Podcast: Dealing with the nuclear incident in Fukushima of 2011

1.) What is our video podcast about?

In our video podcast we show a new edition of PaderTV. This week’s documentation is about the nuclear incident of Fukushima in 2011 and how the Germans and Japanese deal with this topic. Lisa Jauch, show host, presents some main facts about the Tohoku earthquake and its aftermath. Furthermore Lisa Jauch welcomes local and foreign correspondents to the show and interviews with German and Japanese students are shown. The show closes with a statement of Tokyo University’s expert on cultural communication, Prof. Dr. Cavner-Honda.


2.) What was our motivation and intention?

As we are going to stay for five and ten months in Japan, the topic of Fukushima is often mentioned by friends and family. Is it safe to be in Japan? Are you going to eat fish and other food from Japan? What about the radiation level? Aren’t you afraid to go there? These are some questions which were asked and before applying for Oita we had to ask ourselves the same: Are we going to be ok staying some months in Japan?

Fact is, that the German and western media is very critically about Fukushima and TEPCOs treatment plans for the nuclear plant is observed sceptically. However, there is the impression that some reports about Fukushima are hypercritical and that the media is trying to catch more viewers with sensational journalism.

On the other hand, here in Germany, we get the impression that the Japanese media is trying to downplay the incident and that not all information is passed onto the population.

Therefore the aim of your podcast is to see how different cultures, in this case the German and Japanese cultures, deal with Fukushima and how the happenings from 2011 and the situation nowadays is perceived from people of both cultures. Hence, two students from each country were asked some questions about Fukushima.

Our aim is not to tell people if it is safe to go to Japan or not. This is a decision every person has to make for themselves, based on their own research.


3) Transcription of our video podcast

Show host: Lisa Jauch

German correspondent: Maria Weinkeller des

Foreign correspondent: Sara Yamakawa

Expert: Prof. Dr. Cavner-Honda


Lisa Jauch (studio): Welcome and welcome to Pader TV.  My name is Lisa Jauch and we are glad that you are watching our today’s documentation about the nuclear incident in Fukushima in 2011. In today’s show we will have a look on how different cultures deal with the incident with a focus on the German and Japanese culture. Our aim is not to evaluate if it is dangerous or not to live in Japan but to we will have a look on the cultural differences. But before we start with our interviews we will have a short review on what happened in March, 2011.

On 11th of March 2011 , a magnitude 9.0 undersea mega thrust earthquake, known as the Tohoku earthquake, occurred off the coast of Japan at 2:46 pm local time. The epicenter was approximately 70 kilometers east of Tohoku and the hypocenter at an underwater depth of 30 kilometers.  The Tohoku earthquake was the most powerful recorded earthquake in Japan and the fifth most powerful earthquake worldwide. Powerful tsunami waves of 40.5 meters height were triggered by the earthquake and travelled in the Sendai region up to 10 kilometers inland.

Japans main Island Honshu was moved 2.4 meters east by the earthquake and shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10cm and 25 cm. Official reports confirmed that across twenty prefectures 15,887 people died, 6,150 were injured and 2,615 people are still missed.

After the nuclear plant Fukushima Daiichi was hit by a 15 meter tsunami wave, the power supply and the cooling system of three reactors were damaged. This lead to a melting of all three cores within the next three days.

Lisa Jauch (studio): Very shocking pictures. So now, we are thankfully three years after the incident and we had an interview with Maria who is in Paderborn with two German students who lived abroad in Japan two years after Fukushima. So now I will pass to Maria.

Maria Weinkeller des, Interview with two German students

Maria: Hi Lisa, I am here at the University of Paderborn with my special guests Lukas and Patricia.

Today I would like to make an interview about the topic of Fukushima. Both of them spent one semester in Oita. That´s in Kyushu, the southern island of Japan. I am very curious about your opinions.

First of all, you decided to go to Oita. Did you have any concerns about going to Japan two years after the catastrophe of Fukushima.

Lukas: Actually, I didn´t have any concerns. At least, when I was in Oita. I was so far away and therefore it didn´t really make a lot sense for me to worry much about it. That´s why I was kind of released to go there.

Maria: What about you Patricia?

Patricia: I was actually worried a lot before I went to Japan because I was supposed to travel with a friend of mine and she had already booked her flight and everything despite the catastrophe. She didn´t worry too much. But a couple of days before our flight was supposed to leave there were new scientific researches about the nuclear impact. It was found out that all measurements were wrong and that they measured the impact wrongly. I was worried a lot and she was apparently worried so much that she cancelled her flight and I had to go by myself. That´s why it had a lot of impact on me especially during the first days because I was supposed to travel with her and I was travelling alone. This was due to the catastrophe.

Maria: Before your arrival in Oita, which expectations did you have about the impact of the catastrophe?

Patricia: Well, I expected that I would receive much more information about where the food comes from or what to eat, what not to eat. Like people are always or constantly worried in Germany about the catastrophe of Chernobyl. I thought it would be there like the same impact that the catastrophe had on Germany but it wasn´t. So I was surprised that I didn´t hear anything about the catastrophe at all during my time in Japan.

Maria: Not even in the media?

Patricia: Well, I can´t really judge because I don´t know what the media said because I can´t really understand Japanese and cannot really read Japanese newspapers. But I didn´t hear anything.

Lukas: Well, again if you look at the natural conditions there you see like the wind circulation doesn´t really affect the connection between Kyushu and the Tohoku region. Furthermore, the current goes from south to north which is also not passing Oita. Therefore, the impacts on my daily life…I didn´t really had any expectations that influenced that too much to be honest.

Maria: I think one difficult or a big problem for you is that reading Kanjis is still very difficult. I mean, I experienced it by myself. So really, you weren´t able to understand anything from the newspapers, the television, twitter, whatever, no chance?

Lukas: Not Japanese media, no.

Maria: But there are other channels with special focus on Japan?

Patricia: Yes, they have international media. For example, newspapers, global newspapers that report worldwide and there I kept myself informed about the radiation levels and about the news from Japan. And I was quiet shocked about the development that nobody can trust in the government and that constantly new numbers of radiation levels were published, and that the polluted water flows into the oceans and everything is polluted and nobody in Japan seems to know or seems to care.

Maria: So far I just asked you about your experiences in Sendai Tohoku and Oita but what about other cities you travelled? For example, you travelled to Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa? Did you make other experiences there with the topic of Fukushima?

Patricia: Well, not exactly concerning the people. I didn´t rehear any further information but I changed by behavior because I knew that Tokyo is much closer to Sendai or to the region of Fukushima. So I said to myself I will not drink tab water or use tab water in the normal amount. I bought water and used this to brush my teeth for example. Some other people and exchange students developed this even further in Oita during their whole stay. They used only the bottled water to brush their teethes or to cook. I didn´t think that it had so much impact that I had to do that. I was a little bit more worried. And even my parents came to visit me and they were even much more worried than I was. So they decided not to shower in Tokyo for example. But we couldn´t really keep this up.

Maria: Your´re back again to Germany. Did the catastrophe of Fukushima have any limitations for your studies and moreover, can you recommend something for the students who will go there this winter term?

Patricia: This a nice final question because all my worries and concerns were actually neglected. So, I would recommend not to worry too much and just to enjoy the semester abroad. I had so much fun and experienced so much. I learned so much about the culture and about the food. And if you are worried to eat the food you will miss a lot. Just don´t do it.

Maria: I would never do so.

Patricia: That´s good. So enjoy the sushi, enjoy the fish, do whatever you can and you don´t have to worry about anything.

Maria: The both of you thank you very much for this interview. I think that it was really informative and really recommendable for the students who will go there next term. Thank you so much. Lisa and now back to your studio. Goodbye.

Lisa Jauch (studio): Thank you very much Maria. It is very interesting to experience how people deal with the incident in Fukushima. And now I would like to pass to Sara, who is in Okinawa, in Japan, and who is interviewing two Japanese students.

We would like to apologize for the blurred pictures. Unfortunately we have some problems with the satellite which influences our video quality.

Sara Yamakawa, Interview with two Japanese students

Sara: Thanks, Lisa. I’m Sara and I’m sitting here with Kosuke and Yuta from Japan. Kosuke is from the Sendai region and Yuta from Oita. We are going to do a little interview now. Kosuke, can you tell us how you experienced the time after the happenings in Fukushima in 2011?

Kosuke: Yes. When the earthquake struck, I was in Sendai which is located in the North-East of Japan and which is close to Fukushima prefecture. After the huge earthquake, I had to move to an elementary school and had to live there for three days. At that time, every air conditioning and water supply was stopped. That was a hard time for me. I didn’t know what was going on at this time, because I didn’t have any methods to know what happened, as TVs and newspapers did not work anymore. After three days I knew how big the catastrophe really was.

Sara: So, three days you have been left unknown without any access to media?

Kosuke: Yes.

Sara: And you were living in an elementary school and left your home?

Kosuke: Yes.

Sara: Ok. And what about you, Yuta? Where were you during the earthquake?

Yuta: I was in Oita and I watched on TV what happened. But actually, nothing changed for me after the earthquake.

Sara: Do people in Japan talk about the happenings in Fukushima or is it better not to talk about it? Which behavior would you recommend us when we go to Japan?

Kosuke: I have never seen people who are too sensitive and avoid this topic. Most people try to talk about it and discuss this topic to push the reconstruction of the region further and make it faster.

Sara: Okay, so people are quite open-minded towards this topic?

Kosuke: Yes.

Sara: This is not what we have expected. Actually, we would have expected that this is a very sensitive topic. What do you think, Yuta?

Yuta: Yes, I think you can ask whoever you want about the events, but don’t make fun of these things. Because Fukushima has not recovered yet and it is not finished yet. There are still exist so many problems.

Sara: Yes, the problems are not solved yet. Does the media still report in the news about Fukushima?

Kosuke: Yes, but it is not so often like before. Soon after the earthquake broke out, every channel broadcasted about the earthquake all the time. But now it is not like that anymore. Maybe once or twice in a month. Not very often, but it is still reported. Like, how people are living there now and how the reconstruction is going.

Sara: What is your general impression of safety there? Is it save to live there now?

Kosuke: In some regions, the contamination is not done yet, but in most regions it is done. The government has conducted some study to check if the food and fish from the region is safe or not. It said that the products are safe. Some other groups like universities or private companies, who did not believe these results, also conducted their studies and had the same results. I guess, the region is now safe. But the problem is that the industry was so weak and it takes a long time to recover.

Sara: Ok. Is there anything left you want to say?

Kosuke: I guess the region is already kind of safe. So, I hope and I want foreigners to come to the region and see what happened there. And hopefully they will buy the regional food, because it will push the reconstruction. So please, don’t hesitate to come to this region. This is my message.

Sara: Okay. Kosuke and Yuta, thank you very much for the interview. It was really interesting to listen to your experiences and also to hear about the differences between these two regions [Oita and Sendai]. So, now I’m giving back to the studio.

Lisa Jauch (studio): Very nice and informative. Thank you very much Sara for this very interesting interview with these two students. And now I would like to listen to Dr. Jennifer Cavner who is professor at the University of Tokyo.

Prof. Dr. Jennifer Cavner-Honda, Professor for Cultural Communication at Tokyo University, Live from Tokyo

Prof. Dr. Jennifer Cavner-Honda: Well, how do I feel about the Fukushima incident, now three years later? The Japanese and Germans have perceived this incident quite differently from each other.

The German media was full of news of Fukushima directly after what happened and nowadays there are still documentaries, at least every March, which deal with what is happening in Fukushima.  But the German or more the western media in general are tending to dramatize everything.  I remember reading this article last year in a German online news portal, which said that the world is going to end due to how TEPCO is treading the nuclear plant in Fukushima. I think that this is maybe a bit too dramatic.

As I said before the Japanese media dealt quite differently with Fukushima as the German media did. Naturally the Japanese have more trust in the government than we Germans do.  Although, since the incident they started to think more critically about the government’s decisions.  But that is one trend.

The media here in Japan… well, directly after the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear core melting in Fukushima, there was just little news coverage here and some people even were some days without any news until it spread through the whole country that there were in fact some dramatic happenings.

It is hard to say how the Japanese deal with this in private. The concept of saving your face, and also saving the face of others and of the government, is very high in the Japanese culture. So the Japanese will try to criticise less than we do. But, it is hard to make any general assumptions about this culture. People are different and the Japanese are dealing differently with this topic as well. Even at the University here my colleagues have very different opinions about this. But I feel that they still have more trust into institutions and the government that we Germans do.

And what I also experienced is that most Japanese focus on Japan moving on and recovering in the future and also to reconstruct the damaged area in the Fukushima prefecture as soon as possible so that these regions can flourish again. This is what I experienced over the last few years I have lived here.

Lisa Jauch (studio): I hope you all could get an impression on how people deal with the critical incident in Fukushima and we hope you enjoyed our documentation and could learn a lot. We will see you next Monday with our new documentation.


 4.) Reflection

Reflecting our Podcast, we think that we matched our goal to present different views on the topic of Fukushima three years after the incident. We have contrasted the German view against the Japanese view and discovered differences in the perception of the events and also in the media representation of the events. Thereby we also saw differences in views within the culture (e.g. Patricia and Lukas). Our podcast also revealed the different levels that the incident had effects on: not just short-term consequences for every-day-life, but strong long-term effects that affected and slowed down the local (food) industry dramatically. Even three years after the incident, there are still many problems left to be solved and the reconstruction is still in progress. Surprising was the answer of the Japanese students on the question if they thought it was a sensitive topic for Japanese, because they had the opinion that it was not sensitive and that people were open to talk about it. They saw this as a means to accelerate and push the process of reconstruction. We think what we have learned in our podcast is that we have to find a balance between being careless about the radiation levels and being over-dramatizing. Of course, the incident is a serious topic that we have to be concerned about, but on the other side we think that many international studies have now been conducted that evaluated the effects precisely. Furthermore, we know that we are about 922 km away from Fukushima and that we will only stay for a short period of time.

Reflecting on a more technical level, we now think that there is room left for optimization concerning the balance of the sound volume and the brightness/darkness of the picture quality.


5.) Internet Sources:







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