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The New Significance » Articles, Featured » Sabu Kohso: Fangs Hiding in the Green – Impressions of Post 3/11 Japan

Sabu Kohso: Fangs Hiding in the Green – Impressions of Post 3/11 Japan

By Sabu Kohso
Source: Through Europe

I visited my home country Japan for about two weeks in early June 2011. The main purpose of the trip was to meet with my comrades who are working on various anti-capitalist projects in Tokyo and Osaka, observe their everyday lives and share the prospects of their new struggle. I could not go to the disaster-stricken area, which I am hoping to visit on my next trip. In any case, as various reports indicate, the recovery is facing tremendous difficulties, despite the efforts of many, due to the magnitude of damages caused by the tsunami and earthquake overlaid with radiation. Some voices even indicate that the idea of recovery, that is to say, people continuously living there under radiation,is itself questionable. In this instance, the traditional notion of utopia, of self-recovery of community from within, might have to be replaced by a massive migration and the building of new communities elsewhere.

Explosions, steam, leaks and melt-throughs from the Fukushima plants have been affecting not only a large part of North-eastern Honshu but also the Tokyo metropolis. Residents are living under the influence of low doses of radiation in various forms, but the normal everyday landscape of the high consumerist society is on-going. As one can easily imagine, Tokyo as a capital is dying a slow death of all functions, but that inclination is obscured and hidden by various embellishments. It is surreal.

Narita Airport that is located midway between Fukushima and Tokyo was emptier than ever, and the highway from Narita to Tokyo was rather deserted. While overlooking the rural farming landscapes from the bus window, I suddenly realized that these greens are all radiated more or less. In Tokyo my friends explained to me, as we walked in strolls and demos, which urban spots are prone to accumulate radioactive substances: roofs, eaves, drains, leaves of trees and sandboxes in parks. It is cruel that what we normally cherish and enjoy, green parks where children play and the countryside wherefarmers farm, is most deadly in terms of radioactivity. Here things are inverted. The adjectives greennatural and organic that figure motherly resources can no longer embrace us with their good intentions, but rather internalize the invisible threat of radiation. Imagine an impressionist landscape painting of nature that hides the fangs of a vampire.

As I was told, to live a safer life there, one is supposed to avoid inhaling dust, being exposed to rain, drinking tap water, eating any food product from the north-east, and even refrain from enjoying the celebrated tea from Shizuoka Prefecture which is located south-west of Tokyo, that is, evenfarther from Fukushima. Meanwhile, today’s nationalism appears most emphatically as a campaign to bravely consume food products from Fukushima. Some food chains and restaurants dare to advertise their use of those products, encouraging clients to enjoy them for support. What would you make of it?

The most difficult aspect of all this is that the effects of radioactivity on the body are not immediate; though symptoms appear for sure at some point, the appearance is unpredictable and varied. They are likely to come in three, five and fifteen year cycles, which further differ according to personal body conditions. Crucially the medical recognition of being a nuclear victim eligible for compensation will be extremely hard, as Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims know too well after their long struggle. All policy-making vis-à-vis this recognition is relying on a blurred temporality and varied body conditions. Thus the government and main media can insist: “There are no immediate effects, mind your own business.”

So, taking place is heated information warfare. Over the lowered estimations of danger coming down from the authorities, Japan’s civil society seems to be split into half: those who want to believe in continuing everyday business as usual; and those who question and dare to investigate the fact of radiation by themselves to determine the courses of their lives. It is said that in common households, fathers tend to think that everything is OK and call their wives paranoid, while wives/mothers tend to distrust the government’s reports and act on their own initiative for the sake of their children. In some families, fathers remain in Tokyo, while mothers and children move to the west. We expect that such migrations will increase in the future at the expense of traditional family integrity.

At the moment the most powerful oppositional subjectivation is observed among mothers, enraged mothers, as many agree. Fukushima mothers came to Tokyo and sieged the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to demand the minister revokethe 20 M Sv standard. Residents groups led by mothers have begun to measure the radiation all over the urban space in Tokyo and elsewhere with shared Geiger counters in their hands, in order to press the local and federal governments to take responsible measures for the public health.

June 11th was a big no-nuke day. There were demos and rallies in some 140 locations across the world. Even within Tokyo alone there were four separate actions: Shinjyuku, Shiba, Shibuya and Kunitachi. I participated in the one in Shinjyuku, which mobilized 7000people, the biggest number in the metropolis. It was even bigger than the rally organized by the known and large anti-nuke groups at Shiba Park (about 3000). Ours was organized by a coalition of a number of anti-authoritarian groups that mostly fought together at the Toyako G8 in 2008. In Japan at least, the post 3/11 anti-nuke movement consists of varied movements, the majority of which are not anti-nuke groups and are now learning from the past anti-nuke and environmental struggles such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Minamata.

Some of us observed a slight shift of representational tendency in the demo. Many participants were singing and dancing with music, emphasizing cheerful, funky and clownish images while expressing their anger. But there were new elements that had not existed before: the grotesque, ghostly and cursing. I personally found it a sign that the clownish image that has been playing the counterpart to the anonymous black (Black Bloc) in the context of the anti-globalization movement is gradually being replaced by the image of a cursing ghost, as clowns turning into mothers of wrath or shamans. I envision that the age of the curse– no longer simple anger — against the regime that insists on nuclear power and energy-centered social production has arrived.

The highlight of the action took place at the gathering point Alta Square after the demo: the demonstrators who gathered there refused to leave in defiance of the repetitive warnings of the police; many sang and danced for several hours; some stayed until the next morning. We remembered the sense of the 60s that when a certain number of people (a critical mass) are involved in an action, it is impossible for the police to harass and stop it, without a determination to use extreme measures. But we all wonder when the Japanese mass will just stay there indefinitely like the people in Greece, Egypt or Spain.

There was a problem in terms of constituency. Since an event space involved in the coalition had too loose a political articulation, it somehow ended up allowing the participation of a racist group who was not only present but also demanded to speak at the rally. The group is notorious for denying the comfort women issue. Of course, there was a harsh dispute and the representative did not get to speak. Herein arose one of the problems concerning the slogan of anti- or de-nuke. What does it mean in the post 3/11 climate, in terms of politics, economy, culture and everyday life? Fascists and nationalists can say No Nuke! for the sake of the national well-being. Neoliberal entrepreneurs can propose alternative energy for their new means of profit making. The government and corporations can create projects for recovery of the disaster area that would encourage people to remain there — with radiation –forever. Finally, even a prime minister can propose a de-nuked society. We have innumerable questions to tackle.

Another question is about the effectuality of demos themselves. Mass demonstration is important and should continue. But if that itself is a goal, it is just too futile and vain, considering the magnitude of the dystopian situation. If that is all that the political imagination can materialize, that is too sad. In any case, the people in Japan have already begun their own struggles, tackling the issues of everyday life and reproduction of life. As I have mentioned earlier, mothers are fighting their struggles. Some local communities across the country have begun lawsuits against the government to terminate the resumption or continuous operation of nearby reactors. Some disputes such as the one in Saga have led to direct confrontation between the local government and residents.

In Osaka, a city of East Asian ethnic diversity that I love tremendously, I met my close friends and comrades, with whom I enjoyed intense talks with local Korean dishes and drinks. I have to admit that I was able to relax much more in the city located farther from Fukushima than Tokyo, though the locals were expecting the influence of radioactivity to come there soon as well. Right now most of them are working on prison solidarity for four activists based in Kamagasaki, the inner city that is home to day-workers. Kamagasaki is one of the biggest of all recruitment places, namely, it is the largest day-workers’ ghetto in the country for subcontracting jobs. In fact a large amount of workers there are sent to deal with the nuclear reactors. There are innumerable stories in which workers were poisoned by radioactivity and became severely ill, due to the irresponsible, inhumane treatment by the electric companies. Most of them are not notified of the dangers or cared for sufficiently for radiation exposure. Furthermore, those workers who do not have health insurance are prone to confront cruel and fatal consequences in these circumstances.

This is a clear and present indication of discrimination against informal workers by the companies as well as by a social system based upon the residency certificate. That is to say, most of the day-workers in Kamagasaki and other day-workers’ ghettos are part of a flowing population or nomads in the strict sense of the term, thus having to live their lives without homes, health insurance, social welfare or the right to vote. They sometimes move from city to city. Within a city, they can sleep in flop houses when they have a job; or in outdoor parks when they do not. In principle, radiation knows no discrimination; it bites all living beings, from the TEPCO president to the Tokyo University Nuclear scientists to our mothers and children and stray dogs. But the homeless population and the day-workers, having to live outdoors most of the time, are among the humans most vulnerable to radioactive fangs. In recent years and especially after 3/11, police oppression against the labor organizers who are fighting for these nomadic workers’ rights has intensified. That is undoubtedly part of the social control and political oppression forged in the post 3/11 climate.

What is 3/11? For the people in Japan, it is about their life and future; it is also about the meaning of their present lifestyle as well as history. Now these are all in suspension. Many friends of mine feel that these need to be radically questioned once and for all. The country that has experienced two nuclear attacks has self-attacked with the nuclear disaster – what an irony! The people there are looking into the history of their country as to how it could have committed the idiocy of having introduced nuclear reactors into their earthquake-prone archipelago. At this point, the question is no longer about Japan alone but involves global power relations.

Japan’s postwar regime that is idiomatically called a postwar democracy has flourished under the umbrella of US hegemony. The Japanese archipelago has always been an ideal front line to tactically confront an Asian continent full of red scares for US global strategy. The US built its military bases across Japan as well as in Okinawa as its central stronghold. After the Five Dragon Incident in 1954 in which Japanese fishing boats were affected by radiation from a US hydrogen bomb test, there arose a big anti-nuke, anti-US movement. It was the time when the country was just about to recover from the devastation of the Pacific War with bombed-out cities and two nuclear attacks. Frightened as they were by this turn of events that could have created a revolutionary Japan, both American and Japanese ruling powers schemed a big media campaign to promote “nukes for peace” with a new image of a prosperous future society, involving a major newspaper (Yomiuri), a newly introduced TV (Nihon TV) and some public events. (The main figure behind this was the media mogul, owner of Yomiuri Giants, and CIA agent, Matsutaro Shoriki.) The country, on the upswing to a stage of high economic growth, gradually began to take the bait. Always hidden behind this whole process, however, were the Okinawan Islands that were under US military occupation (until 1972) and a site where nuclear warheads were stationed.

That is to say, the civilian use of nuclear power in Japan has always been connected to its military use by the US. Here in merge the slogans of anti-nuclear armament and anti-nuclear power. After all, what 3/11 revealed was the plain fact that nuclear power, be it of military or civilian origin, bites living beings with its fangs irrespectively.

Since 3/11, everyone has lost their faith in the government and authorities including companies, banks and proxy scientists, whose incapability and irresponsibility have been revealed under the daylight in terms of the apparatus that they form in ensemble. Capitalism has created a world consisting of innumerable apparatuses interlinked by owning each other, wherein nobody who is ‘responsible’ takes responsibility even for its own collapse and its horrendous consequences. What it can and will continue to do is to utilize each instance of collapse for creating a new set of operations: political oppression, social control and profit making. Certainly the state of Japan is becoming the weakest link of the global powers in terms of its sovereignty and economy. Japan sinking into the abyss, however, is not what the empire wants to see for continuation of its political and economical domination of the globe. Thus the super powers such as the US, France, Israel, etc., are intervening hand in hand, with their capital, to prevent that from happening. In this manner, what might be called the global nuclear regime is being organized at the moment.

After my trip to Japan, I feel strongly that the anti-nuke slogan after 3/11 can no longer be just for a preventative call, though I acknowledge that this continues to have an important role. Or if the focus was put just there, that would be misleading. There is an irreversibility in 3/11. It has already happened. Now a massive population, including the residents of Tokyo metropolis, is exposed to radioactivity. From here on no matter what we do – even if we do accomplish our important tasks of ousting nuclear plants and finding alternative energy — we will still have to live with various forms and degrees of radiation whose effects are varied temporally and spatially. The extent of its influence may be yet to be experienced, but that it has happened is a matter of fact.

In these senses, what 3/11 signifies — now in a global context — is not just an unprecedented nuclear disaster that we must not repeat. Most crucially it also indicates a new front of the global class struggle where global capitalism and the people are confronting each other in a most severe and nasty manner. The front, as epitomized in post 3/11 Japan, is the post-nuclear-disaster management vis-à-vis human survival that involves all aspects of life and everyday living. This is the domain where the global nuclear regime is now seeking to discover a new and more inclusive way to control human lives by reorganizing the urban space and the astronomical (or radioactive) continuation of time, granting that a certain portion of the populace is continuously exposed to radiation in varied degrees. It is but a necropolitics of radiation. What can we do to destroy this? That is what the anti-authoritarian movements in Japan are striving to find out. And we too must do so globally.

Therefore, if 3/11 is significant, it should not be just as an opportunity to encourage another single-issue anti-nuke movement. While we are well aware that Fukushima 3/11 is not the only disastrous or dystopian occasion, it should be evident that at least its irreversibility and magnitude shed an intense light on collapses and disasters of all kinds that have already happened and are happening everywhere on the planet. It is an index of the climate and environmental injustices wrought by the apparatuses of capitalism, and of their ultimate horizon: the total management of our life world by way of dystopian control. If so, for us it must be an occasion to connect anti-capitalist movements, climate and environmental justice movements, indigenous movements and innumerable movements that fight against the control of our everyday life and life forms.

The political and social situations in Japan have been and will be changing, while the problems of the reactors have not been solved. It is said that the management of the shutdown is expected to require five million workers for the coming fifty years, about a hundred thousand of whom will be exposed to high radioactivity. Who will do this job?

Summer is already here. Summer in Japan is hot and humid. How many people can enjoy swimming on the beach? How will the planned blackouts affect their sweaty nights, endless nights with dreams of a vampire?

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