By MARIKO SANCHANTA, The Wall Street Journal
TOKYO—As Japan’s nuclear crisis deepens, a gulf has developed in the way in which the foreign and Japanese media are covering the unfolding drama.
The disparity has led to a stark difference in public perceptions of the gravity of the situation: Many Japanese are going about their daily lives and routines as normal. In sharp contrast, many foreigners have left after being deluged with phone calls from relatives pleading them to leave Japan after watching and reading media reports in their home country.
“Japan Nuke Disaster PANIC” screamed the headline of the New York Daily News on March 16. On Friday in the U.S., Time Warner Inc.’s CNN was continuing its round-the-clock coverage of Japanese nuclear concerns on “The Situation Room,” flashing the line “Shifting Winds, Rising Danger: Risk of Radiation Blowback at Japan Plant.” The Sun, a London-based tabloid, titled an article: “Nightmare warning to Brits as Nuke Crisis Continues: Get Out of Tokyo Now”. In contrast, the tentative front page of Yomiuri Newspaper’—the largest daily in Japan—on March 16 read: “Damage to reactor number 3’s containment vessel?”(The Sun is owned by News Corp., as is The Wall Street Journal.)
Contributing to the perception gap is the difficulty translating certain nuclear terms that have different meanings in Japanese and English. Top Japanese government spokesman Yukio Edano kept using the Japanese word “yo-yu,” in reference to the fuel rods in nuclear reactors, which means the rods are melting. However, many journalists translated this term as “meltdown”, which has much different implications and stirs up strong emotions. Mr. Edano, later clarified that the situation the plant faced was “quite different from what’s generally described as a meltdown” in English.
Conflicting information from the government and Tokyo Electric Power, the utility that operates the nuclear plants, has also led to confusion. Some Japanese said they didn’t trust the Japanese government and, by extension, the Japanese media, and were getting much of their information from sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Yasushige Sano, 35, an office worker in Tokyo, said he is staying put in the area with his wife and toddler. “I rely on Twitter for most of my news, and I can get the foreign news through Twitter as well,” he said. “The foreign media can probably be more objective about this and the Japanese media is probably hiding things.”
In Tokyo, aside from some food running out at grocery stores, life is largely continuing apace: Japanese children are still in school, playing outside. Salarymen are going to work. But in expat communities, the mood is different: international schools have shut down this week. The U.S. has issued a voluntary evacuation notice. Many attribute this gap in attitude to the differing information people are receiving from their media sources.
Some long-term Japan foreign residents said the foreign media was focusing on the wrong issues. “The amount of focus placed on the nuclear incident is disproportionate. [The foreign media] is focusing on that and the scare-mongering, and they should be focusing more on the disaster relief efforts,” said Richard Graham, 36, a UK national who has been in Japan for 14 years.
Hiroshi Ishikawa, the general manager of the National Press Club in Japan, says that deep down, the Japanese media has a view the situation will be resolved. “The foreign media is focusing on the other side—that this is getting out of control.”
Write to Mariko Sanchanta at email@example.com