The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

Major developments in international broadcasting The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

1935[International Broadcasting Begins in Japan]-1940s

Major developments in international broadcasting  1935[International Broadcasting Begins in Japan in]-1940s


Major developments in international broadcasting 1950s-70s


Major developments in international broadcasting 1980s-90s


Major developments in international broadcasting 2000-2015

1935~1939(Showa 10~Showa 14)

First Year of International
BroadcastingCalling to World, “Hello, Friends!”

CHRONICLE  >  1935–1939  >  First Year of International Broadcasting  | Japan-China War Prompts National-Policy Broadcasting

Tables of major events

  • 3. Germany announces rearmament.
  • 6/1. Japan begins overseas broadcasting in Japanese and English via Nazaki Transmitting Station with 20kW.
  • 1/15. Japan leaves London Naval Conference.
  • 2/26. 2.26 Incident
  • 5/7. Takao Saito gives anti-military speech in Diet.
  • 11/25. Japan and Germany sign anti-communist pact.
  • 4/1. German, French and Spanish added to overseas services.
  • 7/7. Japan-China War breaks out after Lugou Bridge Incident.
  • 8. Shanghai Incident
  • 11/6. Italy joins anti-communist pact.
  • 12/13 Japan seizes Nanjing.
  • 1/11. At Imperial Conference, Japan decides not to discuss with China’s Nationalist Government how to end the two countries’ war.
  • 7/1. More broadcasts to China and South Pacific
  • 7/26. U.S. cancels Japan-U.S. Commerce & Navigation Treaty. Japan finds it hard to get oil & scrap metal.
  • 5~9. Nomonhan Incident
  • 9/1~1945 World War II



NHK began overseas broadcasting in 1935. It had hoped to do so since it went on the air in 1925. It wanted to offer broadcast services for Japanese living abroad and tell the world about what Japan really was. Japan had been increasingly isolated since it withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933.

The First Voice from Japan

6/1/35. The first broadcast by Announcer Shigeru Nakamura.

6/1/35. The first broadcast by Announcer Shigeru Nakamura.

“Hello, fellow Japanese abroad! I’m speaking from a studio in Atagoyama in Tokyo.”

This was the first voice from Japan on the radio on June 1, 1935. Announcer Shigeru Nakamura began at 10:30 on Saturday morning, Japan time. It was the beginning of overseas broadcasting on NHK’s network.

A program guide shows that he spoke in Japanese for 10 minutes. Then, NHK president Kenzo Iwahara’s words were aired in Japanese and English.

He said, “Overseas broadcasting’s mission is to lessen political unease and economic conflict by seeking harmony, and to contribute to building global culture.

Five minutes of news in English was read by second-generation Japanese-American Yoshio Yoshii, who joined NHK for that purpose. A memo on a program guide says, “It was so fresh to hear ‘Hello Friends!’ in such refined English.”

Next came Japanese folk songs and more news in Japanese. “Kimigayo,” the national anthem, ended the slot at 11:30. As was indicated by Nakamura’s opening address, this was essentially for Japanese immigrants living in western North America and Hawaii.

Broadcasting for Japanese Abroad

On the first day, NHK’s president gives an address.

On the first day, NHK’s president gives an address.

Nazaki Transmitting Station (now in Koga City) transmitted Japan’s first overseas broadcasting with 20kW.

Nazaki Transmitting Station (now in Koga City) transmitted Japan’s first overseas broadcasting with 20kW.

From the start, NHK had been determined to begin overseas broadcasting. In a domestic program on January 1, 1935, then NHK president Kenzo Iwahara said Japan was often very misunderstood. He said he wanted to tell the world what Japan really was and help improve its relations with other countries. He said he was working on a plan for this.

His plan was to improve shortwave reception around the world and to hire people who could speak foreign languages well.

English was not the only foreign language used on NHK. In 1937, German, French and Spanish were added. Languages continued to increase. By the end of World War II, broadcasting services came to be offered in 24 languages.

In his address in the first overseas broadcast in 1935, Iwahara said, “We are happy to be able to offer comfort and enlightenment for half a million fellow Japanese working hard overseas to achieve their goals. Also, it is the wish of two million radio listeners and a joy for the 90 million Japanese as a whole to be able to tell those interested in Japan what the country really is.”

Overseas broadcasting started as a way to promote international goodwill. But this stance was to change rapidly, as Japan was increasingly isolated in international situations before World War Two.

Broadcasting Stations in Gaichi

Before the end of the war, two Japanese words were often used, gaichi and naichi. Gaichi referred to Japanese colonies and leased territories. They included Taiwan, Korea, Kwantung in northeastern China, land owned by Southern Manchuria Railway Co., Sakhalin and Micronesia. Naichi referred to Japanese land from Hokkaido to Okinawa. In 1932, Manchuria declared itself a state, so it was not gaichi. But here, we treat it as gaichi, as it was virtually under Japanese rule.

Broadcasting stations were built in gaichi one after another. In Korea and Taiwan, broadcasting companies built their stations. Manchuria telegraph and telephone company also built its own station. NHK built shortwave stations in Sakhalin and Parau. At one time, all these formed a huge network with NHK’s stations in naichi.

Building stations in gaichi was seen as an urgent task. Japan needed to teach Japanese and offer news and entertainment programs in local languages. Japanese in gaichi wanted to listen directly to broadcasts from Japan. So, many stations in gaichi depended on relays from Tokyo. Other stations like the one in Palau also served as relaying points for broadcasting in English for the U.S. mainland.

The name NHK was officially adopted in 1959 as an abbreviation of Nippon Hoso kyokai, or Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Before the end of the war, its English name was the Broadcasting Corporation of Japan. So, BCJ was occasionally used during the occupation by the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces from 1945 to ‘52. For convenience, we use NHK throughout this book.

Japan-China War Prompts
National-Policy Broadcasting


After one year, airtime for overseas broadcasts increased. More music shows and dramas helped to maintain a culture-oriented image of Japan’s overseas broadcasting. But amid confusion in society after a failed military coup called the 2.26 Incident, the state began to dictate broadcasts. When the war with China broke out in 1937, overseas broadcasting began to function as the vanguard of radio warfare.

Expanding Overseas Broadcasting

7/4/35. Japan-U.S. overseas broadcasting. Japan aired popular songs.

7/4/35. Japan-U.S. overseas broadcasting. Japan aired popular songs.

7/4/36. Japan-U.S. exchange broadcast.

7/4/36. Japan-U.S. exchange broadcast.

“We began overseas broadcasting by shortwave last June. It is widely received in Pacific-Rim countries, and is making fellow Japanese in the forefront there proud of their homeland. This is our greatest pleasure. Now, we are broadcasting to eastern North America, South America and Europe on a test basis. This year, we’ll expand our services and make them even better in view of their important missions.”

That was Iwahara’s address at the start of 1936. At first, the emphasis was on music and other cultural items. A program guide lists songs, dramas and comedies in addition to news. On some days, girls’ operas were aired from Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo. But such items gradually disappeared. One incident during the year changed overseas broadcasting.

Gearing to National Policy

7/37. The Lugou Bridge Incident: Japanese and Chinese troops clash in suburbs of Beijing, triggering war.

7/37. The Lugou Bridge Incident: Japanese and Chinese troops clash in suburbs of Beijing, triggering war.


Editing news for overseas at NHK’s international section (photo taken in Oct. ’37).

In February 1936, a group of young officers led 1,400 troops to attack the prime minister’s official residence and other places. They were suppressed. This failed military coup is known as the 2.26 Incident. But in his book, Radio Tokyo, Setsuro Kitayama says in some countries, it was wrongly reported as a revolution. The Japanese government, especially the military, praised Japan’s overseas broadcasting as accurately reporting the incident in Japanese and English. Ironically, this made them aware of its propaganda value.

In July, the Information Committee was set up under the Cabinet to boost activities to promote Japan abroad. The home and foreign ministries and information units of the military joined the committee, which was put in charge of overseas broadcasting. This made overseas broadcasting propaganda in name and reality.

In July 1937, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed outside Beijing. The Lugou Bridge Incident triggered the Japan-China War. Japan’s overseas broadcasting reported it this way:
 “… while detached Japanese troops were engaged in night maneuvers about 1,000 meters north of Lukouchiao, a sudden attack was made by Chinese soldiers under the cover of several armed guns….”

The report said Japanese troops met a surprise attack, while training.