What is called "dengon gemu" (message game) in Japanese goes by many different names in English, including broken telephone and Chinese whispers.
According to Arthur Binard, an American-born poet whose essay recently ran in The Asahi Shimbun, the game is called "rumors" in an area of the northern United States and "secrets" in the Deep South.
"Russian scandal" is yet another name by which this game is known. It has a murky, secretive ring to it, and it made me think about the recent summons of unsworn witnesses before the Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.
According to Banri Kaieda, who was industry minister at the time of the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there were serious communication problems between Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the prime minister's office while the disaster was unfolding.
"It was as if they were playing a broken telephone game," Kaieda told the investigation panel.
Normally, players of this game strive for accuracy in passing on the message. But when applied to TEPCO and the prime minister's office, it is not difficult to imagine that the game was corrupted from the start by incompetence, obfuscation and distortion.
As a result, the extent of TEPCO's planned "withdrawal" from the crippled plant is still being disputed.
"My understanding was that TEPCO intended to pull out all of its staff," Kaieda stated, but TEPCO continues to deny it.
Had TEPCO abandoned the plant and caused any of its reactors to explode, that would have caused untold damage. There is no point in arguing this "what if" situation now. But what the issue itself implies is truly frightening.
"Jisshi issho," which translates literally as "10 deaths and one life," is a Japanese expression that denotes a situation where the possibility of survival is close to zero.
And there is "jisshi reisho" (10 deaths and zero life), which was used in reference to suicide missions during World War II.
In an extreme situation, will any of us be able to order others to sacrifice themselves? What would we do if the positions were reversed? This is the sort of obstacle inherent in running nuclear power plants.
We have certainly not learned the whole truth from the "broken telephone game" played by TEPCO and the prime minister's office. Everyone believes there are inconvenient truths galore behind the Fukushima disaster.
Yet, the government is trying to keep them vague in its eagerness to restart offline nuclear power stations. This is utter folly.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 19
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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