Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tokyo Crisis Update: Nuclear Meltdowns, Drama Queens, TV News and Coca Cola

It has now been reported even in the Japanese media that the foreigners have all freaked out and ran away from Japan. I'm still here reporting to you live from my home in Tokyo on events on the ground here a 150 miles away from the crisis area.
First off, let me state unequivocally that the mass media are involved in blatant sensationalism and grotesque scare mongering. Jerks. The crisis area is in Miyagi prefecture. That's 200 kilometers north of Tokyo. In Tokyo, our biggest problems are the store shelves are empty and rumors abound.

If one were to watch the news, it would seem that the entire country is underwater.

"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

I suppose if you understand the beast that is television, then it is understandable why TV broadcasts the wildest scenes possible; that's how they get ratings. It is how they make their living.

For a good rule of thumb about television, always remember this: 90% of everything you see on TV is bullshit. The other 10% are commercials. 

As of this very moment, the real crisis for TV news is how they are desperately trying to hold on to their now rapidly declining viewership as video images of things such as plumes of smoke coming out of a building - shot from a mile away - are not nearly as riveting to their audience as explosions at nuclear power plants. Nor can smoke coming from a building glue an audience to the TV set like towering buildings crumbling into the streets, close ups of massive tsunamis washing rubble, cars, trucks, and buildings across vast lands and destroying hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure in their wake. 

Nope. Smoking buildings from afar and people in food lines do not make for exciting TV. 

As with all disasters in the past, the people in the west and Japan - those outside the affected areas - will soon lose interest and then it will be back to whatever Charlie Sheen - or the next Hollywood star like him - is up to this week. 

Japan has their share of scandalous gossip too... But not nearly as bad as the USA.

Call me cold, but that's the way it is in a consumer society.

Do not take my comments as being callous towards the poor unfortunate people whose lives have been forever altered by these tragic events, take these comments as a frontal assault on the sensationalist reporting by the mass media. Because of this sensationalism in the media, People are getting the impression that all of Japan is destroyed. It's just not true. The media are not responsible. They are propagating fear. . 

Once again, do not take my comments wrongly. I am speaking of events in Tokyo now. If someone in, say, Europe wrote to me - while I was living in California - sending their condolences and worries about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans I would say the same. 

The nuclear accident is happening in Fukushima just south of Sendai

If you want to hear what other Tokyo people have said, here's a good example from Tokyo Trends. You'll be surprised that people are going to the park and still eating out. The Tokyo elementary schools are still in session and life goes on.

Of course I feel sorry for those people whose lives have been forever altered. I apologize in advance if some take my comments as callous. I cannot comment on the situation for the people near the accident site. I can only comment on Tokyo.  

I, like most Tokyo people, have merely been inconvenienced by this incredible chain of events. I do not think, though, that I should adopt a "victim complex" like many people do when these sorts of things occur. I think doing so is dishonest. I believe that taking a "victim complex" identity like many people do only cheapens the experience of those who have truly suffered.

One need only remember the group victim complex shown by Americans after 9/11 for an example of that. As for me, I'm doing my best to suppress my inner "Drama Queen." 

"It is important for all of us to be able to recognize the difference between '
fear' and 'danger'" - Marc Abela

Folks in Tokyo have not suffered. We have been greatly inconvenienced. That's all. That's not to say that many people haven't over reacted and panicked. They have. 

To get a better feel of what the locals think, this morning, I went out and interviewed three Tokyo people about the situation on the ground here.

My next door neighbor told me that she was a bit concerned because she didn't have any food or water stored up and became frightened because of a near panic at the grocery store and because the shelves there were bare. She said she was having her family send water and canned food from Kyushu. She also mentioned that she thinks the Japanese government completely messed up the handling of this situation and contributed to the panic by changing their story every few hours. She thinks that current prime minister Naoto Kan "has to go."

Interestingly, she also told me that her husband worked for Coca-Cola Japan and all the foreign upper-management have gone on unspecified "business trips" (with their families) and have left no return date to their staff. I could tell from the way she said it and her attitude  that she and her husband were disgusted at these people. What dedicated and responsible management, eh? What a great way to build respect for management.

I will, here, take this chance to strongly criticize the foreign management of Coca-Cola Japan for showing such a compete lack of responsibility to their employees and to the Japanese people. So much for Corporate Social Responsibility, eh Coca-Cola? Also, so much for dedication to your work and company. Leaving on a "business trip"? Disgusting. Don't you clowns have the guts to even say that you are running away? Saying that it is a "business trip" allows you to get paid from your company at the same time you skirt your responsibilities all the while you expect that your staff and workers continue on like everyday? If I were your boss, we'd definitely have more than a few words about this. I'd probably fire you.

I can understand you sending your family away... But you running away too? And then expecting to get paid and your employees to carry on in your absence at the same time!? 


So much for the days of the captain being the last to leave a sinking ship. And, in this case, the ship is not even close to sinking. Coca-Cola wussies. I'll never drink that stuff again.

Chicken Little is currently working in 
upper-management at Coca-Cola Japan

But I digress... Continuing with my neighborhood interviews, I again asked the construction workers a few houses over what they thought about events and they, once again, just shrugged their shoulders. One guy (the same guy I spoke to yesterday) said that he saw on Japanese TV news that the foreigners all left Japan and he thought it was a quite curious happening. He smiled.

But the coup de grace of interviews this morning was that I caught a Tokyo taxi driver in front of my house. If you want to know what the man on the street thinks about in Tokyo, then a Tokyo taxi driver is the guy to ask.

"Business is very bad"

Just like the gangster and police TV shows and movies of old, there's no one who knows better about what's going on on the street than a New York shoeshine boy. We have our version in Japan and those are the Tokyo taxi drivers. These guys have all the scuttlebutt. Here is the short conversation I had with that taxi driver:

Me: What do you think about the events of the last few days?   

Taxi: It's no good at all.

Me: Specifically, what is no good?

Taxi: Business is very bad. There are no customers.

Me: How about the danger to Tokyo? Aren't you worried?

Taxi: Not really. We're okay. The problems are up north. I'm originally from Aomori (Aomori is north of Miyagi). I spoke to my family there and everything is fine. 

Me: What do you think about how the Japanese government has handled this situation?

Taxi: As best they could considering how things kept changing everyday.

Me: Aren't you worried about radiation coming to Tokyo? Why haven't you escaped?

Taxi: Where am I going to escape to? I'm not really worried at all about radiation. We're up wind so we don't really have a problem. What I am worried about is my job as I have no customers.

With that, I said "Bye" as he was working and I didn't want to take up too much of his precious time.

Come to think of it; why should this guy be worried? Most of these Tokyo taxi drivers smoke cigarettes like bandits. They have a much bigger risk of dying from lung cancer than from nuclear radiation. No wonder he seemed so calm; he risks his life two packs a day - everyday! Talk about a real-life Marlboro Man! 

So, ultimately, I guess what I want to say in this blog post is that, as my friend Marc Abela says, "It is important for all of us to be able to recognize the difference between 'fear' and 'danger'." In spite of how much people want to be a part of the collective 'victim complex', if you are not "there" and you are here in Tokyo, then you only add to the fear and do nothing positive for yourself and everyone else. Unfounded fear does nothing except satisfy your Drama Queen desires.

Please try to suppress them. First step that I would recommend is to turn off the TV. Second is to stop drinking the Kool-Aid, or, in this case, stop drinking the Coca-Cola.

UPDATE: FYI... CNN fellow (Sanjay Gupta) relocated up to Akita, around 250km north of Fukushima, and put on a personal radiation monitor … Which said nothing unusual over the past 48 hours, and nothing meaningfully above normal background radiation levels. 

POST UPDATE:  Those who got on a jet plane and escaped from Japan can rest assured in the knowledge that they got 10 times the dosage of radiation when they went through airport security - and another 10 times that while flying in the plane to their destinations - than we've had in Tokyo.


Puck T. Smith said...

Very good post Mike. Thanks for the perspective. I know I needed it.

JT said...

People leaving are deciding not to gamble. What is wrong with that? If the very bad does happen they will be long gone and since they have homes to go to it isn't a hard decision.

The Fukushima plant is not under control and is far from it right now. Using sea water is considered a last resort. They are even contemplating using helicopters after the new explosions and fires. Because the workers cannot get to the plant because of the high levels.

If they start using helicopters it will look very similar to Chernobyl albeit not as similar in certain ways.

Anonymous said...

Does JT work for a big multi like coke, or is he another freaked out foreigner. Yes, I'm worried, but aren't we all. What if everyone were to run? Complete chaos would ensue. Stay calm, cool and collected.


Ira Hata said...


I hate to disagree with you (like I did with Facebook) but, in this case, you're wrong.

There is absolutely no potassium iodide to be found anywhere here, even in Niigata (where my sister lives). My sister told me she went to the doctor (at my urging) to ask about it and he said that "all the doctors are talking about it but [1] there isn't any around and [2] they don't know how to go about treating the potential wave of patients (from radiation poisoning)".

Go ahead and play down the problems like the typical ostrich. When you have the German and French governments telling their citizens to come home, there is a problem.

All my friends, expect you, have already left the country.

I sincerely hope you're right and we were all stupid in taking off. That being said, we can all say we had a great vacation if we were wrong. If we are right, you won't live to talk about it or, worse yet, will have exposed your son to unnecessary suffering going forward. I watched my father die from leukemia and do not wish that on anyone...


Anonymous said...

There's an old Japanese saying, "not even death can cure stupidity". Watch it wipe out those who listen the man who's selling the Koolaid.

There are three reactors melting down with another on fire. It's totally safe y'all...


mike in tokyo rogers said...

I have a new post for all of you guys. Here:

Anonymous said...

I agree with JT. People have the right to go back to their homes on a time like this for god sakes. You say that they are drama queens? Dude some people are just protecting their family.
I am Japanese and personally, I am worried but Im not fleeing the country. But please, don't call those people including me, "drama queens" just for
being prepared for the worst scenario.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Dear Ira, my friend. I think your logic fails you. What does, "There is absolutely no potassium iodide to be found anywhere here, even in Niigata" have to do with anything? If you understand how the free market works, you'd know that a product such as potassium iodide is not a popular product hence few shops would stock it.

- By the way, I just had a phone call from a friend in Los Angeles who tell me that it is all sold out there too because of mass media scare mongering. I am merely reporting facts. Innuendo and rumor are just that. No potassium iodide does not constitute a crisis.

Yesterday's radiation level in Tokyo was 0.8 microSv/hour. You would need three days of that to equal the same amount of radiation you'd receive on one one-way flight from Narita to Los Angeles. That doesn't include the X-ray dosage you receive when going through security.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

"I am Japanese and personally, I am worried but Im not fleeing the country. But please, don't call those people including me, "drama queens" just for being prepared for the worst scenario." If you read the post well, you'd understand that you do not fit the description of Drama Queen.... Like it clearly says, "There's a important difference in understanding fear and danger."

Guy Jean said...

My local drugstore owner (in Kansai) told me iodine and potassium iodide are not stocked; only hospitals have that kind of stuff, he said.

In addition, I'm not sure that they are effective against cesium, uranium or plutonium radiation, which is what is coming out of Fukushima. If you have more info on this, please blog it. Some of us like to know!

Mark Davis said...

The difference between fear and danger is psychological. It is like the difference between perception and reality. Perceiving that the potential worst case scenario is what should be dealt with as if it were reality leads to a tremendous waste of resources at a time when resources are scarce. Proximity, as you clearly point out in your post above Mike, to the real problem certainly alters the calculus of any risk management decision. In the end, "better safe than sorry" is a luxury that depends on your available resources, but honorable people will also weigh their responsibilities. The rich guy managers at Coke abadoning ship are wussies. Like you said: go ahead and send your families away, but consider those you serve (Japanese people) and employ.

I find it funny how people will freak out about doses of radiation that are far less than what the scanners at the airport give you; and that these same people say nothing about the scanners. So getting on a plane to avoid radiation is self-defeating. Fear and danger, indeed.

Anonymous said...

My son and daughter-in-law live in California. With all of the hype that radiation will hit the California coast, I did some checking. It is approximately 17.34 miles from Chernobyl to Paris, France. It is approximately 5,282 miles from Japan to California. I am not going to lose any sleep over it, and neither is he.

I have been more concerned about the heartache and devastation that has taken place in Japan. As a wife, mother and grandmother, it is difficult news.

Mrs. R.

Anonymous said...

Correction. It is about 2,000 miles from Chernobyl to Paris.

In your situation, would I leave Tokyo temporarily? Maybe. I am not there to assess the situation. You are.

Mrs. R.

Anonymous said...

Often it takes more effort and guts to leave than to just continue to stay put and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

You bring up good, pertinent points but make fun of those leaving especially with the airplane radiation jab at end. Everyone has different priorities as well as resources in their lives. Some react fast, slow, wisely, or foolishly based on them. Judging from the government's initial lack of explanations in typically frustrating, ambiguous, Japanese way, and the questionable lack of actions by the historically dubious TEPCO which I believe were the causes of repeated explosions, the ones who left may have thought it out a bit more and also happened to have had the privilege of doing so than the average taxi driver who comparatively may be disadvantaged in many ways.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah. The ones who stayed are just poor, right? Just keep repeating that and you might even convince yourself.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Thanks. I addressed all these comments in the article. Those who weighed the issues calmly and left have nothing to be ashamed of. Those who panicked should be ashamed of their hysterics. Those who ran away in a panic then used Social Networks and email to spread fear are guilty. Anyway, and actions decided while in a panic state are foolsih ideas. I wrote about that here:

I think there are a lot of people - especially foreigners who are now beginning to feel ashamed and embarrassed by their actions. Misery loves company and I think 2 of the last 3 commentators are now trying to rationalize their actions. No matter what, like I said, decisions made in a panic are stupid ones. The foreigners who took off - on paid leave - while they left the Japanese at their companies to work are good examples of terrible leaders. They are also sorry excuses for adults. If they want to run away, fine. Say so. Don't try to rationalize or hide your shame.

Also, isn't taking a paid leave from your company when the truth is that you want to run away a sort of theft?

Well, but then again, why should I expect them to act like responsible adults? They showed their abilities when they ran away in a panicked frenzy.

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