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Hi Blog. Making news (especially in the United States) was the alert on January 13 sent throughout Hawaii that the islands were under nuclear attack. And there were a number of reports of final messages to loved ones and otherwise panicked behavior as people tried to make use of their final moments. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm, but the local government kept us in suspense for 38 minutes. That is where the news is — the incompetence of local authorities coupled with international tensions fanned by an incompetent president.
But leave it to the Japan Times to try to draw sociocultural lines around the event. With the smarmy title, “False-alarm missile alert spooks Hawaii residents but Japanese sanguine,” it tried to paint Japanese as preternaturally calm while Americans were panicked. Drawing from a humongous sample size of three — yes, three — “Japanese”, the JT reported juicy quotes such as this:
[Megumi] Gong, [a housewife and college student from Shizuoka Prefecture who has lived in Honolulu for the last three years], characterized the differences between how Americans and Japanese reacted as “fascinating.” “I don’t know if it is a sense of crisis or an obsession with life, or whether one is more accustomed to emergency situations, but the difference in the responses is fascinating,” she said. Japanese, Gong said, “are afraid” but “aren’t panicked” — a kind of “it cannot be helped” attitude. “We don’t call our family to say I love you. We still go to work,” she said. “Also, we give up fast,” as if we “will die if the missile” comes. We “can’t do anything.”
Such is the blindness of transplant diaspora, who act, without any apparent social science training, as Cultural Representative of All Japan, wheeled out to represent an entire society of more than 100 million as a “we” monolith, and taken seriously by media merely by dint of her having Japanese background. And in contrast, at least one of my contacts in Hokkaido (which also had a DPRK missile alert (for real) over Oshima Hantou and Erimo last September) would disagree with the lack of local panic.
When I raised the faulty social science on the JT discussion board, one respondent pointed out:
I believe one of the points of the article is to show contrast between those that are familiar with situations like this, and those that are not. Some people have a tendency to rely on either experience, or some sort of education that dictates initial reaction. When people cannot extrapolate a clear path of action based on an educated or experienced mindset, they have nothing to rely on, so they ignorantly panic instead. If anything, this article tells me that the “locals” need a solid plan they can focus on when the next alarm goes off. Ignorance can certainly be disastrous.
That point would be fair enough. Except that the article didn’t actually say that. It just smarmily made the case that Americans panic and Japanese don’t — by temperament, not by training.
As for the local panic point: I’m in Hawaii too, and I didn’t even know about the missile alert until it was called off as a false alarm. (January 13 just so happens to be my birthday, and I was sleeping in.) Why? Because nobody in my neighborhood panicked. Some reports made it seem to be more of a Waikiki thing, which calls into question how many of these tourists were “Americans” in the first place.
Poor reportage, Japan Times. You can do better than this. Dr. Debito Arudou
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