Fukushima: Voices from a bar in Tokyo

Fukushima Fallout

Weekly updates by
Keito Hirabayashi

Kakikomi-tei is a longtime hangout for activists of all causes located in Tokyo’s western suburb of Kunitachi. A couple of weeks ago Tateno Koichi and Kobayashi Naoki held a small concert, performing new songs as well as some old favorites. Naoki is from Hitachi in Ibaraki Prefecture and remembers the 1999 Tokaimura Accident very clearly. At his request, Koichi sang ‘Mienai Hikari no Ya (invisible arrow of light)’ which is about this fatal nuclear accident.

Koichi: “I hadn’t been able to write any new songs after 3.11. It was like the world had overtaken all my songs and I just couldn’t catch up. When I sang this song pre-3.11, I had to explain why everyone was advised to eat lots of nori and wakame seaweed, but now everyone knows its to prevent radioactive iodine from building up in the thyroid gland. And why the children in Tokaimura were scrubbed from head to foot after they walked home in the rain with no umbrella. Everyone knows now that rain is radioactive.”

Koichi and Naoki at Kakikomi-tei, pub and activist hub in Tokyo

“Remember when we used to enjoy walking in the rain? The pureness of that enjoyment, we’ve lost that—it’s been stolen from us. Now there’s always a vague fear lurking somewhere in my mind.”

“I remember this time last year I was so concerned about keeping the rain off my skin and clothes, but after a year, you grow exhausted. You just can’t keep up that kind of tension. But it makes me so angry that this exhaustion, which everyone feels, plays into the hands of TEPCO and the nuclear establishment. People just gradually forget…”

But the people outside the PM’s residence every Friday are certainly maintaining their rage. Yesterday (July 6) there were reportedly 150,000, despite the rain—these are the largest demonstrations on the streets of Tokyo since the student movements of the 60s and 70s, and numbers just grow and grow each week. Musician Sakamoto Ryuichi was also there, urging people not to give up. He and other musicians will be holding an anti-nuke concert in Chiba for the whole of this weekend.

“I haven’t been to any of the Friday demonstrations…I felt that I should, but after being an environmental activist for the best part of 30 years, I totally agree with what they’re all saying, of course we should stop all the nuclear reactors, but I just wonder about the methods. What have we managed to change after 30 years? I find it so hard to be part of something that is so confrontational. Both sides convinced that they are absolutely right and the ‘other side’ is absolutely wrong. In these cases, surely it is those with most power and money who always win. Thus Ohi restarts. I actually think it’s more effective to work with corporations, instead of treat them like sworn enemies. There are people within even large corporations who are sympathetic to environmental concerns and we need to work with them to achieve change from the inside.”

“In a functioning democracy the people would be able to vote out a government that pursued policies they didn’t agree with. But there is no choice in Japan. PM Noda and the Democratic Party are not hearing us but how can we vote the LDP back in? This week (previous leader of the Democratic Party) Ozawa Ichiro has split from the DP along with 49 other MPs and will be starting a new party. He mentioned that the nuclear issue is one he wants to fight on. Maybe this is true—his electorate of Iwate is the only prefecture in that area that does not have nuclear power plants, so maybe he isn’t so beholden to nuclear money as everyone else…”

Sakamoto Ryuichi at last night’s demonstration in front of the PM’s residence

“Oh my God, you mean we have to vote forhim??!”

“Yes, well, how many times has he done this before?—formed new parties, I mean…and how effective have they been at changing anything? How can we trust any of these thugs?”

I guess revolution was never meant to be easy and we do seem to be at a point in Japan where it is very obvious to large numbers of people that things do have to change, quite fundamentally. The anger and betrayal that people feel over the ongoing Fukushima disaster and the nuclear village in general has to have an outlet and maybe the massive demonstrations are useful in this sense even if they don’t immediately impact a dysfunctional political system that has totally rotted from within and seems unable to reflect the will of the people. It’s very difficult for the people to know where to turn, but, maybe it is the seemingly small practical efforts which are blooming all over the nation—the new solar and wind energy generation projects, the super insulation developed for drink vending machines, the factories scrambling to install LED lights, the restaurants joining the drive to turn off their ACs at peak times—and offering customers a free ice cream—which will bear fruit in the end, sidestepping the dysfunctional political system and creating something new from the ground up. It’s a fight on all fronts—political, social and musical, we all have a part to play.




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