Give Me a Break

March 15th, 2011

This headline on MSNBC’s web site:

Screen Shot 2011-03-15 At 8.16.51 Pm

Really. “Panic grips Tokyo”? Where, exactly, did they get this? Their person on the ground in Tokyo? This is the first graf:

Panic swept Tokyo on Tuesday after a rise in radioactive levels around an earthquake-hit nuclear power plant north of the city, causing some to leave the capital and others to stock up on food and supplies.

Okay. I don’t know how many are “leaving the capital,” but I haven’t noticed any abnormal traffic. Most people probably wouldn’t have enough gas for the trip, and most trains out of town aren’t running. But if people are leaving Tokyo, it’s probably as much for the aftershocks and the supply problems as it is from the radioactivity.

Second, people have been stocking up on food and supplies since Friday, something which did not change today. The lines I showed in my last blog post were simply a morning thing to keep the store from getting too crowded at once, and was the only store in the neighborhood doing it. Things are about the same today as they were two days ago, just a little farther progressed. People are buying because supplies look to be short, not because of radiation levels.There has been no sudden jump in buying or traffic.

People around here, as well as people I know around town, are all calm and coping. Television broadcasts show none of the panic reported above. Yes, some foreign residents are freaked out, but probably that’s because they depend on sites like the one I cite above, read headlines like this, and then react like the article shows.

Panic, my ass. Concern, yes. A few people freak out, yes. But on the whole, “Tokyo” is doing just fine.

  1. Luis
    March 15th, 2011 at 21:03 | #1


    The French Embassy in Tokyo warned in an 9 p.m. ET advisory that a low level of radioactive wind could reach Tokyo in about 10 hours, advising citizens to leave the city. In a sign of mounting fears about the risk of radiation, neighboring China said it was strengthening monitoring and Air China said it had canceled flights to Tokyo.

    Well, the Chinese and French embassies have been urging their people to leave for days now. In our school, students of those two nationalities were told since the weekend to bug out. I heard about those Sunday, and heard nothing from other students regarding their countries of origin. So this comes as no surprise.

    Tourists such as Christy Niver, of Egan, Minn., said they had had enough and were leaving. Her 10-year-old daughter, Lucy, was more emphatic. “I’m scared. I’m so scared I would rather be in the eye of a tornado,” she said. “I want to leave.”

    Me, I would choose here. And where the heck does any news agency come across using the words of a 10-year-old tourist to evidence “panic sweeping the capital”? In fact, all this story does is cite visitors wanting to leave.

  2. stevetv
    March 15th, 2011 at 23:58 | #2

    Here, Luis. This is probably the story you’d prefer to highlight.

    Everyone be safe and well.

  3. Luis
    March 16th, 2011 at 00:44 | #3


    Excellent link. That’s the Japan I live in and see every day. Well-written story.

  4. stevetv
    March 16th, 2011 at 05:53 | #4

    But I should caveat:

    We don’t know what the next few days will bring. Order can break down at any time, depending on how starving, deprived or scared people are. That Japan hasn’t done so yet is a credit to their resources and strong economy… and their culture too (although I get a little uneasy with such statements, since the unspoken implication is that Haitian and New Orleans culture is inferior when it really economics rather than culture that drives a country to despair).

    But human nature can rear its ugly head depending on the circumstances. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.

    March 17th, 2011 at 14:51 | #5

    To put it in terms of “superior” or “inferior” is a bit dramatic. But it is a fact that different societies, and different persons, react differently to adversity. In this respect, I think the Japanese are exemplary.

    March 17th, 2011 at 15:06 | #6

    Take a look at this headline in the Spanish press: “La gente está huyendo de Tokio, no hay comida ni agua”.

    A crying shame, really. Why journalists do that? One wonders about “freedom of the press” …

  7. Luis
    March 17th, 2011 at 16:01 | #7

    Take a look at this headline in the Spanish press: “La gente está huyendo de Tokio, no hay comida ni agua”.
    “There is no food or water.” Riiight. I just got back from the supermarket. Not even long lines. They had pastries again, and loaf bread (but not sliced). Lots of fruits & veggies, a good amount of meat & fish. Even had cup-noodle/ramen, though not too much. People were getting filtered water from a machine near the doors, a usual free service. And at home, we have all the water we need. (Sachi is making rice now.)


  8. stevetv
    March 17th, 2011 at 22:21 | #8


    No only is it a bit dramatic, it also flirts with racism and xenophobia. First, people forget that it was the media that played up the looting in New Orleans and Haiti, but there was really less than was “advertised”, so to speak. Hordes of black people running amok, we tend to remember. The actual numbers of looting incidents, we don’t really think about, conveniently enough. Also, insisting that there are societal differences among cultures during a crises is taking the easy way out. Doing that obligates you to ignore economical differences. What if Haiti were more like Japan in terms of wealth, government and resources, and vice-versa? Would these societies react the same way they have/had? Don’t think so.

    People loot when they have nothing to eat or drink. Luis has said there’s plenty of food in the supermarkets. People loot when their city (or country) is destroyed. Japan’s buildings remain standing. People loot when the government provides them with very little to begin with, and they must fall back on crime in order to survive. Japan has excellent resources. When the circumstances are dramatically different, making “cultural” comparisons is ridiculous.

    March 18th, 2011 at 14:45 | #9

    Steve, I agree that it also flirts with racism and xenophobia. However, not all persons or all societies react the same in the face of a crisis or a tragedy. Economics is a factor but it is not everything: human beings are not necessarily Pavlovian. One would have to ask why Haiti is not more like Japan. And I don’t think there are simple answers in terms or race, religion or national origin. “Culture” is a convenient term but it is an open term: it is not determined by genes.

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