Japanese attitudes post-quake


TOKYO (majirox news) – This survey is in no way scientifically valid or necessarily representative of the Japanese population. It is representative of some Japanese opinions and its validity ends there, but it is anecdotally useful and interesting.

These questions were asked by me from April 6 to April 17 to discover the feelings of people about a few earthquake-related topics. The 45 adults learning English in Tokyo were from 21 to 60 years of age, the average age was late 30s. They came from a cross section of society; businesspeople, housewives, and college students.

Rumor damage
Q: You’re in a supermarket buying beef. There are two kinds, the same in every way, except that one is Australian and the other is American. The American beef is 30% cheaper. Which will you buy?
U.S.: 69%
Australian: 31%

Q: You’re in a supermarket buying broccoli. There are two kinds: one from Fukushima and one from China. The price is the same. Which will you buy?
Fukushima: 86%
China: 14%

Q: Many people in foreign countries don’t want to buy Japanese products these days, not only food and not just from Fukushima. If you were Canadian with the same personality and knowledge as you have now, do you think you would also have this attitude?
Yes: 53%
No: 47%

Attitudes toward the danger of food products is an important issue for the Japanese. People overseas are now afraid of Japanese products. Is this different from the U.S. beef scare about seven years ago when the media exaggerated the dangers of U.S. beef based on one case of BSE, or two years ago when eating Chinese gyoza sickened some people in Japan? Many no longer consider U.S. beef dangerous, suggesting that the current fear regarding Japanese products overseas may not last long.

The potentially dangerous product is Japanese. However, many people are willing to risk the dangers, which they normally would not if it came from another country, because they want to support Fukushima. This suggests that they will try harder to get past their fear of eating something dangerous for the sake of national pride.

Those who answered “no” to the third question tended to be people who followed the media more, and with more knowledge feared the situation less. However, if one looked at headlines and TV chat shows (“wide shows” in Japan) and talked to other people, one was more likely to worry.

On Japanese goods overseas many said, “it’s rumor damage.” There was strong consensus among the students when asked if each situation was an example of “rumor damage.” For example, on U.S. beef many said, “kind of,” but that it was basically “rumor damage.” On Chinese vegetables and other food from China they said, “Oh, no, that’s real.”

Fear of radiation
Q: Would you like to own a Geiger counter?
Yes: 21%
No: 79%

Q: Do you drink tap water or bottled water?
Tap water: 77%
Bottled water: 23% (all said they drank bottled water before March 11)

Q: On a scale of 0 to 10, how much do you fear radiation escaping from Fukushima power plant and traveling by air to Tokyo?
Average answer: 2.5
Most common answer: 1
Twenty percent gave an answer of 5 or higher, 8 was the highest.

These answers show many are not particularly worried about the situation, although many are uneasy.
Some said that if they had a Geiger counter, they would use it too much and worry more than they otherwise would.

Self-restraint and the impact of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on Japanese society

Q: Did you go or have you gone to an ohanami party this season? Japan’s favorite rites of spring is cherry blossom parties. Groups of friends and company employees gather in parks, along river banks, or anywhere else the sakura (cherry) trees bloom and sit on blue plastic tarpaulins eating, drinking, singing, and chatting.
Yes: 45%
No: 55% (no one said they didn’t go because of jishuku (self-restraint).

Q: These days do you think jishuku is a good thing or a not-so-good thing?
A good thing: 22%
Not so good: 78%

Q: There will be an electricity shortage in northern Japan this summer and while the government can regulate energy use for businesses, it may be difficult to regulate what people do in their homes. There are two alternatives and only one can be chosen: 1) the government requests that people voluntarily reduce their electricity usage, for example, asking people not to set their air conditioning as low as they usually do, or 2) the government could double the price of electricity, giving people an economic incentive to use less electricity. Of these two choices, which do you think the government should do?
Voluntary: 62%
Raise the price: 38%

Q: If the government chooses the voluntary method, what percentage of people will set their air conditioning as low as they usually do?
Average answer: 62%
Most common answers: 70%, 80%

Q: If the government chooses the method of doubling the price, what percentage will set their air conditioning as low as they usually do ?
Average answer: 73%
Most common answers: 80%, 90%
People gave a higher number for the price-raising method, 7 gave a higher number for the voluntary method and 5 gave the same number for both.

Q: In April 2012, you are a manager in charge of hiring at your company. You must choose between two applicants who are equally qualified. It’s hard to choose between them. You know that a year ago one of them left Tokyo a few days after the earthquake and spent four weeks in Kyushu, then came back to Tokyo, and the other one never left. You do not know, and cannot find out, their situation or reasons. Would this knowledge affect your decision?
Yes: 69%
No: 31%

Despite the frequent usage of the phrase “self-restraint,” students said that it had been taken too far and there was a large gap between what has been reported in the media and what people feel. And despite the signs in Yasukuni Shrine asking people not to have ohanami parties out of respect for the Tohoku victims, no one expressed similar opinions. Many said that there was no connection between ohanami parties and those who suffered from the disasters. Also, any restriction of normal activities would slow down the economy and indirectly hurt those up north.

Almost two-thirds believed that people should be asked to voluntarily save electricity, although three-quarters believed that raising prices would be more effective. Some expressed both beliefs and explained the contradiction by saying the voluntary way better reflected the Japanese character and was more suitable for Japan. More than a few, when asked whether the voluntary method would really save enough electricity in the summer said, “I want to think so.”

Many said they did not have a negative opinion about those who left and would have done the same thing in their position. However, many said the knowledge that they left would make a difference from a business standpoint. A business does not want people leaving so their actions are a mark against them, although one does not personally hold it against them.

Many said that it also showed the person’s character, suggesting they did judge the person. However, a few said they would not consider this information, it was irrelevant to the hiring decision or could not judge the person because they didn’t know their situation. One person who has direct experience hiring people said that this was a unique situation that would never happen again, so it was not useful to even consider it.

These surveys are done about every month and there is one thing to understand from them. Some people say Japanese people think the same way, but one can say with great certainty that this is not true.

Tito Poza is an English language instructor who has lived in Tokyo and taught private students and businesses for 23 years. He is interested in Japanese culture, and periodically surveys his students to get a sense of how they feel about current issues.

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