Ishinomaki Hibi Shimibun (JPN, 2011)

Publication History:

Place of Publication:  Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan

Frequency:   Six days while the newspaper could not be printed after massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power disasters affected the region

Volume and Issue Data:  March 12-17, 2011

Size and Format:  Poster-sized paper

Editor/Publisher:  Hiroyuki Takeuchi, chief reporter, and the Hibi Shimbun staff

Title Changes and Continuation:  None

General Description & Notes:

In the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun newspaper was published for six days in handwritten form. According to the Washington Post,

Unable to operate its 20th-century printing press — never mind its computers, Web site or 3G mobile phones — the town’s only newspaper, the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, wrote its articles by hand with black felt-tip pens on big sheets of white paper. 

But unlike modern media, the method worked.

“People who suffer a tragedy like this need food, water and, also, information,” said Hiroyuki Takeuchi, chief reporter at the Hibi Shimbun, an afternoon daily. “People used to get their news from television and the Internet. But when there is no light and no electricity, the only thing they have is our newspaper.”

While recent political ferment across the Arab world has trumpeted the power of new media, the misery in Japan, one of the world’s most wired nations, has rolled back the clock. For a few days at least, the printed and handwritten word were in the ascendant.

 After writing and editing articles, Takeuchi and others on staff copied their work onto sheets by hand for distribution to emergency relief centers housing survivors of Japan’s worst-ever earthquake and deadly tsunami that followed.

“They were desperate for information,” said Takeuchi, who has slept in the office for the 10 days since the tsunami flooded the ground floor of his house.

With electricity now restored to about a third of the northeast town’s 160,000 residents, Takeuchi’s newspaper has put away its pens and started printing. Internet access is still not available. Monday’s printed front page cheered a “miraculous rescue drama” — the story of an 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson plucked from their ruined Ishinomaki home Sunday.

Down the coast in Sendai, a once-thriving city of more than 1 million, the digital juggernaut has also come to a halt. “In conditions like these, nothing has power like paper,” said Masahiko Ichiriki, president and owner of Kahoku Shimpo, the city’s main newspaper. With most shops shut, people can’t buy batteries to power radios.

The Newseum (a museum dedicated free press and news reporting, which closed in 2019) purchased copies of the handwritten papers, which are now on display at the Washington, D.C. museum. According to the Newseum website (now also closed):

“The Newseum became aware of the Hibi Shimbun‘s heroic efforts from a March 21, 2011, story on the earthquake in The Washington Post. That morning, Brian Nishimura Lee, the Newseum’s senior administrator for database and financial systems, emailed editors at the Hibi Shimbun and requested copies of the handwritten editions for the museum’s collection.”

The Newseum website (closed) provided additional details that did not appear in the original Washington Post story:

“Ishinomaki, with a population of about 160,000 people, was one of the hardest hit in Japan. Approximately 80 percent of the homes were destroyed. About 1,300 people have died, and more than 2,700 are still missing.

“The first handwritten newspaper on March 12 was an “Extra” edition that informed residents that the earthquake was “the biggest in the history of Japan.” The next day’s edition told about “rescue teams arriving in some areas.” On March 16, the paper said, “Let’s overcome the hardship with mutual support.” By March 17, the paper wrote about the lights coming back on.

“The first printed edition of the newspaper since the power outage was published on March 18. Editions have been distributed free to refugee sites each day.”

Information Sources:

Bibliography: Andrew Higgins, “In Ishinomaki, news comes old-fashioned way: Via paper,” Washington Post (web edition), March 21, 2011

Links: Newseum video of Japanese handwritten newspapers (no longer active on the closed Newseum site, but still available through the Freedom Forum on YouTube)

Locations:  Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC