Sunday, July 3, 2011

A call for change

"When the trouble with the Fukushima reactor started, young people in Japan felt that they wanted better information from the Government."

It was evening at DK House and I was sitting on the porch step. Most people came out to this area to smoke. I was there to eat an egg. The speaker was one of my new Japanese friends who was in Hokkaido to take advantage of the cooler weather before returning to Tokyo in the Autumn for law school. He had previously told me that the power saving measures in Tokyo in the wake of Fukushima shutting down meant that the city was uncomfortably hot. Prior to taking up law, he had worked for one of Tokyo's TV companies and had a strong interest in journalism.

"You mean they want the government to be more honest about the situation?" I asked, opening the small container that held three eggs.

My friend nodded. "The problem is that newspapers will not speak ill of their sponsors," he explained. "But the electrical company is one of their major financial backers."

"So the newspapers won't report that Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company, owners of the Fukushima plant] has done anything wrong because money from them supports the paper?"

It was a natural reaction; no organisation would want to jeopardise their main source of funding. What it produced was a financially imposed restriction on freedom of speech in the press. Probably in the past, this limitation had not been an issue or it had gone unnoticed. As problems with Fukushima escalated, however, people wanted to know why Tepco weren't being hounded for answers.

In Japan, very few companies are allowed to produce power, giving those that do a monopoly in their region. This means the reach of electrical companies is long and the power they wield (social as well as literal) is substantial.

"They are also one of the biggest donaters to Tokyo University," added my friend dryly.

Oh. OH. So academics were also subject to these bonds.

My friend rose and returned with today's copy of a Hokkaido newspaper. He opened it and leafed through the sheets, looking for a particular section. "This page is very important," he said, gesturing to three or four articles. "It is the newspaper's opinion page." He pointed to a picture of a middle-aged Japanese man in the right-hand article. "Remember this man. He is the president of SoftBank."

Softbank is one of the largest telecommunications companies in Japan. Its president and founder is a man named Masayoshi Son who has the dubious honour of being both the richest men in Japan and the person who has lost the most money in history. He has been previously described as a philanthropist.

"He supports many new ideas, including renewable sources of energy." My friend's hand moved over the article in disgust. "This piece claims he is only interested in doing so for money."

I frowned. "The newspaper thinks he wants to make money for himself by promoting alternative energy sources?"

"The newspaper is largely funded by the electrical company in Hokkaido."


"Hokkaido University may also receive money from the electrical company," my friend said. "You should ask. I would be interested to know." He folded up the newspaper again. "Change isn't easy. But many young people in Japan want to see these things done differently." He pointed to the egg still in my hand. "That will be soft inside. You will need a bowl."


  1. I'll be interested to hear more details.

  2. It was a really interesting conversation. I'll be keen to see how it plays out in the future.