Conflicting reports were made regarding incident after powerful quake on New Year’s Day. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, or so the saying goes. But how desperate should times be when you’re allowed to break into a vending machine to get a drink? A recent incident in which evacuees did just that in the wake of the Note Earthquake prompted a debate about whether any time is desperate enough. At the same time, it also managed to provoke a conversation about journalistic integrity, too.

It all started with an article posted by Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, which initially reported the incident on January 6. In it, the newspaper reported that a witness had testified that a vending machine at Anamizu High School had been broken into and its drinks and cash stolen.

The article wrote that, according to the 30-year-old witness and the school, the incident had occurred on the night of January 1, shortly after the earthquake, when about 100 people had evacuated to the school grounds in the wake of tsunami warnings. Around 8 p.m., the article stated, four or five men and women in their forties or fifties pulled up in a car with a Kanazawa license plate, entered the school, which was reportedly locked up but accessible because its windows had shattered in the quake, and, citing “an emergency”, broke open the vending machine with a tool that looked like a chainsaw and stole the cash and drinks inside.

“A shrill noise echoed throughout the school,” the witness reportedly said. “The evacuation center became embroiled in panic, and nobody could stop them.” The principal of the school, Kenichi Shimazaki, was reported as saying, “This incident is unforgivable because it made the evacuees feels unsafe.” Together with the article was a photo of a vending machine that appeared to have been opened up and ripped apart.

However, another newspaper, Hokkoku Shimbun, presented a differing account of the events. On January 6, they reported that the alleged group had wrenched open the vending machine with a tool and set out the drinks for the evacuees. The newspaper reported speaking to the people who broke into the machine, who said, “We’re evacuees ourselves, and we checked with the people in charge whether we could break into the machine to supply drinks.” According to Hokkoku Shimbun, the local police were not considering it to be criminal activity.

Perhaps as a result of the questions that arose from their first article, and the Hokkoku Shimbun article reporting contrasting facts, the original Yomiuri Shimbun article disappeared with no notice from the newspaper (though it is preserved in Internet archives), and on January 20 they published a new article stating that Hokuriku Coca-Cola, the company that manages Coca-Cola vending machines in Ishikawa prefecture, filed a criminal complaint on January 18. According to the article, a representative said, “We had not given permission for the machine to be broken into. Just because an emergency situation has occurred does not always mean such actions are allowed.”

Notably, this article omits any mention of cash being stolen, but reports that the drinks were “removed and distributed to the evacuees, and the machine was destroyed without permission from the company or the school.” The prefectural police, it was reported, were speaking to people associated with the incident in order to determine if it was a case of property damage.

It then continued by stating that a group of four or five men and women, citing “an emergency”, broke into the vending machine around 8 p.m. on January 1 using a tool, destroyed the interior, and removed the drinks to distribute to the evacuees. There was no further mention of a car with a Kanazawa license plate, though the article did reiterate that the school was locked up, in spite of broken glass providing access.

The article lastly reported that at the time, there were no teachers or administrators on campus, and therefore no one to give permission to break into the machine. The principal said that he “only heard after the fact from an acquaintance that the expensive vending machine had been broken without permission.”

A follow-up article was then published by Yomiuri Shimbun on January 23, which reported that a woman confessed to breaking open the vending machine and apologized to Hokuriku Coca-Cola by phone, stating, “I wasn’t in my right mind after the earthquake. There were people who had evacuated with their children, so I came up with the idea to give them water. I’m very sorry.” Apparently, she also offered to reimburse the company, but a representative from Hokuriku Coca-Cola is quoted as saying the company will not be demanding repayment for damages and won’t be filing a criminal complaint against her, because “it was a case of unusual circumstances right after an earthquake.”

It was also revealed by Yomiuri that two other vending machines were also pried open and their contents distributed to the evacuees, but the companies that own them, Megmilk Snow and Meiji, have not stated whether they will file for damages or not.

Following the report that Hokuriku Coca-Cola will not be pressing damages, online reactions have included:

“I appreciate Coca-Cola’s generosity and thoughtfulness.”
“Well, Coca-Cola does donate tens of thousands bottles of Irohasu water immediately after earthquakes. This vending machine incident shows that they’re a wonderful company.”
“Since it was an emergency, that’s the response I’d expect from them.”
“I think I’ll have a Coke today.”
“I think it’s magnificent that they won’t be asking for compensation because of this special circumstances. However, it’d be a problem if people start thinking they can break into vending machines in emergencies.”
“Good job, Coca-Cola. The person who called to apologize and offer repayment is also impressive.”

Meanwhile, if you want to help support the relief and recovery efforts, you don’t have to commit a potential crime, nor be like J-rock star Yoshiki and auction off a priceless crystal piano; for us ordinary people, it’s as simple as watching the anime Hanasaku Iroha on YouTube, whose proceeds will go towards earthquake relief efforts. You can also plan a trip to Ishikawa prefecture to support their tourism industry–though for now it’s best to avoid the Noto peninsula while recovery efforts are underway.

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun via Internet Archives, Hokkoku Shimbun via Hachima Kiko, Yomiuri Shimbun (1, 2), Twitter/@livedoornews
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3)