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Interview with Mōri Yoshitaka
5th May 2011, Kōenji Chūō Park

Interview by Julia Leser & Clarissa Seidel
Transcript and translation by Akai Yasuo

Mōri Yoshitaka (Associate Professor of Sociology, Media and Cultural Studies)) wrote about and gave numerous lectures on the articulation of contemporary art and urban space, cross-cultural studies and social movements. Mōri’s main publications are Culture = Politics: Cultural and Political Movement in the Age of Globalization (2003), Popular Music and Capitalism (2007), and Philosophy in the Streets (2009). In his recent article in J-Fissures, The Beginning of New Street Politics, he considers the current protests in Tokyo a historical moment in Japanese history.
We met him on May 5th 2011 in the Kōenji Chūō Park, the starting point of the Genpatsu yamero Demo on April 4th 2011, to talk about his impressions of the recent developments in Japanese protest culture.

This is where the demo on April 10th started. Since you participated, could you tell us about your impressions on that specific day?

On April 10, the protesters started marching from here [Kōenji Chūō Park]. I came here walking from the station, and found a huge crowd. Many people stood here because they couldn’t enter. In Kōenji, a rally always took place here. A turnout usually ranges anywhere from 10 to 500 people, so this park was large enough. [On April 10th] it was unbelievable that there ended up being too many people to get all of them in the park. But this park was filled with the protesters, and those who couldn’t enter surrounded the park. And in that corner Matsumoto Hajime and the other organizers spoke, and musicians played there. It was an hour or so before the march. The police surrounded the protesters. I wondered whether such a huge crowd was able to start marching.



How many people took part in this rally?

No one actually had an idea how many came. According to the organizers, 15,000 turned out. In reality it was impossible to count because some people joined and got out to march freely. The crowd swelled as the march began. Many bystanders at first looked at it curiously, and then eventually joined. When an organizer declared a 15,000-person-turnout, it could have been an exaggeration. But, I estimated it might have been somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people, though I couldn’t tell whether 15,000 was the exact number. Even though it is not impossible for a large union or organization to have such a large amount of people, for such a bottom-up protest, it was unprecedented.



What sort of people took part in that demonstration?

It was interesting for me that many different types of people were there, and, of course, that many young people showed up. Those people in their twenties, or thirties, might have not marched in the other rallies in different places, but they did in Kōenji – a unique town of young people, especially of rockers and hippie-ish people, and thus of a subculture. Various fashion styles were seen among the crowd – rock, punk, hippie, ethnic, and cosplay. I was also impressed by the families that joined with their children, and those who came as a couple. People from various cultural backgrounds expressed themselves, having placards – as protesters usually do – and playing drums or other instruments. It was as if it was a big festival.



Did the organizers expect that so many people would show up? Can you describe the atmosphere among the people who gathered in this park?

They did not expect such a huge turnout, so, in a way, they were surprised by themselves. But, what was more curious for me was this: on the one hand, they were obviously very angry because the issue concerning the nuclear power plant accident was a serious one. The words they expressed – such as, I fear the nuclear facilities, or, Stop the nuclear power plants – were seriously angry. On the other hand, they rather appeared to be having fun than to be in a sort of rage. The crowd was lively. Everyone was smiling, happy, and chatty. They greatly enjoyed taking part. The reason for this was obviously that they had missed opportunities to meet other people since the earthquake: parties and concerts had been cancelled. While they had missed opportunities to get together, the confusing news of the nuclear power plant accident had made them want to discuss the issues concerning nuclear power plants. The Kōenji rally really liberated them.



Were the Japanese media reporting about this rally?

It was regrettable that the majority of the media did not come to see the rally, especially the TV broadcasters, who did not cover it at all. Only a few newspapers rather briefly reported the 15,000 person turnout. Though it was arguably one of the most relevant protests in Japanese history, the media did not treat it as such. They virtually ignored it.



Why do you think it was ignored by the media?

It was complicated.... The obvious reason was that the Japanese private broadcasters are sponsored by Tokyo Electric Power Company [TEPCO], so they couldn’t criticize it, unless they would be informed that the government would have declared its change in its nuclear policy – which it hadn’t. The second reason was that they were reluctant to cover people’s political actions because they feared that the critical views against the authorities would eventually spread around, as had happened at one point in Japanese history. The third reason was – and this was what the people working at the media said, so I couldn’t verify it – that they were "simply not prepared for showing up at the rally. They simply didn’t expect 15,000 would turn out, so they thought they didn’t have to cover." We didn’t expect the exact number as well, but at the very least we knew that many would come over. It seemed to me that what they said revealed that they were disinterested because of their ignorance about the reality of the popular movements.



In contrast to the Japanese mass media, a lot of critical information and opinions are provided by the alternative media. On the internet – on blogs, twitter, facebook etc. – you can find a lot of critique about the recent events in Japan. How would you explain this?

A curious division has been created in terms of the relation between the media and the public. The majority of the mass media tell us that we do not have to worry about radiation and nuclear power plants. Especially the TV broadcasters, which are the most influential news source to the public, do so, while the newspapers occasionally cover different views. On the other hand, the internet provides completely different stories for us. Blogs, social media such as Twitter and U-stream now have a huge impact on public opinion. Especially U-stream, which now provides many news channels that cover things the TV will never show, such as in-depth reports about the nuclear facilities and radiation and also people’s political actions. People who watch these sorts of alternative news sources may subscribe to the view that the nuclear facility accident and radiation contamination are actually very serious. Yet only young people and those who are able to use the computer are able to watch these. The division between those who have an access to the alternative sources and those who don’t, has been widened. The people who watch the alternative sources showed up at the Kōenji rally. In fact, the organizers used only the Internet – blogs and Twitter – to announce their plan, this was mainly because they hadn’t enough time to use any other means. But, it was effective enough to make a 15,000-person-turnout possible. It was not like that in the historic protests. For instance, 10 years ago when the Iraq War was getting started, young people actually became politically awakened; of course the internet already existed at that time, yet those young anti-war activists distributed fliers to record shops, bars, and restaurants and people who saw the fliers showed up. The internet was not the central source of information for those actions at that time during the first half of the 2000s. But now, almost all the people who take part in actions are informed by Twitter, blogs, and the likes. How we deal with information has radically changed in the past few years. The Internet, especially the social media side, plays a crucial role in our way of coping with the earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident.



Let’s get back to the topic of the demonstration on April 10. What do you think was different about this rally, why did so many people show up on that day?

Many Japanese people have traditionally associated demonstrations with political ideologies, such as socialism, communism or labor movements and therefore with Marxists, or leftists. During 1968 and 1969, students both in Japan and around the rest of the world revolted. Though the movement decayed, a few student groups still remained active. Political movements have changed during the 40 years since then, but demonstrations still remind Japanese people of the movements of that era. It is fair to say that many people have an allergy to demonstrations, so even young people who are interested in politics tend to hesitate to take part in them. The March 11 earthquake or the nuclear power plant accident in particular, however, has politically awakened today's youths. They have rediscovered demonstrations as one of a few options to make their voices heard. On the other hand, Kōenji’s Shirōto no ran [Amateur’s revolt] and its followers have organized unconventional demonstrations for several years. Their demonstrations – what they call “sound demo” – often involve musicians and parades, playing rap and reggae, and now attract many young people who haven’t been political. This is new.



Do you think that political movements like Shirōto no ran can benefit from the current events?

The name of Shirōto no ran sounds political but it is actually the name of a secondhand store in Kōenji. It is not a political organization in the conventional sense. In short, these youths are merely a group of friends. Each of its members, who may have his or her own political ideas, hang out together around this secondhand store. On the other hand, they are small business owners who are on good terms with other small business owners and shopkeepers in the town. Matsumoto is well-known to Kōenji residents, as are the other members. That is why people do not associate their actions with past political ideologies. A network of friends works well when it comes to taking an action in Kōenji, on the outskirts of Tokyo, rather than in Shibuya or Ginza. The way they are organized is strange. Unlike conventional organizations, they're associated via groups of friendship networks and are not restricted by a certain political principle, affiliation or ideology. Personal friendships play a role. This is new, and interesting.



What makes Shirōto no ran different from well-established organizations and NGOs like, for example, the CNIC (Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center) or Tanpopo? They organize demonstrations as well, i.e. in front of the TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo, but they don’t attract that many people. For the Kōenji rally on April 10, which was organized by Shirōto no ran, 15,000 people participated. Why are they so successful?

That’s difficult to answer.... Those anti-nuclear power plant activists, who have long been existing, now play a crucial role. They are capable of explaining the problems of nuclear power plants and radiation to those particular young people who have never thought about nuclear power plants. They do a great job. Though, so far, when it comes to organizing a demonstration, they remain unable to involve those who have recently become active. A generation gap may be one of the reasons for this. The leaders of those activists are relatively old, and use only conventional means to call people, such as distributing fliers. In contrast to that, the organizers of the Kōenji demonstration used Twitter. But while the old activists and the young activists are very different, they compensate one another. Those who showed up at the Kōenji demonstration had not yet discussed radiation and renewable energy – which is getting more and more attention – and that it might be able to replace nuclear energy for a long time. The old activists have long studied those things and made many proposals. They will probably unite, I guess.



Do you think that this is a historical moment for Japanese radical politics and protest culture?

Yes. I think so. There have been protests for a decade now. As I have mentioned before, the anti-Iraq War movement was big. But, this movement couldn’t spread much further. There were not enough participants. Since the students’ revolt occurring in 1968 and 1969, or the 1970s, it has long been said that young Japanese people are politically apathetic. It is true that many young people were not interested in politics. But, they have returned to politics due to a 10-year recession. On the other hand, there have been a few opportunities for them to express their opinions. It appears that each of them has sought his or her way of dealing with politics, but there hasn't been a big forum, so they haven’t worked together. This issue of nuclear power plants provides an opportunity for them to unite towards a shared goal. In this sense, it is a memorable momentum throughout the history of post-war Japanese politics, especially in terms of young people’s political activism. Additionally, this young people’s activism is not only political but also cultural: music, performing arts, and visual arts are present. Political aspects and cultural aspects are mixed, generating the festival-like atmosphere at those demonstrations – this is the future of the current movement. We have been interested in demonstrations that take place in Europe and America, and we have long discussed why those take place in Germany, Britain, and America, but not in Japan. Now we finally see those sorts of demonstrations that we have only seen through the overseas media begin to take place in Japan.

はい、ぼくはそう思います。もちろんこの10年、さっきも言ったんですけどイラクの反戦運動はかなり大きかったんですね。でも、どこかイラクの反戦運動ていうのは、ひろがりを持つことができなかった。それは人数の面で、そんないたくさん集まってこなかったんですけど、ある意味では1968年から1969年にかけて、70年を境に、日本の若者たちは政治に関心が無いといわれ続けてきた。実際に多くの若者たちは政治から遠ざかっていたんですけども、この10年ぐらいまではずっと、景気の悪いこともあって、若者たちは政治に戻ってきた。とはいえ、彼らが何かをこう、そうした政治的な意見を表明する場所っていうのはそんなにあったわけじゃなくて、あの印象ではこうみんないろんなことで政治に関わってきたんですけども、必ずしも一緒に何かやってきたわけじゃないんですね。今回の原発の問題というのは、おそらく日本の政治史においてもだし、戦後の政治史においても、あるいは特に若い人たちの政治運動についても決定的なのは、やっぱりまあシングルイシューといえばシングルイシューなんですけど、ひとつの目的に向かって非常に多くの人たちが集まること。もうひとつは、そうした政治なんだけども同時にそこに音楽があったり、パフォーマンスがあったり、いろんなデザインの表現があったり、非常に文化的な要素があって、そうした文化的な要素と一体化したような、なんか大きなフェスティバルというような、そうした感じでデモが起きていることが、今回の大きな特徴だと思うんですね。われわれは、まあヨーロッパやアメリカのデモに関心を持ってきた人たちは、何でああいうデモがドイツやイギリスやアメリカで起きるのに、日本でないんだろう、とずっと言ってきたわけですけども、海外でぼくらがメディアを通じて知っていたようなデモが、おそらく日本ではじめて起こりつつあるということだと思 うんです。


This protest now is mainly anti-nuclear. But are there different topics that can be associated with this? For example the horrible situation of the workers in nuclear power plants. What other problems are linked to this topic, which problems should be mentioned in these protests or are actually mentioned?

That’s a hard question. One thing is clear: any one of the protesters who marched in Kōenji will say that the problem is not only about nuclear power plants. Everyone knows that the real problem might be the Japanese social structure. Japan has only pursued effectiveness, wealth, and economic success. Against this backdrop, numerous nuclear power plants have been built, while many of us haven’t noticed this side. Moreover, the Fukushima problem is also Tokyo’s. Fukushima has supplied power to Tokyo. Though we more or less knew this, we haven’t really thought about what it means. This nuclear power plant problem urges us to look at the initial structure upon which made Fukushima possible. Something is seriously going wrong with Japanese society, or Japanese capitalism. Therefore, the problem of nuclear power plants is not just about nuclear power plants themselves, but also about those temporary workers, known as ‘freeters,’ whose number has rapidly increased since the 1990s. Also, the nuclear power plant workers are a group of people who have to accept the danger of the workplace, the plant needs these people. We now talk about the Tokyo Electric Power Company [TEPCO], obviously. TEPCO has many subcontractors that hire these workers. Many of those workers obviously know the danger of nuclear power plants and radioactive material. But they have various reasons for accepting these dangers. We now face the fact that we have effectively agreed to sacrifice those people, and begin to question it. This movement aims to stop nuclear power plants, but also problematizes Japanese society and Japanese capitalism. In the past, in terms of problematizing capitalism, we tended to think that someone else will change it for us. But now, we think that instead we must change our way of living. So far we have used power freely, and taken it for granted. We should probably use less power than we have done, or seek another way of living. We should no longer pursue only effectiveness or wealth, but, by pacing ourselves, seek an alternative way of living. We have just started thinking about those things. This is what this anti-nuclear movement is all about.



Do you think that the recent protest is able to change something in Japanese politics and society?

That’s a very difficult question. As I have said before, Japanese people are now divided into two groups. On the one hand, there are those who collect information through the Internet or the other alternative media. On the other hand, there are those who don’t. Moreover, there are those who think that nuclear power plants are necessary because the Japanese economy is going down due to the disaster. It is difficult to say if the protest will bring a radical change to politics. Please note that even if nuclear power plants stop their current operations, it will take more than 10 years just to fully shut them down, dismantling and then dealing with the waste will be another 100-year project. Stopping the operations won’t end the problem. The next step will be crucial, and it will take a very long time to deal with it. Given all this difficulty, things are certainly changing now. A 15,000 turnout is unprecedented. What if this becomes 100,000 or 200,000? The mass media, though they haven’t covered the protests so far, can no longer ignore them. Politicians basically do whatever they can do in order to get elected, so if this anti-nuclear power plant movement becomes bigger, they will no longer ignore the protesters’ opinions. Moreover, let’s think about the victims. Compensation for the victims is likely to be prolonged. Their plight will be prolonged – it will get worse in summer. This is not a question whether or not to change. We must change. I really expect this will happen. Another big demonstration will take place next week. And I have also heard that a huge united action in June is planned. If there is a huge demonstration around that time, the public opinion, especially the mass media’s, will change, and thus it will be the tipping point.



I’m finished with my questions, but if there is anything you want to add, please tell us.

How people reacted to the accident varied. Some people moved out of Tokyo, especially to western Japan. It was understandable. Some people even left Japan. No one really knows how this radiation will affect us, precisely. You came over to shoot us, but I can’t guarantee your safety. Everyone sort of feels as though it is not really safe to be here. What this transformation of Japanese society, or what those demonstrations show, is that we know that we will live with fear of radiation even 10 years from now. There is a possibility that we will continuously be exposed to radiation for a long time. It will influence our way of thinking. The problem is not just whether or not to stop nuclear power plants, but, also, to face the fact that, because a large amount of radioactive materials were spewed, we must think about what living with radiation really means. Also, this is about the people in Fukushima. Many of them may actually want to leave, but most of them will stay. There is a health concern regarding the children in Fukushima City, but they cannot simply come here to Tokyo. They are not sure if they can find a job in Tokyo, so they remain in Fukushima. Our movement should involve the people from Fukushima. Tokyo is relatively safe, compared with Fukushima. But we are not so sure about our safety. So, we should work with the people from Fukushima. It is very important that together, we and the people from Fukushima, think about nuclear power plants. We tend to easily estimate the fact that they are against nuclear power plants. But, the truth is not that simple. Ōtomo Yoshihide, a musician who is from Fukushima, is now planning to do a project in Fukushima. He said to me that the people there cannot say that they are against nuclear power plants. I asked why, and what he said was this: “A man stabbed with a knife can die instantly, so you can say that a knife is bad. But radiation is a knife you will only feel pain from 30 or 50 years later. Can you ask someone being stabbed if he is for or against knives? It’s meaningless. It’s not really sensitive to ask such a thing.“ For the people in Fukushima, it’s not time to think about whether nuclear power plants are good or bad. The people have been stabbed, so they want to be saved first. Radiation may affect their health, but, more seriously, it may affect their minds. They are psychologically damaged. So we have to save their minds first, before asking them if they are for or against nuclear power plants. Ōtomo made me think a lot. Of course I want this anti-nuclear power plant movement to achieve its goal. Though, on the other hand, we have to think about the people in Fukushima. Moreover, we have to think about the history – why Fukushima had to accept nuclear power plants. Fukushima was poor, having no significant industries. While Tokyo had everything, Fukushima had nothing to produce things on its own, so its people had to invite nuclear power plants in order to make a living. This must change, or those people cannot fight against nuclear power plants. I’m going to keep thinking about this.


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