In their new book, “Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear disaster,” Japan-based journalists Lucy Birmingham and David McNeill have chronicled the harrowing events surrounding the country’s March 11, 2011 cataclysm. Writing for Time magazine, Birmingham has focused on the impact of the magnitude-9 quake and the tsunami that in some areas reached up to 40 metres high. McNeill, who wrote for The Independent and The Irish Times, spent many hours inside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and covers the impact of the nuclear meltdown.
The moving narratives of six individuals are woven throughout: a Soma fisherman who steered his boat into the tsunami; a worker at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant who returned to bring the plant under control; the mayor of the devastated coastal city of Minami-soma, a housewife who lost her husband to the deluge; an American teacher who saved the lives of students and parents in his Japanese elementary school, and an 18-year-old high school student. Through their eyes, Birmingham and McNeill have attempted to show what it was like to live through the disaster, and the everyday heroism that it produced.
In contrast to the bravery, dignity and selflessness of their six subjects, Birmingham and McNeill show another aside to March 11: the confused and sometimes incompetent political response to the crisis, and the arrogance and complacence of Japan’s nuclear industry and its supporters. While acknowledging the difficulties of covering the story, the two look critically at how large media organizations responded to the nuclear crisis and attempted to suppress or play down its impact.
During the presentation the two will discuss issues surrounding the disaster and its ongoing impact, highlighted by a slide show of photographs taken during the immediate aftermath.
Lucy Birmingham is a long-time, Tokyo-based journalist, scriptwriter, editor and former photojournalist. She writes regularly for TIME magazine and TIME.com and her articles have appeared in many publications including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Bloomberg News and Architectural Digest. She has worked at NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, since 2000 and has published several books besides “Strong in the Rain” that include the travel classic, “Old Kyoto ? A Guide to Shops, Inns and Restaurants.”
David McNeill writes for several publications, including The Economist and The (London) Independent and is the Asia correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He holds a doctorate in sociology and has taught at universities in Ireland, the UK and China, and currently teaches media and politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. He has been in Japan since January 2000 and lives in Tokyo with his wife and young son.