Contributing Editors’ Note: We present our next Society for East Asian Anthropology (SEAA) article series on the social movements that are presently occurring in Japan, with David H Slater (Sophia U) as this series’ curator. What follows is his introduction to the context and content of the four forthcoming reports in this series.
The triple disasters (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown) in Northern Japan in March 2011 stimulated a level of and focus to political activity that has not been seen in postwar Japan. The lack of preparedness for tsunami and the brutal hardship suffered by the wave with almost 20,000 dead or missing, was compounded by the massive evacuation, where more than 400,000 rural residents became refuges in their own country, forced into what was then termed “temporary” housing.
Now, four years later, it does not look so temporary. The Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor suffered one of the biggest meltdowns in history, leading to radiation evacuation with no realistic plans to return. The government’s failure to distribute accurate and timely information about often life-threatening situations, the prioritizing of nuclear capital (Tepco) and economic recovery over basic considerations of personal and community safely have led even the most “regular” (that is, not politically engaged) Japanese to begin to question the capability, the sincerity and even their goals of their own government.
While the instances of social movement in the cases of Korea and HK are more focused on the spectacle of confrontational urban youth movement, the Japanese case is relatively more muted, but also maybe wider, involving a large number of diverse actors and groups from different parts of the country. They often combine a number of more loosely-connected issues, that in different ways trace back to the Japanese state’s failures in response to crisis.
This article series consists of four short reports, all by junior scholars currently in or just out of the field.
The first article, “Activist Mothers and Radical Women,” is by three Japanese students, Danzuka Haruka (Tokyo U), Houser Maya (Waseda U), and Uno Satsuki (Tokyo U), who were part of the Voices of Tohoku Project, and are now at different graduate programs in Japan. They show the unlikely politicization of mothers and housewives.
The second, “Crafting Interactive Journalism,” is by Elizabeth Rodwell (Rice U), who has just defended her dissertation on new forms of media activism that links social and mainstream production and consumption.
The third, “The Absent Crowd,” is by Love Kindstrand (U Chicago), who is on his way to Tokyo on a Japan Foundation dissertation research grant, and is writing a piece on the ambiguous use of the “figure of the crowd” among youth anti-nuke protestors.
The fourth article, “Student Protests Returns to Tokyo,” is by Robin O’Day, currently a post-doctoral fellow at Tsubuka University. He has worked on freeter and youth politics more generally and here, documents the emergence of a new and unexpected form of university-based activism through Voices of Protest Japan.
David H. Slater is the director of the Institute of Comparative Culture and professor of cultural anthropology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts, and the Graduate Program in Japanese Studies at Sophia University.