Performing Antinuclear Movements In Post-3.11 Japan
UC Santa Barbara
The summer of 2012 oversaw an explosion of public protest in Japan, specifically aimed at the restart of nuclear reactors that been shut down following the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11, 2011. Each Friday in Tokyo, a growing crowd gathered in front of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s office compound, beating drums, and chanting antinuclear slogans. On July 16th, the Sayonara Genpatsu (“Goodbye Nukes”) rally and concert featuring author Oe Kenzaburo and musician Sakamoto Ryûichi drew 170,000 people; later in July, huge crowds surrounded the Diet Building with a human chain. In “sound demos,” protesters formed small brass bands and samba drumming groups, chanting “SAIKADO HANTAI! GENPATSU IRANAI!” (“OPPOSE THE RESTART! WE DON’T NEED NUCLEAR POWER!”). On June 29th, citizens surrounded the Diet Building with a human chain estimated at over 100,000 people. Noda initially dismissed the protests as “just noise,” but increasingly claimed to be “listening carefully” to the “unheard voices” of public dissent. Noda met with antinuclear movement leaders in August 2012, and in mid-September, even as several plants went back online, the Japanese government announced a radical shift in national energy policy to phase out nuclear power entirely by the 2030s.
The vagaries of the plan did not satisfy activists, or quell general public anxieties about the restart of several plants across Japan. Many government and corporate sector statements insist that the plants are fundamental to Japan’s future, and Abe Shintarô — the Liberal Democratic Party’s victorious candidate in the December 2012 elections for Prime Minister — considers the protest movement uninformed and irresponsible. One of Abe’s first actions was to drop plans for the nuclear phase-out, less than one month after the policy was announced (despite a nearly 80% public approval rate). Protests have become subject to increasing police attention; public assembly rules in Hibiya Park now prohibit large gatherings, and some online activists have been arrested. Daily life in Japan has been radically disrupted. After the disclosures of deliberate cover-ups and misrepresentations of the extent of contamination, trust in the national government and in the energy supplier TEPCO has plunged. Everyday language in Tokyo now includes terms like microsievert and Becquerel; many citizens carry homemade Geiger counters, check “contamination maps” on the web, and only purchase food that has been independently tested for cesium exposure; the latest smartphone, SoftBank’s Pantone 5, includes a radiation meter module; the underground hit of summer 2012 was Rankin’ Taxi’s remix (with the Dub Ainu Band) of “You Can’t See It, and You Can’t Smell It Either”.
Public gatherings and music festivals, as well as mediated forms of popular music, have been crucial for communicating the antinuclear message in a near blackout of media coverage. Japanese public groups and artists such as Shirôto-no-ran, Chim Pom, and Illcommonz enacted prominent antinuclear performance actions, including weekly drumming gatherings; brass bands and samba groups appear at every protest to rally the crowds. Meanwhile, renowned rap group Scha Dara Parr performed in Hibiya Park dressed as TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power) officials, bowing in mock apology to the audience before launching into an ironic celebration of radioactivity. Audiovisual documentation of protests and performances circulated widely through social media, including Twitter feeds and the alternative streaming channel Dommune.
In Japan, where social life is heavily influenced by structures of corporate hegemony, rationalized public consumption and rapid absorption of technological advancements, 2012’s wave of antinuclear activism and antigovernment sentiment may seem completely unprecedented (and, like the global Occupy movement in 2011, to have arisen from nowhere). But protests in opposition to technological developments and governmental policies have long been crucial, if under-documented, factors of public discourse in Japan. The “sound demos” adopted in the antinuclear movement developed as a “reclaim-the-streets” tactic in anti-war and anti-globalization movements in the early 2000s. Street performances have been crucial to local resistance politics since the 1960s protests against government collusion with U.S. military and economic agendas, and in historical political actions against nuclear technologies, in both weaponized and energy-based contexts. Public concerns with nuclear science became crystallized in artistic, poetic, filmic, and performance-based interpretations of the historical traumas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the same time, musical productions of Noise, punk rock, and hip-hop helped concentrate general public concerns with an increasingly corporate and technocratic Japanese national culture.
This research project will document the radical shift in the perception of nuclear energy in contemporary Japan since 3.11.11, specifically as it is enacted in sound demonstrations and antinuclear music festivals. I hope to show in this project how the public understanding of technological risk around nuclear power extends from adjacent social contexts of artistic creativity and self-expression. My earlier work in Japan was partly concerned with the role of music and popular culture in representing the “technoscientific angst” of postwar Japan, both locally and in transnational reception (Sassower 1997). In my forthcoming book, I document the destructive creativity of technology among Noise musicians, circuit-benders, and other techno-punk performers and show how underground popular culture expresses submerged anxieties about contemporary social progress in Japan (Novak 2013). Noise has also been crucial in establishing regulations on population movement and public assembly in urban centers, especially in “sound demos,” and music festivals, all of which echo in national discourse since 3.11.11 (Novak 2010). How do music, sound and noise foster and contribute to open public dialogues about the benefits, risks and social impact of technologies? To make noise and disturb others is a social taboo in Japan. But in the confusing wake of the Tohoku disaster – compounded by obfuscations and deliberate cover-ups by Japanese government, power companies, and media outlets – the pretense of national harmony was thrown into a noisy disorder. The growing concern with nuclear power has become a flashpoint for ongoing public debates that broadly critique Japan’s postwar technological progress, as well as the nation’s track record in establishing public safety and social wellbeing. Underground art and popular musical forms have encouraged recognition of nuclear technologies and their potential and already realized effects on humanity, and it is already clear that the 2011 and 2012 sound demos and musical festivals have been crucial for raising public consciousness about the antinuclear movement.
Following up from my first research trip in 2012, during which I attended several antinuclear demonstrations and organizational meetings in Tokyo and Osaka, I will conduct the next phase of this project through an NSF-funded Seed Grant in the interdisciplinary Center for Nanoscience and Society at my home institution of UCSB. In particular, I will focus on the annual performance festival Project Fukushima! which has been uniquely successful in bringing national audiences to the disaster-affected region. In 2011 and again in 2012, my longterm interlocutor and colleague Ôtomo Yoshihide joined forces with poet Wago Ryoichi and punk rock legend Endô Michirô for a performance festival intended to provoke public discourse about the future of the partly-evacuated city (the name of their hometown, Ôtomo said, should not become a generalized reference to nuclear accident — “another Chernobyl”). Only a few months after the meltdown, this group of underground performers brought audiences in the thousands back to Fukushima; noise musicians performed on stages, events were conducted in the streets, on local trains, and even in a public bath; the audience sat on a gigantic furoshiki cloth tapestry to protect the festivalgoers from the irradiated ground. International performances were organized in cities around the world to coincide with the festival, and some were streamed live or otherwise linked into the Japanese events.
In addition to his role as primary organizer and performer in Project Fukushima!, Ôtomo is the author of editorials about the role of arts and culture in the response to the Fukushima Disaster, and gives regular public talks about cultural activism (as well as widely-circulated blogposts and tweets). In one of his most widely-circulated lectures, entitled “The Role of Culture: After the Earthquake and Man-Made Disasters in Fukushima,” Ôtomo expresses his ambivalence about the possibilities for recovery, but also challenges listeners to band together to imagine a new future, and to use the cultural resources of imagination provided by art and culture to envision a new path forward.
Through a specific regional case study, this project will address global contexts of technoscientific anxiety in relation to nuclear power, and consider the role of cultural practitioners in making perceptions of science and technology sensible in public performance. Through this emerging research, I hope to show how public discourses and conflicts over Japan’s future energy policy, political governance, and environmental and man-made disasters are generated and contextualized though sound, music, and noise.
 For background on the human chain protest, see http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120730a1.html, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rJAdDLe_ng, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CqHgd2SHsY.
 For “unheard voices,” Noda used the term “koe naki koe,” literally meaning “voices with no voices.” Ironically, this phrase is politically resonant with Japan’s 1960s protest culture and for antiwar and antiestablishment demonstrators, among whom it was typically used to suggest something like “the silent majority.”
 NHK, Japan’s national broadcast station, and the Yomiuri newspaper, for instance, barely mentioned most antinuclear events, even when crowds were independently estimated from 50 to 150 thousand people. Sound demos and music-based protests have also been part of Okinawan resistance movements, where live music festivals re-occupied Henoko Beach to protect the site from the construction of a United States military base.
 For further examples, see Manabe 2012 and her contribution to this conference.
 This material is based, in part, upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 0938099. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. I am also grateful for developmental support from the Northeast Asia Council (NEAC) of the Association for Asian Studies for funding preliminary field research.
Hayashi, Sharon and Anne McKnight. 2005. “Goodbye Kitty, Hello War: The Tactics of Spectacle and New Youth Movements in Urban Japan.” Positions 13(1):87-113.
Manabe, Noriko. 2012. “The 2012 No-Nukes Concert and the Role of Musicians in the Anti-Nuclear Movement.” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 29, No. 3. www.japanfocus.org/-Noriko-MANABE/3799
Noda, Yoshihiko. July 11, 2012. “Listening carefully to a range of views.” http://nodasblog.kantei.go.jp/2012/07/120711.html. Accessed August 21, 2012.
Novak, David. 2013. Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation. Durham, NC. Duke University Press.
__________. 2010. “Listening to Kamagasaki.” Anthropology News 51(9):5.
Ôtomo, Yoshihide. 2011. “The Role of Culture: After the Earthquake and Man-Made Disasters in Fukushima.” Lecture at Tokyo University of the Arts, April 28. Trans. Isozaki Mia. http://www.japanimprov.com/yotomo/fukushima/lecture.html.
Sassower, Raphael. 1997. Technoscientific Angst: Ethics and Responsibility. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Yamazaki, Masakatsu. 2009. “Nuclear Energy in Postwar Japan and Anti-Nuclear Movements in the 1950s.” Historia scientiarum 19/2: 132–45.
David Novak teaches in the Music Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He works on global circulations of media and sound technologies and is the author of Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (Duke University Press, 2013).