Ink & paper: Japan’s fighting spirit on display

From left to right: Jeune Afrique chief editor Claude Leblanc, journalist Hirai Michiko, her translator, teacher & editor Yatabe Kazuhiko.

IN MARCH 2011, JAPAN WENT THROUGH A DREADFUL CRISIS. ONE YEAR AFTER, THE GUIMET MUSEUM FOR ASIAN ARTS AND CULTURE SET UP A SHOWING DEDICATED TO A DAILY JAPANESE NEWSPAPER, WHOSE ETHICS IS ECHOING A WIDER PICTURE. TNS WAS INVITED TO ATTEND.

Ishinomaki is the name of a Japanese city north of Fukushima and the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun is a local newspaper with regional radius.

When the tsunami hit on the 11th of march 2011, all city’s means of communication, electricity, internet and cell phones were gone. People were plunged in peril and anguish, not knowing what was happening. Many died.

Chief editor Hirai Michiko (see our heading photo) was invited to share her story at the Guimet museum, precisely one year after the events:

“40 minutes after the earthquake, the wave was upon us. I saw houses and debris adrift in shattering sounds. I could hear fire alarms and agonizing car horns. After visiting a first shelter, I took the opposite direction of the journal, toward the city hall, hoping to collect information. It took me hours to get there. And it was flooded, up to the waist. With fellow colleagues Todokoro and Akiyama, we spent the night there to gather information. And the ones we got were all the same:”Nagahama city is devastated, Nagatsura district sank”. After 8 pm, we lost contact with the journal. I could only leave the city hall on the 13th”.

Another colleague took to himself to go back and forth between the city hall and the journal, on foot, to  secure their piece of information back to the journal. At the Shimbun‘s office, chaos took its toll and beyond the immediate shock, it was clearly impossible to deliver the daily paper. Active for almost a century, the journal stopped production ony once. It was during World War 2. And instead of surrendering to panic, the team of journalists, led by their director Omi Koîchi, decided to print the Shimbun nonetheless. With ink and paper.

For six days, the Shimbun got back to stone age. Six issues were displayed on the city walls (see below), with the team doing their best  to collect and give the most immediate and practical information to the people.

Two of the six original paper & ink issues currently displayed at Guimet's Pavillon Bouddhique.

These original sheets, now growing famous as documents of recent contemporary history, are on display at the close Panthéon Bouddhique until the 15th of april.

The Shimbun‘s initiative and professionalism is an interesting brow raiser, for this story may serve as an interesting cautionary tale. Japan has a reputation of self abnegation and some may address the case of Internet Vs the printing press, just to name a couple of leads.

As a formidable tool of learning and sharing, Internet is remodeling our ways of thinking and doing. Yet, are we relying too much on technology and self confidence? In any case, day and night, come rain or shine, through a sheet of paper or wordpress.compute, that’s what I call journalism.

TheNightShift
19.03.2012

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