Foreign Policy Blogs

Whether to evacuate: Balancing media coverage

Many foreign nationals fleeing Japan are basing their decisions on pressure from family back home and the overly bleak scenarios projected by foreign media. State Foreign Secretary Chiaki Takahashi told a press conference Thursday that foreign coverage of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima has been sensationalist and in some cases incorrect. Takahashi asked foreign media to report objectively on the situation.

Many of the foreigners fleeing Japan, who are referred to on Twitter as fly-jin (a compound made up of “fly” plus “gaijin,” a colloquial Japanese word for “foreigner”), are going home because of pressure coming from their families. Their families’ fears of worst-case scenarios are undoubtedly fanned by the sensationalist reports in their local media.

This has led to some culture clash, as has been discussed in the Japan Times. The writer of the linked article, who left Tokyo after distressing phone calls from his parents, points out that the speed in which foreigners are abandoning their jobs and homes makes foreigners appear undependable, and underlines the cultural difference between Western emphasis on personal safety and Japanese emphasis on duty.

I can personally vouch for the Japanese placing duty above personal safety. A couple years back a powerful typhoon was heading for Japan. The government issued warnings advising people to stay inside unless they had an emergency. Meanwhile, I clashed with one of my coworkers who said we still have to come to work during the typhoon because “this is your job!” Luckily the typhoon had petered out by the time it hit my home and was over by morning, so it didn’t become a major issue.

In weighing their decisions of whether to flee Japan, foreigners should balance reports from Japanese media with reports from foreign media. Keep in mind that the role of Japanese bureaucrats and media is to pacify the people, not inform them. This leads to the Japanese media downplaying the situation. Commentators all over the world have noted the poor job Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the Japanese government have been doing to keep the public updated on the nuclear situation. On the other hand, the role of the American media is to entertain and make profits. This means that the media are prone to sensationalize the situation in order to capture the audience’s attention. The reality of the situation is probably somewhere between the two extremes, and those considering fleeing Japan should take this into account.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]