By Ian Buruma
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.


AR This is a stub for a future longer page.