Tricky Interviewing: Sea of Crises

In this long form piece, Brian Phillips wanders through two uniquely Japanese stories: first, one about the greatest sumo wrestler of all time, then one that recounts a failed coup that ends in seppuku–Japanese ritual suicide that is reserved only for the most honorable warriors. Phillips connects these two stories by suggesting that they, in their own respective rites, capture the essence of Japan.

Phillips’ Sources:

-Asashoryu- Former sumo wrestling world champion

-Various photographers at the sumo matches

-Though not quoted, it is clear that Phillips met with many Japanese historians and experts before writing this story. This piece is very research heavy

-Japanese reporter who claimed to have a “ghost story”

-His friend Alex, a professor of Japanese history

-Sumo videos and records

-Many historical documents

In many ways, this is not the typical long form piece. It relies more on firsthand experience than outside sources. It is dependent on research done in textbooks and databases, not necessarily done in the field. The one source that appears to be crucial to the completion of this story–Koga, the main character–is never interviewed (or at least we do not know if he is interviewed, for dramatic effect). Though it takes the form of a journalistic work, this story is likely better characterized as a literary work. It’s lack of direct quotes was not the product of lazy journalism, but rather an artistic decision that lent the story a more first hand experience. More quotes could have offered the story more clarification and made it more concrete, but Phillips was not concerned with that. He sought to achieve mystery in this story, which involves leaving some questions unanswered on purpose and leaving room for ambiguity.

I know this is not the model work of journalism I should base my work as a student off of, but this is one of my favorite long form pieces because it is so carefully crafted, so thoroughly researched, and so elegantly told that it compensates for its lack of direct quotes for interviews. Phillips told the story his way. I hope to do the same with my stories in the future.


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