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Are Japanese losing empathy for 3/11 victims?

24 Comments

Why were TV viewer ratings for this year's 3-11 commemorative programs so low?

At 9 p.m. on March 11, TBS TV broadcast "Nakai Masahiro no Kinyobi no Sumairu-tachi e" -- called "Kin-suma" for short. The installment that evening was about Shoko Kanazawa a 30-year-old calligrapher born with Down's Syndrome, who through the 2011 disaster developed close relations with Taiwan whose citizens donated the equivalent of 20 billion yen to disaster relief.

Extra efforts had been poured into making a high-quality production, and it was broadcast during "golden time," as prime time is referred to in Japan. Unfortunately, TBS network executive Hiroki Kikuno told Shukan Gendai (April 9) that the audience viewer rating in the greater Kanto area that evening was a disappointing 9.4% -- several points lower than the 12.9% average achieved by the same show for the previous four weeks.

On the 5th anniversary of the catastrophe that befell the Tohoku region, NHK broadcast a special program titled "The Tsunami That Attacked Me" from 8 p.m. It too attracted a low viewer rating of just 9.2%. In contrast, stations that stuck to their regular programming schedules did somewhat better: 11.7% for "Music Station" on TV Asahi; 11% for "Pittanko Kankan" on TBS, and 9.3% for a program featuring the comedy duo Downtown on the Fuji network.

In the lead up to the March 11 anniversary, other special programs broadcast by NHK attracted few viewers, on March 5 (which obtained a 6% rating); March 6 (7.5%); March 8 (4.4%) and March 10 (5.5%).

So why, Shukan Gendai wants to know, did a large segment of the TV audience avert their eyes from programs related to the disaster? Might it be indicative of the "coldness" or indifference of Japanese?

"The people who watch TV also understand the importance of reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas," said Hiroko Hagiwara, an economic journalist. "But for a mother who's unable to get her child admitted to a nursery school, other problems may seem more pressing."

Many other people feel resentful in other ways, unhappy over the government's large outlays for the 2020 Olympic Games or to promote the G7 summit at Ise-Shima, thinking they should instead have gone toward reconstruction of the damaged areas. That doesn't mean they have forgotten about the damage.

Part of viewer dissatisfaction may also be in the programs themselves.

"From the special programs broadcast by the commercial TV networks, it's become increasingly evident that they're adopting a format similar to the '24-hour charity TV' show," observed Hiroaki Mizushima, who formerly produced documentaries for the NTV network on poverty and other problems, and who is now a professor at Hosei University.

"One gets the feeling that every March, the networks just generate programs out of a sense of obligation," Mizushima continues. "I suppose that is not necessarily a bad thing in itself; but the productions tend to become stereotyped, showing manipulative tear-jerker scenes and hosted by commentators who drop in to the damaged areas only to shoot the program and never fail to raise complaints about the slowness of the recovery."

As more evidence of viewer apathy, the 90-minute-long NHK dramatic reenactment of the "dangerous 88 hours" subsequent to the Fukushima reactor meltdown, broadcast from 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, attracted a disappointing viewer rating of just 7.6%. In contrast, the "Sanada Maru" historical drama that preceded it, along with the news and weather report just before 9 p.m., attracted more than 16%. In other words, when the drama began at 9 p.m., roughly half of NHK's audience snatched up their "remo-kon" and changed to another channel.

It's not always easy to grasp the reasons for TV viewers' tastes. Shizuka Ijuin, pen name for Japan-born Korean Cho Chung-rae and a contributor to Shukan Gendai, offered this observation: "I've had to express condolences to any number of acquaintances. While thinking that I'd like to see them smile, I understand that even after five years, it's not that simple for them to come to terms with the memories that remain in their hearts."

It's not that you want to forget, Shukan Gendai concludes. But if you don't forget, you can't go on living. It's this kind of contradictory sadness that becomes a persistent component of people's lives.

© Japan Today

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24 Comments
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In my opinion folks in Japan often fail at genuine empathy. Saying hang-in-there or do your best is not really empathetic. (Of course I am painting with a broad brush here, not all Japanese are the same)

From here in the US my family and I watched the events of 3/11 and even though we had jobs and commitments, we later made a trip to Japan to at least see Tohoku and show solidarity. And at that time we could not get our Japanese friends interested in visiting the areas even though they were traveling in parts of Tohoku with us.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

The government is responsible for this as they have done much to change the focus of the country away from the victims and focus on the Olympics.

Sadly however it is natural for people not directly affected by a tragedy to want to forget about what happened. The words of a young girl who I listened to speak about her experiences from 3/11 in Minami-sariku have become so prophetic, she thanked all the people listening, for their help, assistance, and caring, but she pleaded with everyone to please "Don't forget us in 5 years", that's when we really will need your help.

It's become true, and it's very sad indeed.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Maybe it is in reaction to the forced and coerced empathy immediately after, whipped up by a government and media keen to cash in and show to the locals and the outside world what a caring society Japan is.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

I think a lot of people, including me, are frustrated at hearing the news of the reconstruction of the areas going slower than it should be and the people there still suffering due to it.

Everyone's bummed so much money was donated for reconstruction but we keep seeing and hearing about there not being enough workers, constant red tape, the lack of young people returning nor the prospect of them ever doing so, no jobs, constant blundering of the radiation cleanup and disposal, the govt's diversion of billions to the Tokyo Olympics instead etc.

There's a sense of disappointment and resignation about the whole matter and these fifth-year-memorial programs just bummed out a lot of people.

I don't think anyone's "forgotten" - just feeling disgusted and helpless.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

People get numb over time. Especially people who aren't directly affected will lose interest quickly.

Maybe not the same per se but f.e. terrorist attacks or shooting in the us, there is the initial shock but after that it quickly wears off.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Was there really a high expectation that more than 10% of the population would watch this TV show each year about a major traumatic disaster? In my opinion, you could look at 9% viewership as a success

3 ( +3 / -0 )

January 17 (Kobe earthquake), Aug. 6 and 9 (Hiroshima & Nagasaki), Aug. 15 (date of surrender announcement) and now March 11. They all get lots of coverage. It's clear people are conditioned to remembering via the medium of TV, but the problem is, they can only take so much of it. The article was thoroughly researched on the Japan side, but I think it would have been better if the writer had included a comparison with how events like 9-11 or Dec. 7 are memorialized on TV in the U.S.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

God, the logic in this article is a train-wreck.

So why, Shukan Gendai wants to know, did a large segment of the TV audience avert their eyes from programs related to the disaster? Might it be indicative of the “coldness” or indifference of Japanese?

...followed by precisely zero attempt to show any correlation between ratings and lack of empathy, followed by...

Many other people feel resentful in other ways,...That doesn’t mean they have forgotten about the damage...Part of viewer dissatisfaction may also be in the programs themselves.

So here are prime examples of reasons people might not watch the shows that have nothing to do with emotional indifference. Does the article explore how these reasons relate to its thesis? Of course not. It's much easier to just drive past the counter-points and pretend they never happened.

As more evidence of viewer apathy, the 90-minute-long NHK dramatic reenactment of the “dangerous 88 hours” subsequent to the Fukushima reactor meltdown, broadcast from 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, attracted a disappointing viewer rating of just 7.6%.

"More" evidence? You haven't given us any evidence in the first place. This is just another example of low ratings, and you want us to take it on faith that low ratings can only be caused by apathy, even when you yourself just gave us several reasons it might not.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I still feel for the 15k Japanese victims, and the 250k Thai victims in the tsunami there a few years earlier.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The government is responsible for this as they have done much to change the focus of the country away from the victims >>and focus on the Olympics.

I share the exact same point of view. The first act of the govt was to save TEPCO and inject ton of money in the company and pseudo cleaning cost before any reconstruction ever started, and then, on the Olympics while there are still people living on temporary houses, that speak volume for the amount of empathy and where are the priorities.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I think it's pretty simple... people get tired of disaster porn fairly quickly. I was a teenager on September 11 and after a few years seeing the destruction and death I simply got tired of it. Human beings are not meant to be constantly bombarded with horrific images and ideas regardless of the circumstances. I was 15 on Sept. 11 and I saw live close-up video of a man jumping to his death from the towers. It's been nearly 15 years and that footage is still burned in my brain. It won't be forgotten even if I never see it again. Having to relive horrible circumstances over and over through the news and media feels like a creepy form of voyeurism. Especially when its being pushed by the same groups of people who consistently refuse to do nothing about the surviving victims. It's disaster porn and it's dirty, IMO.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I just don't want to see it again, I will never forget it and feel for those who were directly affected, but not something I wish to ever see again.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Not sure if there was ever really that much empathy in the first place. When the disaster happened, I was talking with a student who worked for the disaster relief center in my prefecture about concrete steps that could be taken to provide refugees with temporary housing here in Kyushu and was stonewalled. It's one thing to provide temporary aid; it's completely another to assume responsibility for longer-term solutions.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't think it's a lack of empathy - I think it's probably more likely a reaction to yet again watching your country's worst disaster in living memory played out before your eyes. Maybe, unlike those of us in the west with a morbid fascination for disasters, they just don't want to watch it. Personally I can't watch those planes crashing into the World Trade Centre every 11th of September, same as I can't watch people being washed away by that tsunami. You can remember those who died without watching in voyeuristic silence as the images once again wash past your eyes. It's not a lack of empathy... it's trying to cope with what you saw, what you experienced or what your friends and loved ones experienced.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

May be it's their way of coping. Bad as it sounds, I doubt these people are even sentient, they'll feign it if they'll gain something at the end. And they are good!!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"Might it be indicative of the “coldness” or indifference of Japanese?"

Coldness? No, not at all. Perhaps many are just tired of being constantly reminded, even though they could never possibly forget. We have, year around, and especially in the last couple of years: the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, and therefore the anniversaries of the atomic bombings; the anniversary of the Great Hanshin Quake, the 30th anniversary of the world's worst aviation disaster, and we're not just talking one program, but WEEKS of programs leading up to it full of reminders of what happened. For some, is it any wonder they would prefer to watch normal programming? One of the reasons people watch television is to escape reality through TV dramas or enjoy sports (not limited to, of course); not be bombarded with things they 'should remember' (every day). I have no doubt that NO ONE will forget what happened, least of all the actual victims, but I'm pretty sure they don't want to be reminded every day and told if they do not acknowledge it they are cold.

Indifference? For some people, I have no doubt. But it's not limited to Japanese character. For those who have become indifferent, if any, again it's likely the feeling of constant bombardment on the issue. It's normal to switch off. Or for some it could be like a lot of things here -- people let it go quickly, like a trend (NOT suggesting this is a trend at all, just the topic, for some, dropped as such).

Still, a television station complaining that not enough people tuned into its programming about the issue rings pretty hollow to me, as ultimately they are complaining about low ratings, and that's all.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Unless something has dramatically changed, people simply don't want to see the same type of tear-jerking documentary year in, year out. Has nothing to do with loss of empathy. We all still remember what happened and know what's going on.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

not only have they become less empathetic, they've begun looking down on displaced citizens, as well as poor workers cleaning up the radiation. its sickening

1 ( +2 / -1 )

God, the logic in this article is a train-wreck.

Probably more like a train-wreck in translation. I would bet that the Japanese article itself is full of nuances that got butchered in translation and came across here as trying to make the Japanese people seem cold and distant from the actual events.

I hardly doubt anyone has forgotten, or has "looked -away" either. I have had numerous discussions with seemingly countless numbers of different people in various walks of life talking about what they were doing on 3.11, every single on of them can recall with great detail exactly what they were doing and where they were as well.

Funny thing too, they all can say the same about 9.11 as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Probably more like a train-wreck in translation. I would bet that the Japanese article itself is full of nuances that got butchered in translation and came across here as trying to make the Japanese people seem cold and distant from the actual events.

Yubaru@Why "bet" something, when you can get a copy of the magazine and actually prove to all of us how it was butchered in translation. Page 70: Headline: 日本人は冷たいのか? 震災特番「視聴率全滅」が意味するもの (Are Japanese cold? The meaning of the "complete destruction of audience viewer ratings" of the special programs about the disaster.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Readers, the translation is fine. That ends discussion on this point.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I feel so sad for those who were displaced. I sent a bunk bed, clothing and bed linen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sad as it is to say, the victims of Fukushima and Iwate were destined from the outset to become the contemporary equivalent of hibakusha. The family registry system ensures that they will be discriminated against in marriage, employment and other areas for at least a couple of generations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Are Japanese losing empathy for 3/11 victims?

Are you kidding me??? They lost sympathy for them years ago. years ago

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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