K.E. - Anti-nuclear movement participant


K.E., 32

Japanese Language Instructor.  Anthropologist. 

Anti-nuclear movement participant

Some people say this [talking about radiation] is too much or too serious.  But some scientists said it will be difficult for people to stay and live in northern Japan.

One big difference with Chernobyl is that the Japanese nuclear accident is the first case where the capital was affected.   So, the government made a decision that they would no longer tell the people about the danger, because that would directly affect the capital city and the whole social system of Japan.
And the level of contamination is much more serious and wider than they expected.  So the only thing they could do is let the people live in that situation.  They could not evacuate [the capital].

One reason why the Japanese people aren't aware [of this situation] is because of the cultural mentality - to ignore things - and because of the governmental policies and the media.  They [the government and the media] are coordinating to conceal the problem.  NHK [the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, Japan's national public broadcasting organization] never ever says, "It's contaminated."

I also feel the similarities to when Japan stepped into WW2.  Even though the national power was much smaller than the US, even the military leaders could never say no, because of the atmosphere.  They couldn't say anything [to go against the situation].  It was strange to me to read about this as a student [as I couldn't understand it], but now I really feel this.   Now people in the government really feel as if they are a part of this homogeneous operation. 

Is there a stigma attached to talking about these things?

Yes.  I think Japanese people sometimes feel far too concerned about how others look and think of them.  Even if they don't think about you, but always in people's minds we imagine a stigma and a homogeneous relationship of pressure.  And this is very strong.  Much stronger than expected.

We have an expression, "空気を読む" ["kuki wo yomu"], "Reading the atmosphere."  Maintaining harmony.  But that harmony only exists in your mind.  It never truly exists between people. [This expression describes the ability to intuitively read how people are feeling and thinking without the use of verbal communication].

I was talking with a Chinese colleague and a Japanese colleague and we started comparing salaries last night, and I found that we all had low salaries.  My Chinese colleague said I should quit because my salary was so low.  I felt very Japanese, because I had refrained [up until then] from comparing salaries.  This is the Japanese way.  Why hadn't I discussed this frankly and directly before?  We cannot say things frankly and directly.  If we did, this would improve the situation.  But we believe it is a virtue to refrain from saying what we want to say.  We believe everyone thinks this way.  But once we switch from this culture's way of thinking, we can see Japan is very hierarchical.  The people at the top are consolidating power.  I think they never have such a virtue.  This was a virtue intended to control people. 

My parents' generation, their source of information is NHK and the mass media, only.  So from the point of view of the ruling class, it's very easy to brainwash people.  We imported tools from the US - the mass media, baseball in the 50s.  And since then, until the internet came out, TV and newspapers still have a lot of influence on younger people.  Recently, according to some reports, younger people are getting less interested in TV and more interested in social media and the internet.  But younger people hardly ever vote.  They don't affect the government.  But older people do. 

How about PM 2.5 and yellow sand.  They have daily reports on the status of these pollutants, but do they have daily reports on radiation?

No, never.   The Japanese media never informs people about the radiation information.  We had to look at German weather reports to get news on how and where the radiation was traveling.  This is how the government and media try to conceal the actual danger of this disaster.  Instead of informing people of the disaster, they used propaganda.  [After the disaster] the biggest advertising agency in Japan, Dentsu, helped to release propaganda declaring how it was OK to eat food from Fukushima.  It was all over TV.  That was when I realized that the Japanese government and the rich of Japan had made a decision not to save the people and the nation, but to save their profits.  I think this was the basic political strategy that they made. 




All images and interviews © 2013 Neil Witkin
Translators: Yoko Mada and Yuko Murakami
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