From Showa to Heisei,
Reporting on Turbulent TimesChernobyl Nuclear Accident, Diana Boom, Emperor Showa Passes Away
CHRONICLE ＞ 1985–1989 ＞ From Showa to Heisei, Reporting on Turbulent Times ｜ Tiananmen Square Incident More Airtime in Japanese and Chinese
Tables of major events
- 3/11. Gorbachev becomes Soviet Communist Party general secretary.
- 9/1. CNN International starts airing.
- 9/22. Plaza Accord. U.S. trade deficit with Japan rises to 50 billion dollars.
- 1/28. Space Shuttle disaster
- 2/8. Regime change in Philippines. Corazon Aquino takes office.
- 4/26. Chernobyl nuclear accident
- 4/23~5/9. Tokyo summit
- 5/8. Britain’s crown prince and princess visit Japan.
- 9. Japan-U.S. semiconductor pact signed.
- 4/31~5/2. Japan-U.S. summit
- 11/29. Bombing of KAL plane
- 12/8. U.S. and Soviet Union agree to stop jamming of each other’s international broadcasting.
- 3/13. Tunnel linking main island and Hokkaido opens.
- 3. Work to improve and expand Yamata Transmitting Station completed.Reception in Asia, western North America, etc. far better.
- 4/1. Exchange relays with CBC begins.
- 4/10. Seto Bridge over Inland Sea opens.
- 9/17~10/2. Seoul Olympics aired.
- 1/7. Emperor Showa passes away.
- 2/15. Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
- 4/1. 3% consumption tax imposed.
- 6/1. Satellite broadcasting begins.
- 6/4. Tiananmen Incident
- 10/18. San Francisco Earthquake
- 11/9. Berlin Wall falls.
- 12/29. Nikkei average closes at high of 38,915.87.
A PRECIOUS SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR JAPANESE ABROAD
The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, the Sharp Appreciation of the Value of the Yen, the Passing Away of Emperor Showa… Strengthening of the yen starting in the mid-1980s prompted companies to move production overseas with their employees. Radio Japan’s information became even more important.
Reporting Crucial News
5/30/86. Chernobyl Nuclear Accident. After a meltdown, a concrete wall was built. It is called a stone coffin.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana at a garden party at Nijojo Castle (Kyoto).
2/24/89. Funeral for Emperor Showa. Ceremony at Funeral Hall (Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden).
As Japan rapidly became important in the world economy, listeners’ interest extended to its economy. In 1985, Group of five finance ministers and central bank governors announced the historic Plaza Accord to prop up the value of the yen against the dollar. The stronger yen was a factor behind an economic bubble in Japan. Radio Japan reported the rapid expansion and internationalization of Japan’s economy on special programs.
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine in the former Soviet Union shocked the world. Radio Japan continued to cover the incident carefully. Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana paid a state visit to Japan. Radio Japan reported on close ties between the imperial family and the British royal family and the Diana boom.
From Showa to Heisei
In September 1986, Emperor Showa’s condition suddenly worsened. Radio Japan kept reporting on the matter every day. He passed away the next year. Japan went from the Showa-era to that of Heisei. Radio Japan aired special programming to cover the imperial funeral. Letters of condolence came from not only Japanese abroad and people of Japanese parentage but also many people from around the world.
A Legendary Announcer, Broadcasting in German for 50 Years
Radio Japan’s German Service ended in 2007. One person helping to provide the service was legendary announcer Friedrich Greil.
He was born in Germany’s Harz region in 1902. He admired Japanese culture such as kabuki and ukiyoe(woodblock prints), and came to Japan in 1928. In 1937, when the German service began, he joined as an announcer. From a studio in Tokyo, he reported on Japan’s turbulent history during the Showa era to Europe, Japan’s declaration of war against the U.S. and Britain, the Pacific War, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the service resumed in 1954, he again sat before a microphone and reported on Japan’ s postwar recovery and path to becoming an economic power.
On March 31, 1986, at the age of 83, he retired. But he kept reporting on Japan in a weekend essay program. In all, his ties with Radio Japan lasted over 50 years. For his many years of distinguished service, the Japanese government awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
Talking about his last years, his niece Chiyo Maki says that to prepare for the program, he was always collecting information about Japan from newspapers and magazines at home with the help of his family, as he was unable to read Japanese. He then wrote an essay and looked forward to going to the studio at NHK’s Broadcasting Center to air it. He died on January 3, 2003.
Tiananmen Square Incident
More Airtime in Japanese and ChineseAiring Latest News to Beijing Under 24-Hr. Martial Law
SHORTWAVE BROADCASTING AT ITS BEST IN EMERGENCY
In June 1989, the Tiananmen Square Incident in China shook the world. Radio Japan extended its airtime in Japanese and Chinese to send the latest news to China. News was under strict control there. More than 60 percent of Japanese company employees stationed in China were listening to Radio Japan’s news flashes around the clock. In November, the Berlin Wall fell.
Radio Japan Depended On Heavily
6/4/89. Tiananmen Square Incident. A man waves to tanks on Changan Avenue one day after the incident. Photo: AP/Aflo
Citizens of East and West Berlin expressing joy on Berlin Wall the night after its collapse.
In November and December of 1988, Radio Japan surveyed 825 people who were listening to its Japanese service. It received replies from 65.6%. Among respondents, 77% said they listened to Radio Japan almost every day; 88% said reception was good or very good. This confirmed work to expand Yamata Transmitting Station and to open three more relay stations overseas (in Gabon, Canada, and now French Guiana) was effective. Fifty percent said they always depended on information provided by Radio Japan, and 48% in the Middle East called Radio Japan’s information helpful in emergencies.
Tiananmen Square Incident and Radio Japan
On June 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army shot at students and other citizens who had gathered at Tiananmen Square seeking democratic reforms. Many people were killed or wounded.
After the incident, employees of Japanese companies in China and their families told NHK, “We have no way to know what’s happening in China,” and “Give us more news in Japanese.” In response, Radio Japan increased its broadcasting to China, and worked to provide news in Japanese around the clock.
In its Chinese service, Radio Japan had already extended its news programs since martial law was imposed in Beijing in May. After the incident, it aired news for an extra 30 minutes from 12:30 p.m. every day in addition to its regular news broadcasts at night. This continued until August 6.
Letters from Listeners in Beijing Under Martial Law
Braving martial law, Chinese listeners in Beijing sent letters to Radio Japan containing messages like these:
“Now, news is strictly controlled in China. But you have begun reporting to us on the situations in Beijing at noon. I thank you for this. Mass media in my country do not tell us the truth, so people are rushing to hear broadcasts from abroad. Shortwave radios have quickly sold out.”
“Your news is objective and has no inflammatory words. It gave us accurate knowledge and helped us understand what the student movement is about.”
Sixty percent of Japanese stationed in China Listened to Radio Japan
NHK surveyed company employees who had temporarily returned home from China as the situation became tense. Sixty-three percent said they listened to Radio Japan’s news on China. One wrote: “We are grateful to Radio Japan for giving us news around-the-clock, when things were so tense but news was restricted.” Many praised Radio Japan for having used shortwave technology to the fullest at times of emergency.
Chinese Service Aired Midnight Scoop
In Beijing, tension had been rising on the night before the incident. Radio Japan’s Chinese-language staff was standing by. But no new information came until midnight. It was soon time for a four-minute news bulletin at 0:40. Saying “Time’s up” to himself, a director headed to a studio with a Chinese announcer. Three minutes before the broadcast, an editor rushed into the studio with a piece of paper on which was written, “The army clashed with citizens and fired at them. At least four seem to have been killed.” The announcer began translating it at once. He sat before the microphone for a few seconds before airtime. He was trying to keep calm. But his voice was trembling a bit with tension and excitement.