Japanese students from UT reflect on disaster, aftermath

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After the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, sports management senior and Japanese native Itsuki Shibakiri wondered what would become of his home. Over the past two weeks, he has only seen and heard the situation unfold through Japanese news publications and phone calls to his parents in Chiba, Japan. What he’s heard differs from Western news coverage, he said. Shibakiri used to surf on the beaches of Chiba, located 24 miles east of Tokyo, where his parents still reside. He said the beaches are now barely recognizable after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused trembles within the city and the tsunami, as tall as a four-story building in some places, that hit the Pacific coast. The damage in Chiba pales in comparison to that in Northern regions that were hit the hardest. Nevertheless, electricity blackouts, food shortages and questions about radiation have created an uneasy atmosphere in Shibakiri’s hometown of about 950,000 people. “The areas that are supposed to have their electricity cut still have electricity, and the ones that are supposed to have electricity, don’t,” Shibakiri said. “It makes people confused. My mom said, ‘I don’t know how to prepare for this.’” After three days of phone calls that wouldn’t get through, Shibakiri got in touch with his mother who confirmed his family and friends are safe. “My dad got really frustrated because when he got back from work [in Tokyo] he had to pass 10 trains to walk back to our home,” Shibakiri said, adding it took his dad 12 hours to walk to his house in Chiba. Tatsuya Imai, communications international graduate student, was initially introduced to recent events through a vague email from his father in Tokyo, which read: “Everything is fine.” “I was like, ‘Everyone is fine? Of course, everyone should be fine.’ I didn’t get it,” Imai said. Since the quake, both students have been relying on Japanese news sites for their information. Shibakiri said he also reads English news sources, but primarily reads MSN Japan, Yahoo! Japan and watches NHK-news. He said in contrast to Western coverage, Japanese journalists focus their efforts on keeping citizens calm. Many Western news outlets have sensationalized recent events, painting a picture that Shibakiri and Imai said is different from stories they heard from family and Japanese news. “Japan nuke disaster, Panic!” screamed the front cover of Wednesday’s NY Daily News. The large font, all-caps headline was complimented by a picture of a man wearing a gas mask, with no explanation. The publication wasn’t alone in making such bold claims. Fox News mistakenly placed a Shibuya, Tokyo, night club on its map of Japan’s nuclear power plants that made it appear as if one existed in the capital city. Other news outlets, such as CNN, have drawn comparisons to the bombing of Hiroshima: a nuclear attack that resulted in a death toll 16 times the tsunami’s current count of about 9,000 deaths. Imai said Western coverage implies the entire island is in danger. He added that Westerners concerned about a specific region of Japan “don’t have as much information on how safe or dangerous the place is.” Shibakiri said Japanese news coverage has its own problems of not being as hard on the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the private nuclear plant that was damaged, leading to radioactive leaks. The company has been reluctant to share information on the plants and scheduled blackouts, implemented in order to allow regions an equal amount of time with electricity and running trains, despite limited power resources. As an officer of the Japanese Association and a member for three years, Shibakiri will be a part of their efforts around campus, spending the upcoming weeks raising money for the American Red Cross. The organization has raised $2,327 since Monday; their goal is $5,000. Imai, on the other hand, is traveling back home to Tokyo the first week of April for his sister’s wedding. He said he doesn’t feel there is anything to fear in returning to Tokyo, where the effects of radiation are minimal.