Sympathy and Japan's Crisis


The exceptions can be brutal, such as the Twitter comments by Alec Sulkin and Gilbert Godfried. But overall, international online and print media have conveyed an incredible outpouring of sympathy for Japan in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake.

The trend is particularly pronounced among Japan's neighbours, many of whom have often been at odds with it over historical and territorial issues. A three-hour fundraising telethon on Taiwan's TBS network, for example, saw top local stars raise nearly $4,000,000 for quake relief. The opposition DPP has also raised millions. An incredible outpouring of support in Korea, led by local stars such as Yong-joon Bae, Lee Byung-hun and Choi Ji-woo, who rode the ‘Korea Wave’ to popularity in Japan, has raised nearly $10,000,000 dollars.

Online, user-generated content is quickly spreading awareness of the suffering in Tohoku. One powerful Korean video combines shocking images of the aftermath of the quake with a moving score called The Thorn Tree.

Other clips are designed not only to elicit sympathy for Japanese quake and tsunami victims, but also to translate messages of support from the #prayforjapan Twitter tag, which has collected countless messages from all over the world. The video’s creators have translated prayers and words of support into Japanese and set them to music here.

Blog China Smack reports respect, admiration, and kind words from Chinese netizens as Chinese businesses offer aid. The change in tone is particularly striking in the case of China, just months after a territorial clash over disputed islands resulted in the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain, prompting harsh criticism of Japan at both the state and societal levels.

As Foreign Policy reported on March 11, within hours of the quake, it had become the third ranking topic on Baidu, the nation’s leading internet portal, with 2.5 million searches for ‘Japan earthquake.’

A number of early comments included statements such as ‘Warmly welcome the Japanese quake.’ But these views were overwhelmed by expressions of sympathy. More significant was the reaction against patently nationalistic sentiment being allowed to exploit the tragedy.

Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, posted on its homepage this comment: ‘How many Japanese would write, “Congratulations on the Wenchuan earthquake?”’

The Epoch Times similarly noted rumours that some Chinese were ‘jumping for joy’ on first hearing of Japan’s misfortune, but it also suggests that such comments may have been scrubbed from Baidu in favour of numerous sympathetic and even admiring statements in the following days.

Stage and screen stars as well as corporate icons across Asia have pledged millions of dollars in support of relief efforts, while US celebrities such as actress Sandra Bullock have led the way with huge donations.

Still, as in other countries, there are mixed messages being sent out. Glenn Beck, perhaps one of the most influential commentators in the United States, commented of the quake that ‘a message (is) being sent from God.’ Others, meanwhile, were quick to remember Pearl Harbor.

The quake and tsunami have undoubtedly taken a horrific toll across the Tohoku region. But looking ahead, the aftermath may allow Japan not only to rethink elements of its development trajectory, including its heavy reliance on nuclear power, but also open a new page in regional relations.

(This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared at Japan Focus here.)

Matthew Penney is an Assistant Professor of History at Concordia University, Montreal. He is a Japan Focus associate who researches contemporary Japanese cultural history.

Matthew Penney
March 26, 2011 at 22:10

Paul, I think that you are setting an unrealistic standard by judging by News 7 in the emergency period as NHK had switched to around the clock coverage, making the distinction between the regular news hour and the 24 hour news coverage that was unfolding a very arbitrary one.

Unfortunately, the spam filter cuts posts with lots of links, so I will just have to go without them. The examples below should be easily verifiable:

Two days after the crisis on the 13th, NHK news ran a 20 minute segment on international support including the American military at around 5pm.

On the morning of the 22nd, Ohayo Nippon ran a lengthy segment on the various international rescue teams operating in Japan and the US military.

There have been several other in depth reports on NHK and comprehensive coverage in the major daily newspapers.

Asahi’s grateful take on Obama’s original pledge of support on the 12th

A Mainichi article from the 13th about increased cooperation between American forces and the JSDF

Sankei’s piece on Operation Tomodachi from the 14thand their Operation Tomodachi photo essay from the same day:

A piece on Kan specifically thanking the PM of New Zealand for help on the 14th (The NZ team has gotten a lot of attention because of the Christchurch earthquake last month)

On the evening of the 11th the Nikkei (which unfortunately does not archive its online content) ran a breakdown of mobilization of aid in 35 countries.

Even the daily sports tabloids ran stories with pictures about the arrival of international aid in Japan like Sponichi here on the 15th.

Each of the papers and every major TV station also had features on the various international support efforts. Some news shows showed live coverage of rescue and aid teams from different countries arriving at Narita.

You are overlooking over 200 newspaper articles on international aid to Japan as well as coverage on every TV station. Perhaps not during your preferred time slot, but I don’t feel that is relevant.

Paul Gregg
March 26, 2011 at 14:06

Matthew I have lived in Japan for 23 years and I know what program most Japanese watch for news and which paper they read, Finally three days ago was the first time they mentioned any outside help on NHK news 7. I don’t care if it is about the US or any nation but the Japanese should more international and not be so closed to outside things. I know most young people are very open but they don’t run Japan. There are 3 kinds of Gaijin in Japan, one loves Japan too much and they are blind, One hates Japan and always complains and one is realistic. Which one are you?

Matthew PENNEY
March 24, 2011 at 15:04

Guest, is there another place to get information about Chinese public opinion and online reactions? If you know of any, please share them.

March 23, 2011 at 20:53

Quoting Epoch Times and Chinasmack is pretty pathetic. Why don’t you quote 4chan instead?

Matthew PENNEY
March 23, 2011 at 01:06

Paul Gregg, I am afraid that your information is incorrect. The Japanese press is already reporting that Japanese pharmaceutical companies have moved thousands of pounds of medicine to Sendai and the surrounding areas with American military help. American troops have been present in the disaster zone for almost a week now.

Paul Gregg
March 22, 2011 at 06:36

The American troops wanted to and has the ability to do alot but the government of Japan has kept them out. The Japanese people need help from anybody let alone their closest friend. Why don’t you investigate that? You are supposed to be fair mainded journalists get your journalist hats on and find out why the Americans helped out so much in southeast Asia after that Tsunami and they haven’t been visible here even though most of them are based here.

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