The crowds forming last night outside Ogikubo Station in Tokyo were much bigger than those that gathered for Prime Minister Noda or Shintaro Ishihara a week before. Maybe it was the celebrity factor that interrupted people’s commute home and pulled them off the pavement into a small alcove alongside the train tracks where actor, Taro Yamamoto (first image above) was giving a speech. Perhaps though it was the words he spoke that resonated more. Because here was a man talking very passionately about a nuclear free Japan. Passion is rare in politics here and many people seemed attracted to a man, famous or not, that really believes in what he is saying.
Taro Yamamoto is a famous actor in Japan and one of the first “talentos” in the country’s usually apolitical entertainment industry to publicly state his opposition to nuclear-power. It is an opinion that has, for all intents and purposes, cost him his career. Television, cinema and other media rely on sponsorship and advertising revenues to make programmes and films of course. The problem in Japan is that only a couple of agencies control most of the advertising market in the country and as their clients include big spending utility companies, such as TEPCO, they are more or less able to control what is said about their clients in the media by threatening the withdrawal of advertising. Shortly after Yamamoto San voiced his dislike of the nuclear industry, on April 9th 2011, offers for work dried up and he found himself shunned in the business.
So he has started on a new career in politics. He is running for office, in the elections this Sunday, as the hopeful representative of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward. Unaffiliated to any existing party, he is standing as an independent with a broadly left-wing and anti-nuclear power policy agenda. His pink-jacketed, support volunteers (bottom pic above), many of whom I recognised as stalwarts of the anti-nuclear protests outside the Japanese Diet building or from the left-wing protests in Tokyo I regularly cover, collected signatures and donations and kept the crowds moving smoothly. Their busiest time came when ageing idol, Kenji Sawada, (third images above) turned up to lend some considerable star power to the event. He was only there a short while but the crowd swelled massively with older women, all elbows and determination, at that time and it was difficult to move.
Though the older people who came to see Sawada San may have been there for the wrong reasons the youth of Taro Yamamoto (he is 38 years old) and his bravery in standing up for what he feels strongly about seemed to attract many of the younger people in the crowd. Doubtless some were star struck, and Yamamoto San has received criticism that his anti-nuclear stance is a ruse to create publicity and further his career. This is disingenuous at best because his beliefs have pointedly had the opposite effect on his acting career. Whether he now can use some of that residual star power to further his reach in the political theatre (some might argue that in Japan, farce is a better word) is only to be hoped for.
I was certainly impressed, he seemed genuine and energetic on the subject. He seemed to actually enjoy meeting the people on his walkabout the crowd (second image above). Though the cynics in me says all politicians want to be liked at election time and will mingle with the masses when it suits their purpose, here was a man that could have stayed in his celebrity isolation if he had wanted to, but didn’t. The world of fame is cosseted and comfortable; it is also, especially in Japan where talents are often no more than the indentikit products of fame factories often without any discernible talent, a life without will, choice, passion and intellect. These are not something Yamamoto San seemed to lack outside Ogikubo station last night and I wish him luck on Sunday.
More images of Taro Yamamoto campaigning for election in Tokyo at my archive here: