Monday, 2 January 2012

Pinning down some personal and collective thought in a new year blogweb: Japan`s anti nuclear movement, and the power of music and togetherness

We have danced 365.25 pirouettes about the sun together for another calendar year, so it`s the time again to archive personal and collective thought and to reflect, ponder and then look ahead.

Maybe this blog is my attempt to pin down something of this from my perspective; an english girl with ropey Japanese traveling around Japan at a time of struggle and change here and across the globe.

Themes that keep rotating are not surprisingly a lot to do with Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami: the loss of life, the kindness and consideration people are showing each other, and the growing anti-nuclear feeling among so many while Fukushima still leaks radiation into the sea, air and soil.


Since the begin of Japan`s nuclear history there has understandably always been a strong anti nuclear feeling. The Holocaust which claimed about 21,000 lives is still in living memory.

The Japanese government embraced nuclear power after US President Dwight D. Eisenhower began emphasizing the ‘atoms for peace’ programme in 1953. Now nuclear power accounts for 30% of the countries power, despite the probability of earthquake related accidents.

In 2007 there was a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that damaged a nuclear reactor. After this nuclear opposition arose, and then was quelled by the `nuclear is safe` campaigns by the Japanese government and the electric power companies. Since the 2007 incident TEPCO (Japan`s largest power company who`s responsible for the Fukushima disaster) boasted about the robustness of it`s containment vessels.


But now with the world watching a catastrophe too great for TEPCO to cover up, there is no `nuclear is safe` campaign, and a strong anti nuclear movement is growing. I often hear the word hosha, which means radiation. People are talking about it a lot of the time, and they are protesting about it in their music and art. I`ve heard about musicians and actors giving up their normal work to focus solely on the anti nuclear campaign.

Friends of ours with a baby live near the sea in Tsuruga and close by is a nuclear power station with a history of accidents and a 40day cover-up of radiation leakage in 1981. Recently residents have started a law suit against Japan Atomic Power Company who own the plant. (Read more about it on wikipedia - here) Yet our friends explained the complexity of the situation. Communities have become dependent upon power stations for employment. Areas have got rich and people (especially land owners who have sold land for high prices) have got used to new wealthy lifestyles. So there is local opposition to the anti nuclear movement. Many people want change. Others don`t.

anti nuclear power petition in Nagoya and badges by MARU

occasionally the harvesting of wind power,
slowly on the increase?

documentaries and adverts on the television reveal a growing solar power campaign


I can`t read kanji yet so there`s a lot that I`m missing, but sometimes I see `SAVE ENERGY` posters in cafes and shops. Isn`t this a very sensible idea that we should all be embracing? Aren`t we a lazy generation who`s grown up with luxury and comfort? Aren`t we very easy to manipulate by the electric power companies who want us to have all our gadgets a-whirring and a-blazing and a-profit spinning for them? Shouldn`t we all simply switch all the unnecessary gadgets off ?

(as I turn off my angle poise light)

tap tap tap
(as I dim my laptop screen)

(come on Rachael try harder)

And shouldn`t the PACHINKO companies (as one example) be forced by the government to tone down their light pollution and electricity consumption? Pachinko(gambling parlors) are one of the biggest money wielders in Japan it seems, and probably one of the biggest energy guzzlers, closely followed by convenience stores, although this is just me guessing.
I suppose the pachinko companies have a lot of control over the government?

many are pondering


Since the earthquake I`ve experienced the kindness and consideration that people are showing each other in Japan, the coming together through music and other activities to support each other, the coming together to fight for the collective need for change. So even though Japan on the one hand feels like a risky place to live, I am being drawn more and more to stay because of the feelings of kindness, togetherness and positivity from Japanese people.

And through my experiences here I think I have a much better understanding of Japanese values such as kindness, consideration, patience, cooperation, positivity etc. Maybe these are characteristics deep in the Japanese psyche honed from the necessity for strength in numbers in the face of natural and man made disaster? Or could it more simply be seen as a sort of balancing act on mass - the desire to come together to make things good again after so much destruction and sadness?

Inadasan, a bass player I`ve been lucky enough to play live and record with, has 5 children and described the nuclear situation to me as a very very bad thing for the whole of Japan, like a dark cloud that has spread over everyone. He then spoke with such certainty in his voice about the importance of music.

The week after the Tsunami I played two concerts with Inadasan and a group of musicians that included Tennis Coats, Naoto Kawate, and Yamagisan who is an incredible improvisational percussionist from Sendai which was badly effected by the earthquake and tsunami. The concerts were to welcome her friends to safety in Osaka, and to raise some money for them as they had lost their home. The event was also simply to come together, to share, to make something positive. We played sessions in various groups. Inadasan, Yamagisan, Popo`s trumpet player Nobukisan and a 9year old girl from Sendai played with me. It was such a privilege to be part of it, and it made me realize more than ever the importance of music. It helps us come together and share collective thought and feeling. It helps people grieve, understand and accept. It creates strength and positivity. And it has been happening in this way all around the world for thousands of years.

Tennis Coats at the Guggenheim concert, the week after the tsunami

***Ichi and I will play at OTONOWA with Tennis Coats and Yumbo (Yamagisan`s band) in Sendai in February for a concert in support of the anti nuclear campaign***

Umeda Tetsuya (performance artist and musician) -
performing in Osaka the week after the Tsunami

Naoto Kawate and Michiko at Cafe Yugue, Kyoto
soon after the Tsunami

Playing with Yamagisan`s new percussion invention - beads in balloons -
at The Guggenheim last month


I`ve always been a fan of D.I.Y.
School does`t really teach you what you need so you`ve got to experiment to find the skills and tools you need to do what you want to do. Many friends and contemporaries have found their way in life this way too.

Up until now I have mostly worked alone. But in the present climate I feel like it`s so important to join forces and do it together. Even if it`s simply for the positive experience of communication and sharing. But I expect much more can come out of it when you join forces and share skills and ideas. So recently I have decided to mostly focus on collaborations, both here in Japan, and with people in the UK and else where. For once I will make the most of the postal service.


One of the things I`m doing this months is sending onigiri (japanese rice ball) recipe sheets that I`ve made by post and asking for photos of people making them. Today Rozi Plain sent me pictures. Nice one Rozi!
If you`d like to take part please e-mail me your address at
(It will most probably peta out at the end of January, but feel free to contact me after then, you may be lucky!)

onigiri - "better than a sandwich"


In June there will be a group exhibition at Utrophia in London with Ichi, Rozi Plain, Francois, Kate and Jesse of This is the Kit and I expect others will join in too. We will do workshops and skill swaps, as well as showing our various projects and doing some concerts. Keep posted for more information.


In Japan, as well as the ongoing music collaborations with Inadasa, Yamagisan and a human beatboxer, among other musicians, I`m doing some textile collaborations with various friends for an exhibition here in March. I`ve also very recently started playing clarinet with my new friend David who is from New Zealand. For similar reasons as me he loves Japan and so keeps coming back too. He started out here as a graphic designer 20 years ago and formed an art and design collective who have exhibitions and run an alternative music venue in Tokyo. When he became disillusioned by city life and all that goes with it he moved to a mountain in Kamakura where he started Inaka Deluxe, a countryside collective. He has talked of his travels, learning a form of permaculture, learning about bees, building clay ovens, doing music and art workshops for both children and adults, and doing a lot in places that have been destroyed by the tsunami. A very inspiring fellow. He said something recently that has stuck with me - that in these times you need to be a change surfer. It sounds fun! We`d better limber up for 2012 and onwards!

Inaka Deluxe

change surfers