Japan Earthquake and the Irresponsible Foreign Media

On Friday afternoon I was in the gym. Then, as what usually happens, automated earthquake alerts came up on all the TVs. This is quite normal and there were three other big earthquakes before last Friday and nobody was hurt. This time the magnitude, we don’t use Richter scale over here, came up as 8.4 so the TVs all changed to live news coverage of the quake. People would need more information than just the locations and magnitudes. Buildings were swaying and we saw it all live on TV. But it wasn’t that serious.

Then, again as usual, tsunami alerts came up on TV. Now we always see those but people usually just ignore them as they never actually arrive. This time of course it was different and we watched the live TV feeds of the tsunami hitting the ports and coast.

By this time the TV presenters had realized that for the first time that the tsunamis were real and the style of presentation changed. The presenters sat up straight and the training went in to practice and they started giving out evacuation details and telling us exactly what areas and at exactly what times would be affected. People were shocked at how far the tsunamis came in but there was no panic, they were reporting things exactly as they happened and focussed on helping people get the right information to get to the safest places as quickly as possible.

Then my email started going crazy.  People from all over the world were writing to see where I was and was I safe. I started to reply but there were too many emails and I was wondering why. The Japanese TV was showing exactly the locations were things were happening in and were giving out all the information.  It was a huge area, but not all the country.  There was no panic or “the end is nigh” sentiments. It was well rehearsed and everyone was doing exactly what they had been trained to do.


But then I switched across to the BBC and oh my goodness, what a contrast!  Make no wonder everyone overseas was panicking.   Forget any pretence of informative news, this was purely emotionally driven exaggeration on the part of the BBC. Whilst Japanese news was giving out information about what areas were affected by what size waves, the BBC was giving voice overs like “death approaches by the sea.” They reshowed the footage of Sendai from when the quake hit but this time with voice overs like “blinded with panic not knowing where to turn.” Well, no. That’s not what was happening. When a quake hits you look around, you see what’s happening. When it goes on longer your heart starts beating and you wonder if the building will indeed stand up to the shaking. But you don’t panic. And the people on TV weren’t panicking, contrary to what the English speaking reporters were making up.

Then over the last few days Ive been watching Japanese press events and thinking, OK, we know what’s happening now. But then you see the Western media reports and you think,”were they just watching the same news conference?” They’d obviously heard a very bad translation of the Japanese and just made up the pieces in-between. Phrases like 一所懸命 which means “try to your fullest” or “do the best you can” got translated to “furiously” or “desperately”, words which have totally different meanings.

Then today we have the nuclear reports with the press completely misreporting the science. Google News at one point yesterday had a picture of an atmospheric atomic bomb detonation, the daily mail today had a full colour picture of the the Hiroshima nuclear attack. That is just not on. Yes radiation can be dangerous but a light water reactor is not a nuclear bomb. This is just irresponsible reporting.

Selling newspapers

We know why they do it, to sell newspapers or these days to have the dramatic headline to the get the internet click. But they have crossed the line somewhere here. This is the first time I’ve seen the original language reporting on an event and then how the English language media report it and they are just getting so many facts wrong, purposely mis translating the Japanese and reframing the story to their mind set to sell more copy.

It makes you wonder just how many other stories over the years they have mislead us on. Well, the Swine Flu was one of them.

It’s not the earthquake

The story here isn’t the earthquake. Japan gets through these all the time. The story here is the tsunami as that is something that people weren’t prepared for. For example last night, on Japanese TV, they were asking why there still wasn’t enough food in the evacuation centres. The professor calmly and professionally explained. It’s because when they did the disaster relief planning they put all their focus on the rescue teams. They always figured that in an earthquake teams would be a able to go and get frozen food out of people’s deep freezers so they wouldn’t need to bring food in for a few days. Of course in this case deep freezers and everything were washed away.  He apologised and reported they would have to go back to the drawing board for the future.

But contrast that the foreign media reports of panic and “people resorting to eating dried noodles and rice balls.”Well, no. A nice warm rice ball is a very welcome meal in a situation like this. Similarly the reporting about the cold. Yes it is freezing up there but that’s how people live normally with no insulation and just kerosene heaters.

I wish the foreign media would stop the scaremongering, listen to the people there and start reporting on what they need and  how we can help.

Ah sorry, but that doesn’t sell newspapers does it.

Most of Japan is just fine. Yesterday I drove 400 kms over many islands and everything is, a little eerily, just like normal. Japan hasn’t sunk into the sea and the country isn’t covered with radioactive rain. Most of us are fine, people are going to work and we have electricity. For most of the country everything is normal.

Yes lots of people have died. But even just one person dying is too hard if they are close to you. And many people die in Japan everyday from smoking, car accidents or other reasons.

So let’s concentrate on how we can help the people who really need the help. People in Japan don’t sit around waiting for government handouts after a disaster, we get out there and fix things. The guys were out in the streets the next day trying to clean up their towns and the old ladies did what they always do and formed their own teams to try and cook for everyone.

In the Christchurch Earthquake we saw families from all over New Zealand offering up beds for evacuees to get away. And it might seem a little strange that people down south haven’t been doing the same for the people up north here. But that’s not how things are done and people want to stay in their furusato, their home.

Sending items won’t help as there is no way to get them there.  There were break downs in the planning but there is nothing we can do to help with that.   So if you do want to contribute,  financially seems to be the best way. And it seems like the Red Cross is probably the best way to do that.

What can teachers do?

Then as we are all teachers we want to focus on the kids. Most adults here are used to disasters but for the kids for whom this is their first time it does take time for them to get their heads around this. Things will be OK for the survivors but they do need help. On yesterday’s thread Gumby suggested that kids abroad send their messages of support to the kids in the evacuation centers. They aren’t going to be able to go to school for a while, but a nice drawing, picture or message on their cell phones would let them know how much your kids are thinking about them. We’re already collected messages for teachers here but let’s also try and figure out the best way of doing this and let’s let the kids up north know that they are not alone.

They don’t need the panic.   They just need a hand getting things back to normal.

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. When I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. Now I help teachers just like you teach amazing lessons and double your incomes!

61 Responses to “Japan Earthquake and the Irresponsible Foreign Media”

  1. Mireille Merza

    Thank you so much for this clear account of how things are in Japan currently. I’m in South Korea and some foreigners are organizating Red Cross donations.
    Would you possibly have any addresses of children’s evacuation centers or a link for those addresses ?
    Mireille Merza

  2. richard

    In Japan most evacuation centers are government buildings such as schools, care centers etc. But the post office arent delivering to most of the areas. From what they are saying on TV it looks like still searching for people is the main priority, then opening the infrastructure to get deliveries of food etc.

  3. Margit

    thanks again.
    And thanks also for the BBC Q+A link on the other blog. I’m trying my best to get better informed about how all this works, but it is unbelievable how it is almost impossible to find really pure facts, without any “sensation” around, even these days, I thought the internet would give us anything we needed.

  4. Roger

    I agree with you Richard about the foreign media, it was over the top! Esp the headlines

  5. Julian K


    I agree with you on every account here. The (foreign) media have handled this terribly. I only wish they would put their energy to some more productive use.

    Japan will get over this, and be better prepared for the future as a result.

  6. richard

    Hi Julian. Very nice to hear from you too! How are things in Tokyo?

  7. Rex


    I live in Japan, watched the same Japanese media coverage as you probably did.

    I also watched some international media like the BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN but could not see any significant deviation or exaggeration in the international media.

    There could have misinterpretation of some words used but do not think it’s significant at all.
    With regards to reporting of the state of the nuclear plants in the affected region, we understand and realise that the government is managing the news and information to minimise panic, which is probably what any other government in this current situation could do.

    However, we know how diplomatic any government could be with the situation on the ground but at the same time, we also know that Japanese society does not permit deviation from “ishoni” or independence of views.

    The Japanese media are just reporting the government views, which does not mean that the independent opinion of some international media or analysts is outrageous in the sense you have presented.

  8. Diana Lewis

    It is shameful the way the media seasons the real events !! I haven´t had time to watch the news, but now I’ll know what not to listen to!!

    My students from Spain age 7 to 9 send lots of hugs and good wishes to all the Japanese kids and the ones involved in the tragedy.

  9. sussie

    Yesterday I saw a reportage on the Italian news (which usually aren’t that reliable) made by an Italian reporter living in Japan, and he was saying exactly the same things as you Richard. Talking about how the Japanese are facing the situation in a very calm and organized way and how cultural differences may impede Westerners understanding of the way they act. It’s good to hear different versions of the events and especially from people actually living in the country.
    My students are thinking a lot about the kids involved in the earthquake/tsunami and would like to send their “auguri” (best wishes) to all of them.

  10. Barb Sakamoto

    Hi, Richard. I’ve received the same sort of requests from teachers whose students want to help, and want to let children here know that other people care about them.

    ELT News has created a page where teachers and students (and others) can leave messages of hope and encouragement for Japanese teachers and students (and others).


    They already have a Japanese language news network (Kyoiku Eigo News) so they can make sure that the messages are seen by children in the affected areas.

    I think it’s a lovely thing to do, and I hope that members in your network will visit and leave a message or two 🙂

  11. Jason Parker

    I haven’t been watching the American news, but I’m not sure what the international networks (CNN, BBC, etc) should have done differently. They WERE giving locations and specific information. They just couldn’t convey the context that actually living in Japan could add to that information.

    Most people simply do not know where Sendai is relative to Tokyo, Osaka, or even South Korea. Nor do they understand how numbers like 8.9 or 20 meters translate to the real world. That people contacted the author reflects these facts.

    I got emails asking if I was okay and I live in Korea. I’m pretty sure that the news networks never even mentioned Korea in their coverage.

  12. richard

    Fair point. And it’s also the language. I just opened “The Daily” to get the headline: “Nuke Panic: Japan is in a full-blown nuclear nightmare”

    NHK are just leading now with “Guy is saved after 96 hours” then going into details about the reactor.

  13. david

    We know the media is insane and pressured to write a story–thats what they do. And we all are looking for the sensational. We watch the pictures of the tsunami with a mixture of awe and disgust…but, like the planes flying into the trade towers, there is something eerily gripping as we watch the unfolding reality of a great disaster. We want to know we are surviving it, and that we are not. We want to know that we are panic stricken and, finally, that we are not. Thank you for helping us remember the maturity of the Japanese culture and its people: we look to you as an example.

  14. Carol

    It is verey reassuring to hear it it really is from those of you that live there and speak the language. I must say that in the very beginning when there was more video of the disaster than commentary, i had no idea where the earthquake and tidal wave were in Japan. The images alone were very impressive and when you don’t have any training for actions needed during earthquakes and tsumanis, our reaction does tend to be too emotional. I wondered what I would do in similar situation. Then I was amazed by the calm of the people and it doesn’t match our own reaction. One report did say how they all have kits in the offices with foodwater, hardhats and such and how the japanese have drills! I was quite impressed.

    Still, the media seemed to be over-reacting and I wondered how badly they were mistranslating things. One good reason for the Japanese to improve English language learning then they can report in English!! I did hear one report by a Japanese reporter in English which was excellent. They need more journalists like that!!

    I pray that everyone in the area hit will get the support they need (food, water, shelter, med aid etc) to recover quickly.

  15. Watta

    The BBC have to be the worst in trying to manufacture a story! I heard a rational explanation of from an invited nuclear scientist on the BBC news on what he belived was happening and caused one of the blasts. He his considered view of the liable low rediation from evaporated collant released and its radiation life which was very short.

    To which the indignant lovely presenter snapped back “Well you would say that anyway”..

    BBC start reporting news dont try to manufacture news – you just look foolish!

  16. magda

    Hi Richard,
    And thank you for your account. My ex used to be president of a national daily (v prestigious) and have never had any doubts that newspaper are yet another money making business. Its reassuring to compare the notes, we do worry about Japan but media also make people histerical and depressed.
    All the best to you.

  17. Dana

    Richard, when you watch the videos of what happened, you don’t need words to realize the dezaster that happened. I really don’t think the media said too much about the tsunami, but I have to admit I don’t know how accurate the translations were made. Anyway, in this situation, when you “try to your fullest”, it’s because you are “desperate”. I can’t imagine those people being any different when they saw that huge wave coming rapidly towards them, swiping everything in it’s way, even houses and cars. As I said, only by watching those videos you realize the catastrophe. These were the most apocaliptic videos I have ever seen. I am from a former comunist country in Europe, and I was always happy to be better informed listening to BBC, than to our local radio, who tried to hide the truth. I am not saying that the Japanise are trying to hide the truth, but it is normal to try to minimize the panic.
    Anyway, thank you for sharing your point of view.

  18. Shanna Bright

    Thanks so much for sharing your viewpoint. I have turned off the news on a number of occasions here in the US. Especially the moment an MSNBC anchor asked, “Is there anything we can do to prevent a tsunami?” Having lived in Shizuoka for 5 years, Japan is my second home and my heart hurts for all of you right now. I remembered you were from/had taught in Iwate and so I hope that all of your friends and loved ones are OK. Thanks for making this post to your blog. I’ve shared it through Twitter and FB to help shed some light. You take care and be safe. Best wishes to you and all our fabulous J-peeps! : )

  19. Seyed Ali

    Hi Richard,I’m Ali from Iran.Here in my country everybody is upset because of what happened in Japan.Let me say that kids here in my city are sending their best wishes to all Japanese kids and want them to be strong and full of hope and that adults will take care of them.Thank you for being such a nice supportive guy.

  20. Margit

    Yes, what’s happening is happening, no matter if the media makes it worse or better; yes pictures show enough tragedy.

    But does it help to freeze in front of the TV watching those pictures?
    Does it help walking around talking with everyone we meet about how horrible this all is?
    Does it help to worry about people in Japan, telling them to pack up their things?

    Living in Japan, I tell you NO it doesn’t. It makes things worse, it fatigues, and I’m close to cutting off my line.
    My kids have been shocked by watching the pictures on TV, and I really feel they need some “Heros” to look at on the screen again, and more than that they need a mother whose focus and energy is with them and their “now and here”.
    Having decided to do so and able to live through the first day of the week in a good mood, it broke me down again in the late afternoon, when messages of “come back to Germany” rattled in.
    I’ve been on the computer for the last days trying to be an “in between” to calm people down over there, as of course I can understand that they are worried and I don’t just want to tell me
    “leave me alone”
    I’ve been watching Newsprogramms in Japanese English, German and I am retranslating everything for my folks to calm down. This is so exhausting.
    Actually it is amazing how the numbers in German Newspapers from day 1 on are constantly double and higher. Yesterday there were “5000 dead”8 we were stating 3000yet) and more than 1 million evacuated (when we were around 400.000).

    And according to german newspapers all counters for radioactivity are sold out in Germany. With such a panic it is no wonder that people get crazy thinking of me in Japan.

    I real wish everybody would concentrate on some positive energy and productive work, as the least I can need now is myself being exhausted.

    And I’m not even close to the effected area.

    You know,
    actually our family and our neighborhood and friends: I feel so in harmony these days, I’m feeling glad to be here now. Not to say, that sometimes I wish to be closer to be able to help.

    About Japanese press “trying to minimize the panic”~ of course politicians do so to some extend, there would be no way to solve this problem with a panicking community.

    but as far as the information is concerned it is very interesting just talking about three major channels:
    one is more pro-government
    one is more anti-government
    one (NHK is as neutral as possible)

    It is so interesting to switch from here to there and it is heart breaking to watch the press conference and how especially the journalists from the “anti government side” put pressure on those people whoa re doing there best since days.
    Well, this is a big lesson for education, I think. It shows how important it is to teach kids to use their head .

    Thank you all for sharing here.

  21. Dave Harmon

    Hey, you don’t even need to invoke translation issues — these days the US press considers panic to be a selling point, and I’m afraid that’s been spreading. Not to mention that the situation hits several of the U.S.A.’s sensitivities at once….

  22. Scott

    Great point about kids abroad sending messages to fellow kids in the evacuation centres. Here’s a website where people can do just that, where each message is translated into Japanese:


    Messages can be directed to students or relief workers.

    In addition, perhaps the ELTs reading could print out some of the messages and relay them to their students? They’d surely appreciate it!

  23. Julian K

    > Hi Julian. Very nice to hear from you too! How are things in Tokyo?

    Things are as to be expected. Mostly normal, but the trains are crazy and there’s no bread to be had anywhere! Other than that, school and lessons as always ~

  24. Steve Hart

    Interesting comments from everyone but it seems to me that we are suffering from a lack of true facts. It seems that the nuclear reactors are over-heating because all the power to the coolant pumps has failed as did the back-up batteries. Why wasn’t that planned for – no-one will know until later when all the facts have been established. In the meantime, just like any other gossip, people will reach their own conclusions and, as far as the media are goes, the more lurid the better. Foreign governments are not immune to this either – Germany has shut down all its nuclear power stations and France is suggesting its citizens should leave Japan. The best we can do now? We should help the Japanese people in whatever way we can and we should ensure that after the event we truly and deeply understand what happened and why so that we can all learn lessons from this. I personally believe that nuclear power is currently a necessary evil (there have been too many ‘near misses’ around the world) but that we should escalate our search for realistic alternative.

  25. Gumby

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the link and perfect timing! We have people from Fukushima coming taking shelter in our town. I printed the letters and left it for them to read. The Hope Letters should provide words of encouragement for those who really need them!

  26. Rosebud

    @Steve Hart – a classic example of disinformation. Germany has decided to close down 7 nuclear power plants over three months not all of them. Those built before 1980. The previous government was going to close down all the country’s nuclear plants by 2021, but this present government postponed that decision further. All the nuclear plants are now to be reviewed. You must not forget that Germany (as other areas too) has been subjected to radiation from Chernobyl and has had other scares too. Protest against nuclear plants has always been high.

    I only mention this as you were talking about true facts. It is also a fact that elections are close. Make of that what you will!!!

  27. NelC

    Thanks to time differences, etc, it took me a little while to catch up with the news on Friday, but when I did the BBC’s news channel here in the UK seemed calm and fairly rational about the whole thing. Even now, they don’t seem too panicked by the situation at Fukushima. They have experts on from time to time explaining the radiation situation quite calmly.

    Contrast with the UK’s Channel 4 evening news on Friday, which had their news guy really laying it on thick, with pictures of the Ichihara explosion and fire showing on the screen while he talked excitedly about Fukushima. I work in marketing, so I’m a little world-weary about media’s bad habits, but that one was way over the top even for me.

  28. Scott

    Hi Gumby,

    Great to hear. Many thanks for spreading the word, and for being there for those who desperately need the help. Folks like yourself are an inspiration for all of us.

  29. Scott

    Hi Gumby,

    Here’s a message I received from David Chan, the creator of Hope Letters:

    “Can you please ask Gumby which town he posted the printed messages? I want to mention that in status updates and start posting a tracker list so people know. If you can, could you please find out if it’s a school, evacuation centre, city hall, etc? Please also feel free to just put me in touch with him.”

    If you could be so kind as to pass that information on to David at hopeletterscanada@gmail.com, that would be extremely helpful.

    It sounds like you and he have a very similar vision as to what would be of great help to the people of Japan!

  30. Aaron

    Thank you very much for your perspective. After a day or two of the hysteria and trying in vain to understand what is really going on from our useless news services, I started watching the industry sites and Japanese news: what a contrast in perspective!

    I was watching your NHK news last night during the magnitude 5 earthquake of Chiba – they were calm, professional, and informative – far more so than any of our news services. When they figured out where the epicenter was, they figured out the low probability of a tsunami, and gave real-time instructions to the coastal residents. It reminded me a bit of NASA mission control.

    Our news media should be ashamed!

    In any case, the destruction from the earthquake is heartbreaking. Good luck with your nation’s recovery!

  31. romana

    Thank you so much for this information !

    I still admire the Japanese people for being so calm and “disciplined” — and my hopes and thoughts are with them !

    people here in Germany are more hysterical then them – its ridiculous and the media should be ashamed here !

    be safe !


  32. Teri

    Hello Richard,

    Thanks for the detailed post. I used to live in Japan (1980-1985) teaching English and Spanish, and learning Japanese. Since then, I have gotten a PhD in media studies so I have been watching the coverage intently.

    Needless to say, I am so sorry to hear about the earthquake and the tsunami that affected NE towns. But my disgust over media reports coming from the so-called US national TV stations as well as the local ones (Bay Area/San Francisco, CA) is making my blood boil. Not only is the coverage about Japan irresponsible, but it borders on lunacy.

    First of all, reporters hop from place to place but I have yet to see one decent map of all the cities and towns affected by the earthquake and especially, the tsunami. (I had to spend quite a bit of time locating one such map on the web). The result is that viewers are not getting any proper sense of geography – where is what, who is most affected, why? This is a cardinal sin in
    moviemaking, for example. You have to let the viewer know the ‘geography’ of the shot so s/he can follow along from shot to shot, unless, of course, you want to purposely confuse. (And producers know that nothing angers the audience more).

    In the news this sense of geography should be absolutely required. (I remember when maps used to be “de rigueur” in news reports). Now, if someone is reporting from, say, Mito, no map appears on screen detailing what kind of damage the town suffered, if any. What the news media are doing is essentially using ANY town North of Tokyo as proxy for the ravaged zone. They plant a reporter there and have him/her do a standing ‘talking head’ and overlay footage from NHK and Asahi TV of the tsunami coming in, and repeat the images constantly. Reports from the major news media (FOX, CNN, Headline News, MSNBC) typically stress the following keywords: devastation, confusion, no food/water/heat, and, of course, lack of transparency by the government, especially about the reactor situation, and the heroism of those 50 ‘left behind’ to try to avoid an all-out ‘meltdown’. They call the Japanese ‘stoic,’ ‘orderly,’ but provide no cultural referents or explanations about the culture for viewers who don’t have a clue.

    Today reports have been stressing empty streets and massive migration from Tokyo – the Japanese abandoning ship, so to speak – while US reporters are still there (insert: heroically) holding down the port to get out information about new developments. But the ‘new developments’ stress more chaos, more of the same footage, and more ‘lack of transparency’ about the so-called ‘reactor situation’. Once in a while they will have soundbites by people in the tsunami-affected areas who lost a loved one, but again, without any explanation about the larger context in which they are providing these comments (other than the ‘decimated/devastated’ town/people subtext).

    The sense of the situation that a US viewer gets is that the Japanese government is confused, inept, and overwhelmed. They are essentially not doing anything about ameliorating people’s suffering, providing for their needs, or making any progress in the devastated areas (even though the viewer can see that clean paths have been carved out of what seems unending piles of debris and there are military trucks and other personnel in the area). Supposedly aid from other countries is also coming in, but none of that is shown. The only presence that is visually depicted (and barely at that) is American.

    This is Japan. This is not the Moon. And I know the Japanese are on the job and not scratching their bellies waiting around to activate the emergency response. But you’d think from the reports that it’s impossible to get in there, that things are at a standstill, and that the Japanese don’t have the manpower to conduct any sort of viable operation. And now, those in Tokyo are heading for the hills, so to speak (leaving the country).

    The other part of this is that they are still bandying about words like “the Governor has declared a state of emergency in California” and reporting that a man got swept away to sea by the tsunami in the West coast. There was nothing here in the West coast. NOTHING. The guy that got swept away did so bc of his own stupidity – he was taking pictures when a wave came in though the warning was to stay away from the water. I have also lived in Hawaii, and that kind of thing happens there all the time, without the help of a tsunami. A couple of harbors South and North of here suffered some damage (mostly to boats) and the governor declared the so-called state of emergency to get the Federal government to cover costs. But the news report don’t provide such a context. They merely stress ‘state of emergency’ and “man swept out to sea’. To imply that there was a tsunami here is just preposterous and a slap in the fact to the people in Japan who have suffered from the monstrous waves. It’s Wednesday here and the national media are still circulating this news.

    The local media are not doing a better job either. Yesterday, it was reported by some of the ‘national media’ that Tokyo Electric evacuated the 50 that had been taking care of the reactors bc of high radiation levels. Not long after, around 8 pm, one of the national stations informed everyone that they had sent those people back in. But the 10pm (Channel 2 – Fox affiliate) Bay Area, CA newscast instead chose to stress that the situation had much worsened as the workers had been pulled out, w/o mentioning they had been reinstated to their posts. That is, they gave the impression that the Japanese (collective label for company, government, and who knows what else) were abandoning the situation and the world was now at risk of nuclear disaster.
    They decided to milk the fear factor so people would watch the next day. Only this morning have the TV stations been reporting the 50 (and many others) were brought back in to attend to the reactors.

    I’m wondering about this kind of disinformation from the US news media. Why are they bent on portraying Japan as inept? Anyone who’s lived there knows it can’t be further from the truth. Either the media here are completely inept themselves, bc they can’t deal with the language, and/or they have decided to place a “no one is better or greater than us in the US” frame/subtext on all reports.
    (The reasons why are too many to detail).

    Like I said, I’m disgusted.

    How are you guys holding up? Are people really leaving Tokyo en masse? And is there a sizable foreign presence to help with the recovery/reconstruction efforts?
    Any other details or comments?

    Many thanks for the reports, and do hope all is well (or at least better).

  33. Tim

    If you want to see how misinforming foreign media is just look for reports on Germany closing 7 nuclear power plants. You will find comments like “over-reaction” or “knee jerk action”.It might seem if you read CNN etc. Foreign Media always only deliveres the headlines but no background information. It would take more than just a short article to describe the complex politcal circumstances in Germany. Just take any german newspaper from the last 40 years. Getting out of nuclear engery has always been one of the 3 biggest and most controversial issues in Germany. It’s not something that happened overnight because of Japan.

    I wish all the best for the japanese people!

  34. Afanen

    I just found this site a couple of weeks ago, so even though I haven’t been around long or know you I’m happy to hear that everyone is alright.

    Since I didn’t read all the comments I can say that at least not all news organizations are being so dramatic about it. The one I’ve been watching yes has brought up the worst case scenario type thing but it has been much more calm that what you described in your blog.

    Again I am happy that everyone is safe and I wish everyone in Japan good luck as the rest of this plays out and the reconstruction process begins!

  35. Candy

    Although it’s scaring people into panic, i think it’s better to exaggerate what’s happening here because the Japanese government IS NOT talking the truth in regards to the radiation leakage.
    It’s the seriousness (or exaggeration) of it that’s forcing other countries to send help FAST.
    Talk all you may, but the Japanese gov. NEED all the help they can get.

  36. Gerard van Schip

    Hi Richard, thanks for the post, means a lot as it puts into words what I was thinking. I moved here only a week ago, been following you genki stuf for ages, in fact me and my 2 half Japanese kids LOVE your educational material, and I don’t feel scared.

  37. richard

    @Candy: No. Your comment is the type of irresponsible reporting I am talking about.

    In this case the government is not giving half truths or lies. They only have as much information as we do through the TEPCO briefings. TEPCO may have many problems but we cannot underestimate the work they are doing. Their families are close by and that is the most extreme form of motivation I can imagine.

    Every journalist and safety organisation now has radiation monitoring meters all around the area. If things get worse this is the information we need, not images of nuclear bombs or false science. Plus we need journalists who understand the Japanese used in the briefings to get the correct nuance and meanings, not the often very bad English translations.

    Most people may not understand the science, including the journalists & translators, but that is a failure of our education systems and a discussion for another day.

    Exaggeration never helps in situations like this. If the situation does deteriorate we need the data of what to do and where to go. We don’t need panic.

  38. Gumby

    I have done a lot of research online, most of it in English. The foreign media say that this accident can reach the same Level 7 as Chernobyl (lots of Japanese media reporting Level 6). However I have yet to read anything that says the damage will be as extensive. So far everything I have read is that the accident at Fukushima is fundamentally different. And this is information in English.I think it is dangerous and irresponsible to equate Fukushima to Chernobyl.

  39. Gerard van Schip

    @Richard 100% agreed, a panic has been the cause of deaths many times in the past! If you want an example how blind panic causes mayhem just look at the empty shelves in the supermarkets, it’s crazy.

    I feel 100% secure and that is saying something as I have family IN the Sendai area. Yes some of them lost their houses but all of them are ok.

    I trust in the skill and dedication of the engineers on site at the nuclear plant to resolve this as they are keeping a calm head and are not panicing.

  40. Marlin Stout

    I have to agree with Richard and Gumby: if the situation at Fukushima was as out of hand as some of the media are making it out to be, the reactors would already been spread over half of Japan. And comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl are pointless; they are two completely different reactor designs and the people running Fukushima aren’t idiots.

    Chernobyl was a man-made disaster in the purest sense. People built an unsafe device and then screwed with it without thinking about the consequences of their actions. Just consider how many Russian naval reactors had disasters or near disasters (there’s a reason Russian sailors nicknamed K-19 ‘Hiroshima’) and be mindful that the same people who designed those naval reactors also built Chernobyl.

    Fukushima is another case altogether. A well-made, proven piece of technology is hit with a massive double-whammy: an earthquake of a magnitude it was never designed to withstand followed by a tsunami that destroyed everything around it. One of the two events would probably have been survivable, together they weren’t. Sometimes the answer really is that simple.

    Despite all the current problems at Fukushima, we have to recognize that a lot of things have gone right, or we’d already have seen the catastrophe that the newsies keep chattering about. While all is most certainly not good there, they’ve been able to keep the worst from happening this long. Hopefully they will be able to keep the disaster managed until the danger’s passed. If there’s anything they can possibly do to prevent it, you can bet that the Japanese will do it.

    If WWII taught us anything about the Japanese, it’s that they don’t surrender worth a damn. And they don’t shrink from doing what they have to do to get through a crisis. I can’t think of two better qualities to help them get through this.

  41. coop

    thanks Richard
    Im living in Fukuoka, which is now my home. I am also mindful of the hyberbole and speculation stated as fact on (CNN & BBC) TV by a panel of experts, that last week were experts on another topic.
    A clip repeated every 30 minutes is a women running to board a shinkansen, Japanese people run for trains even when they are ahead of schedule or not rushing!!!!
    My thoughts are with the people with husbands, wives, children, parents missing, this would be a never ending nightmare.

  42. Margit

    Oh, you all! You don’t know how good it feels that there seem to be people who do understand the Japanese; your words are soooo encouraging.

    And readers in Germany:
    if you have the chance : Watch interviews with “Ranga Yogishwa”.

  43. Julia

    Richard, thank you very much for your notes! You can’t even imagine what panic is on Rissian TV. And so we, all people in Russia, think that situation in Japan is terribly awful.
    Now I can see that there’s not so bad as out Tv says.
    Just wanted to say that we are with you, praying for each person in Japan. (And trying to help materially by sending donations in special organizations or by ordering things from Japan).

  44. Rasmus


    I wish for you all the best of luck and endurance.
    My heart is with you.


  45. David Geelen


    Thank you for the news in Japan.
    Also my family in japan says that everything is not so alarming as it sounds. The Belgium Media also makes it look like the worst thing ever and that everybody should stay away. What will happen is that it will make economy in japan fall even deeper. I understand we should be concerned but with that thought in mind, we need to give even more support! Next month we plan to travel to japan and go help in anyway we can. It’s what we feel we should do , instead of sitting here and make consumptions on how japan made the wrong decisions. Gambaté Japan!!!

    David G & Kaoru & Issey

  46. Dianne

    I’m so glad someone has taken the time to write this and put it into perspective. People in the UK are freaking out because the BBC and Sky News are being ridiculous and telling them to. I had to sit at work yesterday and listen to people believing everything they were hearing and not thinking about it in context outside of the BBC and it was driving me insane. News channels/reporting is just insane. The scaremongering is out of control.

  47. Christian

    This is how the norwegian paper “VG” is reporting at the moment: http://live.vgtv.no/?eventId=38
    It’s in english, don’t worry! Well, some of it.

    They’ve also angeled their headlines to get readers, as i suspect almost every foreign newspaper or tv channel has done.

    One of the comments who quite simply surprised me was a TV channel reporting “Nuke plant blows up”, is it only me that sees nukes as something different than nuclear power? I’d believe this can create misunderstandings.

    It’s great that you put this into perspective!

  48. Seyed Ali

    Quoting from top of the page Richard said:”Then as we are all teachers we want to focus on the kids. Most adults here are used to disasters but for the kids for whom this is their first time it does take time for them to get their heads around this.”
    What I am seeing here is that most of us are having some sort of debate on whether the reaction of international media are acceptable or not.What i’d like to say is that it is better we do or say something that will have atleast some benefits or outcomes.Let’s give hope specially to children,those who may have lost their parent/s are really needing it.they need someone to tell them that everything’s gonna be ok and that they are not left alone.I think that was the primary purpose of opening this topic.Am I right Richard?

  49. Greg Atkinson

    I am glad to see someone has taken time to talk about some of the very unhelpful media reporting. I have attempted to calm down some of the reporters on twitter but many of them are simply not interested in “facts” it seems, but more in presenting what is happening in Japan as some sort of media event.

    It gets worse when arm chair experts get involved who are egged on by the media to promote their theories as fact or reality.

    Some media reports have simply been wrong and many journalists are quite obviously not able to deal with the complexity of situations like the Fukushima emergency. Thus their reports and attempts to fill in the blanks have added to the confusion.

    Sometimes when people dealing with complex problems say they don’t know or their reports change later it is simply a reflection of the chaos they are dealing with.

    Some in the media should think twice before they question others competence because from where I am standing, it is the foreign/western media that has looked the most disorganised and unprofessional during this crisis in Japan.

  50. Garrett

    hey Richard.
    first of all, thank you for clearing things up. i just read an article an article on msnbc and it said that there were children in the shelters and they were using newspapers as their old source of covers while sleeping when it was snowing outside. also a few days ago i saw a video that was saying that the people in the shelters were not being told about what was going on. do you know if this is true??


  51. richard

    @Seyed: You are correct. I’ve started another post for sending messages of support. And I’m working on a financial way for everyone to help (hopefully details on Monday). Then from then on it’s seeing how we can use our own individual skills to help.

  52. richard

    @Garrett: Rather than a case of people not being told what is going on, it’s that information just isn’t getting through. One of the most requested items is batteries for radios to get information. People need to know who is where and when food and other supplies will come.

    There is zero insulation in the evacuation centres, very little fuel for heaters and yes many people only have the clothes they were wearing last Friday.

    There are stockpiles of materials all around Japan, more than enough, but it’s not getting through due to so much of the infrastructure being wiped out. If you imagine how many trucks, trains, boats and planes it takes to keep a fully functioning city going you can imagine the challenge the engineers have in getting materials through to so many cities without gasoline, ports, roads or rail tracks. Just like with Kobe there are going to be huge lessons that need to be learnt here for future planning.

  53. Alisa


    First of all, I’m happy that you and your family are well, and I want you to know that I’m keeping everyone over there in my thoughts. Second, thank you so much for writing this. I’m visiting Japan in May, and I’ve been hearing extremes from people both claiming that the Nuclear stuff is the end of the world, and that it’s just no big deal, but I was having trouble getting the pieces together. I’ve been learning towards still going, but I keep hearing all these negative reports and EVERYONE over here is absolutely freaking out, that it’s hard to stay positive and optimistic about not just my visit, but Japan as a whole (I’ve never felt so attached to another country, as I’m sure you completely understand).

    Obviously the nuclear thing isn’t good, but I’ll keep a right head on my shoulders when people freak out about me going, or I turn on the news and hear nothing but doomsday reports.

  54. Teri

    So glad to read all your observations…

    Writing here from the U.S. it is interesting to note the kinds of tidbits offered about Japanese culture in the last day or so by the national media.

    Last night, the Joy Behar show (HNN) brought out George Takei (Captn. Zulu of “Star Trek”) to explain why the Japanese in the affected areas are behaving so ‘stoically’ (e.g., no looting, remaining calm despite shortages of food and water). He zeroed in on the concept of ‘gaman,’ which he explained as bearing hardships with dignity, and which he illustrated by recounting about his life as a child in US concentration camps during WWII.

    This afternoon, erstwhile US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs James Rubin (married to journalist Christiane Amanpour) provided some context on MSNBC for the so-called ‘spotty’ Japanese government response that the media here have been complaining about. He made the case that living in close proximity in a small island has modulated the way the Japanese relate to and communicate with each other and with the world at large: i.e., in a circuitous, more ‘gentle’ manner. He offered as an example the practice of Japanese doctors to never inform cancer patients that they are suffering from a terminal illness. He also noted that the language is structured so that the Japanese can deploy forms of address based on age (seniority) and gender. He concluded that these elements of the culture, added to the bureaucratic element present in government, made for the kind of information coming out of Japanese quarters.

    Last night also, an official who served at the US Embassy in Japan emphasized that the Japanese are better engineers than Americans, and that media personnel and viewers alike should be reassured the they are on top of things and working feverishly to resolve the situation with the nuclear reactors.

    The news reports about the reactors that I’ve been keeping track of, however, seem to invariably revert back to ‘lack of government credibility’. A rather humorous example of information dissonance resulting from this assumption arrived this morning (Thurs. the 17th) courtesy of the BBC’s “World Have Your Say.” Host Chloe Tilly introduced the program noting that because no BBC personnel understands or reads Japanese, they decided to bring in someone from Japan based in London to read the Tweets and Facebook messages coming out of the disaster areas. Well enough, except that the gal doing the translating said that the comments she had been tracking were those of her friends and they were not in the affected region. Therefore, she could not relay the details of the communications by people affected by the earthquake/tsunami. Instead, she offered the (interesting) comment that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who’s been the spokesperson for the disaster, was rapidly becoming a folk hero because he had gotten virtually no sleep in days. He was so popular, the gal added, that even his last name had been turned into a verb for ‘overwork and no sleep’ and tweets were urging him to take a nap for at least a few hours. The BBC host seemed at a loss at this unexpected comment since it could not be reconciled with the media frame of ‘people furious at government’s lack of transparency.’ And when she asked the Japanese gal about the purported widespread anger and distrust, the response was that people believed officials were doing their very best to deal with the crisis.

    Tonight as I write this, I am seeing comments on CNN by Japanese nuclear plant workers asking the the media to stop castigating them for their negligence, when they are on site putting their lives at risk. CNN’s Anderson Cooper is reading the messages ignoring that the missives might somehow also apply to his own comments, which have come to be increasingly laced with ‘anger’ at Tokyo Electric and Japanese government officials. While he typically underlines the ‘heroic’ efforts of the workers – setting them apart from the ‘less-than-clear’ intentions by the (big bad) outlet that employs them – in Japan, there is also less overt differentiation between employees and the higher-ups of a company. Workers will go to any lengths to fulfill what they see as their responsibilities – just like everyone in the society will do their best to pull their load. So though the journalistic ethos, especially in the individualist West, is to look after the ‘little guy’, the ‘little guy-big guy’ divide might sound a bit disjointed or not translate accurately to the Japanese context. (Journalists who work for outlets like CNN also ignore that they are employees of large media/entertainment conglomerates which invariably influences their reporting).

    Also interesting is that no one on TV so far has referred to the Japanese attachment to the ‘furusato’ (mentioned among the comments here) and the reluctance to leave the homeland – which might partially account for why people are staying in place despite that 6 hours to the West, say, in Niigata, there is an abundance of goods – per reports. (Infrastructure problems must also be compounding travel in mountainous Japan for those who are undertaking such journeys). On the values side of things, there has also been little reference to the concept of “meiwaku o kakeru” (imposing on others through one’s behaviors or dramas); or the related notion of “on” and “on-gaeshi” (procuring favors and expecting their repayment), which for the one incurring the ‘on’ can become a burden which lasts for a lifetime.

    Here are a few paragraphs from a web Bloomberg story that addresses the directive of not imposing on others:

    As the scenes of devastation from Japan’s strongest earthquake on record and the resulting tsunami hit television screens around the world, Im-gyung Koo marveled at the calmness of the victims.

    “What struck me in this footage of Japanese in shelters, who lost their homes and relatives, is that no one was crying or showing any negativity,” Koo, a 26-year-old language teacher and native of South Korea, said by phone from her home in Tokyo. “There’s this deeply ingrained consideration for others, no matter the circumstances. In Korea, people would be bawling.”

    The social habits on display seem more deep-seated than simple manners and etiquette, said Sangita Rajbongshi, who moved to Japan from India 11 years ago. The 34-year-old left her apartment building in the suburbs of Tokyo to witness nursery- school teachers taking children outside to safety.

    “It looked like if the ceiling had fallen on their heads the teachers would protect the kids with their own bodies; that’s the kind of training they get,” said Rajbongshi, a mother of two and a part-time English teacher. “Maybe this is something beyond any training — one has to learn it from the day one is born.”

    When she invited the nursery-school group into her apartment building’s spacious lobby from the cold, they apologized profusely for imposing, Rajbongshi said.

    For the complete story, see: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-18/japan-at-its-best-deepens-expatriates-respect-as-nation-endures-disaster.html

    These concepts are all part of the social contract matrix that the Japanese have with one another (and even with foreigners, when applicable) that can explain many of the behaviors seen in the disaster, and which the international media seem not to be able to grasp. There is no blame in not understanding if there is little experience of a culture. But I am disappointed that the broadcast media at least have not more systematically and thoughtfully sought out either Japanese nationals or international others who have lived in Japan to provide cultural context. (Admittedly the BBC did so but a bit awkwardly).

    Some of the problems we’re seeing with the reports certainly have to do with constraints media personnel have to deal with in covering an issue. They tend to parachute in without background of a culture, science, or other specialized knowledge necessary to write or report an important story. This lack of time to gain vital contextual information, however, does not serve viewers. In this case, (as seen by the Japanese comments read on CNN), it is creating a lot of disinformation as well as ill feelings in others.

    Thank you, Richard, for providing a forum where these issues can be aired.

    Let us all cross our fingers so that the recovery in Japan gets well on its way and the prospective fallout from the ailing reactors is promptly contained. With best wishes…

  55. Iris Friedl

    I’m glad that I finally hear what really happens in Japan.
    The media in Austria is way worse then it is in the English spoken countrys, because they translate not the original japanese version of the news, but the english one into german.
    And of course there gets a lot lost.
    We always hear that the nuclear power plant is about to blow up and now all the apparatuses are sold out and people panic and want to take iodine tablets.

    I hope that you are all well and wish you all the best.

  56. MikeD

    Thanks for the entry Richard. As a small time DJ I’m sorry to see that the media has been sensationalizing
    the troubles there. Definitely not one of our finest
    hours. I myself have been directing listeners to the
    Red Cross and Yahoo.
    Japan will do what it always does in times like these.
    work hard, stand tall and not panic.

  57. MikeD

    Oh and Richard, about the Rosetta stone entry.
    First don’t sweat the small stuff and that was small
    stuff. and second I sure didn’t mind it. a little bit
    of normalcy amongst the madness is a good thing.

  58. Maria

    I want you to let some of the kids know that we saw a cardinal two days ago outside……..Spring is here and it will soon be warm again. Cardinals look beautiful because their feathers are all red. You can see them from very far.
    If you have not seen one, you soon will!

  59. Ian

    Thanks, Richard. I live on Misawa AB, and my wife and I agree that the US news is not reporting the most valuable story: Japanese resilience. I am ashamed to say NBC filmed US military folks clearing trash from trees on Sat 19 Mar. There were much better stories, but they needed a ‘feel good’ for their viewers.

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