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April 15 2013

11:00

In Japan, A Wave of Media Distrust Post-Tsunami

Until about 10 years ago, the Japanese term "masu-gomi" -- rubbishy mass media -- was a derogatory word only known to a few Internet users. Not anymore.

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the northern region followed. All told, about 25,000 died or went missing. Two years later, more than 310,000 evacuees have been unable to return to their homes. Decontamination work at the power plant progresses at a snail's pace.


The unprecedented level of the disaster stunned the nation, including its journalists.

Credibility in Question

Without much time and sufficient background in nuclear expertise, reporters rushed to feed what the government, bureaucrats, academia and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, wanted them to tell the public.

When the government and TEPCO gave only partial facts or no facts at all, the resulting reports became inaccurate or simply wrong. The credibility of the press -- as well as the authorities -- fell sharply.

"Rather than trying to find out the truth, the media became a PR machine for the establishment," says Yasuo Onuki, a journalist who used to be an executive producer at Japan's public broadcasting service, NHK.

Some dubbed the Japanese media reports as "announcements by the Japanese Imperial Army headquarters" as in World War Two. Back then, the media deliberately downplayed Japanese casualties in the Battle of Midway, which is said to have been the most important naval battle of the war.

Waseda University professor Jiro Mori has a more measured view.

"The reason that important facts were not covered soon enough was, mostly, the media's insufficient ability to pursue the facts and a lack of good reporting skills.

"If the public got frustrated by the level of reporting, it reflects their high expectations. People believe that the media can do much more," Mori says.

Science journalist Shigeyuki Koide, who was a senior writer at Japan’s national daily, Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, until 2011, says that a certain level of distrust in the media among the public is "healthy."

"How to interpret what the media say is up to you -- readers or viewers."

But what if there are no reports or no journalists?

Unfiltered Reports Fill the Gap

On March 26, 2011, about two weeks after the disaster struck Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas, Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minami Soma, a city in Fukushima, appeared in a YouTube video. Minami Soma is about 25 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where the explosions had occurred. By then, the government asked residents in the affected areas to evacuate or stay indoors.

"We are left isolated," Sakurai said, bespectacled and wearing emergency gear.

Although the city asked the residents to evacuate, about 20,000 people still lived in the city. Substantial lack of supplies to the city and insufficient information from the government and TEPCO were major problems.

Speaking in Japanese but with English subtitles on screen, Sakurai spoke to the world. If the media "do not step into this area and get direct information," they will never be able to get or tell what really is the situation with the residents, he said.

"We would urge them to come here and witness what is happening."

It was a plea from the heart.

A blogger and former journalist at another daily, Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Yasuharu Dando records the press’ spinelessness in his blog.

According to Dando, there was an article carried in the Asahi Shimbun on March 15, 2011, in which a staffer in charge of locating the journalists on the ground, "instructed the correspondents in Fukushima Prefecture to get out from a 30-kilometer radius and report from indoors."

It was March 12, the day after the disaster hit, when the government had set the evacuation area at a 20-kilometer radius.

Not everything is in a sorry state, though. One survey shows that the majority of Japanese people on the whole give a thumbs-up to the media.

According to the Central Research Services, its 2011 media research on 3,461 people showed that the respondents gave an average score of 72 out of 100 in terms of trustworthiness of Japanese newspapers. This is the same score as in the previous year. They gave higher scores to NHK, at 74.3.

But while 75.5 percent of the respondents said the newspapers' earthquake reports were good, in terms of reporting the nuclear accidents, the percentage drastically drops. Only 39.4 percent said the papers' reporting of radiation levels was satisfactory, for example.

A Role for New Media

tsunamipaper.jpg

Wataru Sakata, a university student and blogger, says that March 11 offered an opportunity to give the Internet a proper status as a form of media: "A myth that there isn't correct information on the Internet has at last collapsed in Japan."

When people wanted to know more than the limited reports by the mainstream media, "they turned to the Internet and found expert opinions or information from the overseas media."

That once sniffed-at medium, Twitter, also gained a broader status. It has been a useful vehicle for many to spread the information, although the ease of using Twitter also at times contributed to the spreading of inaccurate data.

One of the destinations for information seekers was an opinion site, BLOGOS, which attracted the eyes of parents who were concerned about the safety of radiation with regard to their children. Similar to America's Huffington Post, about 700 bloggers write about their known fields for the site. Launched three years ago, it now has 25 million page views a month.

"Opinions from people who actually know about the relevant areas, instead of critics, are much more convincing," says BLOGOS editor Kota Otani.

The disaster also presented an opportunity for freelance journalists who filed numerous reports, often from the affected areas, without the constraints of rules governing the main stream media. The Free Press Association of Japan, founded in January 2011, has been holding press conferences for them to grill those in power.

Hirohito Yamada is a co-founder of a new web service, called "byus"  (read as "by"- "us" ). The site picks current affairs topics and asks its users to express their opinions. Side-by-side, the site displays the pros and cons of a chosen topic.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for people to think critically about issues" instead of accepting what others want you to think, Yamada says.

"It's easy to simply accept what the mainstream media present us," a 23-year-old student, Rei Omori, says. "But I learned what I saw and read does not tell the whole picture. The important thing is to use the media, instead of automatically taking things in as they are."

Former newspaper journalist Koide has also taken a new step, stimulated by the March 11 incident.

"The shambles and confusion following the earthquake and nuclear accidents revealed a failure of scientific communication among the government, the nuclear power industry and the scientists' community," he says.

In January, Koide began activities to develop what he describes as "middle media," which is aimed at niche readers and audiences. In its first symposium, he invited doctors and parents in Fukushima Prefecture to talk about the danger of thyroid cancer among children in the affected areas. Next month, he plans another symposium.

Tokyo correspondent of a British newspaper, the Guardian, Justin McCurry, warns of the danger of the media taking their "eyes off the ball as time passes."

McCurry visited Fukushima last month and the main fear among residents was that the Japanese national press was no longer interested in Fukushima, apart from anniversaries, etc.

"Several people I met said they now depend on the international media to keep this issue alive."

Photo by Luis Jou García on Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

Ginko Kobayashi is a freelance Japanese journalist and author. She lives in London and writes about media, technology, journalism and social affairs while going back and forth between Japan and Britain. Her books include "History of the British Media" and "WikiLeaks That Japanese People Don't Know." She blogs about British media and publishes a column on Yahoo! Japan as well as on BLOGOS.

ejc-logo small.jpg

This post originally appeared on the website of the European Journalism Center, an independent, international, non-profit institute dedicated to training journalists and media professionals to the highest standards in journalism.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 21 2012

21:33

Japan tsunami photos highlight human cost, study finds

In the final research panel at ISOJ, Rosellen Downey, Erika Johnson, and Bailey Brewer, University of Missouri, looked at the coverage in photos of the Japanese tsunami.

The study, Through the lens: Visual framing of the Japan tsunami in U.S., British, and Chinese online media, looked at how the Japanese tsunami was reflected in the images of US, British and Chinese media.

The researchers examined at 242 photos, 58 from NPR, 52 from the BBC and 132 from Xinhua. The photos were collected over three days from March 11 to 13,

The study found that two-thirds of the photos had people in them and the majority of people were Japanese.

In photos on the BBC, there were few photos that just had officials. They tended to have a mix of officials and civilians. Xinhua, by comparison, featured mainly civilians

Few photos featured a single individual. Most were of groups.

China had the most visual coverage, due to geographic proximity.

The researchers didn’t find as many officials in the coverage as expected and instead tended to feature civilians and aid workers, highlighting the human dimension of the tragedy.

August 02 2011

06:16

Japan - Risk-aversion measures spreading after March 11 quake

asahi.com(朝日新聞社) :: The devastation of the March 11 earthquake has prompted local governments and businesses to scramble for measures and proposals to mitigate future damage in this natural disaster-prone country. Their growing fears have not only led to flight of business operations to safer areas and raised calls for changes in the power generation system, but they are also rekindling calls to relocate capital functions out of Tokyo.

Continue to read Kenichi Goromaru Staff writer, www.asahi.com

July 11 2011

11:18

Japan - A record of the disaster - Google uses Street View tech in Kesennuma

New York Times :: An oddly equipped car made its way last week through the rubble in this tsunami-stricken port city. On the roof: an assembly of nine cameras creating 360-degree panoramic digital images of the disaster zone to archive damage. It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country. 

[Shigeru Sugawara, mayor of Kesennuma:] I’d like them to record Kesennuma’s streets now. Then I’d like them to come back, when the city is like new again, and show the world the new Kesennuma.

Google is using its Street View technology in Kesennuma and elsewhere to make a record of the disaster while tracking reconstruction efforts. In a country with the world’s second-largest online advertising market, after the United States, Google is finally winning new friends.

Continue to read Hiroko Tabuchi, www.nytimes.com

04:56

おはようございます "Ohayou gozaimasu" - Japan’s victims: surviving day by day

New America Media :: Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture.–It’s 4:50 in the morning and golden rays of sunshine are already streaming through the glass block windows at the Shizugawa High School Judo Dojo. The sound of rustling blankets can be heard coming from one corner while sounds of snoring emanate from all around.

At 5:30 a.m., Jun Suzuki is standing outside the entrance of the dojo wearing a pair of burgundy sweat pants and a long-sleeved black t-shirt under his black surfboard aloha shirt. While he takes his morning smoke, two ladies walk by and they greet each other with a softly spoken “Ohayou gozaimasu.” It’s a friendly exchange between fellow evacuees.

Suzuki is one of 105 residents at the Shizugawa High School Evacuation Center that sits on a hill above the town where his house once stood just over 12 weeks ago. Most of the residents here escaped with only the clothes on their back. Some, like Suzuki, are just lucky to be alive.

Surviving day by day - continue to read newamericamedia.org

July 04 2011

05:58

Japan - In the aftermath, Banana Yoshimoto よしもとばなな receives Italy's Capri Award

Mainichi Daily :: Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto received an Italian literary prize Saturday that was presented to her for her work as well as to the people of Japan who have survived the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. At the ceremony the 46-year-old author received a plaque and recited a short piece she wrote on what people felt in the aftermath of the disaster that struck northeastern and eastern Japan.

[Banana Yoshimoto:] I was convinced from my correspondences with readers who suffered from the (March 11th) disaster that in any situation, there are people who are in need of cultural nourishment of the mind, such as books.

Banana Yoshimoto (よしもと ばなな Yoshimoto Banana, born July 24, 1964, in Tokyo) is the pen name of Mahoko Yoshimoto (吉本 真秀子Yoshimoto Mahoko), Japanese contemporary writer. She writes her name in hiragana.

Continue to read mdn.mainichi.jp

Official website (en) Banana Yoshimoto よしもとばなな, www.yoshimotobanana.com

June 30 2011

05:04

Japan after March 11th - 24m tons: debris removal, recycling daunting, piecemeal labor

Japan Times :: According to the Environment Ministry, roughly 24 million tons of disaster waste was generated from the three hardest-hit prefectures: For Miyagi the total runs to 16 million tons, while Iwate faces 4.5 million tons and Fukushima 2.8 million tons. Together it easily exceeds the 14.5 million tons Hyogo Prefecture had to deal with following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

In addition to the scale of the disaster, experts say the complex ways the debris was created adds to the headache.

Continue to read (photos available) search.japantimes.co.jp

June 13 2011

04:39

Japan - To avoid power shortage, consumers search for energy-saving home appliances

Mainichi Daily :: Consumers are flocking to electronics shops in droves to curb utility costs by replacing existing air conditioners, refrigerators and the like with new, more electricity-efficient products. Consumer electronics companies are making all-out efforts to meet the needs of these consumers as well as victims of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami who are trying to rebuild their houses.

Continue to read mdn.mainichi.jp

04:32

Japan - Mass demonstrations against nuclear power 3 months after earthquake

Mainichi Daily :: Protesters held mass demonstrations against nuclear power across Japan on Saturday, the three-month anniversary of the powerful earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 23,000 people and triggered one of the world's worst nuclear disasters. Streets in parts of Tokyo were completely jammed with thousands of chanting protesters, paralyzing sections of the city. Some marchers called for the country's nuclear plants to be shut down immediately and for stricter radiation tests by the government.

Saturday, June 12, 2011

Continue to read mdn.mainichi.jp

June 12 2011

05:09

Fukushima Japan - Delayed recovery dampens evacuees' hopes to return

The Yomiuri Shimbun Survey :: The majority of the evacuees have abandoned hope of returning to their hometowns due to delays in recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed 500 people who evacuated from their homes because of the earthquake, tsunami or the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A combined 47 percent of evacuees from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures hoped to return to their hometowns, down from 65 percent one month after the disaster.

Continue to read www.yomiuri.co.jp

04:54

Japan - Wait a little: disaster-hit tiles from Ishinomaki to cover red-bricked JR Tokyo Station

The Yomiuri Shimbun :: About 457,000 tiles are needed for the restoration of red-bricked JR Tokyo Station. Kumagai Master Thatchers Co., a construction company in Ishinomaki  an area, which was hit by the tsunami, was storing tiles for the station's restoration on the grounds. But the disaster scattered them and employees found only about 45,000 so that East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, has now to decide if they should use tiles from Spain and other parts of Tome to make up the difference, but to wait and to use tiles would encourage the people in the disaster hit part of Japan.

[Akio Kumagai, president of Kumagai Master Thatchers:] Using them as a symbol of Tokyo Station will inspire courage in people's hearts and give momentum to recovery efforts.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Continue to read The Yomiuri Shimbun, www.yomiuri.co.jp

June 11 2011

04:00

Fukushima Japan - 3 months after earthquake and tsunami still 90,000 living in evacuation centers

NHK World :: Massive amounts of debris needs to be cleared in the disaster-hit prefectures in Japan. Debris removal has not even begun in the evacuation zones near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. From a total of 52,000 planned temporary homes for the evacuees, currently only about 28,000 have been completed. Many evacuees have declined to move into the temporary housing, citing insufficient support services compared to those at shelters: More than 90,000 still live in evacuation centers.

Saturday, June 11, 2011 07:57 +0900 (JST)

Continue to read www.nhk.or.jp

May 29 2011

20:18

Japan - Radio, TV, newspapers, Twitter? Media's role in responding to earthquake disaster

Daily Yomiuri :: Professor Shiro Segawa, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, conducted a preliminary survey about the media and its role in responding to the earthquake and tsunami disaster March 11. He and his research team called on two shelters and interviewed 23 victims in total. The main question to them was which form of media—newspapers, TV, the Internet (PC or cellular phones), or radio—they used a frequently right after the earthquake, one to two weeks after it, and one month after it, respectively.

Findings. On the whole, the most common answer was radio immediately after the earthquake (car radios or battery-operated radios) and newspapers after one week since the earthquake. It is generally thought that Twitter and other social media have played an active role in responding to this earthquake disaster. This only seems to be the case, however, in areas where the Internet was available and without power outage.

Study and findings: continue to read Shiro Segawa, www.yomiuri.co.jp

 

19:36

Fukushima Japan - TEPCO released 17 photos showing tsunami slamming into nuke plant

The Mainichi Daily :: Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, on May 19 released a total of 17 photographs taken by plant workers in the midst of the tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Photos published here / continue to read mdn.mainichi.jp

May 28 2011

06:50

Japan after March 11 - shizen nōhō, natural farming without chemicals ... or radiation

The Japan Times :: Motegi did not suffer major earthquake or tsunami damage. But soon after the hydrogen explosions at the nuclear power plant, radiation contamination was found on some vegetables grown in nearby prefectures. In Motegi, Toyoguchi and Oidaira sit in the 120-year-old wooden farmhouse they have lovingly restored, and talk about their initial reaction when they heard about the first explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

We thought about closing up here and starting over in Toyohashi, where I am from, says Oidaira.

But once they'd calmed down, they thought about the years they have spent here in this tranquil corner of Japan, slowly improving the soil of their plots. After talking with other farmers in the area and consulting with organic-farming associations, they decided to stay.

Continue to read Makiko Itoh, search.japantimes.co.jp

06:09

Japan's new normal (industry view): how March 11 has changed consumption patterns

CScout | Antenna Japan :: On March 11th, Japan was struck by one of the largest natural disasters to ever hit an industrialized country. CScout: "As a result, consumer behavior of frugality and self restraint, already evident before the disaster, has been amplified".

CScout and Antenna Japan consult companies on how to address changing consumption patterns. They conducted field interviews recently to understand how brands can adapt and innovate out of disaster. The CScout | Antenna Japan video on YouTube below is a sample of the 100 consumer interviews conducted for the full Japan's New Normal report.

Core question of the video: What's Japan's new normal? How can brands adapt and innovate after March 11?

[Woman in the video interview:] I didn't use to care about getting wet in the rain, but nowadays (with the radioactivity) it's a little different

CScout, monitors consumer trends worlwide. The company has offices in Tokyo, New York City, São Paulo, and Mexico City,
Antenna Japan is a team of research professionals who are passionate about capturing category and consumer insights in Japan.

Watch the video here cscout channel, www.youtube.com

"How can brands innovate out of disaster in Japan?" by Michael Keerl, CScout, www.japantrends.com

Corporate site antenna-japan.com

May 27 2011

08:11

Japan - NTT DoCoMo allows to unlock new phones in response to March 11th

Japantrends ::  A minor mobile revolution occurred, following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, when NTT DoCoMo officially announced it would allow SIM unlocking on its new phones, for a small fee. For the first time in Japan consumers see a possibility of a separation between the phone and the payment plan.

Continue to read William Andrews, www.japantrends.com

May 26 2011

05:49

Japan - PM Naoto Kan says 20ps of energy to be from natural resources in 2020s

Kyodo News :: Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday that Japan will dramatically change its energy policy to be less dependent on fossil fuel and nuclear power, unveiling a new target of generating 20 percent of its electricity from natural resources as soon as possible in the 2020s.

[Naotor Kan, Prime Minister:] Japan will now review its basic energy plan from scratch and is set to address new challenges

Continue to read Takuya Karube, Paris, english.kyodonews.jp

05:43

Fukushima Japan - Unit 3's cooling system was damaged by earthquake not tsunami

asahi.com(朝日新聞社) :: Data from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant indicates that the March 11 earthquake--not the tsunami--damaged piping for the emergency core cooling system at the unit 3 reactor, leading to a meltdown, experts said.

Continue to read www.asahi.com

April 13 2011

19:20

Social Media's Role as a Crucial Lifeline During Japan Disaster

This is the story of seven people connected by the Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake that rocked northern Japan in March and their need to obtain immediate and accurate information. Mass confusion combined with their desire to reach loved ones compelled them to turn to social media as a lifeline.

Through networked, digital technologies, they created new ways to supplement lifelines for those at the heart of the disaster. Some of the members took action from within the quake’s impact zone while others reached out from continents away. All were connected by the social network.



  • Iain Campbell | The Twitter Project
  • Masashige Motoe | On the Ground and Linked in
  • Brian Starkey | The Smartphone Connection
  • Chris Hudler | The Wiki-Writer
  • Brett Bull | Twitter Emergency Response
  • Eric Butler | The Facebook Search Party




  • IAIN CAMPBELL | The Twitter Project

    Earthquakes are nothing new to Iain Campbell.

    He has experienced dozens during the ten years of living in Sendai city. But he was not prepared for this one.

    Campbell was in the library at work when the 9.0 quake came to life just over 100 kilometers from where he stood.

    The 35-year-old education advisor dove under a table, clutching both his iPad and cell phone.

    As walls cracked and dust began to fill the room, he thought to himself that at least he will have a way to call for help if he needs to.

    Then his mind turned to his wife and his 2-year-old son who was at day care.

    LISTEN: “I realized that most of the children were in bare feet and pajamas so I had to go back into the building with the shaking and the aftershocks still going.”

    The earthquake and tsunami blew out power lines. It cut gas and severed water pipes. But data connections that provide Internet to mobile devices held up.

    Campbell and his family took refuge in his car and he began the search for the 70 Japan Exchange Programme (JET) teachers he helps manage.

    It soon became clear through emailing cell phones and computers that one teacher in particular was missing.

    It was here that the Twitter Project came alive.

    Campbell and another coworker drew a series of rectangular grids (PDF) over a screen shot of a Google Map image of the affected coastline in Miyagi Prefecture.

    They numbered each box on the grid from 1 to 83 and posted the image on the Foreigners From Miyagi Facebook group and asked for volunteers to choose a box and write hashtags (#) of prominent locations contained within.

    Then anyone on Twitter could use each hashtag, such as “#onagawahighschool,” as a searchable term to report on people found, relief supplies and updates concerned with that location.

    In effect, Campbell, along with two others, Greg Lekich and Joshua Mcveigh-Schultz, created a massive and centralized search engine with one goal in mind: to help those in areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

    LISTEN: "We've got to basically make hundreds of locations into searchable terms? How am I going to do that…? And then I start thinking, thinking… Facebook!"

    MASASHIGE MOTOE | On the Ground and Linked in

    Masashige Motoe was sitting down to eat when Sendai station began to rock back and forth.

    One, two, three waves of tremors shook the station before the earthquake started to show signs of stopping.

    The restaurant owner put his hands against the wall as if to prevent it from falling and told everyone to remain calm. Everyone did.

    Some people even tried to pay for their meal before leaving.

    Station staff evacuated the 45-year-old university professor and hundreds of others outside to a parking lot between the main bus and taxi loops.

    Massive pedestrian decks loomed nervously above as aftershocks continued to rumble.

    Motoe reached for his cell phone to find he had no service.

    LISTEN: “It was the first experience for me [in] 45 years in Japan. It was the first time I [was] really afraid.”

    Notes regarding audio:

    • “Shinkansen” is Japanese for Bullet Train.

    Motoe calls himself an "early adopter" of Twitter.

    He began using the social networking site as soon as it came out -- back in the day when there was so few users one could see a single timeline of tweets.

    When Motoe found himself evacuated out of Sendai station along with hundreds of others, it was Twitter that he turned to in order to get immediate local information and cut through "sensational mass media."

    The professor said the experience of using Twitter during this disaster helped him understand the "true character of realtime" and cultivate the courage to remain in Sendai and begin the rebuilding process.

    Notes regarding audio:

    • “Striken Area” = Stricken Area
    • “Cool information” = calm, objective information.

    LISTEN: “It’s quite difficult to imagine the experience without Twitter… if we communicate [with] only local person and [through] sensational mass media, I can’t keep my heart and mind calm.”

    BRIAN STARKEY | The Smartphone Connection

    Brian Starkey was on his way from Sendai to Tokyo by bullet train. It had just arrived at Fukushima station.

    The doors opened and some passengers got off and others got on. The doors closed again.

    The 36-year-old waited but the train did not move.

    The slight lurch passengers feel when a train moves forward did not come. Instead, the passenger car began to shake then rock back and forth.

    Brian and the other passengers could do nothing but look on as the city shook and rumbled.

    The train's doors remained closed.

    LISTEN: “I don’t know what happened but I think a hose had busted and water just started spewing out everywhere. There were clouds of dust coming up. You know people were just like this can’t be real.”

    The earthquake and tsunami severed telephone lines, destroyed roads and halted transportation.

    Officials evacuated Starkey to Fukushima city hall. He had his cell phone charger with him and managed to find a spot near an outlet in the wall among the dozens of people already in the building.

    Starkey, and his smartphone's data connection, soon became a hub for himself and others in the make-shift shelter to get a hold of people and obtain valuable information.

    Starkey’s digital connection to his family kept him calm and help him make vital decisions throughout the unfolding calamity.

    He decided to stay longer in Fukushima and away from his family in Sendai, an area that bore the brunt of the tsunami and was low on resources.

    The information he garnered also lead to "the hardest decision in [his] life:" to leave his wife's family and evacuate his own out of Sendai.

    LISTEN: “These Facebook groups that were being made — they were able to glean the information into manageable sizes for me… I was able to make clear decisions because of that.”

    CHRIS HUDLER | The Wiki-writer

    Chris Hudler and his girlfriend were at home in Washington, getting ready for work.

    She yelled at him from the washroom to turn on the TV.

    The 32-year-old flicked on the television to see images of his “favourite spot” in all of Japan being “washed away.”

    Hudler lived in the north-eastern coastal city of Natori when he was 22.

    His house was minutes from where the tsunami pounded its way over breakwaters and through city streets.

    The onslaught of water wiped the city of 74,000 people off the map.

    LISTEN: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I used to bike out there weekly. It was my home.”

    Hudler went straight to the Internet and then Facebook.

    A quick search lead him to a newly created Facebook group called Foreigners from Miyagi. He joined and within two days saw the group morph into something inspirational.

    700 members from around the world joined the online meeting place and turned it into an unofficial search party and a place to filter and exchange information. But non-stop posting became overwhelming.

    Someone floated the idea to develop an online Wikipedia page that could be constantly updated and tweaked with new and vital information.

    People needed “a bank” of information that anyone with the Internet could access and that was updated as information came in.

    Hudler took the project on.

    LISTEN: “There were maps for places to go to get food or fuel or water. There were maps of what roads were available, what roads not to go to… this stuff is important.”

    BRETT BULL | Twitter Emergency Response

    The first rumblings of the earthquake forced Brett Bull to stop working.

    Desks, tables and walls shook. Books, printers and folders fell.

    Bull, along with everyone in the Tokyo office, sought cover.

    As the earthquake intensified, the 42-year-old freelance journalist realized this was no ordinary earthquake.

    Only after “what seemed like forever” did the tremors stop.

    Bull and his fellow coworkers immediately gathered around the TV. They flipped to the local NHK news broadcast and watched the screen as the severity of the disaster in the north slowly made itself clear.

    LISTEN: “I eventually dove under my desk, my colleagues were under their desks. The quake went on for what seemed like forever.”

    Bull is also an avid “twitterer.”

    He has used the social media service for over two years and has accumulated over 15,000 followers.

    Bull immediately started tweeting in English what he was seeing on the local news broadcast.

    His tweets reached a bus load of people and helped them navigate their way through the destroyed network of roads in the north.

    LISTEN: “The international media had picked up on the story of course but not in a way that was substantial so people were sort of relying on me to feed them decent news.”

    ERIC BUTLER | The Facebook Search Party

    Eric Butler was in bed at home in Calgary, AB when his mother called.

    Half awake, he picked up.

    She told him that a massive earthquake had just rocked Japan and that a tsunami was decimating coastal cities, including Natori, where he lived and worked as a teacher for two years.

    He did not know if the disaster had reached the dozens of students and educators he had spent so much time with while he was there.

    LISTEN: “My mind is really fuzzy in the initial point just because of the shock.”

     

    After a flurry of e-mails, Butler created the Foreigners from Miyagi Facebook group.

    Within hours, Butler saw his digital meeting space turn into “a completely different entity.”

    The group ballooned to over 300 members by nightfall, then to over 700 hundred in two days.

    Members begun to help spread information and translate local news. People fact-checked rumors and sensationalized media.

    Above all else, perhaps, the group managed to put hundreds of people in touch with loved ones.

    It soon became apparent that one particular Japanese Exchange Programme (JET) teacher named Taylor Anderson was missing. She was last seen in an area engulfed by the tsunami.

    The 700-plus members galvanized around the whereabouts of Anderson and transformed the group into a digital search party in an effort to locate her.

    Butler helped lead the way.

    Sadly, after the interview was conducted, the news emerged that Anderson was found dead near one of the schools where she taught.

    LISTEN: “It’s just kind of incredible the amount of information we’ve gathered about one missing person with nothing but our computers, an Internet connection and a couple volunteers in the area.”



    This story originally ran in The Thunderbird, an online publication of the University of British Columbia's journalism program.

    Jamie Williams is an urban culture freelance journalist, blogger and University of British Columbia Master of Journalism student. His work has appeared in Hobo Magazine, Spinearth.tv, The Vancouver Sun, Metropolis Magazine and Discorder. He created and maintains a bilingual website about grassroots Japanese music and culture, The Spin Japan Project and blogs for Sendai City Industrial Promotion Division. He lived in Japan for eight years, where he was sponsored by Spin Magazine and traveled the length of the country to cover the nation's music scene.

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