Tokyo Journalist Briefs SFSU Students Headed to Disaster Area

June 4, 2014
Photograph of Yuri Kageyama with students.
Reporter Yuri Kageyama (right) describes stories she has reported about the disaster in Japan to students. Asst. Prof. Sachi Cunningham (left) will help lead student project. Photo by Debbie Svoboda.

Students from San Francisco State University who will be heading to Fukushima this summer met with Yuri Kageyama, the Associated Press’ Tokyo correspondent, to speak about her experience reporting in Japan.  Kageyama spoke to the students about the challenges reporting on the current situation in a society in which many do not like to speak to the media, especially about controversial topics. 

The student team will spend two weeks in Fukushima in August documenting life after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster.   Mainstream media report mostly on government-released information, said Kageyama, and citizens are afraid of being ostracized if they raise any concerns, such as the chances of thyroid cancer known to be related to radiation exposure. 

“People want to move  on.  They want to feel that they are recovering,” said Kageyama.  “You are going to be a giant party pooper if you say, 'Hey what’s going on with these thyroid cancers or something like that.' ” 

The Japanese government has reported 33 cases of thyroid cancer from the 254,000 children and adolescents tested in Fukushima, but has stated the cases are not related to exposure from the Dai-Ichi nuclear meltdown.  Kageyama said citizens are afraid to express their concern, especially to the media. 

“People are not willing to share the stories that early.  It might be different for you guys because you look like young, friendly people that might not result in some type of social backlash,” said Kageyama.   

Six students from SF State—including five from the Journalism Department and one from Japanese Language & Literature—will travel to Fukushima along with professors Jon Funabiki and Sachi Cunningham. They will produce written and multimedia pieces to raise awareness about the current situation faced by residents there.   The students asked Kageyama cultural questions and sought journalism advice, such as how to approach subjects for a photo.  Kageyama shared her experience and offered tips on finding stories. 

“Hearing Yuri really gave a good idea of what we'll be dealing with on many different levels,” said Debbie Svodaba, after the meeting. “I appreciate that we had that chance.”

Natalie Yemenidjan agreed.  She said, “Talking to Yuri put a lot of what I've read into perspective and got my head turning on story ideas.”