Sam Jameson, a former longtime Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent with a deep knowledge of and close personal affinity for Japan, his professional and personal base for half a century, died Friday at a Tokyo hospital. He was 76.
The cause of death was a stroke, said his sister Pat, of Denver. Jameson had been hospitalized for pneumonia and heart failure since March 24.
Sent to Tokyo by the Army in 1960, Jameson worked first for Pacific Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper. In 1963, after he was discharged from the service and spent a year studying Japanese, he became the Chicago Tribune’s Tokyo bureau chief. He joined The Times in 1971, heading the paper’s bureau in Tokyo until 1996.
Fluent in Japanese and deeply sourced with Japanese political and business leaders throughout his long career, Jameson became a widely recognized expert on the country’s economy and politics. In addition to writing thousands of news articles, he gave lectures on Japan-related topics in the United States and Tokyo and appeared frequently on Japanese news and talk shows.
He forged close relationships with several Japanese prime ministers, especially Yasuhiro Nakasone and Masayoshi Ohira, as well as with foreign diplomats in Tokyo, who sought him out for his expertise.
“Whereas other reporters often use Western diplomats as sources” when covering foreign news, “Western diplomats in Japan used Sam as a source,” said Bob Gibson, a former Times foreign editor who hired Jameson for the Tokyo bureau.
In a 1990 letter to the correspondent, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield praised Jameson’s work, calling him “one of the finest, most accurate reporters it has been my privilege to be in contact with.” Jameson gave a copy of the letter to his sister.
A workaholic who kept long hours, Jameson wrote well above 3,000 bylined stories for The Times, covering the rise and fall of Japanese governments, the nation’s economic boom and bust, the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake and the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system the same year.
He also wrote frequently from South Korea and elsewhere in Asia. During the Vietnam War, while with the Chicago Tribune, he covered the conflict there in several reporting stints.
But he was best known for his coverage of Japan, a nation he loved. Although he sometimes dismissed these pieces as “fluff,” unlike the hard news he favored, he wrote compellingly about life in Japan, of cherry blossoms and kabuki stars, of baseball players and fertility festivals.
Japan was truly his home, his sister said. Or as Gibson said, in a view echoed by colleagues: “Some people would joke that Sam was becoming Japanese.”
Samuel Walter Jameson was born Aug. 9, 1936, in Pittsburgh and grew up there and in Cincinnati. His father worked for a grocery chain; his mother was a teacher. Pat, his younger sister, is his only immediate survivor.
Jameson graduated in 1958 from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and earned a master’s degree in 1959. He spent a year as a copy editor at the Chicago Tribune before being drafted into the Army and eventually landing in Japan.
He never really left.
“He was a wonderful, lovable character whose life was devoted to Japan and to his work for the Los Angeles Times,” said Alvin Shuster, another former Times foreign editor. “His choice of where to live in retirement was easy: Tokyo, of course.”