Friday, December 14, 2012

Japan at Crossroads on Eve of Election: Top-Down Shock Doctrine or Citizen-Led Social Change?

With Japan’s Lower House parliamentary election scheduled for this Sunday, parties and candidates are rushing to fill the anticipated vacuum to be created by the likely losses of the reigning Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Campaigning for many major parties kicked off early this month in Fukushima prefecture, where candidates emphasized their various strategies for post-3.11 Japan. While this includes openly anti-nuclear messages on the part of several, including the newly formed Mirai no To (Future of Japan Party)—a coalition that has recently brought a number of smaller parties into its fold that wish to end the country’s use of nuclear power—not all parties share this stance.

Notoriously pro-nuclear Tokyo ex-governor Shintaro Ishihara recently joined forces with Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto to form the new Nippon Ishin no kai (Japan Restoration Party), which has continuously changed its position on the nuclear power issue. Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Shinzo Abe, who many say is next in line for the Prime Minister position, has said that a zero-nuclear policy is “irresponsible”.

With pre-election polls suggesting that the LDP is poised for a “landslide win,” many are incredulous at the possibility that the party responsible for building up the nuclear industry in the first place during its long postwar reign may be put back in power so soon after last year’s nuclear disaster. Greenpeace staff member Kazue Suzuki put it most succinctly: "This is the first election since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and if it does not result in an anti-nuclear government, that will be one of the wonders of the world.”

There are thankfully some bright spots on the election landscape, including Tokyo gubernatorial candidate Kenji Utsunomiya, although he faces a tough race with favored candidate (and Ishihara protégé)  Naoki Inose. In general, however, with the suddenly-called election being held the year following the 3.11 crisis, the media now spinning (pun intended) out of control about military threats from China and Korea, and many confused voters unsure how to make sense of the myriad of smaller political forces cropping up to challenge the existing LDP vs. DPJ two-party framework, it does not seem out of place to invoke some version of Naomi Klein’s theory regarding the shock “doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.”

Indeed, the prospect of a re-crowned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe implementing his vision of a Japan that has been beefed-up both economically and militarily is even more difficult to swallow when considering the failures on the part of past governments to confront the human costs that their policies have directly engendered. As usual, then, it has been artists who have stepped in to fill this gap, voicing the suffering that mainstream government and media channels have left unspoken.

The most epic among these is the 17-minute song “Human Error” by Kyoto-based band Frying Dutchman, which directly names the socioeconomic and political forces responsible for the recent nuclear disaster. Another recent deeply poignant piece, which may be viewed at the top of this blog post, is “Children of Doomsday” from San Francisco Bay Area-based artist Maya Stickney, who uses muted drawings and haunting music to make her point about the forgotten children of Fukushima.

The strongest case urging both politicians and local citizens to embark on a course for change rather than “more of the same”, however, comes directly from Fukushima residents themselves. The documentary film “Women of Fukushima”—which comes to us from Paul Johanessen, who directed the powerful short film “Then and Now” about tsunami survivors in the city of Ishinomaki—makes this point startlingly clear in the last comment of this three-minute clip:

“We are fighting to show that there are more important things than money.”

Lower House elections in Japan will be held Sunday, December 16th.

The Nuclear Free Now! global conference takes place Saturday, December 15th-Sunday, December 16th in Tokyo and Koriyama (Fukushima). 

To sign a petition urging continued economic support for Fukushima families choosing voluntary evacuation, please sign this petition from Avaaz.

--Kimberly Hughes


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