Kobe Refugee (Media Musings)

There are a lot of people in the world who are making claims of this and claims of that.  I have become a “refugee” in Kobe because of such claims.  After the initial quake and ensuing tsunami, I felt things were fine.  Japan has suffered many hardships and this was just another one.  The first couple of days after the quake were tense.  I was back at work the day after and had a day off the next day.  It wasn’t a problem at first.  There were the immense number of aftershocks that came after a 9.0 earthquake and the world I was living in was constantly shaking.  It was starting to get unnerving but it wasn’t something I couldn’t handle.  By Monday the 14th, the realization of the problems Tokyo would face was starting to dawn.  The need for rolling blackouts was scheduled and many foreign people were starting to panic.  The trains were also running at reduced capacity for two reasons, one was for further inspections and the other was to save energy.  By the 15th, the seriousness of the Fukushima reactors was growing.  Everyone was getting scared and it felt as if people were leaving Tokyo in droves.  The Japanese people in Tokyo were staying put, but for the foreigners, with all the foreign press, they were leaving.  It was terrible to read all of the foreign press making conclusions that a mini-Chernobyl was approaching and that the Japanese government was losing control of the situation.  The hydrogen explosions didn’t help at all either.  With all the uncertainty and contradictions in the news, I decided to not take any more chances and leave Tokyo.  I grabbed my girlfriend and dog and left for Kobe.  It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make and something I didn’t take lightly.Once in Kobe, my mood had changed and I was feeling a lot more relaxed.  I had time to breath.  I didn’t feel the pressure from others telling me to get out.  I was feeling the pressure from both the media and family and friends.  It wasn’t easy at all.  I was lucky to find a hotel that can accommodate both my dog and us, although in separate rooms.  The news unfortunately would get worse over the next two days and I would feel more and more pressure from family who told me to go back home to Canada.  I did research it but with my dog it was not possible.  I made up my mind that 600km between myself and the reactors was enough to keep safe.  I could have fled to Okinawa but I didn’t feel like it.  I decided to stay put in Kobe until news got better.  On the 18th, the news was pretty stable and on the 19th the news was getting better.  Everything had taught me about the western media, and the Japanese media.The western media is a terrible thing.  They are part of a commercial business.  Their job is to make money by selling advertising during their commercial breaks.  In order to do this, they need a larger audience.  Reports from my friends in Canada were telling me that a lot of the news focused on the death and destruction in the quake and tsunami area.  There was also a lot of talk about the Fukushima plants and how things were getting out of hand.  The foreign embassies just added fuel to the fire by evacuating Tokyo.  Most of these were European embassies but I joined them after a day.  Again, I stress that the main reason for leaving was the stress that I had received.  My heart was constantly racing and I was unable to concentrate on work with all the news.  I was constantly reading the news every 10 minutes.  The Japanese media wasn’t much better.  They were the polar opposite of the western media.  They were more concerned with the feel good stories and the stories of perseverance.  They were also concerned with informing people about what would be happening in their areas.  Tokyo was experiencing rolling blackouts and it was not possible to continue a normal life until everything was back to normal.  The only ray of hope from the media actually came from unconventional sources.  Twitter and Facebook were great sources of information as many friends did the collecting for me and I could go and verify it on my own.

One of the biggest annoyances was some of the misconceptions that people have had about Japan and what is going on.  A lot of people have no idea as to how big Japan truly is.  While Japan is a small country in terms of land mass, it isn’t that small.  Japan is comparable to Germany in land size, yet it’s very long.  It takes roughly 2 hours by plane to fly from end to end.  The distance from Kobe to Fukushima is roughly 600kms.  I can’t believe how many people have told me to leave Japan even though I am so far from the actual reactors.  A friend of mine who lives in Hiroshima is also fielding requests for him to leave even though Hiroshima is probably 800km away.  I haven’t had a chance to confirm it yet.  To add more credence to the safety of the area, most winds trend to head out to the Pacific rather than the east.  While this is not always true, it is a strong possibility that any radiation would head out to sea, mostly, rather than inland.

One of the biggest shocks I received was from the perception of Chinese Americans or Chinese Canadians getting news from various sources.  My impression is that the Chinese media is making the Japanese people seem like idiots.  I have no first hand knowledge of their own news reporting but the information that I have received from the older generation Chinese people, note all of this is second or third hand knowledge, is terrible.  I heard that many stations have reported that Japan has no power and that the rescue teams have no search dogs.  This shocked, annoyed, and angered me at the same time.  The people who have said these things are not stupid.  They are educated yet they fell victim of the mass media and rumours.  One specific example was that Tokyo was without power and water.  I was about to yell at whoever said that because that was completely and utterly wrong.  Water is still flowing and there is no radioactivity in the water.  The lack of power is true in some senses but it isn’t as well.  Rolling blackouts does not equal a complete loss of power which is what that person had misinterpreted.  Central Tokyo still has a lot of power and there is no problem.  While it is true that times are tough without food being easily available and power being shut off in suburban areas and rural areas, the central city is fine.  Life is tense and stressful but it is still fine.  The idea that Japan doesn’t have search dogs was another astonishing aspect of this “rumour”.  This person made a clear assumption that because the news didn’t show rescue dogs must have meant the Japanese people don’t have them.  Like any major disaster, the dogs are the first on the scene and the regular workers are next.  Before they can clear the area, they have to use wooden sticks and picks and call out for people.  The dogs are probably gone at that point and the media are not following them quickly enough.

The Canadian media has also been terrible at portraying the Japanese people.  I have had many friends who said that Tokyo was a disaster.  One specifically said there “must be hysteria” in Tokyo.  This was several days after the quake and around the time the reactors were at their most critical point.  I believe the media, again I have no hard evidence as I can’t watch TV shows abroad at the moment, are not showing the entire picture.  There is no way people would think Tokyo was in hysteria if they had seen what I had seen.  There were long lines to get into the trains due to the power outages in the suburbs but other than that, nothing.  People weren’t running and pushing each other to buy bread.  It was very civilized.  I never really saw much but when I was there during the food shortages, people were still shopping normally.  I saw people buying a normal amount, at least what I think is normal, but maybe they made several trips.  I know it’s tough to buy things but overall I know it’s quite civilized.  People still line up to get things and there is no pushing.

If anything, the one thing I learned in this disaster is to completely be cynical of the media.  I  used to believe a lot of things but I truly think the media sensationalizes way too much.  After getting first hand knowledge of these problems I’m sure of it now.  It will take a lot to make me trust the media to do anything but sensationalize the facts and making people believe what they want in order to sell advertising dollars.  There are a few places that have good information but that will always change with who is presenting the news.  I have always been taught to read between the lines since I was in University.  No one ever says something without some sort of agenda, even me.  🙂

Kobe Refugee (Media Musings) is part of a series of posts following the earthquake in Japan.  Please continue reading the following posts in this series: