Print issue SPEX No. 375 focuses upon anger and resistance in pop culture. For this reason SPEX invited artists from all over the globe to answer the question: Is Anger An Energy? Read the full-length interviews online only. Today: Noriko Manabe from Japan.
What does anger mean to Japanese pop music? And how important is resistance?
Most Japanese musicians that record on major record labels or are managed by a major talent agency eschew any outward signs of anger, and they avoid taking a political stance. The music industry censors records that „disturb the national or public order“, while broadcasting rules prohibit anything that „disgrace governmental authority“ or “influences topics under national deliberation.”
This isn’t to say that artists or the population at large aren’t angry at trends in national politics or the handling of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Major artists like the international composer and original member of YMO, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Masafumi Gotoh of Asian Kung-Fu Generation have spoken out at rallies and held benefit concerts for antinuclear activist organizations. Entertainers who speak out can be informally blacklisted, so only artists who are secure in their fan bases can really become political.
The musicians who are really on the front lines of resistance are the independent or underground artists, who aren’t as beholden to major-label pressures. Rappers like ECD, Akuryō, and UCD or punk rockers like Ko Slang have been at the forefront of demonstrations performing there, and engaging protesters with call and response patterns. They have also recorded many songs on sociopolitical issues. Anger is an important motivator in social movements, and these artists help people to express this anger and mobilize them politically.
„Given the vagueness of laws and the seeming arbitrariness of the infractions that are subject to them, activists are concerned that they’d be used as an excuse to enact surveillance on the population and discourage activism.“
How and against which things are people protesting?
After decades of political apathy, social movements were strongly revived and spread to the general population with outrage over the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In the weeks following the accident, many citizens became convinced that the nuclear disaster was the result of a „nuclear village“ – tight-knit, collusive relationships among bureaucrats, local politicians near sites, academics, the media, and the nuclear industry that helped to keep nuclear power at the forefront of energy policy.
Japan is the most earthquake-prone country in the world, yet it had 54 nuclear reactors at the time of the Fukushima accident. About 70% of Japanese residents want a phase-out of nuclear power, yet the Abe government keeps restarting reactors. The protests were not only about the handling of the Fukushima accident itself but against this system which hampered true national debate on energy policy from taking place.
These protests led to more frequent demonstrations by citizens on a number of issues, including protests against racism in Japan and the building of the Henoko military base in Okinawa. But the most urgency has been felt over a series of bills forced through by the Abe government that many citizens fear will negatively impact civil liberties. These include the Secrecy Bill, passed 2013, that would put journalists in jail for revealing state secrets, and the Security Bill, passed 2015, which made it possible for Japanese troops to fight overseas „to defend an ally“. Tens of thousands surrounded the Diet and the prime minister’s official residence for days and weeks on end protesting these bills; they would chant to hip hop beats.
Now, the government is in the process of forcing through the Conspiracy Bill, which would make it a crime to „plan“ a crime, even before that crime is committed. Given the vagueness of the law and the seeming arbitrariness of the infractions that are subject to the law, activists are concerned that it would be used as an excuse to enact surveillance on the population and discourage activism.
Taking a look at the current state of the world, did the people’s urge to take a stand, to speak out, to act get stronger?
Japanese people were protesting in earnest in 2011; this activism peaked in 2012, when over 200,000 people protested on several occasions. Activism started to taper off after the LDP regained power in December 2012. As mentioned above, large crowds still gathered to protest the Secrecy Bill and the Security Bill; the largest demonstration against the latter had about 120,000 protesters. Compared to those protests, the Conspiracy Bill protests seem relatively small (the largest so far attracted about 10,000), but the bill has not gotten much press or explanation.
Is there room for more than symbolic protest within the realm of pop culture in your scene? How can pop culture bring about change, even beyond the already converted?
I believe that music has played an important role in raising awareness and in mobilizing protesters. Much of protest music today is on YouTube or SoundCloud, often anonymously. One such song – It Was Always A Lie by Kazuyoshi Saito – had a huge impact on the antinuclear movement. He uploaded it in early April 2011, just a few weeks after the disaster, when people were being discouraged from celebrating the cherry blossom season and were cooped up in their homes, unable to express their fears about radiation or other effects from the nuclear disaster.
The song said in blunt terms that the safety mantra about nuclear power, forwarded by textbooks and television commercials, had always been a lie, that radiation was spreading, and that the electric power industry was not taking responsibility. It captured the inchoate thoughts that many people had but could not express in words. Everyone also knew the tune, because it was borrowed from Saito’s own hit I Always Loved You, which had gotten extensive airplay as the theme song for a Shiseido cosmetics commercial. Soon after, people took to the Tokyo streets in the first massive antinuclear demonstration, and they sang this song as they marched. It captured people’s thoughts and converted them, and it mobilized people on the streets. This song was played and sung in many demonstrations well into 2012. It’s probably the single most impactful song of the antinuclear protests.
Alle Kurzinterviews mit Künstlerinnen und Künstlern aus aller Welt zum Thema Wut & Widerstand, die im Rahmen des Schwerpunkts in der Printausgabe SPEX No. 375 in gekürzter Form zu lesen sind, werden nach und nach online veröffentlicht. Das Heft kann im Onlineshop versandkostenfrei bestellt werden.