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No Mini Size: Pio d'Emilia in Reflections  

Pio d'Emilia was a foreign correspondent and cultural ambassador for both his native Italy and his adopted country. Endlessly exploring, he was one of a kind.



Pio dEmilia
Pio dEmilia (© Agnes Tandler)

For over 40 years Pio d'Emilia was a foreign correspondent in Japan. He reported on the Fukushima disaster, played tennis with the Emperor of Japan, was friends with prime ministers, the Dalai Lama, manga artists, farmers and sushi chefs. Although he was a reporter, he was also a cultural ambassador both for his native Italy and his adopted country. He was one of a kind.

When the cherry blossom season arrived Pio would gather a group of friends for an outing to the foreign section of Aoyama Cemetery in central Tokyo. At the grave of Edoardo Chiossone, the Italian artist who designed Japan's first banknotes, a superb selection of Italian foods and drinks would be served. While the party was going strong, Pio would stop unsuspecting passers-by to quiz them on Japanese history. 

"Do you know who Chiossone is?" He would then take a 1,000 yen bill from his wallet and cheerfully lecture his puzzled victims on Japanese history. Pio was an unstoppable force.

Pio dEmilia
Aoyama Cemetery (© Agnes Tandler)

In Tokyo Since 1979

When he first set foot in Tokyo in 1979 the world was a different place. The Cold War was heating up again, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Sony sold its first Walkman and the Village People sang about the YMCA. 

Journalism was still not on Pio's card. He had graduated from law school in Rome and had been offered a scholarship to deepen his studies at Keio University in Tokyo. While still pursuing his legal career Pio started to make films. In "Japanese on Leave" released in 1982, he explored the highs and lows of life in Tokyo. It would remain his common theme for the next four decades, in which he became one of the best known foreign journalists and Japanologists in Japan. 

In his native Italy, he was an institution. "He showed us the future – on Italian television," a young Italian friend explains. "Tamaguchi, Pokemon, cars with GPS." 

Pio dEmilia
Remembering what happened here on 3.11

Covering the Aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake

When the Tohoku earthquake hit on March 11, 2011 Pio was one of the first journalists to arrive at the disaster zone – on his Italian scooter, so he could better get through roadblocks. His prize winning documentary film, "Fukushima, A Nuclear Story," is a chilling journey into the tragedy that hit Japan on this fateful day. 

Naoto Kan, former prime minister of Japan and a friend of Pio, still remembers the phone call he got from the Italian reporter: "It was twelve years ago. He called me up from Fukushima. I was really surprised, because Japanese journalists were not allowed to go there. But then, Pio did not care so much about rules," Kan told the audience at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Japan (FCCJ) on Wednesday evening February 15 at a memorial event for Pio. 

Certainly, Pio did not shy away from risks. He also did not shun self-experiments. In "Minisize Me," he documented his 18 kg weight loss after following a three month diet of cereals, fruits, vegetables and fish. Despite the effort, he never quite gave up his passion for ice cream, mozzarella di bufala and ricotta cheese. 

Pio dEmilia
Pio d'Emilia, (© Agnes Tandler)

Love For the Arts

He was as much a cultural ambassador for Italy in Japan as for Japan in Italy. Focusing on parallels between his native and his adoptive country, he often highlighted the love for food, art, music and beauty that Japan and Italy so much share. With his charm, wit and humanity he bridged divides and united people. 

He played a tennis match with the Emperor of Japan when the monarch was still crown prince. But he also accompanied Naoto Kan to Shikoku and walked the first pair of the 88 temples of the Henro pilgrimage with him. He loved skiing in Hakuba, sitting in a hot spring bath in Nikko and swimming with sea turtles off the beach of Ishigaki in Okinawa. 

Pio liked to hold his own Japanese style end of the year party, bonenkai, conveniently baptized "Pionenkai." His curiosity for all things Japanese never diminished. Some weeks ago he bought a Koto, a traditional Japanese music instrument that he wanted to learn to play. He had it professionally tuned. Only a few hours after his demise, the string instrument came back to his house, ready to be played. 

Pio dEmilia
In Memoriam, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on February 15 (© Agnes Tandler)

A Life Well-Lived

Pio passed away on February 7 at the age of 68. He had been suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19

As a journalist, Pio had worked for Sky TG24 and other media outlets. He joined the Foreign Correspondent Club of Japan (FCCJ) in February 1981 and was an active member for 42 years. At press conferences he was known for asking tough questions and speaking truth to power. 

"He kept pushing doors open," recalls FCCJ member Joan Anderson."Being a good skier he also liked to go off piste and never followed the straight and narrow tracks." 


Author: Agnes Tandler (Tokyo)

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