This is the first time for me to post a blog entry in English. My name is Tetsuya Noguchi (Tetsuya Iijima). I live and work in downtown Tokyo, Japan. I'm still in shock about the whole earthquake/tsunami situation, but I'm doing OK. I'd like to thank deeply all the world-wide effort to support Japan. We're doing the best we can to overcome this hardship.

Today, I'd like to share a message written by Alex (Alexandra) Hambleton, a dear friend of my from Australia, now living near Tokyo. Alex's profile:

While many foreigners evacuated from Tokyo, she decided to stay here in Japan. She has written about what she has been personally going through here in Japan and about her views on the "perception gap."

〜a message from Alexandra Hambleton〜

The Media/Fear Gap

One of the first news stories I ever remember hearing about was the disaster at Chernobyl. I must have been about five years old and I can clearly recall watching stories about the accident at the power plant, accompanied by grainy video footage. Of course at the age of five, and living thousands of kilometres away in Australia, it was impossible to understand the significance of the event, or even understand the terror it generated for the adults around me who still had clear memories of the cold war and accompanying fear of nuclear threat. Never did I imagine that twenty-five years on I would be living close enough to a nuclear plant at a time when events that engender similar alarm would occur.

First and foremost, I want to remember that the real tragedy here was the earthquake and accompanying tsunami that occurred on the 11th of March. Entire communities have been decimated, thousands of people have lost their lives and even more are missing or displaced. Amidst all the horror however has been many amazing tales of hope as people responded with calm and patience to a situation that would have caused chaos in many other places. Rather than the quake and tsunami causing chaos however, it was the events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that began to cause the greatest concern and ultimately panic, especially amongst the foreign community of Japan.

Shaken after the earthquake on Friday and exhausted and distressed all day Saturday from the constant barrage of devastating news, by Sunday it seemed that in Tokyo at least life would return to a semi-normal state fairly quickly. Trains were operating, shops were open and although the city was quiet Tokyo had not remained in a state of shutdown for more than twelve hours. It was not until getting up and switching on the television on Monday morning that dangers beyond those immediately presented by the earthquake and tsunami became apparent. NHK played down the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, but a quick search of the internet found international media outlets providing clear video footage of the explosion, something that was not shown on Japanese television. It was at this point that gaping gap between Japan and overseas media outlet’s coverage of the nuclear issue began. While the Japanese media, government and Tokyo Electric Power Company appeared determined to play down the increasingly dangerous situation at the plant, the international media took the opposite approach, depicting the events as dangerous to not only those near the plant, but also to those in other parts of Japan and even overseas. As various embassies were issuing recommendations that foreign nationals consider leaving Japan due to a number of factors (not only the nuclear threat), media outlets such as Australia’s ABC and Britain’s BBC chose to interpret such recommendations as orders to leave Japan. At the same time, the Japanese media all but ignored the issue of a large number of non-Japanese leaving the country, once again playing down the concerns the population appeared to have about radiation from the plant. Ultimately it was this gap that made it impossible to trust any media organisation, and in my case at least instilled the greatest sense of fear. If well-staffed and funded media organisations with access to experts all over the world and direct connections to governments can interpret the same events so differently, how are audiences ever supposed to trust the information provided?

One thing that has given me great hope in the past three weeks has been the use of social media; blogging, youtube, facebook and twitter as people dissatisfied with the mainstream media search for other ways to find and share information. When the quake hit I was unable to use my mobile to call or message for over eight hours. I was, however, able to log on to facebook immediately and post my location, and that I was safe. In the weeks following the quake, as the international media appeared determined to convince audiences that the apocalypse was upon us and the Japanese media remained too calm to be considered trustworthy, the internet has provided a space for experts to provide explanations of the situation, in their own words, on their own terms, completely unedited. Users were then able to share this information via social media and in the case of Duncan Hawthorne, get in contact with and garner information from experts directly. The fact that an entire world of expertise, differing opinions and non-mediated information is available online has provided great comfort and hope over the last few weeks. Whilst we still have no idea how events at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant will pan out, we do know that we will be able to remain informed about the situation on our own terms, without relying on what has felt like an increasingly untrustworthy mainstream media both in Japan and overseas.

Alex Hambleton on ‘Meet the Listener’ (ABC Radio National – download the podcast for the 21st of March to listen)

Duncan Hawthorne (President and CEO of Bruce Power)
See also the Duncan Hawthorne Fan Club on facebook

Two examples of media manipulation of the issue

BBC World Service

NHK World

ABC Television Four Corners (Japan’s Nuclear Threat Episode)

Alexanda Hambleton