4 A Japanese Journalist’s Views

Japan Matters public lecture in 2012/13


Tuesday 19 February 2013 from 2.30 pm
‘A Japanese Journalist’s views on Japan and the UK’
Mr Takami Hanzawa, Bureau Chief, Kyodo News London
St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow

This was supported by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

Our perception of foreign countries is more or less influenced by their news coverage, and in this sense foreign correspondents play an important role in our life in this global world.  Mr Takami Hanzawa is one of such foreign correspondents, currently heading the London Bureau of Kyodo News, Japan’s leading news agency.  Having stationed in Cairo and Los Angeles, he has covered, among others, the Afghan War, the Iraqi War, and the Palestine issues.  He published a book on America’s gun culture.  He also reported the immediate aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

The summary of Mr Hanzawa’s talk:

Kyodo News is a news agency like Reuters and Press Association, and for its London Bureau the riots were big news for Japan two years ago.  With the London Olympics coming, people in Japan wondered whether London would be able to hold the game safely. Japan’s favorite story from the UK is the British royal family.  They seem to be living as human beings, unlike the Japanese one living behind a thick curtain.  Last year the London Olympic was big news in Japan, and the euro crises has been reported daily in Japan these days.

Showing the photographs he himself took, he talked about his coverage of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011.  As an experienced journalist having covered natural disasters, such as the Hurricane Katrina of 2005, he was dispatched from Tokyo to northeast Japan.  With every road in Tokyo stuck, it took him four hours to get out of the capital.  As the motorways were closed, they drove local roads non-stop for 25 to 26 hours.  On Day 2 they arrived in Kamaishi, a coastal city in Iwate, where he saw mud and debris, as well as the Self Defense Force and police engaged in rescue operation.  On Day 4 or 5, people started to find ways to survive. He saw local people trying to find anything edible at a warehouse of a food company.  This was not looting, as they had contacted the company and had obtained permission to do so.  It was a ‘legal’ looting.  He saw a 5 or 6-year-old child digging a soy sauce bottle from mud, and when the child got it, the smile was on the face, smile for a soy sauce bottle.

The coasts in Iwate are known as ria shorelines, with mountains sinking deep into the sea, and after the tsunami all communities were isolated.  Some isolated communities dispatched teenagers, mostly boys, for food.  They climbed hills up and down.  Sendai City, however, was flat, and a huge area of land was affected by the tsunami.  He saw people digging instant noodles among the bodies.  There was no fighting among people over food, in which he saw beautiful Japanese culture.  People helped each other, perhaps because the earthquake and the tsunami occurred in rural Japan, where communities exist and people are close to each other.  Immediately after the disaster, he didn’t see people crying. They may be living with shock. It may be too early to cry. They may be tough.

The first question was which city he liked most among Cairo, Los Angels, and London, where he had stationed.  His quick answer was Cairo, as there had been adventures every day.  The next question was whether he had found a conclusion about humanity after having covered, among others, the Iraqi War, the Afghan War, the Palestine and the natural disasters.  He answered that human conditions were determined by their own community.  For example, Israeli government is stronger than Palestinian National Authority in terms of keeping their people.  Another question was about his views on American gun culture, as he showed a picture of a shooting class for children.  He didn’t  think that Americans would abandon guns.  For his book on American gun culture, he conducted a series of interviews with pro-gun people in the United States.  He found that they would not trust the government, and that they would stand up with their guns if necessary.  As the guns are rooted in their perception of democracy, they would not abandon guns.  Once his lecture was over, one of those present sent its organiser a message, asking that his book on American gun culture be translated into English.