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September 24, 2017

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Toshio Hiratsuka: Japan's 89-year-old newshound

ISHINOMAKI, Japan--Toshio Hiratsuka is the backbone of his local newspaper; the star reporter whose trusty notebook and pen have borne witness to nearly every significant event in his corner of Japan for 65 years.

Hiratsuka is the man without whom the paper would never be produced. In fact he is the only reporter at the Oshika Shimbun. And at the age of 89, he is also editor and publisher of the paper that has well over 1,000 subscribers.

All week he toils, cycling everywhere to find out what local folks are talking about on his quest to unearth all the news that's fit to print.

He reports on fish hauls at the port and on award-winning residents; he covers accidents and incidents — including the two foxes that appeared in a deserted park recently.

He pays regular visits to the local police box, noting down the details of the occasional crime — one of the worst of which in recent times involved a hit and run on a telephone pole.

He follows the goings on at the town office and reports on the activities of local politicians.

"From Monday to Thursday I'm tied up with the paper," Hiratsuka told AFP.

"I'm really happy on Thursday nights ... It's like that relief you felt in your school days once an exam was over," he says.

Miss Watanoha

Journalism began for Hiratsuka after World War II, when he returned to the town of Watanoha to take up an unpaid apprenticeship at a local newspaper.

In 1949, he and another man started the "Shukan Watanoha" (Weekly Watanoha), which told readers in its first edition that rickshaws and bicycles plying the dirt roads must be registered.

A year later the paper was transformed into the weekly Oshika Shimbun (Oshika Newspaper) when his business partner left.

"I was young and worked feverishly, the days flew by," he said.

Then-mayor of Watanoha, Keisuke Baba lauded the 1949 publication — which cost 30 yen (around eight U.S. cents at the time) a month — writing that it had "an important role as our hometown paper."

"I hope it will not imitate major papers (in Tokyo) unnecessarily but will fully develop its character and become a newspaper loved by local people."

And indeed it has — over the intervening 65 years, the Oshika Shimbun has written the history of Watanoha.

It reported the selection of the first Miss Watanoha on the stage of the town's only movie theater in 1950, as a still war-shattered Japan began to show signs of life.

It told, in 1959, how the settlement of Watanoha on the Oshika peninsula ceased to be a town in its own right and became a district of Ishinomaki city.

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