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Emotional yo-yo for Japanese postdoc after earthquake

Guest researcher Yukari Yamada had good reason to spend all her waking hours refreshing her browser and watching TV

Earthquakes are usually no big deal in Japan, according to postdoc Yukari Yamada. »So I wasn’t too worried about it, when an American friend called Friday morning to tell me about the earthquake,« she explains.

The day after the quake, Yukari calmed down her worried Danish colleagues at University of Copenhagen’s Institute of Public Health. »Don’t worry, it won’t be like Haiti,« she said to her colleagues.

But Yukari quickly understood that the situation was far more serious than she had initially thought. It didn’t take long for her subsequently to get a hold of her family and friends. Luckily, they were all safe.

»Nevertheless, I’ve been so sad about what has happened to my country as a whole,« she says.

A turning point

»Constantly following developments on TV, it was hard to stop crying,« Yukari says. She was particularly affected by the assumed loss of an acquaintance, a nurse named Hoshi, who lives in the most affected area.

Then a small miracle happened: Yukari suddenly recognized Hoshi talking to a reporter on TV. »I saw her helping people in a shelter. She didn’t look like a victim. She wasn’t emotional, she was concerned about helping other people,« Yukari explains.

»That encouraged me to stop being emotional. To do whatever I can do to help, which at the moment is donating money,« Yukari says and adds that she is grateful for the international aid that Japan has received already.

News media are »overreacting«

What’s the situation right now? Yukari seems calm. »I think that it is progressing from now,« she says, before adding: »But it is hard for me to be so far away from my family«.

When questioned if her family is trying to leave Japan, she laughs: »Of course not!«.

The combination of a quake, a tsunami and damaged nuclear facilities is a disaster. But according to Yukari, the media have »blown it out of proportion«.

Speculates on spin

»News media are overreacting,« Yukari says. They create panic: »For example, people are fleeing from Fukushima [location of the damaged nuclear facility…ed] in spite of government advice,« she explains.

It is only a suspicion, but Yukari speculates that political actors have taken advantage of the disaster to promote particular interests. »It could be that the anti-nuclear lobby – and perhaps the oil lobby too – is working to make the situation look worse than it is,« she suggests.

»The relationship between the US and our current government is not so good,« Yukari continues her train of thought. »Perhaps the US wants to paint a picture of the Japanese government as malfunctioning,« she says, again stressing that it is just her personal suspicion.

Differences in news coverage

To stay updated on the situation in Japan, Yukari follows Japanese news media as well as CNN and the Danish Politiken. She has noticed a difference in the international coverage of the event:

»While CNN is reporting on the numbers of dead, Politiken is reporting on the many people that have been rescued,« she says.

»I definitely prefer Politiken’s approach,« Yukari concludes.

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