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Japan Subculture Research Center

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.

Nuclear Ginza: Japan's secret at-risk labor force and the Fukushima disaster


Apr 1, 2011

Back in 1995, the UK’s Channel 4 produced a 30-minute documentary on Japan’s nuclear industry and how they use disadvantaged people, including burakumin and other day laborers, to do manual labor inside their power plants. And by inside, I mean inside. Some were forced to work right next to the room where the core was kept, in the dark and drenched in sweat; one man tells how he was forced to mop up radioactive water with towels.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

(via The Atomic Age, thank you to Shihoku Fujiwara of Polaris Project for the link)

One would like to think that things have changed over the years, but even now in Fukushima, reports are being published that tell how people are being lured with offers of up to ¥400,000 per day to work at the nuclear reactors–many of whom are victims of the tsunami. Because of high radiation levels the amount of time each person can spend inside is limited. TEPCO confirms they’re working with outside agencies to secure enough workers to keep operations running, but refused to comment on how much each person is being paid.

22 thoughts on “Nuclear Ginza: Japan's secret at-risk labor force and the Fukushima disaster”
  1. Great post. I was trying for the longest time to see failure in the sources so I can claim that it is an April Fool’s joke. I see now that it is not, but it still seems so surreal in a way that it is still difficult to take as truth. Perhaps that is the point of people like yourself to post these articles – to let people know that things they want to ignore or can’t imagine, are real and affecting people they may know. Thanks

  2. It is sad this is NOT an April fool’s joke. This just gets my blood boiling. One would like to think that in today’s day and age that people aren’t subjected to this.

    In situations like the current one in Fukushima, the best thing that any company can do is be transparent and highlight what needs to be done and ask for as much technical assistance as is practical. Luring people to work for $3500 a day to work cleaning up the disaster is understandable if they have the background in radiological accidents and disasters, but I would bet that they’re scooping desperate folks to do whatever and making them work in unsafe conditions. It’s sad that this happened even when things were OK!

    And now TEPCO is probably going to be nationalized due to the heavy losses the company will have to settle with farmers and workers over lost wages, cleanup efforts, and probably fines by the government. And I bet you most of the management team will stay on board. The whole lot should be thrown in the slammer with the yakuza.

    I certainly hope the other reactors in Japan undergo a mandatory inspection by the IAEA. Only then will things be transparent.

  3. I just showed this to my Japanese GF. She gave me the business how this is all anti Japanese American/ British propaganda…. I’m in the doghouse tonight, thanks Jake.

    1. Stand up to your Japanese “friend”! It’s not “anti-Japanese” to support JAPANESE workers, is it? It’s not “anti-Japanese” to criticize the nuclear industry in the United States and Britain which does things that are just as EVIL! The fact of the matter is that such arguments play into the hands of people who are DESTROYING Japan!

  4. Not that the US nuclear industry is much better, but the Japanese nuclear industry has worried me since the workers in Tokai-mura decided to mix a batch of fuel in a bucket, triggering a critical mass reaction that killed two and sickened others, back in the 90’s.

  5. The Japan end !!!
    This obviously !!!
    Very small country for atomic energy..
    the export end….the people end…

  6. Thank you for that truly disturbing post, JSRC, and thank you, Jake, for a magnificent book.
    Jake, I heard a vicious little rumour about ya-chan involvement in the construction of Fukushima Daiichi, and my source suggested that I follow up with you about it. It’s hard to image that the Y wasn’t involved somehow at least in the construction gangs back then, but my man also suggested cheap and possibly sub-par concrete. Any thoughts?
    I guess you saw this, which I thought was a good piece of investigative journalism, by Bloomberg of all people:
    Other miscellaneous, unsubstantiated, and delicious rumours from the past 10 days:
    PM Kan won’t leave the Kantei when it’s raining (that comes from a source very close to Edano),
    most of TEPCO senior management have evacuated to Aizu Wakamatsu, to be simultaneously close to the disaster and in a bonchi cup-shaped valley due west of Daiichi that is less likely than Tokyo to be irradiated, and that JSDF reservists have been called up for the first time since their 1954 establishment and sent to Koriyama, to prepare for bigger evacuations. All stuff and nonsense, I’m sure.


  7. No mention of how some of those “outside agencies” are organized criminals taking their cut of the daily pay? These guys aren’t all soup kitchens and onigiri at times of crisis. This is the sort of factoid I’d expect to see covered in detail at this website, rather than something to read between the lines of NYT coverage of the story.

  8. […] There’s another interesting nuclear expression that applies to Tokaimura: nuclear Ginza (genpatsu Ginza, 原発銀座), a portmanteau that unites the colloquial for “nuclear power station” and The Ginza, Tokyo’s chic shopping district, and suggests a high concentration of nuclear activity, and the phrase, bizarrely, is one of the first I ever learned in Japanese. Tokaimura is the original and one of three nuclear Ginzas, the others being the most famous one on the Sea of Japan coast in Fukui and the other far to the north in Aomori. Tokaimura is home to the Tokai No. 1 nuclear plant, Japan’s first, which is being dismantled, Tokai No. 2, both of which are operated by the Japan Atomic Power Company, which in turn is owned by the electric utilities, the largest shareholder being TEPCO, two Tokai R&D centers and the headquarters of the quasi-governmental Japan Atomic Energy Agency, one specializing in nuclear science and the other in nuclear fuel cycle engineering, and the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC) a joint venture between the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, an inter-university research institute, to say nothing of smaller facilities such as the Ibaraki Quantum Beam Research Center and the Nuclear Material Management Center and leaving aside the massive Hitachinaka thermal power station. That’s a nuclear Ginza and no mistake. So dense is the concentration of the facilities on the coast that, as far as I could tell, it is at no place accessible to the public possible to see the Pacific from the village. “Nuclear Ginza”, incidentally, is the title of a 30-minute documentary—highly disturbing but frustratingly short of hard facts—made for Channel 4 in the UK about, among other things, how yakuza hoodlums hire day laborers and members of Japan’s underclass of burakumin (部落民, “village people”, that “village” word again) from the slums of Osaka to do the most deadly radioactive mopping up at nuclear plants on the Fukui coast, a documentary that could never be made by state broadcaster NHK, touching as it does on not one but a trio of huge taboos, and could never be made by Japan’s private-sector channels, as the electric utilities are too lucrative advertisers to lose. You can watch it here. […]

  9. […] Let me spell it out for the dialectically-challenged out there: Fuck Tepco and its useless bunch of amakudari, working hand-in-hand with their equally self-serving ministry bureaucrat friends to keep their cushy retirement gigs at the expense of pretty much everything else. They are a perfect (though far from unique) embodiment of everything that is wrong with Japanese politics and bureaucracy. And most of it has absolutely nothing to do with the uncontrollable consequences of one of the strongest natural disaster to ever hit a country. If you want to blame TEPCO for something, why don’t you start by going back to 1995 and have a look at their practice of hiring Japanese lower-class burakumin to work in sub-standard conditions… […]

  10. I found an article claiming that those people who owed the yakuza money and failed to pay it, had life insurance policies taken out in their names and were then made to go and work on fishing boats where they inexplicably had accidents and never returned.
    This left the yakuza holding a life insurance policy to be paid out on.

    With all the fukushima workers that have gone missing, a figure in the 200+ people, and the fact that the yakuza are involved in the sourcing of these people from the homeless day labourer pools, i wonder how many had life insurance policies taken out in their names before they went missing.
    interesting line of research for a japanese speaking person who could collate all the required information.

    1. I would really love to see that article. And you raise an interesting point. It’s possible. And food for thought.
      If you could sen me a link to the article you mention, it would be appreciated.

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