Despite starting with merely 12 pages, a circulation of 5,000 copies in print and distributed exclusively in Tokyo and a few major cities in Japan, Jeepney Press demonstrated itself to be unique among the other Filipino newspapers and magazines circulated in Japan. There was no news about politics, no gossips about your favorite celebrities, and the pages were limited to put more weight on content and substance rather than commercial advertising. That was the concept of Jeepney Press.
Published once in two months, Jeepney Press is a non-profit and non-commercial publication run by a staff of volunteers working towards making a unified, diverse and responsible Filipino society in Japan by promoting community involvement in issues concerning Filipinos in Japan. Jeepney Press encourages constructive, positive, educational and inspirational dialogues among Filipinos. It ventures to share knowledge and resources, strengthen existing relations and forge new ones with various Filipino communities all around Japan. Jeepney Press helps organize community-based cultural programs and collaborative projects like UTAWIT, a nationwide singing competition among Filipinos and Japanese, as one of its acclaimed projects that lasts for a whole year.
Now, ten winters later and more than sixty issues published, Jeepney Press takes pleasure in boasting 28 pages of art, design and literature, a circulation of 30,000 copies in print and distributed in various locations all around Japan from the warm tropical islands of Okinawa to the snowy cold alps of Hokkaido.
With Irene Kaneko as publisher and Dennis Sun as editor-in chief and creative art director, they started off the first issue of Jeepney Press with some of their Filipino friends living around Japan who shared their vision of helping the Filipino community.
Dennis Sun, a Global Pinoy Awardee by the SM Foundation, is the founder of Jeepney Press. For more than two decades, Dennis has been involved in the publishing, advertising, design and art industry in Japan. Because of his rich knowledge, connections, network and expertise in these industries, Dennis decided to create Jeepney Press for the Filipinos in Japan.
Jeepney Press interviews Dennis Sun.
First and foremost, why did you name it Jeepney Press?
I did not want to use the word Philippines or Filipino. I was looking for a visual word symbol that would represent the Philippines instead. At first, the word ADOBO came to mind but the publication could be mistaken for a culinary paper. I finally ended with “jeepney” because we are a country famous for our jeepneys as Thailand is for its tuk-tuks. And jeepneys are colorful and they symbolize movement. So that’s half the title already. I wanted to have 12 letters (my lucky number) and jeepney has only 7 letters. I had to find another word with 5 letters. That’s how I picked up the word PRESS. I love that word because together with Jeepney, they form JP as initials, which could refer to the first letters of Japan and the Philippines, JP!
Why did you use a tabloid newspaper format and not a magazine?
Actually, my first choice is to create a magazine because I could be more creative with a magazine. I can have endless number of pages. I can create unique and interesting layouts. In the newspaper format, I am limited with the total number of pages. The pages are not glossy. Actually, the main obstacle is the cost of printing. Magazines are expensive to print. And printing preparation takes a week longer compared to the newspaper. Thus, Jeepney Press had to be born in a newspaper format.
Tell us about your staff of writers and the type of articles you write about.
During the few years before Jeepney Press was born, I had been actively going around supporting Filipino events and monitoring the situation of Filipinos in Japan. During these travels, I was fortunate and very glad to meet so many successful, educated, and established Filipinos in Japan. I asked them about my vision of creating a paper that would help upgrade the standard and image of Filipinos in Japan and they all gave their share of contributing articles.
Filipinos had a very bad image in Japan, most especially during that time. We were looked down as a people. I had to show our countrymen that we can be successful and make our dreams come true in Japan despite this low image of ours. We had to write about these successful Filipinos so the other Pinoys can have models to follow. This is basically why there are no showbiz celebrities featured in Jeepney Press. Why? Because our celebrities are these successful Filipinos in Japan. This is what Jeepney Press is for. It is about us.
And while the other publications then were written by Filipinos in the
Philippines who don’t know what was happening to Filipinos in Japan, Jeepney Press paved the way of having a pool of Filipino writers based in Japan.
How has Jeepney Press grown for the past 10 years?
From 12 pages at the start, Jeepney Press has more than doubled that number to 28 pages. From less than a dozen of people in the work force, we now have more than two dozens. From 5,000 copies, we now have 30,000 copies in distribution. Some writers have continued to write from the very beginning. Some have continued to send irregularly. Some have to go back to the Philippines. But new writers have joined forces with us. We also have a website and a blog online where articles even from the past can be read.
Is Jeepney Press involved with publication only?
Actually, Jeepney Press along with a few Filipino groups in Tokyo started the nationwide singing competition, UTAWIT. Now, Jeepney Press is spearheading Utawit, with Jeepney Press’ publisher, Irene Kaneko, as its chairperson for several years. Utawit was originally created to help promote Filipino talents and Filipino music in Japan. It also helps unite and empower different Filipino organizations all around Japan. I think it is the only festival that binds various Filipino groups across this country.
What are the difficulties you have encountered with Jeepney Press over the years?
On the part of the staff, it’s the waiting for the submission of articles that keeps me from moving on. I need to remind them many times about the deadline. You can’t start editing and proofreading and doing illustrations and creating the page layout if they haven’t given the articles yet.
Personally, on my part, once it’s Jeepney Press season, I have either to give up what other projects I have or I need to do my other projects at the same time as I do Jeepney Press. I cannot depend on other people to do the creative design because I have been doing it all by myself all these years. Even when I was sick with high fever, I had to work on Jeepney Press because there is a deadline to beat. Twice, I was hospitalized and we had to work inside the hospital. The hospital room was practically my office. Then, my dad passed away and I had to take a week leave but had to be back in Japan to get back with Jeepney Press immediately. You see, there is no stopping. It continues.
Also, I felt that I have sacrificed my other love, painting, because I need to give more time for Jeepney Press and my other design work. Once I find extra time to paint, I end up not painting because I just want to spend time to rest and go on a vacation somewhere. Once I get the energy to start painting, it’s back to doing the next issue of Jeepney Press.
What keeps you moving on with Jeepney Press?
You see, you really need to love what you do. I love art. I love writing and I love design. Most of all, I love my fellow Filipinos and I want to do something to help them grow. And I express this love for my fellowmen through Jeepney Press.
What do you want to tell your fellow Filipinos through Jeepney Press?
I want Filipinos to be successful with what they do. And I want to celebrate their success and share them to other Filipinos. I have seen and experienced personally how some Japanese looked down on us. And I want to tell other Filipinos that we are a great people and we need to work on what we need to improve to raise our flag and image in this country.
What qualities do you think the Filipinos in Japan lack?
I have always compared the Filipinos in America and Filipinos in Japan. Filipinos in America can speak English and have a good command of their language. However, Filipinos in Japan are generally not proficient in the Japanese language.
Although some could communicate verbally somehow, many are still at a loss when it comes to reading and writing in Japanese.
When a Filipino succeeds in America, I feel proud, of course. But when a Filipino succeeds in Japan, that is something else! It is because of the enormous cultural gap and language barrier that a Filipino has to overcome.
So, does Jeepney Press include Japanese language articles in your paper?
Actually, yes. And I am hoping that the articles could spark interest that could lead them to seriously study Japanese and go to a Japanese language class.
Any future plans for Jeepney Press?
I have been dreaming of publishing books about Filipinos in Japan. I would like to compile some articles that have been published in Jeepney Press and make a book. I would also like to help publish books by other Filipinos in Japan. I am hoping that Jeepney Press is giving its writers hope to make publishing a book a reality for them.
Are there plans to celebrate your 10th anniversary?
Yes, but nothing is official yet. Please wait for the announcement in our next issue in March. So, if ever this celebration happens, it would either be in late March or early April in time for the blossoming of the beautiful sakura flowers.
Ten years passed and it has been a decade of realizations, accomplishments and fulfillment for Jeepney Press. Ten is actually a good number which signifies completeness. After ten years of expansive publishing journey, Jeepney Press moves onward to better serve Filipinos and looks forward to another ten year journey ahead.