Ace, "De Niro" unlikely heroes of Japan nuclear crisis
By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - "Ace" is Japan's latest hero. Fans dissect his daily comments on message boards, where some post gushing tributes to his voice and his expressive face, and spend hours watching video clips of his performances.
Far from an actor or rock star, Ace is one of the officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the operator of Japan's crippled nuclear plant, who face the media each day for updates after the disastrous March 11 earthquake and tsunami that set off the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
"I spend several hours each day thinking about Ace or watching his clips," one online follower said on a message board dedicated to Ace.
Though the public from the start praised the hard work and courage of the on-site workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant who toiled to bring the situation under control, officials at the Tokyo home office came in for criticism.
But after weeks of seeing Ace and colleagues such as "De Niro" -- nicknamed for his resemblance to actor Robert De Niro -- at twice-daily news conferences streamed live over the Internet, tackling hardball questions from sometimes testy reporters, respect for them has grown.
Ace, whose real name is Hikaru Kuroda, is by far the most popular. An earnest-looking manager with a gently receding hairline, he dresses -- like the others -- in a navy-blue uniform work jacket with the company logo on the breast pocket.
Known for his technical knowledge and for responding concretely to even the toughest queries, he worked at a nuclear plant for a decade, finishing his stint last year.
Fans debate the best "Ace moments" on the message board devoted to him, which has attracted nearly 300 posts. Continued...