Even In Japan, Bashing Gays Is Not Okay. Behind The Scenes Of The First Sugita Protest

Bashing Gays Is Not Okay Says Crowd At Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters

“We don’t need Parliamentarians who ignore human rights” (人権無視する議員はいらない)

“Mio Sugita, resign now” (杉田水脈は今すぐ辞めろ)

Silence is death” ˆ(沈黙は死)

These were just some of the statements protesters were chanting in unity, in front of the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters on July 27th, demanding for the resignation of the parliamentarian, Mio Sugita. On July 24th, in the monthly magazine, Shukan Shincho, Sugita published an essay in which she said, among many other offensive things, that no tax money should be spent on lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) individuals because “they can’t reproduce and are therefore not valuable to society.” At first, the protests were confined to the internet, but in a short time, they spilt out into real life–an actual protest, and that was pivotal in getting the Japanese media to pay attention and finally force the LDP to address the issue. 

Individuals- active citizens, representatives of NGOs as well as some politicians all gathered together in front of the LDP, angered by Mio Sugita’s comments clearly dissing the LGBTQ+ community.

It seems to be that an eclectic variety of individuals gathered. Those who identify to be LGBTQ+, those who do not, students and surprisingly (in the context of Japan,) a few people seemingly salarymen who came after work in their suits. To me, it seemed like there was an equal ratio of women to men. The crowd was mostly Japanese but there were a handful of foreigners who came to show support too. There were young women angered, who came alone, university students who came with their friends including myself. I believe there were a lot of men who seemed to be in their thirties to forties too. The crowd was very diverse.

There were all kinds of posters and signs held. There were many posters available online and they spread through social platforms such as Twitter. There was an identification number for the posters one could then input in a machine at a convenience store and get printed out. There were rainbow flags held up and most of the posters advocated for acceptance of diversity, lgbtq+. Some of these signs had statements like 生産性で価値を図るな which translates to something like Don’t measure our worth by “productivity.” Many of them criticised Sugita’s comment un “unproductiveness” and how it discriminates against many other groups of people in society. One thing which came a little of a shock to me were some other posters which came off as more aggressive. It wasn’t a majority but there were a handful of people with posters with Sugita’s face on it, however with a little twist. Some of them had a target on her face or one which made her look like a zombie, strongly demonizing her. I personally think this is going a little far and it’s better to argue against her comments and advocating for diversity but various perspectives were apparent.

There were countless numbers of policemen trying to control the people so that the participants were not standing over the studded part of the pedestrian road which is an aid for the blind. The police were trying to control the number of people in the main street and restricted participants from going onto the main street. The police were making some people stand against streets going around other blocks to limit the demonstration, but eventually, people overflowed onto the main street.

This issue may have caught a lot of people’s attention because many individuals saw this not only as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community but as one to all citizens, one to women, men, disabled people or the elderly. Sugita’s comments about how LGBTQ+ individuals are “unproductive” (生産性がない) as “they cannot have children” is inaccurate and extremely discriminatory to everyone as childbearing is an autonomous choice of an individual, not an obligation a citizen has to its government.

So, what exactly happened at the demonstration?

Apart from trying to get the attention of the LDP, the media and the rest of the public by simply being there and protesting, some participants, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, a few university professors, and some politicians delivered speeches explaining how hurtful Sugita’s comments were personally, how they could not sleep for days, illuminating how backwards Japan still is. Some participants also went up to the LDP to hand in a sort of a request for the resignation of Mio Sugita. Even though the few individuals who went up to the LDP headquarters seemed to contain their composure, they were denied a chance to even simply hand in the documents.

This demonstration was certainly not one the LDP could simply dismiss and move on with as they often do. There has been a lot of backlash to Sugita’s discriminatory comments on various social platforms and many other demonstrations have popped up in other parts of Japan. Recently, there was one on August 5th in Shibuya, Osaka and Fukuoka. There was also one on August 6th in Mie prefecture.

The LDP did acknowledge Sugita’s comments but have not condemned her, except for Shigeta Ishiba, who is running against Abe in the LDP internal party elections. Although modern Japanese governments prior to the current one have certainly not been the most transparent and democratic, the current one under Prime Minister Abe has continuously been moving far and far away from democracy, with its powerful members pulling strings in their favour, ultimately guiding the government away from democratic rule. It is does not bode well that since Abe took office Japan has dropped to 67 in World Press Freedom (it was ranked 11 in 2011) and not surprisingly Japan ranks lower than ever in the annual gender equality rankings, 114 out of 144 countries.

 

Erika Bulach is a university student in Tokyo majoring in social sciences. 

Japanese rockers sing the truth about post-meltdown Fukushima. Is anyone listening?

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“We’re living in a material world. A radioactive material world, ” jokes the lead singer. “This isn’t the future we hoped for.”

Two years have passed since the triple meltdown in Fukushima Prefecture in March of 2011. Until then the Japanese fashion subculture was dominated by the so-called “Harajuku Girls,” who became famous after Gwen Stefani’s 2004 solo pop album. However, Japan is slowly developing a post-Fukushima nuclear accident generation of artists and subculture. They aren’t singing about fashion and love; they’re singing about radiation and alienation. Rock and roll is the medium for telling the truth that the mainstream media no longer wants to handle.

The Shingetsu Toka, aka “The New Moon Light Flowers” is a group of female musicians (28-32) who perform live rock music concerts in Fukushima prefecture and in Tokyo every month.

“Our goal is to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear power and exposure to radiation to people who live in Tokyo,” the drummer of the group told JSRC. “We basically sing about the indifference and responsibilities of the Japanese adults and voters, including myself. However we find it very difficult to realistically write about the sentiments of the people of Fukushima after the 3/11 nuclear accident. Some our songs should be taken as love songs dedicated to children living in Fukushima; some are protests, some are news bulletins.”

 The Shingetsu Toka also promote an NPO called “Tarachine” in Iwaki city that ensures food safety and conducts radiation measurements in Fukushima prefecture. They released their second mini-album “Living in a Radioactive Material World” this year. The title song has the punch of early Clash, the vocals on the acoustic song, “アスノメ (the eye of tomorrow) are smoky, poignant and reminiscent of Marianne Faithful–if she had been a protest singer. The live recording of 打ち砕いて (Knock it down) has in the background the enthusiastic cheers from the Fukushima local high school kids, who find their despair voiced in the lyrics of the band. The sing-along aspect of the recording gives a better sense of how united the locals are against a common enemy: the nuclear industry and the Japanese government that let them run amuck and has not (or can not) repair the damage that has been done.

After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident of March 11, 2011, about 88,000 people have been evacuated from around the crippled power station.

Yuko Yamazaki, 28, (bass and voice,) Yuko Nakano, 28, (guitar and voice,)  Michiko Tanaka, 32, (guitar and voice,) Yukiko Yamagishi, 32, (drums and voice) collect written testimony and information from various sources in Fukushima and display them as little white sheets all over the concert hall.

“We started doing this around April 2012, because we felt at some point that the stories and the lives of the people who remain in Fukushima despite the danger of radiation have been forgotten and we wanted to pass on their thoughts as realistically as possible.”

The Shingetsu Toka ask the people of Fukushima to write down anything that they feel or wish to express about what’s happening near their home since the nuclear accident. The Shingetsu Toka are very interested in what the local youth have to say. “We want them to express anything they want. We are not conducting a huge scientific study, though. We just want to know how it really is for the people who remain,” Yukiko Yamagishi, the drummer explained.

The Shingetsu collect interviews with Fukushima residents to display at their live concerts.
The Shingetsu collects interviews with Fukushima residents and their messages, which they display at their live concerts.

Fukushima residents mostly  write that they are “worried,” but “try to forget about their fear of radiation.” Some also say that they “feel miles away from the anti-nuclear demos in Tokyo that demand to shut down all nuclear power plants in the country.”

The Shingetsu  Toka (“The New Moon Flowers”) was founded in 2006 when they still played acoustic music. The girls mostly grew up in Tokyo and  started to play electric guitars in 2009. “When the moon is in its first phase, there is a dark side to it. We chose this name because, as an image, we want to grow flowers in dark or invisible places of our world ands shine light on the things that most of us don’t see or try not to see.” Yukiko Yamagishi said.

A common ally: rock musician and nuclear plant worker–Kenji Sato

The girls are not just singing anti-nuclear songs and displaying sheets in their concert hall. They play as often as possible with Kenji Sato, 30, a guitarist and singer who grew up in Tomioka town, in Fukushima prefecture and currently lives in Iwaki city. Kenji Sato is not an ordinary musician, he is a worker at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station since March 23rd of 2011. He is a musicial collaborator and a “source” for these “radioactive material girls.”

Kenji likes to share information with them. He was mainly a tekiya or street merchant* in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, before the nuclear meltdown. Kenji Sato plays 2 or 3 live concerts in Iwaki per month. He was invited to give live concerts in Tokyo more than four times after the Fukushima nuclear accident.

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Kenji Sato started to play the guitar in a band when he was at junior high school in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture, where he grew up.

“I started working at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in October last year. Before that I was decontaminating cars at J. Village in Nahara town, Fukushima prefecture, in the early days of the nuclear crisis.” J. Village is the name for the gated area established by the Japanese police to control the entry to the former 20 km no-go zone.

“At Fukushima Daiichi, I now do various jobs, such as decontaminating the walls of Reactor 1’s spent-fuel pool building. Currently, I am working on a project to build a facility near the main gate of Fukushima Daiichi, where the nuclear workers will undergo radiation checks. Workers do that at J.Village for the time being.” Sato explained.

In mid-March this year, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) which operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, reportedly announced that a rat gnawed on a switchboard or wiring and caused  power shut down that disabled the spent-fuel pool cooling systems for reactors 3 and 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for 30 hours. Surprisingly, even though Sato was at the site, the first news of the accident and the shut-down came to him via Twitter, he said. “The information did not come from Tepco, although we were all working there. They don’t tell us anything.”

Picture of the trouble making rat released by Tepco in xxx this year
The rat that (inadvertently) attempted to cause another meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. He died in the process but might be resurrected as the new Tepco mascot. (What could be better?)

 

As for the contaminated water leaks taking place currently, Sato said that he and his colleagues at the power station do not care too much about these things. “I mean, I’m not stupefied to hear that news, and in the end, we’re too used to working at the site to get upset. We can’t see the threats with the eyes, so we try not to dramatize it. It has become a routine.”

Kenji Sato’s family house is still situated in the current no-go zone. In April of 2011, the Japanese government designated no-go zones within a diameter of 20 kilometer around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In early April of this year, the Japanese government redefined the no-go zone and re-opened the east costal area of Namie town and some other areas, where a total of about 20,000 people resided before the 3.11 meltdown. The places that are forbidden to return have an estimated annual radiation exposure exceeding 50 millisieverts.

Sato cannot return to his family house in Tomioka town but was able to visit his high school during the Golden Week, together with this reporter. His parents moved to Kooriyama city after they evacuated the town.

Tomioka Daiichi chuugakko, the forbidden zone opened just before Golden Week this year
Tomioka Daiichi junior high school. The forbidden zone re-opened just before Golden Week this year.

Kenji Sato said that it was hard for him to discuss certain things that are happening at the Fukushima Daiichi power station, because being associated with Tepco has became a sort of taboo.

The nuclear power station worker blues

It is quite hard to work at the Fuksuhima Daiichi nuclear power plant when a majority of Japanese people, and especially those who protest against the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan, insult Tepco employees.

Unsatisfied Fukushima residents and farmers are currently fighting a lawsuit against Tepco. People working at Tepco are under pressure and often get insulted at public hearings. If you attend even one meeting, you can feel the hostility. There is also a great bitterness felt by those who saw what was going to happen and were ignored until their worst fears were actualized.

Hideo Ouchi, 76, who is currently helping a group of Fukushima residents to receive proper compensation from Tepco for the damage caused by the nuclear accident, had opposed the construction of Fukushima Dai-ni nuclear power station 40 years ago together with 404 other residents who fought Tepco in court during more than 15 years starting from 1975. They lost. “The judges discouraged us by telling most of us that we had no rights to oppose the construction of the nuclear power plant because we lived too far from it. My house was situated about 40km away from it.” Ouchi said.

More than 260 residents, mostly elderlies participated to a public hearing that took place in Nihonmatsu on April 30th of this year. About 30 Tepco officials wearing austere black suits faced a 2 hours long Q&A session in a big hall at the Gender and Equality Center of Nihonmatsu. The crowd was furious to learn that Yoshiyuki Ishizaki (Deputy Chief of the Emergency Response Headquarters for Reliability Improvement at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station) did not show up at the hearing as promised.

April 30th, 2013. Nihonmatsu public hearing and confrontation with Tepco officials
April 30th, 2013. A public confrontation between Tepco and Fukushima residents in Nihonmatsu. The average age of participants was over 50 years old.

Katsuko Kano, 77, a resident of Iizaka town, near Fukushima city complained that she came to hear the words directly from Ishizaki. “Ishizaki is irresponsible. Tepco is not winning our confidence by canceling official meetings with residents at the last minute. I am not afraid of the radiation because I am over 70 years old, however I wish to fight Tepco because I want my grand child who is only 15, to live in a nuclear-free world.”

Mamoru Watanabe, 74, a bank employee in Fukushima city said that it is only the residents of Fukushima who can build a future nuclear-free Japan. Koichi Sakamoto, 47, a hospital secretary said that there are too many Japanese people who don’t know how to protest against something they don’t agree with. “I came here today, and I will fight each and every day until Tepco appropriately compensates the victims of this nuclear meltdown and admits in public that 3.11 was a man made disaster. Many citizens unfortunately gave up on their fate.”

The answers given by the Tepco officials on that day with regard to the compensation issue were unclear and they kept asking the crowd to request compensation to the Japanese government, as the decontamination efforts were financed by Tepco already.

But “Radiation don’t stop after 20 km, you pigs!” A woman yelled in the crowd. “Would you move your family to Fukushima if you were called to work here?” Another person added.

A member of Shingetsu Toka can’t help feeling frustrated by the hatred and anger caused by the nuclear accident. “Those who are cleaning up the mess at the power plant shouldn’t be blamed for their work. They are sacrificing their health for the rest of the nation. And men like Kenji do it because they need a job.” A musician from Shingestu Toka said.

Tepco employees facing trial from Fukushima citizens
Tepco employees facing the angry protests from Fukushima citizens

Rocking in a hard place 

Kenji Sato said he started to work on March 23rd, 2011. “I received a phone call from a local oyabun-san, who told me that some labor companies, or you can call it human resources groups, were hiring new workers. I was asked if I wanted to take a part-time job involving car washing. I was interested in decontaminating Tepco employees’ cars, and that’s how I took the job.”

In the beginning, Sato was paid about 2000 yen an hour. However, some older men, over 50 years old were reportedly working for 7000 yen per day. “

It’s way too cheap for someone who is risking his health.” A Shingetsu Toka member commented.

“Sometimes, among the workers, it happens that someone refuses to do certain jobs.” Sato explained. “It was after about 6 months that Tepco started to hire workers massively and directly. During the early days of the crisis, private companies were doing all the hiring.”

Kenji didn’t respond to the question whether he was forced to sign a confidentiality clause with Tepco or another construction company for not discussing what was happening inside the crippled power plant.

“I work at the crippled power plant because I need to make a living. I am used to radiation, so I can’t say that I’m afraid of it.” He said.

Kenji Sato works there every day of the week. It depends on the job, but usually between 3 to 4 hours per day inside the nuclear power plant. In summer there is a limited amount of time to work because of the heat. Otherwise there are no time limits for the daily work. “It depends on the job we’re assigned to do. Sometimes we have to do it until we finish it.” He explained.

It takes him between 10 to 20 minutes everyday to get dressed in his anti-radiation suit and mask.

“I am not conscious that I write anti-nuclear songs. I simply write my lyrics according to the things I feel in daily life. I am not writing against the nuclear power or the nuclear industry.”

Kenji Sato’s songs are often sad and dark. He sings songs in a powerful voice, you would never imagine could come of his frail skinny body. He is not a professional yet, but he is hoping that in the future he can earn his life being a singer and musician, not as  nuclear power plant salvager.

“I am against nuclear energy, but at the same time I accept what happened to my generation. We cannot say that Tepco is the only responsible entity for the 3.11 Fukushima nuclear accident. The Japanese government was also responsible for part of it. It was also partly thanks to Tepco and the Daiichi nuclear power station that Tomioka town flourished, in the past. I cannot designate who is responsible. Maybe I was responsible too. Everybody now claims that they are anti-nuclear activists, but then why did they wait until an accident happened? They could have shouted out loud before an accident happened.”

Kenji Sato said that the salaries were “pretty good” if you work at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. “I have few working partners. I cannot recognize them because we can’t see each other’s faces under the thick masks. We don’t know each other, just as no one knows what is really going on at Tepco and Japan’s nuclear industry. We’re all in the dark.”

Although, the cover-up of the magnitude of the disaster at Fukushima continues, Kenji Sato and Shingetsu Toka make sure that at least the voices of the people are heard. The truth can be covered up but not silenced. The question remains as to how many people in Japan are really listening.

Shingetsu anti-nuke girls band in Ikebukuro.
Shingetsu anti-nuke girls band in Ikebukuro.

*Tekiya (street merchants) are sometimes considered a type of yakuza but not all yakuza are tekiya and many tekiya are not yakuza. Tora-san, of the famous film series, is a tekiya. 

Meet 281: Japan’s Anti-Nuke Lone Ranger turning protest into art

282 takes a stand.  ©Lilia Sonntag
282 takes a stand.
©Lilia Sonntag

Soft-spoken and shy, one Japanese man comes off as extremely eccentric at first sight. Far past sundown and in Tokyo’s humid summer night, he hides his face behind a pair of dark sunglasses and a white face mask. His real name is unknown, but you can call him 281_AntiNuke—or if that’s too much of a tongue twister, 281 or Nuke-san for short. As unassuming as he is—if you ignore the white face mask and the sunglasses, which stands out far too much—many are fascinated by him. One documentary maker has made him the subject of his upcoming film. He has been featured in publications such as The Economist and Rolling Stone Japan. A documentary is soon to be released on his mini-crusade. He’s left his mark all over Tokyo: large anti-government, anti-nuclear stickers which have been stuck mostly on public property. His work is even good enough to be highlighted at a Tokyo art space called The Pink Cow. But with all this fame come danger: Japan’s online right wing community have made him their next target. Sending him constant death threats, they are determined to unmask him and have him arrested in order to silence him.

While Japan’s online right wingers—or netto uyoku—target him, 281 targets TEPCO and the Japanese government for their irresponsibility following the events before and after the Fukushima meltdown, but his anger at the two has never always been there. One can understand that anger as the Japanese government and the nuclear industry began to push to move nuclear reactors back on-line while almost every day  new revelations of disastrous radiation leaks and mismanagement from the Fukushima Nuclear power plant—run by TEPCO–are reported.

Before March 11, 2011, 281 lived the average life of a Japanese male.

“Before the earthquake my art was limited to drawing art for myself or for my friends. I didn’t really live my life as an artist,” he said.

His participation in the political sphere was virtually nonexistent—at least minimum if one counted the fact that he dragged himself to a voting station whenever an election came around.

His attitude towards politics took a 180 degree turn after the nuclear accident. The weeks following the meltdown were registered with shock, but soon that feeling was replaced with outrage.

“As I watched news reports from foreign media outlets, it took me at least two weeks to understand the situation, but I was slow to notice what had happened,” he said.

Inspired by artists such as Taro Okamoto, whose depiction of the effects of an atomic bomb are famously shown on a mural in Shibuya station, and Chim Pom, who added to the mural after the accident, 281 wanted to find an outlet for his anger and a way to contribute to the anti-nuclear movement. It was then that he turned to street art.

But his art came with a risk.

Nuclear Rain--nobody wants it.
Nuclear Rain–nobody wants it.

“They (the right wing) love to search. In other words, they try to gather information on the Internet.”

As word of his street art spread, Japan’s netto uyoku—online nationalists—have mobilized to take him down. While there are those who would classify his works as art, others denounce them as prank posters and vandalism. Revealing his identity can mean arrest for defacing property. 281 hides behind his disguise and when meeting The Japan Subculture Research Center, warned us against photographing anything identifying features. His main means of contact with others is through Twitter. Still, that hasn’t stopped Japan’s net uyoku from sending him death threats or even putting his official website offline. His scheduled appearance at the opening party for his art showing was canceled at the last moment—despite assurances that there was a back entrance through the kitchen should the art space be overrun by anyone wishing to carry out a death threat.

Although activists like 281 who risk their safety to put on their message, the anti-nuclear movement is a losing battle. On December, 2012, the pro-nuclear LDP was voted back to power, and Shinzo Abe was given another chance to lead Japan.

“I was shocked and disappointed at Abe’s win,” 281 said.

When Abe made his comeback, shutting down and dismantling Japan’s nuclear power plants was taken off the agenda. The LDP are staunch supporters of nuclear energy, and during their campaign to take back the lower house, they stated that they would restart all of Japan’s offline reactors after ensuring that the facilities are safe. Last December, the LDP was voted back into power, giving them a majority in the lower house. The number of seats for Japan’s traditionally anti-nuclear left-wing parties dwindled to almost nothing.

“It was as if everyone forgot the accident,” 281 said, in response to the willingness of voters to bring back the very people who champion the benefits of nuclear energy.  For months, the Abe’s cabinet has enjoyed a support rate hovering over 70 percent.

The truth is written on the alley walls.
The truth is written on the alley walls.

281 is also fighting to keep his art seen on the streets. Many of his stickers in the Shibuya area have been covered up by other graffiti from other artists or scratched off, likely by the owners of the buildings themselves. This defacement of his work, 281 says, is symbolic of how the government and TEPCO have tried to cover up and erase the nuclear meltdown.

Nonetheless, the criticism, threats, and the near disappearance of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan doesn’t stop 281. At night this nameless, faceless activist roams the streets putting up his art and hoping that his message will be heard. Last month his work was featured in a public art space, The Pink Cow, for the very first time. In addition to his earlier pieces such as the little girl in the raincoat—of which 162 different variations exist as of now—other pictures show how 281 is branching out and addressing non-nuclear issues. For example, one piece which invokes images of Nazi Germany shows Abe standing on a hybrid between a campaign car and a military tank. Beside him is a solider manning a machine gun. Other pieces criticize big companies such as Uniqlo for corporate greed or former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for his strong support of raising the consumption tax.

While the memory of the nuclear meltdown fades from the public consciousness, 282 walks a lonely road to remind people what has happened and warn them of what may happen again.
While the memory of the nuclear meltdown fades from the public consciousness, 282 walks a lonely road to remind people what has happened and warn them of what may happen again.

Although the crowds which once loudly denounced nuclear energy in front of the Prime Minister’s building no longer gather with the force they had a year ago, this lone artist will continue to oppose a source of energy that he believes Japan must give up. He is waging a quiet war using the streets of Tokyo as his art gallery, his battleground and his voice. Judging by opinion polls which suggest that most Japanese people do not trust the nuclear industry or nuclear power, he is speaking for more than just himself.

Special thanks to Roth Management for coordinating the interview http://roth-mgmt.com/

All photos were taken by ©Lilia Sonntag. 

281_AntiNuke’s work can be seen at http://www.281antinuke.com/ or on https://twitter.com/281_