Video by YouTube user <dandomina, linked from the POST article discussed below.
POST, a blog / podcast series associated with MoMA, recently featured a podcast by Prof. David Novak, professor in the Music department here at UCSB, in which he talks about recent anti-nuclear protests in Japan. As an ethnomusicologist, Novak focuses on the music employed at the protest events, and in association with the sentiment of the movement, an approach I think is quite interesting and refreshing – to focus on a live event, a contemporary, current, ongoing set of protest marches and demonstrations, but to focus on the music performed or played at those demonstrations, which may not be by big-name artists and may not even be formally published at all.
In the aftermath of the 3/11 disasters, all of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down. I believe only one or two are active today. As the only country to have ever been attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan of course has a unique relationship with nuclear energy. And so, perhaps it comes as no surprise that as the Fukushima crisis continues, with no end in sight, people would turn against nuclear power, seeing it as too dangerous, too risky, especially in a country that is the site of a significant proportion of all earthquake activity in the world each year. That said, though, despite Japan’s reputation for cutting-edge technology and environmentalism, since the shutdown of the nuclear plants, Japan has been getting 85% of its energy from fossil fuels – and not from clean, renewable, “green” sources of energy. So, I’m not sure the solution, the answer, is so clear-cut. In the meantime, though, how has Japan managed to get through this past summer, A/C units blaring, with all but one or two nuclear plants shut down, and yet without blackouts or energy supply problems? CNN Money / Fortune magazine suggests it was simply by cutting back – more efficient use of electricity, and more efficient equipment (lightbulbs being just a start), has made a profound impact.
Regardless of where one stands on the energy issue, or how one feels about the ongoing situation at Fukushima and how it has been handled, Novak points out another very remarkable aspect of all of this: that Japan is today seeing larger, more widespread, and more active protests than it has in some time. I really don’t know very much about it, but, stereotypically, we generally associate the Japanese with not standing up or speaking out individually against the status quo, or against societal consensus. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” is said so often in association with Japan it’s cliché; but I think there’s some truth to it – there are the famous examples of Minamata disease, along with several other cases of industrial pollution, in which individuals were ashamed to speak out about their own personal, individual, suffering, and were indeed strongly pressured to not say anything against the companies, government policies, and legal decisions that were polluting their water and destroying their lives, placing emphasis instead on the prosperity and growth of the nation, and personal sacrifice for the benefit of the greater whole. The most famous, and likely largest, most extensive, set of protests in post-war Japan was in the 1960s, when student protests combined with protests against the Vietnam War, and against the renewal of ANPO, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. The campuses of a number of universities, including the University of Tokyo, were taken over by the students, as campuses were here in the US, and it was a really big deal. But have we seen such a thing since then? And is what we’re seeing today truly that much bigger than anything else since? Do the protests we’re seeing today represent a true shift in the political involvement of the Japanese public (especially young people)? If so, it’s remarkable.
Image from JapanCrush.com.
But it’s not only the anti-nuclear movement which is seeing strong activity these days. Protests against hate speech have been growing as well in recent months, along with the anti-foreigner / anti-immigration that spurred them.
This recent Japan Today article is quite brief, but describes a “rally” 2000 strong, held in Shinjuku (in Tokyo) last week, protesting against racism and hate. A large protest was also held in Osaka, back in July. Though opposed by worryingly bold and explicit anti-foreigner protests, with messages such as “all foreigners are criminals,” it is heartening, encouraging, to see that thousands of Japanese are turning out with messages like “You are the shame of this country!” and “You’re the ones who need to go home!” This, after a controversy surrounding an ESL teacher trying to teach his students about racism in Japan involved discussions that, supposedly, in Japan, it is widely believed that racism is chiefly or exclusively an American problem, and that racism doesn’t exist in Japan. It would be patronizing to suggest that this is truly the first time that anyone in Japan has really come to understand what racism and hate speech are, and that they exist in Japan – but, it’s encouraging to see that the idea seems to be spreading, and gaining traction. Only time will tell where this leads, how it develops.
Photo my own, taken Aug 6, 2013, near the gates to Futenma.
Meanwhile, Okinawa of course continues to be a separate story unto itself. The ANPO demonstrations are surely the most famous protests in the history of post-war Japan as it was taught to me, as a student, educated in the United States and United Kingdom. That education included almost nothing at all about Okinawa. So, where does the Koza Riot fit into this narrative of the history of protest in modern Japan? Where do the ongoing protests against the US military presence in Okinawa – and against the current base at Futenma, the proposed base at Henoko, and the Ospreys in particular – fit?
I don’t follow the Japanese news all that closely on a day-to-day basis, but a recent article in the Number 1 Shimbun (“Number One Newspaper”, published by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan), suggests that “What happens in Okinawa… [stays in Okinawa].” Or, to put it more explicitly, as Jon Mitchell does in this article, “the mainland press … consistently turns a blind eye to the iniquities suffered by residents of Japan’s poorest and most militarized prefecture.” He opens the article with the surprising information that in September 2012, protesters blocked the gates to the Marines’ air base at Futenma, preventing anyone from going in or out, and successfully closing the base – for the first and only time since the end of the US Occupation in 1972 – for a full 22 hours. And yet, few heard about it. Why is that?
It can be easy to ascribe the lack of attention to Okinawa’s situation to an imperialist agenda or colonialist bias (if we wish to use such strong terms), and/or to pressure from Washington, or the like, in broad terms. But Mitchell clarifies for us here, spelling out a series of reasons or factors, in a somewhat more detailed and specific fashion.
I link to many articles on this blog, but, and I hope I say this rarely enough for it to carry some weight – this is a particularly good one. I definitely recommend reading the entirety of Mitchell’s short article. I’ll certainly be keeping it, to potentially assign as readings for students if I ever get to teach Okinawan history, and for whatever other purposes.
He notes, firstly, that mainland Japanese reporters typically rely too heavily on press releases and other information from government sources (including the Japan Self-Defense Forces), and that mainland Japanese reporters tend to be well “handled” by American officials. Mitchell also describes how Okinawan reporters – or their direct mentors – made their careers handling these subjects during the pre-reversion period, at a time when Japan and Okinawa were much more distant and disconnected, in terms of their political status, travel access, etc. This is not simply to say that Okinawan reporters are “closer” to the issue, more familiar with it, plainly by being Okinawan, or even that it is more personal for them because their Okinawan, but rather that it’s a step beyond that, to say that by virtue of their direct experience handling this particular issue, Okinawan reporters are more experienced at asking harsh, biting questions, at pushing past barricades, and in otherwise interacting with or dealing with the US military and with this specific set of circumstances. This is, of course, a compelling argument, and I don’t doubt that it enters into it to some extent, but, given that it has now been more than 40 years since reversion, I’m not sure we should quite let the mainland reporters off the hook so easily. Mainland reporters today specializing in security issues, or reporters working the Okinawa desk for a national, Tokyo- or Osaka-based newspaper, have also been specializing in these issues for years; how is it they have not developed the same skills, experience, or approach?
Posters posted by students at the University of the Ryukyus (Ryûdai), one of the more politically active/activist student bodies in Japan. The one on the right reads, roughly, “Opposing the Abenomics which worsens the great poverty of students and workers! Tear down the Abe administration!” The one on the left reads, roughly, “Let’s stop the revision* of the Constitution! STOP! Opposing Osprey deployment and Henoko military base construction!” (*The normal word for ‘revision’, 改良, means roughly “to make better,” but here they’ve written 改悪, “to make worse.”)
Perhaps they see Okinawan issues more as regional issues… Of course, in my mind, I see them as major issues, and lump them in with Fukushima and other things that are prominent issues in Japan. But, I guess, when one steps back a moment and thinks about it, do any major national papers in the US give very much attention to Hawaii, at all? The big news in Hawaii right now is a spill, or more accurately, a leak, of 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu harbor on Sept 9, which many fear could devastate the local ecosystem to such an extent it might take decades to recover. For Hawaii, this is a really big deal; and, as something which is occurring within the United States, one would think it might merit national attention. Yet, while I haven’t exactly scoured any genuinely representative sample of national news sources, the New York Times, at least, seems to have devoted no more than a paragraph to the incident. So, I’m sure the feeling of Okinawa as being only of regional concern plays a large role; but, then, are Fukushima, or the recovery in Tôhoku, merely of regional concern?
Mitchell ends his article by citing the example of Nishiyama Takichi, whose reputation was destroyed by “the powers-that-be” after he reported on payments made by the Japanese government to the US in connection to the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control. It would seem that shame for stepping out of line, fear of being the nail that will be hammered down, and pressure to not rock the boat, i.e. to not challenge the mainstream consensus, is still quite a strong force in Japan after all.
It remains to be seen how these three sets of issues, these three categories of protests, will develop. Perhaps they’ll grow. Perhaps some kind of actual societal shift or policy change will be effected. Only time will tell.