Tag Archive: JPQUake011

Apr 02

A Response

I’ve got a little bit of flak for starting the Journalism Wall of Shame, not surprisingly, though not as much as I actually expected.


One person tweeted that he hated “fucking crusader bloggers” who had “never set foot in a newsroom in their lives”. Given that this was tweeted immediately after he’d tweeted about finding  the Wall of Shame, I can only assume that he was talking about me. (Note: although I use quotation marks, I might have got some of the words not exactly right; this was tweeted a few days ago and is apparently lost in the ether.)


I don’t expect everyone to like what I’m doing, and as we’ve seen with that Japan Times article, press people begin circling their wagons when they hear about us. However, I would like to address the point that not having ever been in a newsroom disqualifies me from criticising bad journalism.


To wit: do sports writers have to be or have been professional athletes? Do music reviewers need to be professional musicians? Do Theatre reviewers need to be professional actors, directors, etc.? Do they have to have ever been backstage during a show? Does a journalist who criticises a speech given or an action taken by, say, Barak Obama, need to have been president?


No, of course they don’t.


I could go on, but I think that sums up my point very nicely.


I leave you with this photo of the TERRIBLE COKE ZERO SHORTAGE that is hitting many convenience stores, drugstores, and supermarkets in Yokohama.  Noooooooooooo!




Yes, with all the blackouts this week having been cancelled, this is the extent of my discomfort.  Why not DONATE and help those suffering actual hardship?

Mar 22

Wall of Shame Needs Your Help

The next step for the bad journalism wall-of-shame is in progress.


Remember, as important as we think this is wall-of-shame project is, right now human lives are more important.  If you do nothing else today (and haven’t already), please DONATE! (<—that link will take you to a page that lists reputable groups you can donate to, based on your geographical location)


Having said that, there is work to do on the wall.  What we’re missing are articles from the first few days following the quake; if you can go looking for those and submit them, that would be great.  We’re looking for the worst offenders, particularly those from major news sources who made big factual errors (on purpose or by negligence) on things that could easily have been checked.  We missed a lot of articles because I didn’t get the idea until almost a week after the quake hit.  Remember, the point isn’t to get worked up over little mistakes, but to find generally trusted news sources who have misrepresented the facts in order make a sensational story.


We’ve got a huge information dump on the site right now, but no real editorial oversight to start filtering the worst offenders and presenting them in an easy-to-read way for the general public.  I was using a wiki originally, because I was hoping the site would evolve on its own.  Since I’ve had to lock the pages due to problems with wikispace’s seeming inability to merge multiple edits in a table, that is no longer going to be possible.


The first step is to figure out presentation and data management.  I’m working on that myself, but I would LOVE if a web developer could lend a hand.



  • To advise and implement our new front end.
  • Will need coding skills

Contact me (@stagerabbit on twitter or through this blog) for further discussion.



While that is happening, some of us need to get editing.  I have a couple of volunteers, but I need two or three more to make up the team.  You will be moving data from the current wall into the new one and/or editing entries to clean them up and make sure they are all clear and readable.



  • Good command of the English language (for now, anyway; versions in other languages are a possibility in the future)
  • Need to have reasonable availability online (e.g. Skype)
  • Comfortable with a collaborative process

Contact me (@stagerabbit on twitter or through this blog) if you’re interested in helping.


Okay, that’s it for now.  I need to get to sleep.  I will leave you with this:





Not the best photo I’ve ever taken.  But this was Sunday lunch on our balcony, and I just wanted to point out that the only significant radiation around was that coming from the big thermonuclear ball in the sky—the sun.


Not even a banana.

Mar 21

Japan Times: Oh Really?

Remember, as important as we think this is, human lives are more important.  If you do nothing else today, please DONATE! (<—that link will take you to a page that lists reputable groups you can donate to, based on your geographical location)


The venerable Japan Times has posted an article by Eric Johnston on the reaction of people living here to the bad reporting  that has gone on in (mostly, but not only) the international media following the Tohoku quake and its aftermath.  You can read it here.


The first half of the article deals with describing the issue, including some of the worst errors (such as the famous Shibuya Eggman “power plant”).  The second half of the article sets up the argument that “occasional bursts of sensationalism” are the price we pay for “a vigilant media”, as if there is no ground in-between.


I agree that the Japanese media is frequently complacent and derelict in its duties.  I sometimes get the feeling that investigative journalism here is a much rarer bird than it is in the west.  By the same token, the Japanese media can also sensationalize when dealing with stories from abroad (I lost my first job in Japan due to the over-the-top coverage here of the SARS “epidemic” in Toronto).  So if anyone thinks I’m giving the local media a pass, you can forget it.


However, in this case, they are not the problem.  They might be mostly reporting on information released from TEPCO and the government, but what else can they report on?  Radiation is also being measured by independent parties, including amateurs, and my impression is that they are reporting on that as well.  This is supplemented my commentary from actual scientists in the field.  (Not to mention the fact that last week we heard a reporter go for the jugular of a TEPCO executive when he tried to apologize rather than offer information!  Finally!)  But don’t worry: I’m not holding the domestic media up as a shining example.


The main problem that this Japan Times article fails to address is things like:



This is just a taste of what we’ve seen in the last week, but don’t get me wrong: nobody wants a press that just sits back and takes officials’ words as gospel truth, but we need investigative journalists, not journalists who turn and twist limited information in order to make their stories more interesting.


Finally, you can’t turn around and say “well, the Japanese media does a really terrible job” and then use that to excuse the international media!  That’s like saying that Americans’ complaints about China’s human rights abuses must be entirely dismissed while Guantanamo Bay remains open!


And don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to Mr. Johnston for at least bringing up the issue in an official forum, even if the conclusion of the article seemed to be a smug “well, let’s keep the status quo”.


Blah!  Did I just waste two hours of my life putting this together?


Allow me to leave you with this.  Another plum blossom from my plum tree (didn’t take any new photos today or yesterday).



Mar 20

WTF Toronto Star

Here is an article filed by Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star:




The article was brought to my attention by a contributor to the Bad Journalism Wall of Shame that I started Friday night.  I clicked through to read it and was absolutely flabbergasted at it.  I had expected a somewhat ill-informed, badly fact-checked piece like the one I submitted myself to the Wall of Shame as its first entry.  At that time, I thought that Ms. DiManno was just misinformed and not careful enough checking her sources, and the score I gave her reflected that.  However,  this second piece was so awful, and to my mind represented such a brutal distortion of fact (in service of a fairly obvious anti-nuclear agenda*), that I was instantly moved to respond directly by reporting it using the Report an Error button at the bottom of the webpage.  I could have let it go, I suppose, like so many others, but that it was printed by one of my hometown papers.  Given that the Toronto Star editorial staff are unlikely to read, let alone respond to it, I thought I would repost it here.


I don’t know where to begin.  I don’t know what alternate reality Ms. DiManno lives in, but it’s certainly not the Tokyo, Yokohama, and their environs that my friends, family, and I live in.


There are so many factual errors (including an unsupported assertion that a meltdown could inject "thousands of tonnes" of radioactive dust into the air"; and suggesting snarkily that nuclear winter is a possibility–something that is a theoretical result of a full-scale nuclear war, not a plant meltdown), that to list them all would require an article of my own.


The worst is perhaps the off-handed way she insults the workers who are risking their lives to keep the plant cooled, calling them "a selfless skeletal work crew doing whatever it is they do at the Fukushima plant…" which makes it very apparent she can’t be bothered to check facts and find out what it is they actually do.


In terms of officials (and scientists) telling us we are safe, Ms DiManno opines that "No one in Japan believes any of this babble." and that everyone able is moving as far away as possible.  This may be true of paranoid foreigners like herself, but I can assure you that myself and all my neighbours here in Yokohama are staying put, despite it being pretty much as easy as it ever was to head for western Japan.  I find her tone and her assertions offensive.


Finally, the entire tone of this article adds to the panic of the families of foreigners still living in Canada, some of whom are sick with worry… unnecessary worry caused by such irresponsible reporting.


Please recall Ms. DiManno from Japan immediately (if indeed she is actually here).  It is clear that she doesn’t want to be here, and we don’t want her here.


Shame on you, Toronto Star.  Shame on you, Rosie DiManno.


*I will make no secret that I am pro-nuclear power, but there are plenty of strong anti-nuclear power arguments to be made without resorting to untruths.


And now, I will try to calm down by posting a photo I took this afternoon at Kamiooka station as part of my series (really? I don’t know…) Life Goes on in Yokohama.


Life Goes on in Yokohama

Mar 16

Japan: I’m A Resident, Not A Tourist

In response to the big Tohoku earthquake, some people are fleeing Tokyo (and Kanto) and some are fleeing Japan.


I am staying put in Yokohama.


A lot of friends have offered me places to stay throughout the world should I elect to leave.  Many have urged me to leave.  This is heart-warming and touching, and I am really grateful for all the truly great, caring, and generous friends I’ve got.


I am staying put in Yokohama.


A quick rundown of the reasons below:


First and foremost, I am not a tourist.  That is to say, when I go to Canada, I visit Canada, I don’t “go home”.  I stand in the “Visitors to Canada” line at immigration.  When I go “home”, I take the train to 上大岡 station, climb over a large hill, and walk to my flimsy wooden house.  When abroad, I get “homesick” for Japan.


I have put down roots.  I have permanent resident status; I own a house; I am married and have an extended family of in-laws here.  How could I leave my mother-in-law and my grandparents-in-law behind?  Grandmother is non-ambulatory and requires around-the-clock care.


I don’t like everything about this country, and I am forever an outsider and often am proud to stand apart.  But home is where you hang your hat, as the cliché goes, and I hung my hat here nearly eight years ago.  The hat may come down one day, but not today.  I will not behave like so many expats who leave when the going gets tough; these “captains of industry” who desert what they perceive as a sinking ship like the rats of industry they are.  In fact, if I am still gainfully unemployed when the call for volunteers goes out, I intend to head up north and help with the clean-up effort.


I’m not suicidal.  If I perceived a real, immediate threat, I would do my best to get myself and my loved ones out, and encourage as many others as possible to do the same.  But the foreign media has exaggerated the risk, particularly relating to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  If you’re watching CNN, STOP NOW!  I’ve seen articles on TIME magazine and on The Toronto Star websites that have scientific errors that even a brief check with an expert or (god forbid) Wikipedia would have caught.  The biggest risk we face is another earthquake in this region of the country as the Tohoku quake seems to have triggered other earthquakes on different fault lines (which makes them not aftershocks, but separate quakes, I am told).  However, this is Japan, and earthquakes are part of the package.


This country has survived so much in just the last 150 years, and come so far in that time.  We will survive this, too.


So thank you all for your concern, and your kind offers, but I need to be here right now.


And now, I leave you with this: a picture of the blossoms on the plum tree in my yard that I took this afternoon during the blackout.  As much as the terrifying power of the earthquake and the tsunami is Japan; so is this.



Mar 14

Quake News – Bits and Bobs

Just some miscellanea regarding my quake experience before I continue with my interview thingy.


  • My mechanical clock is running 20 minutes slow as of this afternoon; must be the continual bumping. I’m planning to leave it for a few more days to see how slow it will get.  It’s losing about 5 minutes per day.
  • During the 8-hour blackout on day of the quake, I spent 5 hours not flushing the toilet until I realized that the water was, in fact, running.
  • The upstairs toilet flooded. Salient points below:
    • This toilet has a small, random leak on the left side, under which I’ve placed a bucket
    • Japanese toilets frequently have a water-fountainy thing at the top (see picture)
    • We have incense cones sitting on the window sill in case of a particularly monstrous odour
    • I used this toilet only twice during the blackout, at which point it was already dark outside
    • I went back in yesterday morning while vacuuming, and discovered water on the floor
    • Inspection revealed that there was now way the normal leak could have missed the bucket
    • Further inspection revealed that an incense cone had fallen (presumably during the quake) near the hole on the top of the toilet where the water ‘fountain’ drains into the tank
    • The cone is smaller than the hole, so it must have originally fallen sideways
    • The water from my first flush must have pushed the cone towards the hole while simultaneously engorging it
    • Thus, said engorged cone blocked the hole
    • Second flush must have flooded the tank top
    • Interesting?  Probably not.
  • Around 12:30 today, two obaasan (Japanese old ladies) rang the doorbell.  They wanted to present me with an impeccably-written note in English informing me about the power outage from 15:20 – 19:00ish.  Of course, my wife is home from work today (trains too unreliable and crowded from here to Tokyo), so it was completely unnecessary, but they were worried that I was home by myself.  The hilarious part to think about is that, knowing how little old ladies do things here, it probably took them 3 – 4 hours from coming up with the idea to executing it, working solidly the whole time, with many discussions.  It gave me a bit of a smile to think about that and about how much my neighbours care about me.

Mar 13

Quake News – Interview PT I

As you may have heard, the largest earthquake in its 140 years of recorded earthquakes has struck the north eastern part of the main island of Honshu.


Since the quake struck at 14:46 yesterday afternoon, I’ve been posting my reactions and any updates I can think of on Twitter and Facebook, which for many hours after the quake, were the only reliable means of communication.


You can follow my trains of thought there: http://twitter.com/#!/StageRabbit and http://www.facebook.com/Woolner


japan-earthquakeOne of the more dramatic photos from the tsunami that followed the quake. [Not my house]












There was a false alarm that I might be interviewed by the cbc, but once I informed them that the most trying part of the experience was going eight hours without a heated toilet seat, they smiled politely and backed away.  So I thought I’d do the interview myself:




Q. Where were you and what were you doing when the quake occurred?

A. I was at the kitchen table, eating half of my lunch.  The other half was in the toaster oven.  The house started rocking, and I froze.  Imagine a rabbit raising his head and cocking his ears.  That was me gauging the seriousness of the tremor, as I think all of us here have learned to do.  After about 10 seconds of rocking (the house felt like it was rocking back and forth, south to north), it seemed to be intensifying, so I pushed out my chair and ducked under the table.  My back was to the south wall of the house, which, as the quake went on, I could feel thumping into my back.

I felt like I was on a boat, not in a house, and the shaking seemed to go on forever.  I’d left my laptop sitting on the table, and I tried to make a grab for it, but couldn’t get a good angle.

I heard something fall and smash in the living room.

The shaking subsided, and I grabbed my laptop and went to check the living room.  While doing so, a light shaking started, so I moved on to the genkan, put on my shoes and got out of the house, where I met up with my neighbours.

I had only been wearing a T-shirt when the quake hit, so it was a little cold, but I didn’t take the time to grab my jacket.

Q. Is that what you should do?  Run out into the street?

A. No, probably not.  But after riding the rough seas in my house, my instincts were screaming at me to get out.  However, I was probably more likely to get hurt by falling debris (ceramic roof tiles, etc.) out there than I was to be hurt under my kitchen table.  However, at this time, no one had any idea what was happening, and I didn’t trust my house not to come down around my ears.

Q. What did your neighbours think of the situation?

A. They’re all old Japanese men, so very hard to fluster.  We discovered quickly that power in the whole area was out.  I was actually the news source for the first 15 minutes or so.  I’d tethered my laptop to my phone and was able to check the news while everyone else was still looking for his battery-powered radio.  I felt inordinately proud to be the one to break the news that the quake was in the northeast and measured 8.9 [note: since upgraded to 9.0].

Q. Did you eventually go back into the house?

A. Eventually.  I had to: it was getting insanely windy.  But I rode out the second aftershock (biiiig one) on the steps outside my house, crouched down and chatting with a neighbour.  The aftershocks were reasonably strong and coming so frequently, that every time I went back into the house, I got scared out of it again.