Quake Story: City of Ghosts

When I was in the UK, a common topic of conversation was the reliability, objectivity and sheer accuracy of the foreign press during and after the major quakes, and other major incidents by extension, compared to the local press whose goals are obviously different. For example, in one of the oddest quake inspired stories, was Tokyo turned into a City of Ghosts?

To me, many of the foreign media outlets were somewhat over-the-top in their reporting, possibly frustrated at their lack of people on the ground in Japan, their understanding of the local systems, training procedures and the fact that the bigger the story, the more people stay tuned, and the same is true for papers.

It’s not easy to say what was the ‘worst’ story, or the most sensationalist, but if pushed, I’d probably the say the most bizarre ‘on the scene’ accounts was published on The Sun newspaper’s website  – so yes, we’re not starting too far up the journalistic ladder.

It was allegedly written by a British woman married to a Japanese national (‘Ryu Fujiyama’), living in Tokyo with two small children, about five days after the quake on the 11th of March. There’s a lot of debate if this woman even exists.

It’s obviously link bait – just look at the number of video links in the story, but in the effort of deconstruction, here’s a look, so pull up the story in another tab:

The Sun – City of Ghosts

Where to start? Firstly, there are a lot of contradictions and factual errors, which I would suggest means it was written by someone who’d either never been to Tokyo, or had been there for a couple of weeks – not the ten years the lady claims.

Just as some background, when this went out, radiation levels had increased in Fukushima where the damaged reactors are (and a couple of hundred kilometres from Tokyo) – in Tokyo levels barely moved, and when they did it was minimally, and well within most definitions of safe.

“…she slammed the British Embassy for failing to help expats desperate to escape – after radiation levels from Japan’s stricken nuclear reactors reached ten times normal.
The mum of two said: “They fled and left us here to fry. I’m ashamed to call myself British.””

All I can say to this is that I had been in regular contact with the Embassy since the 11th – they were fine and helpful. The people I spoke to were indeed located outside of Japan, because the people inside Japan were trying to set up a collection point for UK nationals in Sendai.  Also, that “ten times” bit sounds great – except it’s not Tokyo, it’s in Fukushima, at the plant at that point.

“But I look outside now and they’re completely deserted. It’s like London in the zombie movie 28 Days Later.”

Right, so we’ve got our obligatory film reference in. The streets were quiet, but I don’t think out of panic – people were waiting for what would happen next, and there were still a number of aftershocks.

There was food in the shops on the day she reported this, though bottled water was getting low, but the mains water, gas and electricity were all on because most of Tokyo was never on a blackout list and still isn’t. As a friend pointed out – why didn’t she order pizza? They were still delivering.

“I’m scared, and shaky with hunger and really, really tired. I’ve got two hungry children and just a few crisps, oranges and a can of tuna.”

This sounds tragic but I’m just finding it hard to believe. I live just outside Tokyo (I got home on the Saturday lunch time from my job in truly central Tokyo) but no one I know who lives in the centre of Tokyo said there was NO food.

“On Tuesday, the radiation levels in Tokyo were ten times above normal and people started to panic.
“What if, every day, radiation continues to double?

Well, I couldn’t find any statistics to back that up. Also, I never (and still haven’t) seen any Japanese panic.

“My children are already starving. I found three riceballs and some seaweed this morning in a local convenience store and took the last couple of water canisters.”

Water canisters? I can’t say I’ve ever heard that phrase used in Japan. I’ll allow the use of ‘rice balls’ instead of onigiri since she’s allegedly telling a UK newspaper, but that’s a bit odd, especially for someone of ten years tenure.

Then there’s her location, first she says she’s in central Tokyo, then more accurately says Nerima-ku which is a suburb – it is not central Tokyo by any local definition unless she simply means it’s one of the main 23 wards.

“The TV news has told us to take a shower when we’ve been outside, because of radiation worries.”

I think the shower advice was again for people much further north? She contradicts herself in the next part:

“[Regarding TV] There’s sometimes a live feed on TV from the nuclear plant.  But mostly there’s just a test card with gentle music and children making origami dragons.”

Sorry, but – total crap – every channel was full of news, press conferences, tsunami footage and analysis – for that first weekend there weren’t even adverts. We went looking for this mythical channel, but no one had ever seen it. Also, NO ONE says ‘origami dragons’ in Japan – in times of strife the Japanese make origami cranes as a symbol of hope.

The car anecdote is also rubbish as far as everyone I’ve spoken to can tell – what’s the point in a car with “no petrol” anyway? We had no petrol from March 13th for a few days, then it was rationed to 20litres per vehicle, but by the 27th was back to normal.

She points out her husband went to work – true, most Japanese went to work as best they could – it was business as normal – a bit odd for a City of Ghosts?

“You never know when there is going to be power or not.”.

What?  They were announced repeatedly on TV, were on the front page of Facebook, and every other Japanese related tweet for days. They even had trucks driving around explaining the groupings they were using!

Perhaps she never knew because again, most of Tokyo did not have any blackouts whatsoever – we did, and people handled them calmly and in a civilised manner. More than that, all of the information was made available in English, Chinese, Korean almost immediately, and the languages increased almost daily.

“The Japanese news tells us radiation in Tokyo isn’t at harmful levels. But why would they tell us to wear masks otherwise?”

Er…because it’s peak hayfever season here – and by all accounts it was a big one. Again, perhaps advice for people hundreds of kilometers further north?

“The first to flee Tokyo have been British Embassy staff. I repeatedly rang the Tokyo number for our embassy – but there’s just a recorded message saying, ‘We are not taking calls’.”

As above – rubbish – they called me several times over the next week to update me on warning levels, and when I called, I got through to a Brit, often in London. I spoke personally to Consulate General in Osaka just over a week after the quake and he said they were in Sendai (near the tsunami zone) setting up an emergency response centre over that initial weekend.

“I rang the US embassy and immediately a human voice asked, ‘How can I help?'”

Really? As most US citizen friends tell me, if you call their embassy they wont even talk to you without submitting your credit card number first. And they wont/cant help non US citizens. I’ve called the number once a couple of years ago with a visa question, and that was my experience. I hope it is now as open as Keeley claims.

“If I get out of Tokyo I want to go to America, Australia, anywhere. I have no faith in Britain any more. I don’t want to see my country ever again.”

Well, if you exist Keeley, as a fellow Brit I’ll be sad to see you go.

This woman – if she exists – in some ways makes me want to laugh, but if she’s real, if that’s real, I kind of feel sorry for her – obviously a real lack of friends, either foreign or Japanese.

My money is on it being a bait link site by The Sun, written in-house,  or a hoax from this woman in Japan to make some money, or from someone who had been to Japan at some point.

Either way, it’s just an odd ‘on the scene’ personal account to have so many contradictions and factual inaccuracies, which is why I rate it the oddest. Given the poor number of comments, it seems like whatever it was, it failed.