Remembering Hiro’s gentle smile
As Hiro Muramoto headed out the door of the Tokyo newsroom last week, weighed down with TV equipment on his way to Bangkok to cover demonstrations, he flashed a smile at a Reuters colleague.
It was, she remembers, a “Hiro” smile. It was gentle, rather than a broad grin, and it showed the 43-year-old was pleased once again to take his expertise on the road to do his job telling the world what was going on.
Hiro was not the gung-ho war correspondent of the movies. He was a careful, loving married Dad of two and a gentle mentor for young colleagues and an expert story teller.
He took his concern for those around him beyond the newsroom to complete two 100-km charity walks (with a third planned this month), raising thousands of dollars for Oxfam along with teammates from Thomson Reuters.
At Reuters for more than a decade and a half, Hiro was witness to many of Asia’s biggest stories. His work brought to viewers around the world the sounds and images of events ranging from Asian financial crises to political protests and the 2002 World Cup.
He was trained and experienced in operating in hostile environments, including the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Philippine military operations against insurgents on Jolo island.
Greg Beitchman, who took Hiro on as a staff member in 1995, remembers how Hiro eluded government minders during a reporting trip to North Korea, to get out to the world what was really happening in the secretive state.
“While the minders chatted away at me in English – mostly about how the Dear leader ‘loved journalists’ – Hiro pretended not to understand and slipped away to work,” Greg recalls.
“On the surface much of the city looked like a 60’s Godzilla movie set , but underneath Hiro found evidence of poverty and hunger amidst government attempts to show off a ‘flourishing’ free trade zone,” recalled Greg, who is now the global editor of our news agency business.
Hiro’s sense of humour and his gentle personality also made him a natural for coverage of the quirkier side of life. Stories that showcased his professionalism and his sense of fun remain viral hits on the Internet, including pieces on a pair of monkeys working as waiters outside Tokyo (2008) and the first-ever wedding between a man and a Japanese video game character (2009).
“Hiro was a trusted and dear colleague who quietly made those around him better through tremendous gifts as a story-teller, cameraman and editor,” remembers another long-time TV colleague, Dan Sloan. “He visualised the finished product while still shooting — how it would flow from shot to shot to make a better story.”
From my own memories and talking to colleagues who have known Hiro much longer than me, it was his calming, professional influence that comes through again and again — along with that subtle smile.
“Emotions often run high at the scene of news, between the media and authorities, among competing media or even among ourselves,” recalls colleague George Nishiyama, who saw Hiro as his senpai, a Japanese term of endearment for a senior colleague who guides a newcomer. “But Hiro was always there to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.”
“Hiro would somehow diffuse the confrontation at the end, get us into that news conference, through that gate so we can report the news,” said George. “And at the end of the day, when we gathered over drinks and let off steam, sometimes unleashing harsh words at others, Hiro always listened and at the end told us to forgive, saying that no one means harm, that everyone’s doing their best to cover the news.”
Rodney Joyce is Reuters’ Tokyo bureau chief