Friday, March 18, 2011

Tokyoite and Editor of Japan's Biggest English Publication Chimes in About the Disaster

Steve Trautlein is the chief editor of Metropolis magazine in Tokyo. Steve has been in the Tokyo area for 12 years and is one of the foremost experts on all things Tokyo and Japan. Steve is one of the most intelligent level-headed guys I know... I guess he's got to be to become the chief editor of such a famous publication. 

Steve also works for NHK News. So, not only is he extremely knowledgable about Japan, he gets his news and information much quicker than you or me. He sent me this wonderful letter giving his take on what is actually going on here in Tokyo.

I'd like to reprint it here for you in full:

First of all, me and my family are fine. I've actually been back at
work since Monday (March 14, 2011).

Public transportation is almost back to normal, and the neighborhood
that we live in in Yokohama, as well as all of central Tokyo, has been
unaffected by the rolling blackouts that the government has mandated
for other parts of the country (knock on wood).

What's hardest to adjust to are the near-constant aftershocks that
we've been experiencing, both major and minor. As one local expat said
today on Twitter: "They're not like earthquakes anymore, its more like
turbulence, just background hum, basically feels like we're riding a
planet." (As I'm typing this, we've been hit by a magnitude-4 quake
that the TV says has shut down a couple train lines in Tokyo and

Steve Trautlein

From a more general standpoint: I'm sure all of you have been reading
news and watching TV about the situation here. I have, too, and I have
to say that a lot of the coverage is pissing me off. There's talk of
"catastrophic meltdowns," "panic buying," "a mass exodus of
foreigners," etc., etc.

Reading and seeing these things, you'd think that the situation in
Tokyo is really panicked. But that's not true at all. Of course,
everyone is bereaved and numb, and we are all extremely concerned
about the continuing problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant. In
shops, it's been difficult to find rice, bread and milk (and, even
more troubling, TP!). Lines at gas stations have been really long, and
many shops and restaurants in the Tokyo area have temporarily shut
down. The foreign community has indeed seen a lot of people bail out
-- non-Japanese have the option of repatriating, and many have chosen
to do so. Lots of us have relatives urging us to return home, and some
embassies have advised their citizens to leave.

But most people, locals and foreigners alike, are back to doing the
things that they were doing before the quake. The feeling you get on
the streets and in shops and offices is that things are surprisingly
normal. The biggest concern most of us have now is for the people
still directly affected by the quake, and with trying to get our jobs
and businesses back on track. I don't know anyone who is freaking out
about nuclear apocalypse, or anyone who is sitting around in a
darkened room safeguarding a hoard of food.

For the past few years, I've been working part-time as a rewriter for
an English-language news program at NHK, Japan's national broadcaster.
Since the quake hit on Friday, I've been called in nearly every day to
help out with their round-the-clock coverage of the disaster. In other
words, I've been right there as all the live reports have been coming
in. And not just from NHK's reporters, but from most of the global
news outlets as well. I get the feeling that much of the coverage
(including NHK's), especially of the nuclear issue, has been
needlessly alarmist. And also, perhaps unavoidably, simplistic. If I
were living overseas and relying on these reports for information, I'd
probably be scared shitless for "all those poor people in Japan." But
instead, things here in the Tokyo area are calm.

A quick example: a little while ago, CNN splashed on their main page a
story with the headline "US Charters Planes to Exit Citizens." This
was accompanied by a photo of people mobbing an airport ticket
counter. Any sensible person seeing this is left with the impression
that Americans in Japan are freaking out to such an extent that extra
planes have to be brought in to ferry them all out. It’s not until you
actually click the link and read the story that you see a spokesman
saying: "There are still commercial seats available out of Tokyo...
however, because we do not wish to consume large numbers of seats that
others might need, we are making arrangements to bring a couple of
chartered aircraft into Tokyo." Some story!

I don't want to paint a rosy picture of what's happening here -- as I
said, everyone is feeling shock and anxiety, and we're all worried
about the Fukushima nuclear plant going kablooey. And who knows?
Sometime soon, the American Embassy may indeed tell all of us that we
need to get out of the country. It's just that the situation for most
people in Japan is a lot calmer and more nuanced than most news
organizations have, rightly or wrongly, been reporting.

Anyway, sorry again to send such a lengthy note, but I just wanted to
tell you not to be so worried (if you are) and to
urge you to not
believe the hype
(Emphasis mine)

Hats off to Mr. Steve Trautlein for being one of the voices of reason in Tokyo. You can contact Steve driectly here:


Balefire said...

Thanks to Steve for that. Once again he's proved how level-headed he is. I wish that more of his journalist colleagues were, too.

Roberto said...

Good piece. Unfortunately, "keeping calm and carrying on" does not make for a very exciting news story, does it?