Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009
Japanese TV stars are notorious for their empty personalities, so when Yuko Fukushima pulls up to our office on a low-slung Kawasaki, she makes a winning first impression. It turns out that’s the least of it. In addition to her leading role on NHK World’s flagship news program, the 38-year-old anchor is an accomplished tap dancer who holds a law degree from Keio University.
Fukushima’s wide-ranging interests, she says, can be traced to an unlikely source: chocolate. “When I was 6 years old, my family moved from Tokyo to Seattle. I didn’t speak any English—seriously, the only word I knew was ‘bathroom.’ But it happened to be Valentine’s Day, and all my classmates had prepared candy for me, even though they hadn’t met me yet. Something like that would have never happened at my school in Japan.”
Fukushima’s lifelong appreciation of foreign cultures continues on Newsline, a current-affairs digest that she anchors weekdays from 4-7:30pm. Her 30-minute segments are broadcast live at the top of each hour, and include reports on business, culture and entertainment. The show airs around the clock, serving as the crown jewel of NHK World’s programming.
Fukushima says she values her work because it provides overseas viewers with an authentic view of Japan. “I’ve always thought that Japan was under-presented—in Europe or the United States, or anywhere,” she says. “Japanese people would know all about the people in the States or Europe, but when I go there, not too many people know about Japan. So when I graduated from university and was thinking what I wanted to do, I realized I wanted a job that would present Japan.”
She’s certainly well-qualified for the role. Thanks to her five-year stay in Seattle, Fukushima is fluent in English and familiar with foreign perspectives on her homeland. After returning to Tokyo as a teenager—
“It was a lot harder to come back than to leave,” she says—she enrolled at Keio and spent a year back in the States at prestigious Brown University. Her first job out of school was at banking giant UBS, where she worked in derivative sales. In 1998, NHK World hired her on as a radio announcer, and she switched over to TV the following year. With a model’s good looks and a polished, professional delivery, Fukushima enjoys her role as the foreign face of Japan.
Yet her experiences also show that bicultural people can feel like outsiders, and that insight into two societies can lead to alienation from both. “When you look at one culture and you’re familiar with another one, you know that it’s not the only thing, and you don’t feel satisfied,” she relates. In particular, Fukushima says she gets frustrated by the overly reserved quality of many Japanese, and by the untoward bluntness of many Americans. “It’s good that I know there’s something different out there, but knowing too much also makes you realize shortcomings.”
Nevertheless, Fukushima prepares for work by immersing herself in news from both Japan and abroad. On a typical day, she’ll wake up at 8am and read a couple of local papers, then hop online and watch foreign news shows. She arrives at the NHK’s Shibuya studios in the early afternoon and, as is typical of a TV program that airs live, the scene in the newsroom is bustling, leaving little time for rehearsals or meetings.
Although Newsline is broadcast live to 80 countries and regions, Fukushima has a knack for remaining cool in front of the camera. In fact, she gets more nervous at her tap dancing recitals, performing the hobby that she practices most weekends. “On TV, it’s more one-on-one—you can imagine people in their living room are watching you. But tap dancing, it’s a whole lot of people, and you can see them all.”
And how about that motorcycle? An avid reader, Fukushima became interested in biking after finishing the French novel La Motocyclette, by Andre Pieyre. She commutes on her gleaming Kawasaki Estrella RS 250 as often as she can, and enjoys occasional daytrips with biker buddies to onsen in Izu. “In the novel, there was a young woman who rode a Harley-Davidson,” she says. “It described how she felt the wind on her face. I used to ski in Seattle, and I thought, ‘If I could feel that going around town, it would be great.’”
Viewers in Japan can watch Newsline online at www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld.