Anti-nuclear activist, Taro Yamamoto stated his intention to continue as a politician on Tuesday, despite facing censure in the Diet for handing a letter, out-lining the situation in the Fukushima clean-up, to Emperor Akihito at a royal garden party last Thursday. This taboo breaking action has since caused a storm of protest from commentators in the media and politics who found the action arrogant and disrespectful.
By personally giving the 79 year old Emperor such a letter, Yamamoto San ignored several strict protocols against drawing any member of the apolitical monarchy into what is by default a political debate. Calls for harsh punishments from other politicians, especially in the pro-nuclear, ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) and members of the far-right, might now cause problems for the career of this independent lawmaker who was only elected to the House of Councillors in July. Indeed some politicians, that might have been considered natural allies such as Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party and a noted anti-nuclear campaigner himself, have also questioned the thinking behind Yamamoto’s action with Kazuo San saying that “[Yamamoto] did not understand the constitution.”
The former actor has said, he regrets causing the Emperor any trouble and that he was not sufficiently aware what the consequences of his action would be. For example he says he did not expect the delivery of the letter to be so widely reported and has accused the media of allowing his actions to be used for political purposes that attack him and the anti-nuclear movement. He strongly denied intending to use the Emperor to further his own political purposes however saying he only wished to inform him of the situation affecting Fukushima residents and the health issues of those that are tasked with the clean-up there. Criticising some of the politicians now calling for him to resign he pointed out that many of them saw nothing wrong in using other members of the Japanese Royal Family to help Tokyo secure the 2020 Olympic bid. A fact, he argues, that was much more overtly political and thus unconstitutional.
The letter apparently remains unread as it was passed quickly onto to Grand Chamberlain, who was accompanying the Emperor and Empress as they met some of the 2,140 guests in attendance at the biannual event. If it was a pointless act that crossed boundaries of taste and legality and could effectively end his political career, why, you have to ask, did he do it?
Taro Yamamoto moved into politics when his acting career ended after he made his support for the anti-nuclear movement that grew in Japan after the March 11th nuclear accident in Fukushima public. It was not your usual celebrity band-wagon jumping: in fact, in a industry where famous people do not usually have opinions and certainly not ones that might be considered damaging to companies, like TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company – the operators of the Fukushima plant) that fund the media with their huge advertising budgets, it was a spectacularly reckless move.
Though the first opinions he expressed on Twitter, were perhaps understandable in the aftermath of the events that shocked the whole country; his subsequent treatment by the media seems to have galvanised a more determined and combative approach to the unique issues of nuclear energy and safety faced by an earthquake-prone Japan.
Taro Yamamoto seems always to have followed his own, sometimes reckless, sense of personal morality and appropriateness. An article in the Japan Times earlier this year, profiling his burgeoning political ambitions, showed how his belief in social responsibly was instilled in him at a young age by a strong mother who would force him to donate a percentage of his New Year Money (Otoshidama) to good causes and regularly take him and his sisters away to The Philippines or elsewhere to work with the poor. In the same article he is aware that his celebrity also gives incredible weight to the message and is something he can use to embolden the anti-nuclear agenda, saying: “I really need to do acting work as well, so I can stay in the public eye and continue drawing attention to nuclear issues.”
After failing to win a seat in the Lower House election in late 2012 Yamamoto and an army of 1,200, mostly young volunteers, steeled themselves for a run at a seat in the Upper House elections this summer. The hard work of campaigning in the summer heat and on the internet finally paid off however and he was elected as a Tokyo Councillor on July 21st. Running as an independent he succeeded in securing a seat without having to make any deals or compromises with larger or more established parties and politicians; putting him in a position to take his anti-nuclear message to the heart of government and hopefully have it listened to.
Obviously the realities of politics have proved more exacerbating for Yamamoto than he imagined. The ruling LDP are determined to control the debate on the nuclear energy. The idea is being propagated that the nuclear crisis is under control; the areas affected by contamination are being cleaned and thus Fukushima is ready for re-population and the people to get on with their lives. With a compliant media parroting the party line and the diversions of a successful Olympic bid, where the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe promised a global audience the crisis was “under control”, the stories of the the 150,000 people that had to evacuate the countryside around the the Daichi plant and the corruption and ineptitude of the operators before the accident and, now, in the clean-up process is slowly disappearing from people’s consciousness.
Taro Yamamoto did not enter politics to get rich or carve out a career in industries that lobby the power people like him gain after election. He would have been more admired and richer if he had remained an actor. He seems to care passionately and genuinely about the situation in Fukushima and appears determined to keep the debate current. But though he declared that he was “no longer alone” when he won the election it is possible that he found his voice much smaller than he had predicted.
There was a moment after the tragedy in March 2011 when the anti-nuclear message resonated widely. But the voices have grown weaker now, the touristing rebellion of many of the older protesters has moved to a grudging acceptance of the inevitable return to routine or even a full embrace of the new, comforting propaganda. Those that still passionately hold the hope they can make a difference can be found outside the diet building almost every Friday; but their numbers are shrinking and their motives and characters are being mercilessly othered in the press.
Questioning the official line is going to become more difficult as the voices against it grow weaker. Soon, new laws, being rushed through by the LDP will limit an already anaemic journalism’s legality in uncovering political secrets and this will further remove the options of arguing against the government’s agenda: that Fukushima will lose its notoriety nationally and ultimately internationally also.
Yet many know the Fukushima clean-up is cosmetic at best and a down-right lie at worst. Many know that the money and motivations to find alternative energies and rebuild the Tohoku coast is instead being diverted to building more nuclear power-stations or into nationalist projects such as Antarctic whaling.
Taro Yamamoto recklessness in breaking a taboo and trying to inform the Emperor of the plight of his people could be judged ill thought-out and punishably impolite; yet it is more likely a brave, calculated risk designed to change the narrative. He has worked too hard to throw away the advantage he has by actually being in power. Of course the demands on his resignation may grow too vociferous to ignore. The notoriety he now has may yet backfire and put an end to a new and promising political movement. But he has at least kept the subject of the problems in Fukushima in the public’s mind a little longer and though the path to this kind of influence over the electorate has been an unconventional one we may be seeing a new kind of politics emerging here, one that needs to challenge and change the normal, acceptable, appropriate and traditional ways of wielding and deferring to power. One can only hope that Emperor Akahito might rattle his own bars a little too someday.
They had all that your self respecting teen-idol group should have: They had their strange, fan-boy dancer out front; they had school uniforms on and they had their smiley but very protective management. What was different however is that their songs also had a message, a massage about the the folly of nuclear energy which apparently got them banned from Fuji Rock festival in 2011.
Stronger messages in popular music or the “talento” media mass-production machine are not something that is common in Japan. To attack the companies or products that advertise on the TV or in the magazines; or to go “off-message” at in anyway can find you lost in the celebrity wilderness. Ask the actor, Taro Yamamoto, who angrily tweeted his feelings against nuclear energy after the problems at Fukushima Daichi and has since found it difficult to find work. It was perhaps a growing experience for him though that allowed his interests to broaden into politics and activism. He even stood for the governor of Tokyo.
How much the teenage girls that sing in this group know or believe in the message they speak is debatable. It could be a cynical attempt to exploit a very particular niche. Yet if it is it seems curiously short-sighted and they cannot get reported on in the usual media. They do have a bit of a history with their pop song containing a message also.
Of course no-one in the media in the west knows or even really cares who they are so these images are not exactly profitable. Still it was interesting meeting and learning a bit about them on the day.
Later. got to rush off now to another job
There was a biggish anti-nuclear protest in Tokyo on Sunday. The government of Shinzo Abe has stated its determination to restart and exapand on the nuclear generation of electricity and around 7,ooo people took to the streets to protest this. Though the Japan Times quoted organisers saying 60,000 people attended this seems way too many. Even the police estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 still seems high compared to my own rough calculation at the site. The police are not known for talking-up the numbers of protesters though; indeed usually they do the opposite so I wonder what the real number was.
Some might say that it is foolish to hope the country will be nuclear free in the future,;Japan has no choice but to use nuclear energy when it consumes electricity at the level it does with no significant natural resources of its own to support it.
True these protests are not of the same scale they were at their height in 2012. But a lot of people still do care that government and industry collusion and corruption created the problems that Fukushima Prefecture and Japan has been dealing with since the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th 2011.
One man, who many people credit for having saved the country shortly after those events took place is Naoto Kan. When the situation at the damaged Daichi plant was at its worst and TEPCO were apparently preparing to abandon it, he is supposed to have forced them to go in and manage the shut down. Rumour has it that he did this quite forcefully. So forcefully in fact that it appears as soon as was possible the powers in the political system and the vested interests in the power industry got rid of him pretty quickly afterwards.
So even he wasn’t exactly among friends when he turned up later in the day at the protest to speak, he could find some sympathy and gratitude in the crowd of protesters that surrounded the National Diet building.
Still as a politician, despite having nailed his green credentials to the mast most of his political career, it was a brave thing to do. His security was quite light and he was right there in the middle of an angry, motivated crowd that have a visceral distrust, even dislike, of most politicians.
I think history will be kind to Naoto Kan though.
A good day shooting.
More images of Naoto Kan speaking at the anti-nuclear demo at my archive here.
No-one knows his name. At least no-one I know does. Indeed no-one I know has even seen his face and that despite my good friend, Adrian Storey having made what looks like an amazing documentary about the artist known as 281 Anti nuke.
This link is only to the documentary trailer but even those few minutes are exciting enough. Cannot wait to see the whole thing.
Will have to wait until it has been through the documentary film contests grinder and, fingers-crossed, won a few richly deserved awards and rewards along the way.
The occupy Kasumigasaki anti-nuclear camp outside the offices of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is facing a tough future. Just a few day after they returned to power in November 2012 the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), erected barriers around the camp and installed surveillance cameras to keep an eye on the activists. On March 29th they served Taichi Shosei and Taro Fuchigami with a court order that effectivley bankrupts the protest. As tent ‘owners’ these two protester have been charged with the illegal occupation of government land and have to pay rent for its use. The rent has been calculated at around 20,000 Yen a day and has also been backdated to the beginning of the protest in September 2011. After 581 days of protest (as of Sunday) this intimidating charge now stands at over 11 million Yen.
The first court hearing in this case, which is being fought in a civil court, will take place on May 23rd. Meanwhile the protester continue to fight for the existence of the camp understanding it significance as a focus for the wider, and now widely ignored, anti-nuclear power movement. Taro Fuchigami, (pictured in the baseball cap above) he has just returned from a meeting with METI officials in an effort to get the barriers around the camp removed in increase safer access.
More images of the Friday anti-nuclear protests in Tokyo above. Even months on they continue in a mostly good-natured, way to call for the ending of nuclear power in Japan. Old news and all that but think there is still something interesting here because of the fact that they are still happening even though many are dismissive of them.
These protests are distinctly Japanese in character: there is a bit of a festival atmosphere to them, people dress up, sing, dance and call for a change in energy policy. How effective all this is, is of course questionable. At times the protests have swollen to numbers that the police are scared of and the mainstream media can no longer ignore but mostly now the police control the thinning crowds easily (where they are not policed by protest organisers) and as you walk around them, you do wish that the protesters would all be a little angrier, a little louder, more inconvenient, more worrying for those that disregard their rather hubristic agendas.
To be honest, I think the anti-nuclear movement here has lost momentum. Though the idea of a nuclear-free Japan generally enjoys broad support among the Japanese population, at this moment, the protests have become mundane. They need to detach themselves from the scenery more and demand more attention and respect. They have become a sight-seeing opportunity; a part-time revolutionary experience for tourists from the usual unquestioning masses. They are a kind of ether trip in counter-culture argumentativeness for many that have neither their own opinion or anger to bring on the revolt. From 6 to 8 each Friday the people call for their voices to be heard and almost no-one but themselves listens.
I do not doubt the organisers have their heart and soul in the hope that Japan will not suffer another nuclear catastrophe; and I do not doubt the visceral hatred many Japanese have of all things nuclear. What I do doubt, however, is the belief many who take part in these protests have that their voices will ultimately make a difference. I think many know that nothing will change and that turning up here and politely asking to be heard is a waste of time. Why aren’t they angrier? Why don’t they ask for compromise more forcefully, or at all? Is it perhaps that they don’t really want it all to change that much?
Without the genuine support of many ordinary people the true believers in the movement will never get their message across, as it is put too quietly. The politicians can ignore it because it breaks the usual protocols of respect and acquiescence. The politicians expect that, even though they have long since stopped earning it, but most of the protesters still give it to them. The demands shouted meekly by the old and respectable members of these protests, and others, are not loud enough, are not angry enough and nothing will change unless they are. The young, the tattooed and angry leaders are expected to be fickle and drift away. This is a waiting game and it has endured longer than many politicians expected it to for sure but unless the noise annoys the politicians, they do not have to actively endure it and it does not affect their policies.
Make no mistake, the Government wants nuclear power: it has invested too much in the policy to abandon it. There are also too many vested interests in its continuation for any politician to remain vehemently and honestly anti-nuclear upon assuming power. Toru Hashimoto for all his anti-nuclear, voter-attracting words now is almost certain to fall into line behind a pro-nuclear LDP if he is any part its expected return to power in the next election Indeed in Japan, with it’s lack of natural resources, there is almost an argument for the technology; assuming the facilities can be run at a level of preparedness that matches the unique geographical dangers Japan faces.
But that is not what TEPCO and the politicians that profit from it want. They want to return to the time when they were left alone to run the electric companies as they saw fit. Cutting corners and lobbying pork are seductive powers to give-up. Yet the public mood is against those exact things. The people dislike nuclear power and do not trust those that control it so what are they to do?
One answer is to find new ways to attack the protests, as TEPCO seems intent on doing with the statement it released on Friday the 12th of October that admitted the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima could have been avoided but seems to suggest that the utility didn’t implement globally recognised safety standards and measures because it feared outrage and inconvenience from the anti-nuclear movement.
As I remember before the events of March 11th 2011 the anti-nuclear movement here in Japan was a fringe affair at best: the band-wagoned preserve of militant unionists, who basically hate everything connected with all politicians of any hue; or the often lonely call of colourful eccentrics who could be easily caricatured and othered. TEPCO was not scared of them which is why it could get away with running dangerously unprepared nuclear power-stations. This statement, though seen by some as an admission of culpability and thus a cuddly act of contrition by TEPCO, to me makes clear only that they aim to prove their ability to learn from mistakes by returning to nuclear generation. I expect many moth-balled reactors to be restarted soon amid a curtaining secrecy that will quickly replace an initial, showy openness conspiratorially labelled as accountability.
The cries of the anti-nuclear movement will be louder at this time of course, the crowd angrier and the authorities more heavy-handed in the their control and scapegoating. It could get ugly as the true believers know that this is what it will take to change direction. But that unfortunately is not the mettle of many of the protesters on these Friday evenings. For them the false blame will resonate, the warranted anger of the protesters will seem excessive and the suppression by the authorities appear reasonable. They will leave the movement in droves. For them these Fridays are a chance to act-out and act-up in a safe way. If by accident the government accedes to their wishes the dislike they have for nuclear power will have been justified. If it doesn’t they will assume they were in the wrong because they don’t hate nuclear power enough to make change happen; they don’t hate the system enough to empower those alongside them that might bring about the change they think they want but are not sure.
The direction the energy of the protest will take in the future is interesting which is why i still go along occasionally to take some pictures.
Rather hard to take photos though as the police barely let you stand still a minute some great photos here of the Friday night protests by Tony McNicol though.
Heading out now.