Ed Odeven is no stranger to the scene in and around Japanese sports media, but after almost 14 years as chief basketball reporter at the Japan Times, he decided it was time for a change. Now, with his role at SportsLook– the new sports arm of the JAPAN Forward website– he’s going to be taking on the industry from the ground up.
Since January of 2017, JAPAN Forward has been working to create high-quality Japanese news content for English-language speakers. With the establishment of SportsLook in July 2021, JAPAN Forward extends its reach even further. SportsLook aims to create exciting content that allows readers the opportunity to experience and learn from Japanese culture, and they’re doing it by showcasing all the different sports – and sports personalities – that Japan has to offer.
Odeven and his team of writers are publishing articles about Nippon Professional Baseball, B League basketball, sumo, horse racing– and most of the other sports going on in the country too! It seems an almost Herculean task, but if you know Ed Odeven, you know he’s got the passion for it.
Since becoming a journalist in his early 20s, Odeven has worked with a “who’s who” of heavyweights – and I mean, he’s literally worked with heavyweights. He once spoke with Buster Douglas while writing a piece commemorating the 25th anniversary of Douglas’s shocking 10th round knockout of Mike Tyson to become the undisputed heavyweight champion.
Odeven, a Bronx native, got his first taste of journalism as a teenager in Arizona. He worked on local radio programming in high school, then headed to community college, and eventually transferred to Arizona State University where he received a BA in print journalism. During that time Odeven worked at his local newspaper and local grocery store, hosted a public access TV sports program with three of his friends, and – oh yeah – studied too (although, he admits, not as hard as he could have, with so much going on)!
A highlight of that time was when Odeven and his fellow young stars of the silver screen had the opportunity to cover an alumni game at the University of Arizona, a noted basketball powerhouse. The game was full of legends. “We interviewed a couple of them after the game, and we had very primitive equipment because remember, we’re public access TV,” Odeven said. “But we brought a couple of camera guys, they got some highlights of the game, we got legitimate press passes, and after the game during press availability, we even got Steve Kerr on camera for a good five minutes or so.”
After college, Odeven held a few different small newspaper jobs around the states. In 2006 he received an offer from the Japan Times to head over and be their new basketball reporter and a desk editor, and once he touched down in Japan, he got right into the swing of things with Japanese baseball.
“It was within two weeks, I want to say it was like 10 days,” Odeven said when asked how long it took to get out to his first NPB game. “I don’t remember exactly, but I went to a weekday game and the funny thing was – you know how Tokyo Dome sometimes still hosts the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters? So, it wasn’t a Giants game. But, I went to my first game and it was a Fighters game at the Tokyo Dome. If I remember correctly, I believe it was against the Marines.”
“But it was really fun,” he continued. “Just because the different sights and sounds are very different [than MLB]. The songs for each batter, the different chants, the horns…”
After 14 years on the job, Odeven’s tenure at the Japan Times came to an end, but that didn’t mean he was out of things to write. After a short break, he joined JAPAN Forward in May 2020.
Since joining the new publication, Odeven has been a furnace of productivity. In addition to leading the SportsLook launch in July 2021, he has churned out major interviews with sporting legends that audiences can enjoy alongside his regular reportage. The first of these projects, a book titled, Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg: A Collection Of Interviews With The Legendary Columnist, was published in September of 2020.
Of the book, Odeven said, “To me, what’s rewarding is some people don’t know about [Jerry] and some people that do really appreciate him and his career. It’s nice for them and makes them happy to see that he’s getting a tribute in this in this way. He’s being recognized.”
Another major project he took on is an 8-part JAPAN Forward web series titled “Nomomania.” Looking back 25 years after Hideo Nomo’s scintillating MLB debut, the series stretched six months from June through December of 2020 (links to all eight articles can be found on Odeven’s website).
Odeven is working to help SportsLook and JAPAN Forward drive exposure and viewership so the publications can eventually cement themselves as the go-to resources for English-language content about sports in Japan.
“You know, we’re trying to run quality content,” Odeven said. “We’re not publishing 20, 30, 50 stories a day. It’s all rich. It’s all original content.”
One of the ways they’re ensuring that content stays original, interesting, and useful for readers? Expert columns and contributions.
“We have one of the world’s leading figure skating experts [Jack Gallagher], we run one of his columns called ‘Ice Time,’” Odeven said. “Olympic gold medalist in Judo, Kosei Inoue, writes a column for us.”
Odeven’s hopeful that between this approach, his tutelage, and the hard work of his colleagues, the publication will find continued success in the years to come. While he aspires for SportsLook to cover more niche sports such as Formula One, gymnastics, and table tennis, his primary goals have more to do with the effect of the content, rather than the content itself.
“I just hope this website educates people,” Odeven said. “I hope they go and they find us and then become habitual readers. I hope they see quality and I hope they enjoy what we do. Those are some goals,” he said.