The Consul-General of Japan in Chiang Mai organized a nine day exchange program during February for a group of 20 journalists from northern Thailand to visit the tsunami hit areas of Japan. Chiang Mai Post’s journalist Khaimook Charasrum reflects on the tour. Photos by Khaimook Charasrum and reporter trainee Chusawat Tunvanich.
Along with 19 other media representatives from Northern Thailand, I recently had the opportunity to visit Japan to see how the Japanese people were stoically recovering from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country’s north-east coast on March 11 last year.
In Tokyo we paid a courtesy call to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we were also briefed on the history of the Japanese media and visited the Asahi Shimbun newspaper to observe and learn from this respected publication and exchange thoughts with their correspondents.
We then travelled from Tokyo via the Shinkansen bullet train to the north-eastern region to visit the Fukushima prefecture, and along the way we visited Kitakata City FM radio station in Kitakata City.
With a population just above 50,000 Kitakata is a well managed eco-tourism city which is also known for its ramen soup noodles. Here we learnt more about the depth of Japanese culture and we found that life in Kitakata was well managed by its own people who sometimes held positions of responsibilities as volunteers.
There our media group had the chance to stay with a Japanese family on a farm stay. From Kitakata, we travelled next to Miyagi prefecture and we visited Ishinomaki city which was severely hit by the tsunami, losing 4000 of its people. There we visited the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun a local newspaper and we met Hiroyuki Takeuchi, the paper’s editorial chief, who said that they lost their printing machines when the tsunami hit.
“There was a blackout through the whole city, so we could not print the newspaper but our duty
is to report the news for the public, so we had to write our reports with pen on paper,” Mr Takeuchi told us.
“We needed to provide useful information to the general public, especially the tsunami victims to inform them of the shelters, evacuation camps and relief centers as well as about the exact damage done to the areas which were hit,” he added.
Not only did the company publish their news via handwriting, they did so under the glow of flashlights.
During the tour we learnt further experiences from media professionals which gave us a broader idea of the importance of our profession during natural disasters. The Japanese media from the local to national level maintained that being socially accountability and accurate were paramount. We became aware that Japanese media – like the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun newspaper- could maintain their operations and performance under the worst of circumstances.
The tsunami that hit Japan took away nearly 20,000 lives while the subsequent meltdown of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant added to the numbers of displaced which are said to be more than 35,000 people.
A year on and we – this small group of Thai journalists - are in Fukushima, witnessing the ruin wrought by the tsunami. In areas which had once been crowded with houses and shops are now just wide empty areas dotted with neat piles of debris or destroyed vehicles. It was in its own way now peaceful but there was a great sense of loss and sadness that remains.
While we were able to observe the progress of recovery projects we continued to learn about Japanese culture and within that appreciated their sense of social accountability and holistic attitude when dealing with and resolving social problems.
In Japanese culture what impressed me most was their sense of unity, their strict discipline and how each person understood their roles and what they needed to do. What was very much evident was how they organize themselves; be it in the form of community groups, right up to the upper echelons of government. The Japanese people have been brought up with a strong sense of social awareness and their communities and societies are strengthened by their respect for safety, tidiness and orderliness.
History has also shown that Japan’s strong society has enabled it to develop quickly and find solutions to challenges, so when the country was hit by last year’s disaster the world saw how they were able to recover efficiently and effectively.
I found the Japanese people to be very kind and generous, and willing to help each other. In recognizing these admirable character traits I was able to understand how they were able to withstand the massive tribulations which beset them last year and keep moving forward.
The writer would like to thank the Japanese government, the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) and the Japan East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS) exchange program who made the media tour possible.
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