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Local media react to the events of March 11

by Mark Schreiber

For Japan’s vernacular media, the March 11 disaster and its aftermath is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla that engulfed coverage of most other news. The items that follow give some idea of the scope of reporting over the past two weeks.

• Under the title “The cruel clawings of a ‘monster quake,’ ” Shukan Shincho (March 24) assembled 28 stories and six photos with captions — virtually the entire magazine except for regular sections. Among the items: Japanese izakaya pubs, beef bowl eateries and bicycle shops had a field day serving stranded Tokyo commuters on March 11. Although the Ginza area was described as a “ghost town,” at least one club, Futagoya, claimed it stayed open for business as usual. Using her close connections with taxi operators, its 42-year-old “mama” had reserved cars in advance to transport patrons home.

• When millions of office workers were stranded in central Tokyo and the cell phone system was overburdened, Nikkan Gendai (March 21) looked at some of the unsung heroes that helped people make it through the night. One was Skype, the telephone software that enabled voice communications via smart phones. Others were Internet cafes and manga coffee shops, many of which provide cheap showers for about ¥300. They also have facilities for recharging cell phone batteries and beverage services. The overnight charge to rent a cubicle is as low as ¥2,000. The article also pointed out that iPhones feature an application enabling them to be used as an impromptu flashlight.

• No one’s sure where this rumor got started — one source said he’d heard it “from an executive at a foreign securities company” — that Emperor Akihito was preparing to flee Tokyo to the former capital, Kyoto.

Shukan Post (March 25) telephoned the Imperial Household Agency for confirmation.

“Flee to Kyoto? Why? You mean, because of the disaster? No such plan exists,” came the response. “But is His Majesty presently in the palace?” the reporter persisted. “Yes, he is. As you know, Tokyo is safe, so there’s no need to flee.”

How do such stories get started? This one may have its roots in Sakyo Komatsu’s 1973 science fiction thriller “Nihon Chimbotsu” (Japan Sinks), in which the royal family was evacuated to Switzerland. Reassured that there’s no foundation to the present rumor, Shukan Post’s writer cautions readers with an old aphorism that goes gishin anki (fear populates the darkness with monsters).

• The Tokyo Metropolitan Police confirmed the death of a 37-year-old policewoman at the Iwanuma Police Station, situated south of Sendai Airport. Assistant inspector Shizue Seya was last seen directing two colleagues and civilians to safety. She was the 14th known officer killed in the line of duty. Another 16 are still missing. (Sankei Shimbun, March 21)

• In the face of advisories from some foreign embassies that their nationals leave Japan, Tokyo-based American TV entertainer Dave Spector told Tokyo Sports (March 18) that despite the doomsday scenarios he was staying put.

“People have been asking me, ‘Why are you sticking around Tokyo when it’s such a dangerous place?’ ” The Chicago native remarked. Declaring his intention to remain at the helm (“like the captain of a ship”), he continued appearances on NBC and other U.S. TV networks to spread the word that he felt safe and was not overly anxious. “If you feel overcome with sadness, check out my Twitter posts,” Spector advised.

• J-Cast News (March 18) reports that in the wake of the 315 aftershocks measuring 5.0-magnitude or higher (including three over 7.0) during the first week since the disaster, growing numbers of people have been reporting symptoms resembling seasickness, with some complaining of severe vertigo. The article cites an ear-nose-and-throat specialist who says the term applied for these is jishin-yoi (earthquake sickness) or the “post-shake syndrome.” Symptoms can include vertigo, nausea, chilled extremities, and heavy perspiration. Recommended treatment is the same as for other forms of motion sickness.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun (March 22) warned people who spend more than three consecutive nights sleeping in their cars they might incur circulatory problems resembling the “economy class syndrome” that affects air travelers. And Nikkan Gendai (March 23) reported that fatigue due to insomnia — caused by numerous nocturnal aftershocks — has become rampant in east Japan.

• After running a photo of a rescuer in a protective face mask and the headline “Radioactivity is coming” on the cover of its March 28 issue, AERA magazine was widely lambasted for fear mongering. Editor Kazuharu Ogiposted an apology on the magazine’s website, to which he added a message of condolence to the victims. Flash (April 5) praises the disaster management by staffers at Tokyo Disneyland as sugokatta (fantastic).

“When the tremors began the public address system immediately came on and asked people to squat down,” the magazine relates. Visitors unable to make it home received emergency sheets, food and blankets, and some spent the night in a theater “where the seats were so comfortable we could barely feel the aftershocks,” the reporter is quoted as saying.

• Finally, for those worried over possible fallout, this amusing item: Tokyo Sports (March 23) reports that five years ago a team of researchers at the Tokyo University of Science and the National Institute of Radiological Science found that consumption of beer could reduce damage to chromosomes caused by radiation by up to 34 percent. “Cesium can be excreted from the body through urination,” a nuclear expert tells the tabloid. “When emergency workers at the reactor come back from work, we assemble them in the waiting room and make them chug-a-lug beer.” For teetotalers and skeptics, an accompanying article recommended more consumption of dried kombu (kelp), which is rich in iodine and believed by some to aid in prevention of thyroid cancer.