hear and what I want to say. I also try to imagine what Japanese people featured in my reports would say if they understood Arabic and had the chance to see the resulting reports.

It is very easy to fall into stereotypes that Arabic audiences are already familiar with, and that make a report easier to consume, but I believe a reporter should emphasise information that contradicts commonly-held perceptions. The key is to do this in a way that does not alienate people.

What has been the most exciting project you have worked on so far?
Going to shoot the Nebuta Festival in Aomori city, which is world famous, and then going deeper into the prefecture and discovering the under-publicised but amazing Tachi Neputa festival in Goshogawara. It was as if Aomori was showering me with visually stunning gifts to shoot.

That ended with a nice soak at a fabulous outdoor hot spring called Furo-Fushi Onsen right on the sea shore, on the borders between Aomori and Akita prefectures. I also learned about the rivalry between the two geographical ‘wings’ of Aomori prefecture, which made me feel less bad about rivalry and regionalism in my own culture.

What has been your hardest project?
Covering Tohoku over the past five years since the 3.11 disaster. From the turbulent early days up until now with the search for alternative energy sources, it has been hard. It has also been the most fulfilling project for me as a journalist, as it hasn’t been easy to keep Arabic media interested in the subject.

When did you first feel like a Tokyoite?
When I had to travel and work in other Asian countries in the early 2000s, I realised how much I enjoy having Tokyo as my home.

Why do you think it is important to have the latest news in the palm of your hand?
Being in touch with what’s happening around us is indispensable in today’s world. It ranges from preserving our safety to finding interesting topics of conversation, but for me the most important benefit is to understand the current condition of the machine we live in – whether that is our community, country, or planet. Naturally we use our smartphones to manage large parts of our lives, from work to pleasure, so it should come naturally to get vital information from the same ‘beloved’ device.

What’s your favourite cultural aspect in Japan?
Japanese media and politicians are obsessed with the idea of foreigners being amazed with Japan. That can be heavy at times. But the Japanese individuals and institutions who do really amazing stuff are often really humble and unpretentious. Their modesty makes them and their work even more impressive.

I also love the genuine curiosity Japanese people have towards other cultures, and the fact that it’s a proactive curiosity. This has led to great and authentic food from all over the world being available in Tokyo. 

Any survival tips for city visitors?
I noticed that visitors love how polite and helpful Japanese people are, but it’s important to keep in mind the trouble an unusual request can cause. My advice is to remember that (1) Japanese people tend to be perfectionists, and (2) no one is perfect!