Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Earthquake Update: March 16, 3:30 pm

Here in Tokyo we’re still dealing mostly with inconveniences rather than real danger, so it’s important to remember that up north, there is serious suffering going on. Hundreds of thousands of people without adequate food, water, or electricity, freezing temperatures and snow. However much I might complain about aftershocks, I should remember that my life is amazingly cushy compared to theirs.

I’d also like to extend a huge thank you to the workers at the Fukushima power plant, the small number of men who’ve remained behind to risk their lives to protect a bunch of people they don’t even know.

I wrote a couple of pissed-off emails to various U.S. news outlets last night criticizing them for sensationalizing the nuclear reactor issue. Probably won’t have much effect, but it made me feel better.

Beyond their misinformed portrayal of the reactor issue, I’m also annoyed by the blatant egotism of so many of the “rock star” news anchors who have landed in Japan in their designer suits. Yes, I know that this is the reality of major news channels–it’s always more about the on-air personality than about the actual news. But somehow it’s more sickening when it’s so close to home.

They’re not all horrible–Diane Sawyer actually did a pretty good job of focusing more on the victims and the workers than on herself–but so many other reporters just focus the camera on themselves, on *their* impressions, *their* grief (which often feels like a performance) without taking the time to interview a single local resident. As one of my friends pointed out, they could at least bring a truckload of blankets and bottled water in their high-tech news planes.  This is what makes news channels like Al Jazeera so different–they actually use local reporters and focus the bulk of their attention on the news itself, rather than making it all about the anchor.

Oh, and they could at least get their basic info right. As Gawker pointed out, Fox News (never a stronghold of accuracy or even, you know, journalism) recently placed the city of Sendai in Kyushu rather than Honshu, and listed “Shibuya Egg Man” (a Tokyo night club) as one of the power plant locations. Sigh.

Japan’s been getting a lot of well-deserved praise for its calm response to the tragedy–the U.S. media repeatedly expresses amazement that no one’s looting, people wait calmly for hours in long food lines, and they’re even separating the garbage and recycling at the evacuation shelters. Before we jump to an “ah, the wisdom of the Japanese” Orientalist moment, though, it’s important to remember that Japan has a lot more money and a much better infrastructure than, for example, Haiti. If Haiti had had access to more rescue teams, more stores of food and water, and mostly uninterrupted internet / phone access, I imagine the response over there would have been a lot calmer.  There *are* specifically “Japanese” cultural traits that are helping out here–respect for authority figures, a willingness to sacrifice for the good of the group–but it’s important not to lose sight of the role that money and infrastructure play.  Some of the commentary  seems to insinuate that the Japanese are somehow “better people” than the victims of Haiti or Katrina, which is offensive.

Here in Tokyo things are almost back to normal–a large quake last night at around 10:30 pm and another large one this afternoon, but as days pass the chance of a REALLY big one hitting continues to decrease. Several friends have made the choice to leave town for a few days because of stress and the nuclear reactor issue–I don’t blame them (I’ve been tempted to get out for a bit just to have an aftershock-free night of sleep, though it seems the whole country is quaking right now), but I still urge people not to act based on rumors or hearsay. I managed to get started on my taxes today, do housework, and take care of some mundane things. Still not sleeping very well, but it’s getting better.

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2011 by in Japan and tagged , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

tales of travel, research, and life

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