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A look at Western vs. Japanese Media

8 Apr

With articles being released in the Japan Times with the title of “Be objective, not sensationalist, foreign media told” [1], I can safety say that I’m not the only skeptic of Western news.

Being in Japan during the earthquake has revealed much of what I thought was true before I left. The news being reported by western media outlets was quite ridiculous, and it truly was a shame that it focused so much on a highly improbable disaster at a nuclear power-plant and not about a disaster that has killed more than 18,000 people [2] on the North-East coast of Honshu. I have met people from those areas who were evacuated, had some of their friends and acquaintances die in the incident, and they were also upset of the news’ choice of focus. When I was here and was looking for an objective analysis of the situation I went to blogs, reddit, and other sources so that people would be criticizing the news as it was reported, and would provide sources for all of their information.

Sure I can criticize how bad the news is quite easily, but I would like to point out two faults with it that can easily be fixed. First, if the news is reporting anything and is extrapolating conclusions or summarizing information from other sources it should be 100% required to source their information. This is a basic habit and it is a good one at that – it puts the information in the viewer’s hand so that they can objectively criticize it. If you want to look at a good case study at why this is necessary I would suggest checking out Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science or just read his blog. Here’s a great talk he did at Pop Tech (highly suggest watching it – worth the 20 minutes):

Secondly, I think that the format of traditional news is flawed. It calls for an allocated time (in the case of TV) or article space (in the terms of newspapers) to be filled. Which inherently puts a lot of pressure on the people who are responsible for filling up these spaces to make it as long and exciting as possible. I’m a firm believer that many of the issues in the world are often a case of situational deficiencies – that is if you are to analyze the pressures affecting the individuals who are doing something wrong – it will likely reveal why they are behaving in a particular way. These principles are usually the basis for many behavioral economics studies (a good author for is Dan Ariely – I still need to read his latest book but his first book Predictably Irrational was great) – here’s a talk he gave at TED (unrelated to this post but interesting look at behaviour):

So looking at traditional news outlets – what outlines their success: profits – since they are corporations. Most news outlets get their profits from subscriber revenue or advertising revenue. The more people who subscribe, the more you can charge for advertisements. How do you keep subscribers and viewers – you must make the news interesting and exciting. How do you make news interesting and exciting…well you get the point. With many different media companies competing with each-other they try to out-do one another to keep their viewers. I can assure you that they are analyzing their viewership statistics to see what sticks and what does not – and sadly what usually sticks are the exciting and sensationalist headlines. News sources are not masters at relaying objective information for it is not in their best interest to do so. They are masters of increasing their viewer-ship through producing entertaining news to increase their profits. It’s hard not to be manipulated by a well-thought out exciting headline – hell we all learn the “upside down” pyramid style of news-paper article writing in elementary school.

Here are some places where I got my news for the Japanese Tsunami and situation at Fukushima and a quick comparison of what we saw in the Western Media Outlets around the same time:


Good Sources and my conclusion from them:

  • – info-graphic that was done in part with a nuclear physicist and cites all of its information from official sources. Helps show how little radiation is currently being released in perspective of what is actually harmful. (yes, XKCD was more objective than any other news source I could find)
  • – objective measures for every prefecture in Japan on radiation levels in the atmosphere and tap-water.

By looking at these sources, I can feel safe and not feel like anything is really THAT bad.


  • Cover of the Daily Mail (UK’s largest publication) –
  • Fox news and Daily Sunday –
  • There are many other examples of which I don’t have pictures of – but I was told by my family and friends back home what was being reported.

If I was only to look at this news I would have left the country in a heart-beat.

There is another great article on this topic done by the which shows the largest Japanese publication with the headline “Containment Vessel failure unlikely” while a western news outlet had the title: “GET OUT OF TOKYO NOW” the same day…

So what can we do? By understanding the behavior of organizations through the pressures that influence them we can use these pressures to help manipulate how they operate. We can stop subscribing to shitty newspapers and use free online sources that provide a more objective analysis. TV is a little harder since viewer-ship is usually calculated using Nielsen survey statistics, which are usually “sample” volunteers who carry around devices with them which pick up sound-waves emitted from radio and TV shows. This data is then uploaded to Nielsen each night. Therefore, most of the viewer-ship data we see is just a small sample size – so the only way we can help influence these is by volunteering ourselves and/or trying to influence those who are already volunteering.

I’m in Tokyo now, we had another big earth-quake last night – but it was not nearly as close as the last big one (7.1 at the epicenter) and there was no tsunami. There are no food shortages here, rolling blackouts are not affecting my area in Tokyo, and people and life is quite normal in this area. If you want I’d suggest donating to relief efforts in the North. If you’re a big grooveshark user just buy a year subscription they are donating 100% of these revenues to the Red Cross and you get a year of Grooveshark! Or just donate directly to Red Cross or any other organization that is supporting the effort.

I’m heading to shinjuku park!



Here are some more examples of the over-sensationalized news:

  • RT – “are we looking at an apocolype?” – “well, this is chernobyl on steroids…”
  • CNN – “Mass Exodus from Tokyo” … really?
  • ABC – “I think we’re extremely close now to the point of no return…” – “…a full scale Chernobyl”
  • CBC – radioactive fallout – “Cause for alarm here [in Canada]” – ignore everything after about 1:48 since a girl cuts in with her own feared analysis
  • The Globe and Mail – “The health threat posed by the continuing nuclear catastrophe in Japan is starting to look less like Three Mile Island and more like Chernobyl.”

I’m sure there are more – feel free to comment with more examples if you know of any!




Osaka, Kyoto, and back to Tokyo

2 Apr

Since my last post I’ve spent 1 week in Osaka, and 2 weeks in Kyoto – both places were awesome in their own way.

Highlights in Osaka:
– meeting up with a distant cousin and his girlfriend – cooked me an amazing home-made Japanese dinner
– visited one of the largest aquariums in the world
– went to the Osaka castle – which had a huge plum blossom garden
– celebrated st Patricks day at the first Irish pub in Japan run by Irish guys.
– spa world – $10 for a day pass at a 6 floor onsen – totally worth it.

Highlights of Kyoto
– renting bikes and traveling across town, climbing a mountain filled with monkeys.
– visiting the town of Nara which was filled with deer
– visiting too many temples to remember (lots of which were world heritage sites)
– the temple of the fox – which had 10 thousand gates leading up a mountain.
– got to ride the bullet train back to Tokyo 🙂

Now I’m in Tokyo and will be spending the next month here working as a cleaner for free accommodations. I should be in school but I can’t go anymore. Here’s the summary of why not.

Laurier international’s insurance policy strictly follows the Canadian governments travel warnings. The Canadian government has put a warning on Tokyo, surrounding areas, and all of North Honshu for “earthquake and tsunami damage”. I’m in Tokyo now – there’s no big differences here from before / after the quake and the same is true of Akita (where my school is). I tried to contest the decision but for liability reasons they can’t let me go. Now some would say just go and transfer my credits – but this comes down to the semantics of an exchange program which is starkly different from a transfer program of which details I’m too lazy to get into right now haha. So I tried to contest the decision for about a week but given their strict policy I can’t go :(. So I’ll be at Laurier for the spring semester in May. I’ve decided to stay in Tokyo (since I love if here) for a month until then and will be flying home on the 29th :). I’ll upload a post of pictures once I get my computer out – been avoiding it so that I don’t spend all my day on the Internet haha.

I’m sure I’ll spend most of my time here in Akihabara, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shiboya, and Rippongi. Going to the bar where the last scene of kill bill 1 was shot this week as well :).

Also have learned a lot of Japanese! Can read / write both hiragana and katakana and know the first 100 kanji – will be learning more this month. Got a kids book to read and learn.

See you all in May!

Kamakura + Earthquake

13 Mar

After spending a week in Tokyo, I decided to head to Kamakura for 2 days. Kamakura (a little history if you’re interested) was a great town – it’s a smaller more rural area, filled with temples and is right on the ocean. The first day, I rented bikes with 2 other people and we rode around to the ocean visiting temples on the way – here’s a picture I took of the famous big buddha:

The second day we decided to go hiking through the mountains for a few hours and visiting some temples along the way. We then decided to grab some okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) and other food which you cooked yourself on a hot plate on the table. It was delicious!

Right when we finished our lunch this was when the earthquake struck. I have a quick video below of that:

It was definitely a little scary, but luckily we weren’t close to the epicenter of it. What I found interesting was what happened after this. The power was out across the whole town, so all traffic lights and everything were out. Our hostel was about an hour walk away, and since the buses were not running, we decided to walk it. While walking back we saw normal civilians directing traffic, which I don’t think we would ever see back home – people genuinely cared about the safety of others. When we got back to the hostel we also learned that the suntori vending machines (which are extremely abundant around Japan – at least 1 at every block corner) have a built in “emergency” lever that release free beverages in case of an emergency. Again, this tells you a little something about the culture in Japan – no one has ever taken advantage of this lever – they respect the property as it is, and the mere fact that a company can have this lever there for the safety of their citizens without worrying that it will be abused is amazing. Here’s a quick picture I took of kamakura station after the earthquake:

Back at the hostel we decided to pick up a few litres of sake (which interestingly comes in milk-style cartons here) and about 15 of us sat around these tables and drank sake and talked all night. The hosts of Kamakura Guest House were also extremely kind and made dinner for all of us free of charge, and also brought out their expensive bottle of sake for sharing later in the night. It was interesting how people from Holland, Kuwait, France, Japan, Australia, and Canada could get along so well. We spent the night braving the after-shocks and just generally having a good time (given the circumstances) with no electricity:

I guess my main take-away from this experience, and just generally my whole experience in Japan is that Japanese people have the right idea. They are kind, caring, and helping. I forgot to mention that when I arrived in Kamakura, an older lady saw me looking at directions, she told me in Japanese “I’ll show you” – left her bus stop station and walked me to the front door of the Guest House – said have fun, and left.  And these are not isolated experiences, a guy I met here told me he went to a super-market, asked for directions, and the guy said he can’t speak English. So the shop-owner came back 5 minutes later with his wife and a car, and they drove him to his hostel in their own car and did not ask for anything in return.

I guess this sign-post I saw basically sums up my feeling about my experience in Japan thus far:

I hope the worst of it is over. The North-East of Japan has gotten it really bad and I’m personally trying to stay west for the time being and will be spending the next week in Osaka. The nuclear reactor is on the brink of meltdown in Fukushima, so I suppose I’ll wait to see what I do from here. I was extremely lucky that I was not more north at the time of the earthquake or it could have been a more dramatic experience.