A Groundbreaking LA Japanese-English Newspaper Faces Struggle

Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese-English newspaper based in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, has served the community for over a century. Sadly, its time may be coming to a close. According to an article by the LA Times, since the newspaper peaked in the late 1980s, circulation has fallen to a dwindling 11,000 and the company is over $500,000 in debt with a $7,000 monthly deficit. While the death of a community paper may not appear all that newsworthy, Rafu Shimpo has played a significant role for the tight-knit Asian community of Little Tokyo.

For instance, in 1941, after the Japanese launched a series of devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor, Rafu Shimpo publicly declared its unswerving allegiance to the U.S.—a move that while admittedly patriotic, remains controversial. In its golden days, Rafu Shimpo served as a prime example of cultural integration at its best. While the newspaper’s publishers and writers did not hesitate to recognize in print their loyalty as citizens to the U.S., the paper also highlighted everyday issues which impacted the Japanese community. A ban that prohibited Japanese men from sending for their brides and owning land prompted an article titled “Why Do People Hate the Japanese?” which appeared in one of the first issues of the paper.

From the moment it was founded in 1903, Rafu Shimpo was unafraid to break boundaries in what ethnic journalism could and could not publish. It became, over the course of a few decades, a true pioneer that championed the rights and cultural independence of Little Tokyo. Members of the community recognize this, which is why close to 100 people attended a “Save the Rafu” town meeting to work with the editors on how to make the publication more appealing to a younger readership.

Even if the Rafu Shimpo is forced to close down, the paper will undoubtedly resurface a few years down the line, as it did in 1942. However, readers will be relieved to know that an online version of the newspaper is available with articles galore, in both English and Japanese.

Photo via giantrobot.com