• Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Japan Subculture Research Center

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

Tokyo Vice Vice-O-Pedia: Nuclear workers (原発作業員)


Apr 3, 2024
From Wikimedia Commons | Disaster relief operations in the 2011 Earthquake

The Japanese underworld thrives beneath the surface, weaving a subterranean society that infiltrates every corner of Japanese life. The Yakuza, Japan’s infamous mafia, proudly upholds age-old structures and rituals tracing back to the Edo era. In this series of articles, we’ll embark on an encyclopedia-style journey to unearth key elements of this hidden world: traditional customs, specialized professions, and a legendary figures, each intricately woven into the fabric of Japan’s shadowy underworld. Today: Nuclear Workers (原発作業員)

“When life goes crazy – women, the sex industry; men, the nuclear industry”

This saying encapsulates a grim reality within the underworld society: when life spirals out of control and a criminal record looms large, drastic choices become inevitable for survival. Unless you’re willing to embrace homelessness, options narrow down to two paths for those with no better alternatives.

In the nuclear sector, nuclear workers are stationed at power plants across the nation, with a significant presence in Fukushima Prefecture, scarred by the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.  Their duties vary, but the setting remains constant: nuclear power plants, ominous zones where entry requires similar-apocalyptic gear. They undertake tasks ranging from cleaning and inspections to waste disposal and decontamination efforts. Their lives hang precariously in the balance, their very existence clouded by the perpetual uncertainty of the toll their jobs exact on their bodies. Once labeled as “nuclear gypsies,” they navigate a world fraught with danger and insecurity.

The Yakuza infiltrates these environments through two distinct avenues: as investors in the surrounding areas, leveraging criminal activities to tap into reconstruction funds, and as voluntary workers at the nuclear plants. The inherent peril of the job makes it undesirable for most, leaving employers desperate for manpower of any kind. Ultimately, whether criminal or not, it’s the strength of their labor that truly counts. These sites offer former Yakuza members a golden opportunity to carve out a new path, far from their criminal histories. Within the confines of the nuclear plants, they discover anonymity, allowing them to exist in a realm where their past transgressions hold no sway. 

It’s like hitting the reset button on life, where their true selves remain under wraps. And even if someone catches a glimpse, it hardly fazes those nearby.

Certainly, it’s not as if anyone can simply waltz into a nuclear job. The recruitment process is extensive and well-organized, filtering through a hierarchy of main contractors down to third-tier subcontractors. Each level pledges to keep gangsters out of the nuclear industry. However, the truth is that the underworld, with its hidden networks and connections, manages to seep in nonetheless. Within the contractor ranks, many are proteges of gangsters who conveniently turn a blind eye to unsuitable candidates during the hiring process.

Let’s be real: somebody’s got to step up and do the job. With daily radiation levels surpassing 1 millisievert, despite national standards capping it at 50 millisieverts per year,  there isn’t exactly a lineup of eager volunteers. It’s the perfect fit for those with nothing left to lose, s


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