Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

The Broadcast Center of Japan's NHK (Credit: Wikimedia/Kakidai; CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Finding Peace and Quiet

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 9:41 PM

There is so much to talk about, almost none of it good.

Money that you earned and saved is being effectively squandered by inflation, as those savings lose their value in large measure because the political party in power is made up of idiots and liars. The president, who was a louse before he was insane, doesn’t care about you any more than the reprehensible Donald Trump did, and neither do any of his lefty elitist colleagues. There are people who listen to and agree with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Hell) when she demands that pregnancy resource centers be closed because they’re interfering with the mass-execution of babies. I am not making this up.

It has now become a real struggle to avoid giving in to anguish and fury. Sometimes lately it seems the only respite is to avert one’s eyes and ears. We pray, but we also remember Biblical troubles that took centuries to resolve. The Israelites were expected to wait and wait, and we are an impatient people. (Then again, the alternative of shrugging our shoulders and saying, “I’m sure it will all work itself out in three-, four-hundred years, tops,” doesn’t impart much forward motion or relief, does it.)

Over the weekend, as the unintentional result of a tragic event, I found a little oasis of calm. I thought it might be good to share it with you.

Late last week came word of the assassination of Abe Shinzo, the former prime minister of Japan and still a leading politician there. (The Western media call him “Shinzo Abe,” but I think it’s only right to spell a person’s name the way he does it himself.) Abe’s death was startling. This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often in Japan.

His killer fired his home-made weapon, dropped it, and stood there awaiting arrest. It is something remarkable about Japanese culture, I think, that even evildoers expect to take responsibility for their actions.

Perhaps most surprising was the killer’s rationale: His mother had bankrupted the family when she, in the thrall of the Unification Church, gave all their money to the Moonies. Less clear is how this led to animosity toward Abe, who ostensibly had nothing to do with that strange organization.

The longest-serving prime minister of the postwar years, Abe was loved at home and respected around the world. He did wonderful things for his country and much to bolster its power in the region, in the face of Chinese hegemony. He was not the sort you’d expect to get assassinated and certainly not the sort who might deserve it. Abe gets murdered while Putin is still alive.

Hearing late at night that Abe had been shot, I turned to the American news broadcasts and found them lacking, as they always are. American media define success as broadcasting things that make you angry. In my case they succeed — when I watch what passes for news reporting here, especially but not limited to that provided by the cable “news” channels, I grow very angry indeed and entertain reveries of passing among them with cattle prods and baseball bats and improving the economic outlook for the field of reconstructive dentistry.

But in the shooting of Abe, American media were too stone ignorant to whip up much of a frenzy. They tend to be more up to date on celebrity pronouncements, Twitter battles, and other items of no significance. They’re ill-equipped to report on a story where knowledge of actual facts and history are crucial. Overseas news channels I follow, chiefly Britain’s Sky News and France 24, were better but short on information about the assassination. Then the lightbulb, that muse of song and legend, went off in my mind: Does Japan have a streaming service?

It does, and I have come to love it.

NHK World Japan was of course covering the story extensively. It has a fine application for streaming devices but is also available for streaming to computers, tablets, and other devices, and from a straightforward, no-gimmicks website. I installed the application on my television — it took about 30 seconds — and was soon watching what television news broadcasting ought to be. There were no histryonics as we might find from the once-competent, now out over his skis Bill Hemmer of Fox News; there was no ritual self-beclowning as we have come to expect from the once-competent (though it was decades ago) Wolf Blitzer. There was no commentary from women who in American media seem to be there to confirm the worst suspicions of the most rabid antifeminists. There was none of the curled-pinkie, let-them-eat-cake snootiness of the products of public broadcasting here. Nor did it beg for money.

The coverage was careful, to a fault. There were no people there to grind their axes; instead, amid a mood of appropriate sadness and concern the station stuck entirely to facts. When after four hours (yeah, I stayed up pretty much all night watching, out of interest in the story and fascination with the channel), they were reporting that it had been hours since Abe was reported to have “no signs of life.” We knew he was dead. No doubt they knew he was dead. But the channel was free of blowhards saying that of course he was dead and that somehow proves me right about this other thing. (That’s my job!) They said he was dead when it was announced he was dead. They saw no reason — and there is none — for doing anything else.

They also covered other news, the world not having ground to a halt over the shooting of a Japanese political figure. There was none of the let’s-make-a-party-of-it coverage we see here whenever there is a big story or something that can be phonied up to pass for a big story.

I stayed tuned to the channel (wow — all of that phrase has become anachronistic) over the weekend and into this week. NHK has yet to disappoint me in the slightest. It has made me smile, in a time when smiles are rare.

It is — you won’t believe it, but it’s true — nice.

The first 15 minutes of each hour comprise a newscast. Then come other programs. Some are short subjects, encouraging people to wash their hands or showing how to make a cardboard tent playhouse or how to cook a particular dish. Some are documentaries. I saw one on bicycling through one Japanese prefecture, which was entrancing, relaxing, and generally pleasing; one on a clear, shallow river and its history (there’s a lot of history in Japan); and the final two installments of a four-part series documenting 10 years of the life of visionary anime filmmaker Miyazaki Hayao. I even watched the highlights from the July Grand Sumo Tournament. (I’m not a fan and do not expect to become one, but it was an interesting half hour.) Unlike other broadcasters NHK doesn’t scold its viewers, which was something new to me.

Every second of it was calming, coolly friendly, polite, and restrained, the very reflection of Japanese culture in a time when we could learn much from that society’s approach to the world and to each other.

It is free both of cost and of advertisements.

You might give it a try. I hope you find in it the value that I found.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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