In the Spotlight

News & Features
Reporter's Notebook - November 4, 1999
By Martin Kaste

A CONFESSION OF SORTS: We're riding a bus. That is, we in the Minnesota media are on a hired bus that follows the Governor's bus around Tokyo. The state of Minnesota made these arrangements (although our companies reimbursed the state -- handsomely -- for the privilege). The fact of the matter is, we're all so lost in this teeming city of non-English speakers (and non-English-speaking street signs), that we're willing to suppress our usual anti-establishmentarian instincts and accept the transportation offered us by the person we're supposed to be covering.

The reason I bring this up is that it might help explain the civility of our relationship with the governor, so far. We're just as lost as he is. The playing field, as he likes to put it, has been leveled. That hasn't always been the case. When he was first elected, he was the outsider; we, the capitol press corps, were the insiders, ready with a polished sense of how the System works, and what pitfalls the state Capitol had hidden for this outsider. When he fell, we knew it almost ahead of time.

In Tokyo, we're just as lost as he was during those first few weeks in the Capitol, and, like him, we're doing our best not to show it. But he's on to us. This morning at a news conference at the Embassy, one of us admitted we didn't know the difference between a Prefecture and a Province. He admitted the same. We all laughed -- and he said something about sticking together. For a fleeting moment, we were.

Then he had to go and spoil the warm feelings. In his speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club, he exposed our insecurities in front of our reporter colleagues by saying about us, "We've really found a truce here in Japan. We needed to get to a neutral area to where it was foreign to them, probably where I had a little advantage, having been here four times before -- they're now leaning a little bit on me, because they're having to justify all the expense they spent to get here!"

Just for that, tomorrow I'm skipping state-organized trip to the fish market.