The Fifth Tokyo Prosecutorial Board announced a decision yesterday that three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power (東京電力）company, including former Chariman Tsunehisa Katsumata (勝俣恒久元会長) should be prosecuted for criminal negligence resulting in death and injury for the triple nuclear meltdown in March of 2011. They also scolded the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office (TPO)for letting them off the hook. The Prosecutorial Review Board oversees the decisions of the prosecutors to try or not try a case. The TPO now has to consider the decision and decide whether to reopen the investigation or attempt to close the case again.
The accident at Fukushima Nuclear Power plant resulted in over a 100,000 people being displaced and possibly a surge in thyroid cancer in children living in the area. TEPCO workers also drowned to death on site after being sent to check on equipment in the basement despite a looming tidal wave. The manager of the Fukushima plant died of throat cancer this year. TEPCO claims it had no connection to the radiation exposure he received while working at the facilities.
However, if the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board again rules that prosecution of the TEPCO executives is warranted then a team of lawyers will be chosen to play the role of the prosecutors and the accused will be charged. An independent government investigatory board, National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, concluded in 2012 that the nuclear accident could have been prevented and that TEPCO management was criminally negligent.
Last year TEPCO made 4 billion dollars in profits, much of it due to the Abe administration’s decision to bear huge amounts of the costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster clean-up.
The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office is well aware of how unpopular their decisions to let the TEPCO executives go scot free would be. The news that there would be no prosecution was leaked on the day it was also announced that Japan would hold the 2020 Olympics.
Prior to the 2020 Olympics, Abe also assured that the nuclear clean-up at Fukushima was “under control”. The next day media reports about radioactive water seeping ing into the ground soil and contaminating the ocean made him look very foolish and dishonest. Perhaps that was the inspiration for the Special Secrets Act which his administration rammed into law on a night in December last year, which will cripple press freedom and allow almost all nuclear issues to be labelled “top secret”—criminalising reporting on them. (We can be sure the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office will leap to do those cases.)
A special prize to whoever figures out the day the TPO are most likely to bury the news that they are going to ignore the Tokyo Prosecutorial Board and do nothing. We could be wrong. We’d like to hope we are.
TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) announced a profit of ¥43.2 billion ($4.3 billion) for the 2013 fiscal year. It is the first time the company moved into the black since an earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors, leading to a nuclear meltdown in March of 2011.
Despite a drop in electricity sales due to higher than usual winter temperatures, overall sales increased 11 percent from the previous fiscal year due to a rate increase and fuel cost adjustments. Out of ten electric companies, TEPCO was one of the four that posted a profit. The remaining six, which includes power companies in Kansai and Kyushu, recorded a deficit due to relying on fossil fuels to offset the shut down nuclear plants, according to Asahi Shimbun.
Last September, the Abe administration announced that it would give ¥47 billion of taxpayer money to prevent further contaminated water from leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. That amount is far greater than the profits that TEPCO posted on April 30th, meaning that if the government had not given them any money last year, the company would have announced another year of losses.
The company has not made it clear what the profits will be used for and whether any of the money will be used to support supplement the taxpayer funds allocated to clean up the disaster or compensate those who in Fukushima whose homes fell under the evacuation zone. However, TEPCO’s stockholders, which include LDP politicians such as Masahiro Imamura and LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba have a cause to celebrate. Both hold 6000 and 4813 shares in the company respectively.
As nuclear waste continues to leak into the ocean surrounding Fukushima Prefecture, pro-nuclear advocate Shigeru Ishiba who resembles the Japanese anime hero, Anpanman, seems less like a hero, and more like the arch-villain of the series, Baikinman (Germ Man.) Or maybe in the eyes of the LDP, the general public, 80% of which oppose nuclear power are just like “germs.” In any event, for the large number of ruling party members with stock shares in TEPCO, the profits are good news; the losers are everyone else.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
The lawsuit was officially dropped in August but the party was a long time in coming. Although with new legislation on the horizon to darken the changing landscape of freedom of the press here, the celebration was very short.
Last week, on October 18th, more than 50 people with different backgrounds: reporters, editors, politicians, singers and actors gathered in the basement of a Tokyo building to celebrate the rare victory of a journalist against a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) lawsuit. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are designed to censor and silence individual reporters or independent media by forcing them to pay the cost of a legal defense; by doing so- it ruins them financially. These kind of lawsuits are penalized in California and many places in the United States but in Japan, there is no legal protection. The journalist or media outlet who is sued loses (financially), even if they win in court.
All those present at Minoru Tanaka’s victory celebration were people concerned about freedom of the press, and the very essence of democracy, now in danger in Japan as a new secrecy bill is about to pass.
Minoru Tanaka’s story is the story of one man, one journalist. He was sued in 2012 for a story he wrote about a shadowy figure in the Japanese nuclear industrial complex, also sometimes called the nuclear mob (原発マフィア). The plaintiff found the story embarrassing and of course, as always in these cases, he had the financial power and luxury to launch a legal assault on the lone reporter.
In his article published on December 16th, 2011 in Weekly Friday (週刊金曜日), Mr. Tanaka, who has long been investigating and reporting the shady side of Japan’s so-called Nuclear Village also known as the Nuclear Mafia (原発マフィア), focussed on one kingpin. There are few reporters who have a better sense of the complicated relations between politicians, electric power companies, media tycoons, advertisement agencies, construction companies and of course, the Japanese police and the Japanese mafia. The reward for his magnum opus was being sued for a total of 67,000,000 yen by one of Japan’s most powerful nuclear industry businessmen, Shiro Shirakawa, for damage and defamation. Mr. Shirakawa, a former secretary to LDP Diet member and power broker, Hiroshi Mitsuka, is well-connected and has great influence in Japanese society.
It was the first time in Japan that a journalist was sued individually for an article he wrote, but not the magazine that published it. Minoru Tanaka is a hero for some of his supporters. He says he simply did his job as an investigative reporter and was punished for revealing the truth to the public.
Tanaka researched, perhaps too deeply, into the ties that connected Shiro Shirakawa, the plaintiff, to Hiroshi Arakawa, former chairman of TEPCO and also Shirakawa’s alleged links to member of organized crime, the yakuza. Shirakawa, is also the president of New Tech, a company that offers security services to nuclear power facilities. He was reportedly suspected of asking help to gangsters to stop the publication of certain materials and diverting huge profits made in land transactions to politicians. Tanaka’s article also revealed the connections between Shirakawa and Diet member Kamei Shizuka as well as a former high-ranking police official. Shirakawa has also allegedly made death threats to newspapers who interviewed him, resulting in his name often being dropped from articles and the letter “S” being used instead of his name.
Tanaka was lucky to get the article published. Unlike the salaryman reporters at the gigantic Japanese media outlets, he didn’t have to hit his head against the wall of top editors and media tycoons higher in the media hierarchy, who are themselves connected to the nuclear industry and the ruling politicians. However, as a a freelance reporter, he was unlucky that he didn’t have a huge newspaper to pay his legal expenses either.
“SLAPP are made to destroy your every day life. You can’t work anymore. Every morning when I woke up I had the number 67 million yen floating over my head. It was hell. I couldn’t focus,” Minoru Tanaka said at a speech during the celebration party.
Many attending first apologized for not being able to support Mr. Tanaka the way they wished. Reporters from the mainstream media were afraid to get the same treatment by following up on Tanaka’s report. “I was afraid to be individually sued, like Mr. Tanaka was,” said one reporter from a major Japanese newspaper. Another said, “Shirakawa has a lot of connections and a lot of power. Even writing about the lawsuit could have opened a Pandora’s Box. My editor said just to wait for the verdict.”
While the relieved group was drinking and celebrating, some supporters of freedom of the press within the National Diet, such as Taro Yamamoto, a handsome actor and politician recently elected to the House of Councilors, gave a speech in support of Mr. Tanaka and pointed out the looming danger for Japan’s democracy. “I admire reporters like Tanaka and I am sincerely happy for his victory today. But the Abe administration is now planning to submit a new secrecy bill (Secrets Protection Act) to the Diet to enforce national security. Freedom of information and freedom of the press, the two main pillars of Democracy are jeopardized.”
For releasing the video, the Coast Guard officer was put under criminal investigation. It was only because of massive public support and sympathy that the case was dropped. Technically, it’s illegal to share any secrets or information that a public servant has access to in the course of this work. This law applies to police officers and all government employees. Violators of the law, those who have talked to the press on the record, or off the record, and then been exposed—have been fired, prosecuted or both.
The U.S. reportedly urged Japan to pass such law to protect information related to national security, defense, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism. However, judging by past history, the law will most likely be used to muzzle any whistle-blowers, or the release of information that might embarrass Japanese politicians or Japan. Mr. Tanaka’s next quest is to work with other journalists to make sure that SLAPP actions are aggressively slapped down and that new laws don’t infringe on Japan’s freedom of press.
Unfortunately, the lawsuit against Mr. Tanaka and the contents of his article have been more or less ignored by the mainstream Japanese press. Freedom of the press exists in Japan but in reality, many media groups shy away from using that freedom; they remain caged in a box of their own fears and lack of resolve.
Fukushima Industries Corporation (福島工業), a freezer/refrigerator maker located in Osaka, may have made an unintentional f*ck-up, with the creation of their new mascot, Fukuppy. Fukuppy is a merry little figure, that appears to be a winged egg with bright red shoes. In Japanese, the mascot’s name has no particular meaning but when written in English or pronounced as English, it sounds an awful lot like “fuck-uppy” of “fucked puppy.”
The text above the illustration of Fukuppy, announces that he was born as a corporate character for Fukushima Industries. He introduces himself as “Fukuppy” and says the Japanese equivalent of pleased to meet you, “よろしく（yoroshiku)”. The meaning for “yorishiku” could also be taken as “please be nice to me”. Unfortunately, that request has fallen on deaf ears in the Western world.
For those of you who can’t get enough of Fukuppy and especially for those who could care less, here’s everything you never wanted to know and didn’t ask.
I’m still an egg, but I call my self “Boku”. (Editor’s note: which usually is the word for “I” for young boys.)
Fukuppy, what’s your personality like?
I love to eat and I’m very curious. I’m gentle but with a strong sense of justice. Some people say I’m a little spacey and absent-minded. But I always am polishing myself to shine bright.
Fukuppy, what’s your job and your skills set? What do you bring to the table?
I fly around patrolling the freezers in Supermarkets and showcases with my special wings! I’m proud of them. I can talk to vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and see if they’re healthy. In addition, in order to bring happiness to the world, I have the important job of continuing to give birth to new exciting products–one after another.
We tried to contact Fukushima Industries today to get their take on their new mascot and their views on the silliness of his/her name, but unfortunately since it was Physical Education Day (体育の日）in Japan, we weren’t able to get an answer. So we went to the gym and worked out for a few hours. We hope Fukuppy got the day off , too. Accept for the unfortunate reporting mistaking him as a symbol of Fukushima Prefecture, he’s already worked very hard this week to provide merriment to the English speaking world. It will be interesting to see whether Fukushima Industries views the name of their mascot as a “f*ck-up” or tells the western world to go fukuppy themselves.
Note: This article was originally published Monday, September 2nd 2013 at 7:54 pm as a dark joke about the nuclear industrial complex in Japan. On September 3rd, the Japanese government basically provided the punchline by announcing plans to spend 47 billion yen to clean up the water crisis at Fukushima. The whole thing has an artificial aftertaste that makes Campbell’s pasta in a can taste delicious in comparison. If you would like to know what I’m talking about, read on.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, is getting a lot of criticism for its inept clean-up attempts of the Fukushima nuclear power plant site, which had triple-meltdowns in March of 2011—after the company had failed to take precautions which might have prevented the meltdown in the first place. There is also a 4th reactor where spent fuel rods are waiting to be extracted, and if mishandled they have the potential to release huge amounts of radiation into the air. TEPCO, like the Central Intelligence Agency, has a wonderful legacy of failure, and now it literally has “a legacy of ashes”.
There is already close to 300 tons of contaminated water leaking from the plant into the ocean. The Nuclear Regulation Agency of Japan on September 2nd noted that an even more serious concern was large amounts of radioactive materials leaking into the ground water as well. On September 1st, it was reported that at one of the 1000 water tanks on the site, radiation levels were 18 times higher than previously measured–a whopping 1800 millisieverts. The reason the high levels hadn’t been detected earlier was that the devices near the leaking water tank maxed out at 100 millisieverts.
You can’t detect what you can’t measure.
In other words, it’s as if TEPCO measured the height of Jeremy Lin with only a 12 inch school ruler and proclaimed, “Mr. Lin is the world’s shortest basketball player.”
On September 9th, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency said at a press conference, “I’m quite baffled by TEPCO’S total lack of any sense of crisis (at the site). It’s unfathomable.”
So I thought about it. And thought about it. And then I realized what the answer is. It has to do with spaghetti-os. I’ll explain later but the essence of what they’re doing is very simple. TEPCO is doing the worst possible job possible because every yen spent cleaning up the site cuts into their profits and the more they show themselves to be incapable, the greater the chance that the government (which already is their de facto owner) will take up the slack. It’s a brilliant plan.
TEPCO is in the wonderful position of being able to say: “Well, we know how to make a huge mess and run power plants but we don’t know how to clean up the mess. If you can do better, please do so. Heh.” (Bows deeply, shuffling, walking backwards.)
When the Japanese government steps up, they can step down and get back to business: selling energy and making money. The Government of Japan will essentially reward them for their incompetence.
I call this the Spaghetti-Os principle: the best way to avoid doing work you don’t like is do it just badly enough that no one will ever trust you to do it again, but not so badly that you get punished (or spanked) for it.
My little sister was the first to discover this principle, when she was about 10 and I was 13. During that time period, my parents had decided to institute a cooking night for each of us children, to teach us responsibility. One night per week, we were expected to cook dinner for everyone.
I cooked Barbecue Ramen Surprise and other fusion cuisine delights. I liked to cook. But my sister, Jacky—she was not into it. So after a few weeks of this, she managed to end the whole fiasco with one amazingly awful meal. She bought an industrial size can of Spaghetti-0s, a sort of processed pasta dish that tasted awful and looked worse, and she heated it up and served it to us. That was it. The whole meal was Spaghetti-os slopped into five bowls with a side of burnt Wonder bread toast, mangled with cold butter.
It was so inedible and disappointing that we all agreed to end “cook dinner for everyone night” that very night. After that, Dad cooked most of the meals. After all, it was crazy to ask Jacky to be a chef.
We just assumed that at 10, she just didn’t know how to cook. It was only years later that it dawned on me that she had deliberately made the worst meal she could within limits—not because she didn’t know how to cook, but because she didn’t like cooking. She preferred to play with her Barbie dolls or read books or watch TV.
Every time TEPCO screws up at Fukushima, they’re loading a spoonful of tangy inedible Spaghetti-os on our plate. Sooner or later, when we can’t take it anymore, Dad or Mom, is going to take the spatula away and TEPCO will be free to go back outside to play.
Because TEPCO knows that judicious incompetence is its own reward. It’s not that they are unproductive or lazy—they like to make messes, but like any spoiled little kid, they just don’t like to clean them up. That’s no fun. Cleaning up after the birthday party, that’s what parents are for.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Japan is a giant nuclear pressure cooker. Let’s hope it doesn’t get set off.
full article is in the Japan Times (May 5th, 2013) On April 15, two alleged terrorists in Boston killed three people, injured more than 170 others and terrified a nation — for about $100 it cost them to modify pressure cookers into bombs. We should be glad they didn’t come to Japan, where they may have been able to explode a ready-made nuclear dirty bomb, kill untold thousands, render huge swaths of the country uninhabitable — and get paid by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) in the process. I wish I were kidding. Japan has more than 50 gigantic nuclear “pressure cookers” ripe for exploitation by terrorists. And they wouldn’t even have to lay siege to the facilities. Instead, they could just walk into a nuclear plant and leave with enough weapons-grade plutonium for a small atomic device — which later could be detonated wherever they chose. How?
In Japan, getting access to a nuclear power plant is very simple: fill out a job application.
It is now more than two years since the start of the nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and there are still no mandatory background checks for workers at its nuclear facilities. After the three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex in March 2011, it became clear that Tepco, the plant’s operator, was allowing members of Japan’s organized crime groups, the yakuza, to staff the well-paid cleanup — just as they had been allowed into plants long before then. Indeed, members and associates of the Sumiyoshi-kai (Kanto) and Kudo-kai (Kyushu) mobs have been arrested for their roles supplying labor to Tepco and its Kansai cousin, Kepco. So the dirty secret that yakuza-linked workers and companies have long sustained Japan’s nuclear industry — along with yakuza members themselves, ex-convicts, wanted criminals, and drug addicts working there — is now public knowledge. Although many yakuza groups claim to have a protective role in society, most of their members are sociopathic felons who would commit theft, assault or murder to make a little money. And if you consider the black-market value of a little plutonium, you may feel a tad uneasy knowing such people have long had access to it — and can still get their hands on nuclear materials. Don’t worry, though: Last month the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said a panel will be set up to discuss atomic energy security issues, and it will consider introducing a system to investigate the backgrounds of workers to avoid acts of terrorism at nuclear plants. Specifically, it seems the panel will examine ways to check whether nuclear facility employees are drug addicts or have a criminal record, among other issues, in order to screen out anyone who could potentially get involved in terrorism. The panel will comprise NRA Commissioner Kenzo Oshima and outside experts. However, one expert who will not be on the panel is Haruki Madarame, former chief of the now-dissolved Nuclear Safety Commission. He is currently being investigated by prosecutors for alleged criminal negligence. But hey, let’s not dwell on the past. The good news is that the NRA is thinking about making nuclear plants safer in the future. They may even reach the same conclusions that the Nuclear Security Expert Commission of the Atomic Energy Commission announced … in September 2011. Of course, why take action when you can spend more time debating about taking action? The AEC makes recommendations for nuclear energy policy. However, that 2011 report, titled “Basic Nuclear Security Assurance,” doesn’t give a positive view of Japan’s countermeasures. For the rest of the story …
Reference materials for the article and those interested in Japan’s nuclear issues
A few source materials for the article are below for those who would like to know more. 原子力防護専門部会 (Nuclear Security Expert Commission of the Atomic Energy Commission aReport on Basic Nuclear Security ) Their full report, which discusses the threat from dirty bombs made out of nuclear facility materials, is on-line. (Japanese only) For a prescient look at the crisis that came, see Japan’s Nuclear Roulette from 2004 For a comprehensive history of Japan’s troubled and corrupt nuclear industry, Jeff Kingston’s essay from Contemporary Japan is a must read. Also very prescient. The Melting Sun: Japan’s Nuclear Follies
The most appropriate expression I can use to describe the book is from the Japanese 痛感 (tsukan) literally to “feel pain” the metaphorical meaning being “to keenly know” something. I wasn’t in Japan when the earthquake and the meltdown devastated the nation; I came back 10 days later. This book makes me feel like I was there–like I lived through it. It’s that powerful and evocative. I know both the authors, so maybe I’m not objective. But this is a powerful and almost majestic book. It’s a book I wish I had written…or could write.
The message of “Strong In The Rain” in its tale of foreign and Japanese heroes and villains–and there are both, remains with the reader long after the book is done. Because the book forces us to face the core of our existence: what is it to survive, who do you save and who do you leave, when do we stand up and when do we shut up? What is it be a hero?
It is a book about some amazing Japanese heroes, like the Mayor Sakurai, who fought the yakuza, the complacent press, the Japanese government, and the nuclear industrial complex that is sometimes referred to as “the nuclear village” or by those in the underworld as “the nuclear mafia.” He’s not an action hero–he’s a man of action, a man who changed the coverage of the nuclear meltdown with a simple heartfelt video uploaded onto You Tube in two languages.
He becomes the embodiment in the text of the best qualities of the Japanese spirit and character.
Ms. Birmingham and Mr. McNeill deftly weave together the accounts of the victims and heroes into a Rashomon like account of 3/11 that creates a 4D picture of the tragedy and it does it without the moral relativism or ambiguity of Akutagawa; some problems are painted in shades of grey, but the authors have the courage to put things in black and white where it matters. Sometimes, there is a right and a wrong, a true and false.
The message of “Strong In The Rain” in its tale of foreign and Japanese heroes and villains–and there are both, remains with the reader long after the book is done. Because the book forces us to face the core of our existence: what is it to survive, who do you save and who do you leave, when do we stand up and when do we shut up? What is it be a hero? You don’t have to be a Japanophile to appreciate the human drama in these stories. Anyone who lives in a country where there is nuclear power and natural calamity will find something of interest in this tome.
The message of “Strong In The Rain” in its tale of foreign and Japanese heroes and villains–and there are both, remains with the reader long after the book is done. Because the book forces us to face the core of our existence: what is it to survive, who do you save and who do you leave, when do we stand up and when do we shut up? What is it be a hero? The book provides the questions and some answers. The book is very dense in that important facts are sometime buried in one or two simple sentences. Blink and you miss something important. It’s not an easy read but it is rewarding.
Entire books could be written on the cowardliness of the mainstream Japanese press–SIR does it in a few paragraphs.
Books about disasters come and go, there half-lives are very short. How many books were there on the financial crisis? How many diatribes written about Goldman Sachs? Most of them are no longer on the bookshelves and only a few will remain in the libraries.
“Strong In The Rain” is a book that I think will weather the passage of time very well. Because there are universal truths in the book about heroism, mortality, disaster and Japanese culture that still be relevant long after the physical evidence of Japan’s greatest natural and man-made (nuclear meltdown) disaster are covered up in dirt and concrete.
Ryu Honma, author of Dentsu and the Nuclear Coverage (電通と原発の報道) spoke at the FCCJ a few weeks ago and his explanation of how Japan’s powerful advertising agencies, “the fifth estate”, stifled unfavorable coverage of nuclear power was eye-opening.
The collusive role between Japan’s major advertising agencies, the media, and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)–one of the largest advertisers in Kanto while having a monopoly on electric power—has been blamed for allowing TEPCO to get away with unsafe practices and malfeasance for years. Some have argued that Japan’s major media, bloated on a diet of TEPCO advertising dollars, failed to fulfill their role as monitor and critic of the nuclear industry. A recently published book about Dentsu (電通）Japan’s largest advertising agency and their impact on Japan’s reporting on nuclear power was released this year and stirred up controversy. However, except for one or two magazines, just like the book, TEPCO/The Dark Empire東京電力：帝国の暗黒–the book has been ignored by the major media outlets it criticizes.
Dentsu and Hakuhodo intervene in media reporting
Ryu Honma worked in the megalithic Japanese advertising agency, Hakuhodo, for eighteen years in the sales and marketing department. Having been inside the industry, he knows the endemic social problems of the advertisement system in Japan and its consequences on the Japanese mainstream media reporting. He is one more author to denounce the corrupted Japanese mainstream media reporting.
What is an advertising agency?
Everyone believes they know the answer to this but let’s define it here. An advertising agency provides a service in creating, promoting and fixing advertising for its clients. An advertising agency is supposed to be independent from its client and offers services to help them sell their product or achieve better brand recognition.
The world’s biggest ad agency is Dentsu (Japan), with a total revenue of 22,000 million US $. The second listed in the world ranking is Omnicom Group, with its headquarters in New York, with 13,900 million US $ in revenue. Hakuhodo, is Japan’s second most powerful ad agency, and number six in the world ranking.
In his book “Dentsu and the Nuclear Coverage,” Ryu Honma offers a clear insight about the great influence Dentsu and Hakuhodo have had on the media coverage of Japan’s nuclear power plant safety issues.
After research made on the media coverage of the 3.11 Fukushima nuclear accident, Ryu Honma asserts in his book, that over the past year, “There was very little mention in public about the responsibility of the media and the advertising agencies.”
Japan Subculture Research Center also reported the author and investigative journalist Katsunobu Onda, (the man who fought TEPCO), who exposed the truth about the deficiency of the reactors and the pipes that TEPCO has been using for decades. Onda’s book “Tokyo Denryoku: Teikoku No Ankoku”, (“TEPCO: the Dark Empire”), told the history of accidents and cover-ups at TEPCO in great detail. Issued in 2007 by his publisher Nanatsumori Shokan, it was mostly ignored and sold only 4,000 copies. It was reissued in April 2011 and sold 20,000 copies this time.
More than ten years ago, when Ryu Honma was still working for Hakuhodo, he was also a member of an anti nuclear non profit organization called Citizens’ Nuclear Power Information Center. He said in a press conference in Tokyo on October 16th 2012, that he was probably the only member from Hakuhodo to belong to that group at the time.
Because he was inclined to stand against nuclear energy, he said he was devastated when Japan’s biggest nuclear accident took place last year on 3.11, in Fukushima. He said he immediately followed the reporting of the accident, “However, the major Japanese media did not focus on the dangers of such accident,” he said. Whenever a problematic incident or accident occurred within a nuclear power plant, the advertising agencies would immediately take action. “What action did the agencies take? They made very direct requests to the media not to report any such news. Once a newspaper would receive such yousei, (要請) or request, it would deliberate whether it would make some adjustment on how much reporting it would make of the incident.”
Criteria for reporting news in Japan is related to money
Ryu Honma said that “The criteria for reporting news in Japan is directly related to the amount of advertising revenue that the media receives.” (The situation does not apply only to TEPCO and the nuclear industry.) This attitude of “taking care” of the client is also seen on a daily basis in Japan for major clients of advertising agencies, he added. For example, when Toyota had many problems with recalls of its vehicles, until the president of Toyota was asked to speak in front of the United States Congress, there was very little media coverage of the incident in Japan. Toyota is one of the largest sponsors of the media in Japan, and the media did not want to be put in a position where it might lose major advertising revenue.
“When such request is made to the media to hold down on a story, the threat is that the advertising revenues might be cut.” Honma explained. Obectively, it means that whenever a company experiences a negative incident, the information would be immediately reported to the advertisement agencies and the people at the agencies understand that this should not be reported in some certain ways. Therefore the ad agency gets in touch with the media, the TV stations and newspapers and generally talks with the sales department. In an ad agency, there are the sales department (営業部-eigyobu） and the news departments (報道部/houdoubu). Although they are separate entities, they collude when important action needs to be taken. The function of the news department in major advertising agencies appears to be to work on real news agencies to persuade them to cover the firm’s advertisers favorably or keep criticism at a minimum.
“There is a tendency to ‘kill’ negative stories”
The media and the advertising agencies have been involved in providing good services to important clients for so many years that their ability to make a judgment of right and wrong have become numbed, Honma explained at the press conference. As a result, he said “There is a tendency to kill negative stories,” in this case, with regarding nuclear power plants.
Then why “Denpaku,” the term referring to Dentsu and Hakuhodo, the two mega companies, can make such request over the media to give less detail on reporting some incidents? “These two companies together account for about 70 percent of all the advertising revenues and advertising expenses in Japan,” according to Honma. Dentsu, has nearly 50 percent of all the advertising revenues in Japan.) It is then natural that the media feel they can be forced to lose big source of revenue if they do not heed the All-Powerful Voice of Dentsu. “That’s why it is understandable that excessive self-restraint in their reporting activities occur,” Honma explained. The answer to whether Dentsu makes efforts to promote nuclear energy is not simple. Among the major advertising agencies, only Dentsu belongs to the JAIF (Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Incorporated). However, it did not mean that there was a kind of control division within Dentsu that told the company that they had to promote nuclear power. In both Hakuhodo and Denstu, nuclear power promotional advertisement could be run by un-powerful small divisions in charge of looking after the interests of nuclear power plants. The members in these divisions were not people burning with passion to promote nuclear energy, according to Honma, “They were simply following the wishes of their clients.” He added that if people in those divisions were interviewed about their responsibility in the whole process, they would probably respond that they do not feel responsible for the nuclear accident of Fukushima.
Advertising agencies, a Fifth Estate?
Ryu Honma explained that this is an example of something “uniquely Japanese,” which is “no sense of responsibility held by people in the advertising agencies, who are simply willing to satisfy their electric power plants clients, and protecting their own interests only.” The same can be said about the media who wanted to protect their own interests over the interests of the public; the media is happen to handcuff and gag themselves, most of the time.
It is generally considered that the media is the Fourth Estate. Their primary function is to monitor and observe the activities of the other great powers in society, however some people have pointed out that in Japan, the Fourth Estate serves a different purpose, they do not monitor authorities, they monitor the citizens.
Ryu Honma, after his experience working for 18 years in an advertising agency in Japan, said that he believed that they were a “Fifth Estate,” a huge power that does not recognize how influential they are, “Their only concern is not to make a moral judgment but to create more money.” He concluded. Japan’s Fifth Estate keeps a check on the Fourth Estate.
This year, TEPCO has been nationalized and the will of the Japanese people has changed tremendously with the anti nuclear movement, which is trying to eradicate dependence on nuclear power in Japan. However, Ryu Honma insisted on the fact that there have been no examination about the responsibility of the advertising agencies, and no efforts within the agencies themselves to reflect upon their role in this great accident.
And the influence of the “nuclear village,” centered around the Denjiren, or Federation of the Electric Power Companies, have remained unchanged at the moment.
The mainstream media are still afraid of losing the support of Denstu and Hakuhodo. Therefore the problems raised by the nuclear industry are not presented to the general public by the media, he insists.
Before 3.11, Dentsu and Hakuhodo and other advertising agencies had a system in place in regard to dealing with the media. They made sure that the media understood that they could not do some kind of negative reporting against the interests of their clients.
TV Asahi Newscaster was squeezed over nuclear power coverage and discussion
For example, in debates about nuclear power plants broadcasted by TV Asahi in late March 2011, guest speakers were mostly very much in favor of nuclear power plants, even few weeks after the nuclear accident of on March 11, 2011. According to Ryu Honma, Dentsu pushed the programmers and producers to bring together pro-nuclear speakers.
Also, for the first anniversary of the nuclear accident this year, a newscaster of Hodo Station, at TV Asahi, Ichiro Furutachi, has mentioned on air that he had been strongly pressured not to put together a special feature program about the first anniversary of the nuclear power plant accident. Again, for this TV program, most of the clients, who run advertisements and commercials on the program were pulled together by Dentsu, Honma said. The pressure on Ichiro Furutachi was emphasized when he was told that if he continues to run anti-nuclear power comments on his program, he would be forced to step down.
It says much about Japan that to even speak the truth about certain taboos, such as the nuclear industry, you have to first shield yourself by explaining how much pressure there is to not tell the truth in the first place.