Thursday, 17 March 2011

Should I cool it...

...or should I blow?

I'm being asked by more and more people if I'm going to get out of Tokyo or even Japan for a while. Of course I've thought about it, but want to base a decision on accurate info, which is pretty hard with the glut of mass-media newstainment out there at the moment.

I'm not on holiday or an extended stay in Japan, I live here. I've bought an apartment here where I live with my girlfriend, my job and friends are here, it's not easy to skip out for a bit and leave them all to it.

There was an interesting conference call at the British Embassy in Tokyo ealrier this week. The text of it is here and well worth a read. They may be doing a John Selwyn Gummer, the Agricutural Minister in 1989 who was willing to feed his four-year old daughter a hamburger in front of the news cameras to calm the public at the height of the BSE crisis, when he knew all about the dangers of eating beef, you never really know, but does at least offer an alternative viewpoint.

A lot of foreigners have apparently (and understandably) already left Tokyo according to the BBC and CNN, but no-one's asked me what I'm doing so where do they get the 80%, 90% or 95% ratio they say are leaving. "Show your work!" as they used to say in school. What I can say is that although everyone's worried, you're hard-pushed to find (m)any Japanese leaving Tokyo at the moment.

Having said that, the British Embassy today (March 17) upgraded their advice for Brits saying they should consider leaving Tokyo due to concerns over transport, communications, power etc; basically infrastructure worries. They still say that outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities there is no real human health issue that people should be concerned about.

The key thing for me is, if they are asking us to think about leaving because things might get uncomfortable for a while, even for years, then I'm definitely staying! I've lived, loved and laughed with these people for many years and will be happy to dig in, help out and all pull together to get through this, even if it is going to be tough for a while.

If the advice changes to a clear direction that we need to get out of the city due to unsafe radiation levels, that's a very different story. Of course there will be those who'd say, why wait? get out now! I suppose that's a decision we all have to make individually.

The thing is though, this is scary enough without "news" channels like CNN degenerating in reporting tactics verging on terrorism. Seriously. Last Sunday, when no-one knew what was really going on, Cartoon News Network cut to one of their reporters on the street, he was actually 250kms South of the nuclear reactors on a street in Tokyo, I could recognize the buildings in the background, but I suppose being outside made it look like he was close to the action. He said something like "radiation readings have now skyrocketed and are in the range of 300-400 milliSieverts at the reactor, that's an order of magnitude in the thousands higher than the microSieverts we were talking about this morning!" What he didn't say until later was that the milliSievert readings were taken right at the reactor, a place where no-one normally goes and the earlier readings were taken at the gate of the plant which although high, were still in the microSieverts as they were that morning. Drop The Dead Donkey anyone?

Another time they cut away from a live press conference with TEPCO, the owners of the reactor, to go to an ad break for their own upcoming programs with a concerned comment of "hmmm... still many questions unanswered in Japan it seems..." but when I turned it over to NHK (the national broadcaster) there were reporters still asking the questions CNN "wanted" answered, and the TEPCO guy was trying to answer them. How important was it to tell us about the next edition of Beyond Borders, Anderson 360 or some other self-promoting drivel. "Impact Your World"! Yes, but how?

Then there was this article on the CNN Go Asia site titled, "Japan Earthquake: Situation in Tokyo", a story pretty much about.. the situation in Tokyo. Something that perhaps my friends and family would come across if they were searching the web wondering what I was going through. They've now changed the picture heading the story to a more accurate one of people going to work, but for all of Tuesday March 15th it was this one below. The subtitle reads, "Residents spend another night in an evacuation center at Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, north of Tokyo."
Hang on, I thought this was the one article that was specifically about life in Tokyo! Why are we showing the centre of the tsunami area again? The thing is that no-one (NO-ONE) is living like that here in Tokyo. Saying North of Tokyo makes it sound like a suburb, when Sendai is actually it's own city with a population of over a million, 300kms away!

There are some bread shortages here and queues for petrol, as there is in the UK when the first flake of snow falls but there is still lots of other food. People have been panic-buying so some shelves are empty which makes great photo opportunities but in most pics of empty shelves you can just see the edge of full shelves next to the empty ones. I was even a bit guilty of this in my first post as it was odd to see any sheleves empty. This is not the norm though. 

Trains and buses are running, offices are open and working life is going on. We've been eating out at local restaurants almost all of which are open and pass people riding their bikes, walking their dogs, going about their daily life. The annual St Patrick's Parade in Tokyo has been cancelled this year due to the horrific earthquake and resulting tsunami, but most folks here including the builders at the construction site opposite me have still carried on working. The new tower block opposite me is still getting built, they just take an occasional break during any aftershocks. I'd been taking photos of their progress for a while now and since the big quake last Friday March 11, you can see they've been pretty busy. Maybe they finish work and go back to their evacuation centre for the night... but maybe not.

Of course I don't want to go too far the other way, we are all worried about the radiation, but this is the country that America dropped two atomic bombs on remember, it's not like people are under-estimating the harm it can do, they know first-hand. To compare people in Tokyo to the poor buggers in the picture who have lost everything is just plain wrong.

To CNN's slight credit, they do say underneath the main title that the nuclear situation seems to be improving, but there was no further info on this anywhere and with more doom and gloom in the main article it didn't cancel out the power of the evacuation-centre picture.

It's not just CNN, although this next example is a bit lighter and might just be a bit of bluffing from the lad in question. On March 13, The Donegal Daily reported DONEGAL EARTHQUAKE VOLUNTEER REFUSED ENTRY TO TOKYO BUT BATTLES ON TO HELP

Now I'm not sure if well-meaning Malachy Shea was having a laugh with his hometown reporter, or the reporter was spicing up the details a bit, but there are definitely no troops in Tokyo turning back travelers trying to get into the city from Osaka. A colleague mine from Tokyo was on a business trip to Osaka when the earhquake hit and had to stay in Osaka overnight. He was able to return the next day on the bullet train, which I still see running past my house every day. Yes, no trains are running to the affected areas up North but trains between Tokyo and Osaka are fine.

 CNN's coverage has once again reminded me of when Lady Di died years ago. After endless coverage of the tunnel in Paris, flowers outside Buck House, and repotrers asking the hard questions like, "how upset is the Queen really?", they CNN cut to one of their (w)anchors back in the studio who turned solemnly to the camera and started his report with, "She was a nun who had nothing, she was a nun who lived in the gutter..." and then with almost a wink he went on, "...but not any more! Mother Teresa died today at the age of 87".

I've tried to watch BBC World since then, and I'm staying for now.


  1. Great blog, describes exactly how I feel living and stating in Tokyo...I too have been disgusted with the way CNN have handled this. They described the situation at Narita as a "mass exodus" of Tokyo. A queue at a couple of check-in desks is not a mass exodus of 35 million people

  2. O Dear....propaganda Tv .....maybe they are trying to blow the Japan story up to play down whats happening in Libya ??

  3. Thanks mate, glad I'm not the only one. Can't see them changing though.

    Hey Dave, I've given up trying to figure them out.

    1. Hello Phil, I just read this blog. Wonderful! Exactly the same reflection of my mind at that time, though I was in Tsukuba. I can remember that CNN crushed 14 heads of my friends and they left for Kansai after a 16 hours long meeting. They first called me in the afternoon of March 16 and in their next phone call in the very early morning of 17, they said they are leaving in 2 hours; if I want, I can join them. I never left Tsukuba or Japan at that time. Those news media also transferred tension to our home countries. Relatives were calling asking, ‘why are you sitting on a blowing fire?’ Anyway, we, those did not pay attention to CNN, started volunteerism and found a wonderful world to happily pass for a good day!