Monday, January 11, 2021

DJ Yu Miri

The story varies somewhat by source. Things do not always translate well. Time Magazine refers to Yu Miri's  work as a "radio host."  Her authors biography on Barnes & Noble's website agrees, describing her as "hosting a radio show."  But the New York times adds nuance describing her radio work as "a series of 600 conversations that Miri conducted for a local radio program."  That would intimate that it was not her own program, but a segment or series on some other ongoing program. The former is more accurate. Her show was titled "Yu Miri no Futari to Hitori" and it ran from March 16th, 2012 to March 23rd, 2018. Zoom Japan interviewed Yu Miri and got a somewhat better description or her work in broadcasting.

"I am currently living in Minami Soma, in Fukushima prefecture and working on the radio, doing some slightly special broadcasts for the temporary emergency radio station. It is a radio station that broadcasts when there are major disasters that cut of regular communications channels..."

She goes on to describe the 30-minute program called as sets of conversations between connected people: husbands and wives, pairs of friends, students and teachers, work colleagues, siblings, even shopkeepers and their customers. Miri based parts of her book “Tokyo Ueno Station,” on some of those radio conversations. Her website lists 296 episodes, that's almost 600 interviewees. In one same interview she also mused about writing a radio play. As with Chinua Achebe we can see the affect of radio on the authors writing.

Miri wasn't chosen at random to do these interviews. She's written over 20 books but all in Japanese. Only two have been translated into English, Gold Rush in 2002, and in November 2020 Tokyo Ueno Station.  After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, she began to visit the affected area, hosting a radio show to listen to survivors' stories. Fukushima Prefecture had seven radio stations (below).  I had believed it is the 100 watt community Fukushima City station, FM Poco where Yu Miri broadcast her program. This is incorrect. It was actually the temporary emergency station Minamisoma Hibari FM.

Sea Wave FM
96.2 MHz
Iwaki City
FM Poco
76.2 MHz Fukushim
FM Kitakata 78.2 MHz Kitakata
76.2 MHz  Aizuwakamatsu
FM Mot.Com 77.7 MHz Motomiy
Koko Radio
79.1 MHz Kooriyam
Hibari FM
87.0 MHz Minamisoma

For historical reasons, Japan has a mixed relationship with nuclear power. They have long been a leader in civilian nuclear power. But these were a series of accidents in the 1990s and the subsequent cover ups eroded public trust and changed public perception. The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Ōkuma was the most severe in the world since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. It led the country to revisit some of those issues replete with public protests. That cultural context is important to understanding Miri's work.

The scale of the nuclear disaster often overshadows the rest of the infrastructure damage caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Nomenclature causes confusion. So just as in the US, where the Great San Francisco Fire obscures the earthquake that caused it, the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) includes the nuclear disaster that it caused. The IAEA report on the disaster described the efforts to bridge the loss of communication infrastructure. That damage was to a much wider area than just Fukushima.

"Relevant information was also broadcast periodically via local radio stations, since  television  reception  and  internet  connections  were  unavailable  in  some  areas  owing  to  the  disruptions in power supplies. Five newsletters and 62 radio broadcasts had been issued by May 2011."

This Kansai University presentation maps the locations at which 17 temporary radio stations were set up. Of those temporary stations, 15 were still broadcasting a year later. They also converted 10 existing community stations to emergency use, and issued 2 other special licenses for a total of 29. In an unusual implementation, all of these stations were allowed to broadcast advertisements to help subsidize the cost of the operation.  The Nippon Foundation coordinated substantial funding toward the effort and distributed 45,000 radios as well. The MIC distributed another 10,000. You can see a more complete list of those temporary emergency radio stations here.

Among other groups, the World bank studied the incident. In their 2014 report "Learning From Mega Disasters" they described the deployment of temporary emergency radio stations in detail:

"Emergency FM radio also played a crucial role in the aftermath of the GEJE. When the emergency communication systems in many cities broke down because of power failures and lack of  emergency backup power, community radio stations were able to send useful information out to residents. In fact, about 25 emergency broadcasting  stations dedicated to disseminating disaster information were set up in the Tohoku area. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, these community radio stations began to provide information about times and locations for the distribution of emergency food, water, and goods. In the following months they gradually shifted to providing other information to help victims in their daily lives or to raise the spirits of people in local communities. Radio was particularly appreciated by the elderly, who were less likely than younger people to have access to Internet information."
That's a long quote but it's worth taking it in. This transition in the function of the service is where Yu Miri came in. Interviewing disaster victims is not a literal emergency information service. But it absolutely serves the affected community. It's a program format we do not typically see in the US after disasters, but it's one we'd be well served by.

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