Japan from the inside out

Found in translation

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It’s morning, and with it comes the nonsensical battle in which the anti-anti-nuclear energy forces defend the crude tactics of the Sankei Shimbun’s editorial page, which is feverishly mocking the anti-nuclear energy forces, who are feverishly defending the idiot Sakamoto Ryuichi. So good morning and how are you today?

– The Tweeter known as 4269 Jijitsujo no Chikuwa

THE lack of Japanese language ability is no impediment to understanding either the content or the tone of the disputatious uproar touched off by the Fukushima nuclear accident and Prime Minister Noda’s decision to restart the Oi plants in Fukui.

That uproar, which has frothed over into large demonstrations in front of the Kantei, has the identical characteristics of what passes for political and social debate in the West. One side is inebriate of the righteous high fueled by vibratory emotionalism, and no fact, argument, or person is about to kill their buzz. Were it not for the absence of trashing, smashing, burning, violence, looting, defecating, sexual assault, and squatting on property both public and private — this is Japan, remember — the anti-nuclear power advocates are an analogue of their brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. They share the aerated craniums and the solidarity of show business personalities and the radical leftists delighted to find a new outlet for their destructive impulses.

The anti-anti-nuclear power advocates have their Western analogues as well. They alternate between the presentation of fact-based argument that points out the Fukushima cancer fears are absurd, and showers of ridicule and scorn when they realize that they too are only preaching to the converted.

Novelist and Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo has made a predictable appearance, and just as predictably, unloaded one of his freakish fantasies that the media found the space to print before it forgot about him again:

“Fukushima is the greatest crime against the world that Japan has committed…We must end this (situation) in which all Japanese benefit from atomic energy, and which will make children the victims of the future.”

But the anti-anti-nuclear power forces stopped paying attention to him long ago. Shooting the intellectual equivalent of dead fish floating at the top of the barrel is much too easy to be any fun.

Then there are the zombie politicians anxious to seize the moment and apply it as a defibrillator to the ribcage of their careers. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio beamed down in front of the Kantei at the large demonstration last Friday in a sapless attempt to recover his irrecoverable relevance. He grabbed a microphone, stood before the cameras, and told the media within earshot:

“We must place the utmost importance on this new trend of democracy that all of you have created. I am the same. I want to perform a role that changes the trend. The walls of the Kantei have become so thick, they can’t hear… I too am seriously reflecting on my past mistakes.”

By past mistakes, Mr. Hatoyama means his previous call to increase to 50% the amount of power produced by nuclear energy in Japan as a means to ameliorate “global warming”, with all the new plants to be built underground.

Copping a lick from the Gesture Politics songbook, he then entered the Kantei and declared he would deliver the protestors’ message to Prime Minister Noda himself, who was in Kyushu at the time. (The prime minister’s daily schedule is printed in the newspapers every morning.) Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu had 15 minutes to spare for the man he once helped vote into office.

Mr. Hatoyama is so inspired, he says he will run against Mr. Noda in the DPJ presidential election in September. That will be just about the time his party privileges, suspended after his vote against the consumption tax bill, are reinstated. One of his aides, speaking anonymously to the press, said, “I have no idea what he’s doing now.”

Neither the public nor the anti-anti-nuclear power advocates had as much time to spare on the bandwagoner as Mr. Fujimura. Ikeda Nobuo summed it up and moved on:

“This is symbolic of the ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ Hatoyama. (That’s a reference to the Futenma air base in Okinawa.) It is just like Japan’s peace activists, free riders who make other people do the dirty work of the military while keeping their own hands clean…Many people damaged their lives by withdrawing from university after being arrested in demonstrations (in the 60s). Now they’ve gotten old, gotten mixed up in politics, and are getting their revenge. That is Mr. Hatoyama’s DPJ.”

That description would have worked just as well for Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, had she not stayed in school, become an attorney, and defended those dropouts in court. She’s the Japanese version of the beady-eyed, punitive left who clad their intrinsic unpleasantness and in the boilerplate of high-minded idealism. You can see it in her face in the photo at the top, where she is standing to the left of Hatoyama Yukio.

Kan Naoto also created a brief ripple earlier this week when he publicly addressed Prime Minister Noda: “You have become the object of the people’s anger. Do you even understand this?” That statement, which would be serviceable as the Kan political epitaph, was sloughed off after a brief snort. Everyone saw through the undead’s transparent attempt at self-resuscitation by trying to hang his legacy on his successor.

Is that not a fitting requiem for the DPJ? Their first two prime ministers, the most unpopular national leaders in postwar history, think that soiling their successor is a purification ritual.

The serious ammo was saved for musician Sakamoto Ryuichi, the technopop pioneer and Academy Award winner who used his celebrity status to squeeze past the velvet rope lines and bouncers to claim a spot at the front of the protests. That celebrity cachet provides encouragement to the anti-nuclear power faction and the excuse to unleash a fusillade of rotten tomatoes by the anti-anti-nuclear power faction. The signal for the start of the barrage was this statement in particular:

“We should not place in danger the lives of children, who are the future of this beautiful Japan, for what is, after all, only electricity”.

Had Mr. Technopop a sense of proportion and shame, he would never live down that last clause. He might as well have written the script for his critics himself — he’s the man who used electricity to become rich and famous, moved to luxury digs in Manhattan, and paid taxes to the United States instead of Japan. Here’s one of them:

“Sakamoto lives 60 kilometers from Indian Point, which provides 30% of New York’s electricity and is said to be most dangerous nuclear power plant in the U.S. It’s time to let the ‘it’s only electricity’ New York royalty live the life of a peasant.”

And another from Tweeter Oda Masahiko:

“After all, it’s only music, so he should perform that technopop outdoors during the day with a flute and taiko drum.”

And the Tweeter Suimasenga ocha o ippai kudasai:

“Sakamoto Ryuichi asks why there should be any problem if the shift from nuclear energy to renewable energy means our electric bills will be a little higher.‏ Rich people sure talk differently than the rest of us…”

The quotation at the top of the page charges the Sankei Shimbun with crude tactics, but one of their ripostes was all the more devastating for its deftness.

They ran an essay written by Mr. Sakamoto in the culture section of their Saturday edition, the day after the Friday demonstration. Here’s the first part of it:

“As soon as you get off the airplane in any airport in the world, the distinctive culture of that country is revealed. People often mention soy sauce and miso for Japan, kimchee for South Korea, and curry for India. Perhaps that is a problem of preconceived images.

“What do you think it is for the US? I think it is air conditioners. You can hear their rumble and smell them as soon as you reach the airport. I remember that well from the time I came to New York. I’ve gotten completely accustomed to both the sound and the smell.

“Air conditioners were invented in the U.S. in the first part of the 20th century, and now they are an indispensable part of our lives. Perhaps it is because of the ”let it all hang out” attitude (おおらかさ) of Americans, but air conditioners in that country are noisy. No one asks that they be made quieter.

“Lately, however, that has begun to change. If you go to quality restaurants, cafes, or hair salons, you notice that they’ve gotten quieter. When you look closely, you see that’s because most of them are Japanese-made.”

All of this is to be expected by the mountebanks of the political class and the show business personalities motivated by the desire for publicity. That desire is particularly manifest among the once-prominent, still uncomfortable with being remaindered after their sell-by date. The idealism, to the extent that it exists, is appreciated only by their fellow travelers. Those of a different denomination discount it as soon as they hear it.

The attitude of those who are more often taken seriously as opinion leaders, however, has the potential to create greater mischief. Here’s Fujiwara Akio writing the Yurakucho (憂楽帳) op-ed for the 23 July edition of the Mainichi Shimbun:

“Just as I turned on the air conditioner in the kitchen because it was so hot, my 21-year-old son came home covered in sweat. While he expressed his appreciation for the cool air, he added, ‘Dad, you’re opposed to atomic energy. Isn’t it a contradiction to be using the air conditioner?’

“If that’s a contradiction, then contradiction is fine. You can still call for the abandonment of nuclear energy regardless of how much energy you use. It’s the same if you work for nuclear power-related companies or government agencies. The question is whether the contamination from radioactivity that occurred at Fukushima will never happen again for all of eternity, or whether you will entrust the disposal of nuclear waste to the people of the future whom you don’t know, when the final disposal sites have yet to be determined. The question is an individual’s ethics, not their energy policy.

“Opinions on any matter, and ethical matters in particular, should always be free, regardless of the consistency with one’s status, career background, standpoint, behavior, or history. That’s why criticism of the sort such as ‘How can Sakamoto Ryuichi talk about abandoning nuclear energy when he appeared in a commercial for electric cars?’, or ‘He used a lot of electricity in his technopop days’, only obscures the essence of the problem.

This in a country where everyone is being asked to cut back by 10% on electricity usage this summer. Those familiar with the decades’ worth of “do as I say, not as I do” editorializing by the self-congratulatariat in the West will recognize Mr. Fujiwara as a member of the same tribe.

The Mainichi’s just full of ‘em. Here’s another one that appeared earlier this week:

“The claim that we will suffer even worse disasters if we don’t resume nuclear power generation transcends common sense. I question the belief that money solves all, but the sense that there is no happiness without growth is the true belief of the establishment in all economic superpowers.

“Many people have offered opinions conflicting with that view of happiness. A Tokyo University student expressed the following opinion in Nagoya and was met with a wave of applause:

“‘Why is the premise economic growth? Even though the population is declining and the productive population is declining even faster, is it necessary to increase domestic goods and services? Is a society of mass consumption and mass production, in which we can get whatever we want anywhere, whenever we want it, truly a society of spiritual affluence?’

“Will we give priority to abandoning nuclear power over the economy, or vice-versa? Does success in the world depend on money, or not? The debate over the conditions of happiness will undoubtedly become the demand of history”.

Chances are the student will someday grow up and answer his own questions, unlike the author of the piece, though both have pitched their tents for now on Straw Man Island. In the meantime, chances are neither one will be sweating indoors this summer.

Here’s one reason the tone of the debate matters just as much as the content: The National Police Agency is now beefing up their defense of nuclear power plants and rethinking their anti-terrorist strategies, both for the plants themselves and the cooling facilities. They stationed personnel permanently at the plants shortly after 11 September 2001, and have had squads on 24-hour alert armed with submachine guns and sniper rifles since May 2002. The same sort of people who flew commercial airliners into office buildings have found in the restart of Japanese nuclear power plants the chance to restart their own mojo.

Sakamoto Ryuichi was in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred. More than the attacks themselves, the American response troubled him. He thought the terrorism was a natural consequence of American behavior.

Extensive coverage was given to a report released last week that predicted perhaps 130 deaths would occur in the future from the Fukushima accident. Given less coverage was the fact that, assuming the number is correct, the total corresponds to 30 people per TWh generated. That’s much fewer than the 138 deaths per TWh that result from the electric power generated by fossil fuels, and not nearly as many as the almost 600 elderly people from Fukushima who have died, in part, due to the evacuations.

But if the professionally or avocationally outraged people mentioned in this post care about that, it would only be to resume their call to end fossil fuel generation too.

After all, it’s only electricity.

3 Responses to “Found in translation”

  1. toadold said

    It looks like world wide the peons are souring on the whole Green thing.

  2. toadold said

    So I’ve just got through reading that Japan’s balance of payments are getting out of whack because they are having to import energy supplies, LNG, oil, and coal to make up for the loss of the nuclear power plants. So much for the greens beloved carbon reduction goals. On top of that Japan has some advanced design nuclear power plants that they can sell overseas that don’t need to be installed in coastal and other hazardous areas. Time to raise the tax on beer again I guess.

  3. Roger Pontelthorpe III said

    Despite the points you raise, and whatever one thinks regarding nuclear power generation, I have found the demonstrations to be quite moving when I have seen them being reported on TV.
    It is good to see large numbers of people are becoming engaged in the topic either as anti or anti-anti. It makes Japan feel like a proper democracy.
    R: Thanks for the note.

    I see your point, but I disagree. Disturbances such as these, in which no one listens, are not good for democracy at all. I would also disagree that most of these people are engaged on the topic. The thrill gives people a sense of belonging and being alive. It was a point I originally wanted to make, but probably didn’t do a good job with.

    Having watched what goes on at a few demonstrations myself, I understand what type of people want to get out in front of them. For example, the last one I went to featured a young woman who had just returned from spending her summer chopping sugar cane in Cuba. When describing her experiences there, she talked about how wonderful it was to be “in a free country for a change”. The equivalent people in Japan (Chukaku-ha, et al.) are trying to do the same thing here.

    I read a Japanese site focusing on Fukushima, and the driving impulse is hysteria. Very odd, because the guy who operates the site works in the financial industry, and those people are supposed to look at the facts/numbers without getting hysterical. And he’s not as bad as the commenters, most of whom seem to be foreigners.


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