If an alarm interrupts your Mozart, don't panic
In his poem "Car Rajio no Naka no Mozart" (Mozart in the car radio), poet Shuntaro Tanikawa recalls his sense of intense connection with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's enchanting music that drifted from the car radio while he was driving. The poem goes: "Memories came and went/ My heart fluttered/ And now I myself was that music."
The day may come when you are listening to pleasant music from your car radio and the program is abruptly interrupted by an "emergency earthquake bulletin." Under a new government service that will begin Oct. 1, the public will be alerted to an imminent major earthquake literally seconds before the jolt is felt.
The alert will be aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) on TV and radio as well as on some commercial stations.
Some people think broadcasting the warning by radio may do more harm than good. They worry that drivers who hear it may panic and hit the brakes, causing accidents.
The Great Kanto Earthquake struck the capital area on Sept. 1, 1923. The public had next to no information on the temblor 84 years ago, and all sorts of groundless rumors flew, one of which was that Mount Fuji had erupted. The bitter lessons learned from this catastrophe were said to have prompted the government to create a nationwide radio service two years later.
We have come a long way since, with residents now expecting to be warned even before a quake strikes. But while this system is certainly reassuring, it could also defeat its own purpose if it creates panic.
In some cases, "not telling" is understood to be safer. For instance, a certain type of aircraft is designed to sound an alarm in an emergency only when it has reached a safe cruising altitude, even if a problem has occurred immediately before takeoff. This is apparently in order to make sure the pilot is not unnerved in a situation where even the smallest mistake could cause a disaster.
Still, I feel thankful about the emergency earthquake bulletin. When you hear it while on the road, the correct way to respond is to stay calm, turn on the hazard lights, and take your time to park the car on the shoulder.
By all means enjoy your Mozart, but be prepared at all times. This may sound exaggerated, but it isn't, really, as we do live in a country that is prone to earthquakes.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1(IHT/Asahi: September 8,2007)