Witnessing major historical events is exciting, but it also means challenges for journalists.
In my early days as a staff writer of The Japan Times in the 1990s, tragic events such as the Great Hanshin Earthquake and Aum Shinrikyo’s sarin nerve gas attacks in 1995 kept us busy. That took away reporters’ private time and left us sleep deprived.
But the most memorable and shocking event as a journalist came on March 11, 2011.
As one of The Japan Times’ reporters, Alex Martin, wrote: “It started off like any of the other temblors that shake this island nation every so often, a rolling, sideways sway — a familiar sensation for those living in the seismic Pacific Ring of Fire. But this one didn’t go away, as they usually do. Instead, the jolts intensified,” the quake, later named the Great East Japan Earthquake, was nothing like any we had experienced before.
Soon, news reports came in and we learned that the strongest quake in Japan’s history hit off the coast of the Tohoku region. Massive tsunami reaching as high as 15 meters, destroyed more than 100,000 houses, crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and took the lives of nearly 20,000 people.
Being desperate to find out what was happening and whether possible victims included someone they knew, people who could not understand Japanese kept contacting The Japan Times. I still remember that we were swamped by calls from overseas media seeking first-hand information from Japan. We tweeted and posted our comments on social media, receiving information and encouragement from around the globe.
We worked night and day to publish extra pages filled with information about temporary shelters, radiation readings and safety information. It was a time when we felt that the eyes of the world were glued to Japan.
Today, thanks to the internet, people from all over the world come to our website every day to learn about what’s happening in Japan and how Japan views the rest of the world. What a big change this is from 120 years ago! When The Japan Times was launched in 1897, there was only a paper version of the newspaper, which served a small community of foreign residents in Japan.
In today’s newsroom, editors and reporters of different nationalities with diverse backgrounds work together and exchange opinions, something that I believe gives us rich perspectives and an edge to survive through this difficult time for the media industry.
The environment surrounding us may have changed over the years, but our primary role is still the same. We hope to remain committed to delivering news from Japan and being a world window on Japan for the years to come.