Hawaii’s false alarm missile attack of Jan 13, 2018. JT reports: “Hawaii residents spooked but Japanese sanguine”. Poor reporting and social science.


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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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13 comments on “Hawaii’s false alarm missile attack of Jan 13, 2018. JT reports: “Hawaii residents spooked but Japanese sanguine”. Poor reporting and social science.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Unfortunately Japan Times can’t do better than this. When it isn’t acting as the cheerleading ‘Abe Times’ it’s got nothing to offer but fluff pieces advertising Japanese companies and news about the USA.
    Pretty poor excuse for a newspaper.

  • It’s just one person taking it upon themself to speak for all Japanese people.

    Anyway, there was a false warning a few months ago in Tokyo and everyone panicked, shutting down the transport network for a few hours. But all the gaijin, like me in Osaka, were cool as ice.

  • Baudrillard says:

    WE JAPANESE. (check)
    “We don’t call our family to say I love you. ”
    Cold, distant parenting leading to a plethora of socail ills ranging from teen delinquency to low birthrate? Check

    We still go to work,” Workaholism? Check.

    she said. “Also, we give up fast,” as if we “will die if the missile” comes. We “can’t do anything.”

    Shouganai Fatalism preventing any change, ever? Check.
    ““I don’t know if it is …..an obsession with life”
    Japan as death cult? (Jim’s theory) Check.

    There ya go, Megumi. One bout of Stereotyping deserves another!
    Except I am being scientific, and you are not. Here is my empirical evidence https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/japan/

  • Baudrillard says:

    “(taken seriously by) media merely by dint of her having Japanese background. ”
    Western media has got to stop enabling J-propaganda and Nihonjinron myths. Its just sloppy, lazy journalism.

    Arguably racist too, “Japan as the Inscrutable Other, the mysterious Orient” (a racial stereotype ironically encouraged by Japan Gov itself, as it gives it a free hand to pass off corruption etc as “unique culture”).

  • “Japanese, Gong said, “are afraid”.” Indeed Megumi, they are afraid…. of foreigners, and even their own shadow- I have seen a couple of people literally jump away from their own shadow- maybe they thought it was a cockroach or something, although one of them was my neighbor who was most alarmed seeing me twice in a row at the local supermarket. Friendly the first time, aghast the second, like a racist Bernard Manning joke, asking the foreigner if “he’ll be going back soon, then eh? haha”
    Oh, the fear. But, why? I mean, its Safety Japan after all surely?
    Remember Ishihara”s “divine punishment” statement (which itself recalls something Hitler said at the end of the war)? There might be something to this: Japanese NIhonjinron trad myths peddle disasters, wars etc as “shouganai” and there is no point trying to escape. Your life is not your own.

    Now read how this attitude kills children in Japan who could have been saved: “elderly and male. It was another enactment of the ancient dialogue, its lines written centuries ago, between the entreating voices of women, and the oblivious, overbearing dismissiveness of old men.”

    I am so disgusted by this deadly social power dynamic that I really do not want anything to do with that situation anymore. I will not waste my breath (because they are shouganai themselves).

    There are also reports from WW2 how groups of Japanese soldiers would blithely walk into ambushes even after seeing bodies of previous Japanese soldiers on the ground. Lemmings much?

    But an NJ or someone a bit different disturbing the “wa”, now that is feraful and something they can do something about, ie bully and lord it over them?

    Just putting it out there for discussion.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      That’s an excellent comment, and you’ve linked an excellent article!
      How about this from the article;
      ‘“There’s a tsunami coming. Get out!” He passed his cousin and his wife and delivered the same warning. They waved, smiled and ignored him.’
      These people won’t snap out of their ‘dreamy day’ fantasy to even save their own lives. It represents the total rejection of all responsibility, even responsibility for your own immediate physical safety.
      And yes, the old men decided everyone’s fates, but to be fair, why did anyone need the agreement of any of these old men to save their own lives? They could have just left, but they needed endorsement of their decision so that they would be held responsible for it.
      It’s a sad outcome of Japan having never had an industrial revolution with its associated workers rights and democratic representation movements. Japanese democracy was stillborn the moment GHQ endorsed ‘the reverse course’ and as a result the Japanese still have the mindset of feudal serfs, born into rigid social hierarchies with limited opportunities for social mobility nor the aspiration for such mobility, abdicating all responsibility to the ‘erai hito’.
      And they seem quite content for that status quo to continue, even if it means having a lower standard of living, less financial security, later marriage, fewer kids, higher taxes…
      No sense that they feel they should take responsibility for themselves at all by exercising the power voters hold in a demographic society.
      Still, the way Abe has been enabling Trump lately, they won’t have to wait for Japan to disappear with a whimper due to demographics, but with a nuclear bang.
      Shouganai, ne? No one wants to save their own lives.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Following on from the “powerless J-individual” who must submit to the group (and die), Ponoc, the new successor to Studio Ghibli seems to be challenging Miyazaki’s previous deferential to authority type movies
    “Japan has faced earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear accidents,…We’re finding that we can no longer rely on the mindset that many used in the past. Japanese people have long felt that invisible things affect us greatly, and that we are pushed and pulled by these forces, as if by magic.”

    Yonebayashi believes a new Japan, led by young people, must be marked by determination and grit.”

    “Contrasted with “Spirited Away, for example.Every one of Chihiro’s attempts to save herself is wrong, and she only finds her freedom by listening to instructions from older, magical characters. (Even demanding characters like No-Face and the witch Yubaba’s baby, who seem difficult and selfish at first, are rewarded only when they become more docile and polite.) ”

    • So, Miyazaki (an old Japanese man), has been making films where children and women are punished for acting in their own interests, and rewarded for doing what authority figures tell them to do? Sheesh! No wonder Japanese people think Miyazaki films are ‘instant nostalgia’, he’s a relic promoting yesterday’s social values!
      Thanks, but no thanks.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, “The Wind Rises” (Divine wind??) gave it all away. Critics have said it glossed over Japan’s war of aggression and that then suddenly one day the good people in Hiroshima were minding their business when they were atom bombed for no apparent reason. I suppose the film is Japan-centric.
    Miyazaki “felt militarist Japan had acted out of “foolish arrogance”. However, Miyazaki also said that the Zero plane “represented one of the few things we Japanese could be proud of – [Zeros] were a truly formidable presence, and so were the pilots who flew them”.[46]”

    “felt militarist Japan had acted out of “foolish arrogance”. So in other words, Japan made a strategic error. This is strikingly similar to Ishihara’s “These things need to be washed away with the Tsunami. For many years the heart of Japanese always bounded with devil.[51] wiki.

    Again, this idea that lives are at the whim of nature. Ah well, must’ve been the Nature gods’ faults.

    Instead of making it always about how these things “make Japan look bad” (like The Urawa Racists, I mean Reds), why not spare a thought for the tens of millions of NJ victims?

    Oh yeah, them too.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, what the below article suggests is REALLY similar to Ishihara’s “greed tsunami” speech “The overall message of the (Ghibli) film then is clear: Western intervention into the Japanese cultural milieu is encouraging spiritual apostasy and not good for the people of Japan who have been seduced by foreign aid and wealth.”
    And getting back to this thread’s topic
    “Miyazaki films do not voice outright support of fascism and nationalism, the conflicts are depicted as shared experiences that involve all citizens. ”
    So no, you are not free to save yourself.


    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Baudrillard, I just read that link. You know, I honestly don’t think that Miyazaki is either promoting fascism, nor is he critiquing it, rather I would say that given his age, fascism is such an omnipresent factor in his developmental stage (part of the ‘background music’ to his childhood, if you like) that he is actual KY, unconscious, about it, and thinks that it’s an absolutely ‘natural’ part of life, therefore it should be represented in his movies.
      I would also say that he is totally conditioned by ‘Japan as victim’ narrative, hence The Wind Rises and Grave of the Fireflies are ‘anti-war’ because ‘we Japanese suffered’, rather than inflicted suffering on others.

      • Baudrillard says:

        Spot on. He is a pacifist because the Japanese suffered.Japan as Victim. The director denied Grave of the Fireflies is “anti war”, and I think that is correct, it is not. Its just about the depressing end of WW2 and children’s deaths in Japan only. Saddest movie ever.


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