The New York Review of Books, November 8, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
Japan is a country where citizens conform to views of reality that they know
are false, to protect public order or to save face. But the 3/11 tsunami and
nuclear disaster revived the culture of protest. Since the nuclear meltdowns
at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, thousands of protesters have demonstrated
regularly in Tokyo.
Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo, 77, draws parallels
between 3/11 and 1945, when the Japanese became the first victims of atomic
bombs. Ito Keiichi, 94, was moved by the spirit of self-sacrifice he
observed in the firefighters and nuclear plant workers who tried to contain
the damage at the stricken nuclear reactors. They reminded him of the
Japanese during the war. Some Japanese TV commentators compared the heroes
of Fukushima to kamikaze pilots.
The conservative newspaper tycoon
Shoriki Matsutaro was responsible for importing U.S. nuclear technology to
Japan. Before the 2011 earthquake, about a third of Japanese electricity was
generated by nuclear energy. A cosy relationship between government
bureaucrats, national and local politicians, and big business allowed the
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to monopolize energy in large areas of
Japan. TEPCO bought the acquiescence of local communities with corporate
largesse and spent vast advertising budgets on the national media.
Journalistic conformity is institutionalized in Japan. The mainstream press
much too often reflects the official version of reality. During the nuclear
disaster at Fukushima, NHK never included a critic of nuclear energy in its
exhaustive daily TV broadcasts. The Japanese mainstream press decided to
stick together and pass on the official truth that there was no danger of a
meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
One hero in the Fukushima
story is Sakurai Katsunobu, mayor of Minamisoma, near the Fukushima Daiichi
plant. On March 24, he put a camcorded message on YouTube, with English
subtitles, asking journalists and helpers to come to his town, where people
were faced with starvation. The video went viral, Sakurai became a
celebrity, aid poured in, and reporters came. NHK was still sending out
reassuring messages on national TV.
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