From Jasmine to Hydrangea: Anti-Nuclear Movement in Japan after the Catastrophe of Fukushima

This article presents a new perspective of the social movement in post-catastrophe Japan. In 2011, there were breaking waves of protest movements known as the “Arab Spring”, which began due to the self-immolation of a young Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, and spread to Egypt and other countries, as the discontent of citizens gained momentum. This sort of multiplication of a movement, without any regard for borders, showed that a new strain of political disobedience had emerged in the public sphere, not only in countries known for the stability of their democratic system, but also in those states whose political tendencies were considered incompatible with democracy1The year 2011 began with a large shock, but there was also an invigorating hope as the world witnessed a new type of democracy in the making.

At the very same moment, a country in the Far East was also literally shaken by a massive shock, brought by the triple catastrophe of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the meltdown of the nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi2. It has already been eight years since this shock hit Japan on 11th March 2011, and inflicted a tremendous damage to the society. The aftermaths of the catastrophe are endless, with 182,000 refugees3 fleeing from the radioactivity in and outside of Fukushima in search for a safer life until today. A devastating range of consequences comprises not only the material ravages of the earthquake and the tsunami, but also the invisible and persisting contamination of radioactivity4 and the disruption of the national narrative based on a vision of modernity, which was epitomized by nuclear energy. The catastrophe of Fukushima proved that we were never sufficiently cautious regarding what Ulrich Beck anticipated after the accident of Chernobyl by stating the “risk society”5. Moreover, this risk is so heightened today that Jean-Pierre Dupuy, a French philosopher of science who recognized the possibilities of the catastrophic events that are latent in our societies, mentioned the “normalization of the extreme events”6.

Facing the exposure of this capital riskit seemed as though the people could barely manage to cope after the physical and psychological shock of the loss they had suffered immediately after the catastrophe. However, a few weeks later, we witnessed another shock; that is, the Japanese people erupted from within. After the long silence of almost a half-century since the student movements, people finally started raising their voices against the government on a national scale, and moved beyond the apolitical tendency, which had strongly characterized Japanese society. There were certainly several skeptics casting doubt on this nascent movement, highlighting that the recent political consequences have drifted somewhat towards conservatism. Even among the activists, there is self-directed criticism revolving around the method of action. Despite this, an analysis of this movement in the internal context of Japanese society, as well as externally from an international perspective, reveals the full extent of the politicization process of the Japanese people, and how the worldwide protest movement has influenced them since 2011. In the process of the growth of public action that has been newly (re)born in Japan, the uprisings on a global scale have inspired and encouraged the awakening of Japanese citizenship, demonstrating the interconnection of societies regardless of distance or borders. 

From the Apolitical Society to the Awakening

When we think about the social movement in Japan, we have to take into account that, as mentioned above, Japanese society until 2011 had been marked by its rather strong apolitical tendency7. The collective mobilization to pursue political and social changes had not been sufficiently visible in Japan before 20118. Neither the concept of demonstration, nor spontaneous action in the public sphere, were part of daily life for most Japanese. Speaking about politics, whether in public or private and regardless of the generation, was considered a behavior to be avoided. In general, public opinion tended to consider demonstrations or public gatherings as disturbances to the fabric of society. In other words, for most Japanese people, there was no motivation to devote their spare time to protesting on the street and jeopardizing their calm and peaceful lifestyle.

In this kind of society, how was it possible that there could be such an outbreak of public protest? In fact, it was ironically the catastrophe that created the conditions that allowed its emergence. Like other protest movements observed on a global scale since 2010, despite the difference of the object of the contestation, it was the anger of the people, when faced with the disaster of Fukushima, which broke Japanese society’s silence. Many demonstrators have testified that, despite their usual opposition to public action, the motor that pushed them to go to the street was their anger toward the government, and above all, toward TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company)9, which, in their eyes, were neglecting the severity of the accident at Fukushima and its impact on people in the area. The following is a testimony from a woman I met at the demonstration in Tokyo, who I interviewed about her experience of joining in the demonstration. Risa works for a small retail store while living with her family, and, being in her late twenties, had had no experience of engaging in public protest.

After the earthquake, and then the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, first of all I was completely stupefied and I didn’t know what to do. But for the victims who were forcibly displaced from Fukushima, and also for us who live in the Kanto (the region including the metropolitan area of Tokyo), we had to worry about our lives. And faced with this situation, I found that, in myself, the anger was coming up from the bottom little by little. The accident at Fukushima had happened because of them, so why was it us and the other victims who had to suffer? And why were they not doing anything other than repeating the same phrase, “there is no immediate influence on the human body”? But I never knew what I could do. It was at this moment I found out that there were people gathering in front of the head office of TEPCO. I decided to go and join them. Although I wasn’t sure how I could help, I knew I couldn’t stay at home doing nothing10.

According to the testimony of another activist, Ryota, who was in his thirties and was one of the most engaged people of his generation, the same kind of anger and sense of distrust toward the government had been accumulating since the 1990s11. These feelings were especially shared by the young generation, due to the neo-liberal politics which, by destabilizing the employment situation, had caused an increase in poverty12. Despite this situation, people either didn’t dare do anything to effect a change, or couldn’t. Although there had been some public actions and demonstrations regarding social issues during the 2000s such as the rally against the Iraq war or the gathering for supporting the homeless, they had not grown to the point that the core grievances were picked up by people on a larger scale. However, with the triple catastrophe of the earthquake, the tsunami and Fukushima, the political landscape in Japan changed irrevocably.

Yoshiyuki Sato, in his reflection on philosophy in the post-Fukushima age, and employing Judith Butler’s notion of “subjection”13, made a remark on the state/subject relationship regarding the nuclear issue and harbored the hope that the catastrophe of Fukushima can be an event in this sense: “By certain ‘events’, the desire of subjection could transform into the desire of de-subjection, that is to say ability to act with an aim of resistance. In other words, the ‘event’ can produce the ability to act with an aim of resistance to power. And the accident of Fukushima corresponds to this ‘event’”14. The experience of such an “event”, which allows people to rupture with the state of subjection, ignited the political consciousness of the Japanese people and brought about an awareness of citizenship, laying the groundwork for the outbreak of the anti-nuclear movement. At the same time, this movement incited people who had been outside the existing political framework to participate in the protest movement. This growing awareness was the one of the factors that enabled the expansion, sharing, and development of the movement to the point that people began referring to it as “the Revolution”.

The Outbreak of the Anti-Nuclear Movement 

After the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th 2011, the archipelago was overwhelmed by spontaneous self-censorship much worsened. The entire nation’s attention was focused on Tohoku, which was the most afflicted area, including the Fukushima prefecture. There was a strangely united kind of atmosphere, wherein anyone who criticized the government or TEPCO over their handling of the situation of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, would be considered unpatriotic (“hi-kokumin”, literally “non-nationhood”) in much the same way as during the Second World War. In this context, where the critical mind was oppressed more than ever, and in a society where demonstration was no part of the daily lives of most people, the breakthrough came with the small gathering in front of the TEPCO head office. On March 12th, the gathering included the members of the action group against nuclear energy15, and by March 18th, other young activists arrived to condemn the corporation over the accident. As this gathering gained momentum, people shared information via SNS so that the number of participants increased exponentially. A month after the catastrophe, on April 10th, a series of demonstrations began in Kōenji, the popular neighborhood near the center of Tokyo. This phenomenon, entitled “Kōenji: No nuke rally!!!!!!”, gathered about 15,000 demonstrators16Although it was for most of the participants the first rally in their life, it became one of the largest gatherings out of the public actions that had been conducted for the cause of Fukushima up to that moment. Such a high number of participants had a great impact on the demonstrators themselves, as well as on society. In addition, the emergence of this demonstration changed the configuration of the political landscape for many Japanese people.

Besides the one in Kōenji, other demonstrations were also organized by civil groups, especially around Tokyo17, to advocate the shutdown of the nuclear power plant. However, the demonstration at Kōenji was specific. In fact, this movement was conceived and put into practice by the group called “Shirōto no Ran (Amateurs’ Revolt)”. The group, which basically runs thrift shops in Kōenji, often organizes collective actions using unconventional slogans and methods18, with the ultimate aim of creating an autonomous society19. After more than ten years of local activity, a network of young civil activists, or a circle of supporters and local residents had already gathered around them, and they knew how to mount demonstrations in unconventional ways. Their experience contributed to the construction of the base of the movement in the early days, in a society where most people had never participated in protest. From the starting point of Shirōto no Ran’s activity, and the demonstration at Kōenji, the anti-nuclear movement had a deep impact on Japanese society, giving rise to demonstrations not only in the metropolitan area of Tokyo, but also in the many cities in the regions. Consequently, multiple amateur activists such as Risa, who joined in the movement without any previous experience, contributed to the growth of voices at a grass-roots level.  

Demonstrators à Tokyo, 2011.

Demonstrators in Tokyo, 2011.

In this process of expansion, the anti-nuclear movement had been developed by its own force and by the motivation of the people. It could be described as an “amateur’s revolt”. It was neither members of labor unions nor radicalized students who created this movement. Instead, it was the so-called “ordinary” Japanese people, who for the most part had no experience in raising their voices for the cause of respublica, the common good. In fact, during the interview with a participant in protest, I encountered the Japanese term “futsū no hito tachi/hito bito”, meaning “ordinary people”, several times, referring to people with no previous interest in either politics or public action and with no experience in activism or demonstration. They were saying to themselves that “this is the movement of ‘ordinary’ people”. New social actors indeed, who Farhad Khosrokhavar defined as the “would-be middle class”20in the North African context, carried out the protest movement. In this sense, we can say that, with this protest movement, the “ordinary” actor entered the political repertoire in Japan.

“No to Restart the Nuclear Plant!”: When the Term “Revolution” Once Again Comes to Light in Japan

In some respects, the anti-nuclear movement in Japan can be considered as the Japanese Maidan movement. Nilüfer Göle, in her analysis of the Gezi movement in Istanbul, said that “these new Maïdan-like movements defy political authoritarianism and reject neocapitalism. They deconstruct the division between the Orient and the Occident but also between religious and secular. They open a new space, a public space for democratic imaginations, integrating the trace of what is personal and of daily micro-politics in the democratic universe”21. Much like the Gezi movement overcoming the division between the Orient and the Occident, between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the anti-nuclear movement in Japan created a new space for the democratic imagination. In fact, a microanalysis of the discourse of the demonstrators revealed that for a society where activism in the public sphere had been almost absent, there was a source of inspiration sparking the imagination of the demonstrators. This was the protest movement that had been propagated all over the world since the end of 2010, particularly the initial impact of the Tunisian Revolution, as well as the image of “the square” as an emancipated space, which had appeared spontaneously in Tahrir Square in Egypt. These two movements lent a visible and adaptable model to the mindset of the Japanese demonstrators.

In the midst of the growing wave of excitement, Shirōto no Ran and the other groups collaborated in organizing the demonstration on June 11th at Shinjuku, a major administrative and commercial district in Tokyo. They chose Shinjuku because it has the largest possible space in Tokyo, in front of Shinjuku Station, the busiest railway station in Japan. They planned to occupy this space to recreate the spirit of Tahrir Square. In fact, at this stage, the number of participants was much higher than what the organizers had envisaged, so there was not enough space for all the protestors. Because of this, the groups had to take turns occupying the space, leading to chaotic activity that succeeded in bringing Tahrir Square to mind. Tamiki Hara, a Japanese political scientist, described the scene as follows: 

The Square in front of Shinjuku station turned out to be a representation of Tahrir Square. Some people were listening intently to the intellectuals or to the other people speaking on the left wing's campaign truck, while others were dancing like crazy. Besides them, there were bands of drummers beating out a rhythm, and people who were talking together and drinking beer, who had met during the demonstration. The elderly people, the youth, the children, the salaried workers, the housewives, the NEETs, the foreigners, the handicapped; everyone behaved as they liked, and there was, curiously, a sense of unity created. There were 20,000 people in front of Shinjuku station, which is quite busy at any time. Despite this, the square was well organized thanks to the spontaneous attentions of the participants. Although there was no leader, there was a real solidarity in this emancipated humanity22.

On September 11th 2011, the movement reached a turning point. On the six-month anniversary of the catastrophe, collective actions were organized in every corner of the country. Above all, the sit-in known as “KEISANSHŌ Mae Tento Hiroba” (the Square of Tents in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (KEISANSHŌ)) was started, which is still going on today and has become one of the most symbolic forms of public action against nuclear politics23. However, as a result of this growth since April 2011, the police cracked down on the movement with greater force. The demonstration held in Shinjuku on September 11th saw worse oppression than ever, with the arrest of 12 persons. This record number of arrests for a single event spread shockwaves through the demonstrators. Apart from this, the movement started to stagnate, six months after the catastrophe. Faced with this situation, the core members of the groups organizing the demonstrations united to create the network referred to as the “Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes”24. Meanwhile, in spite of the voices from the street, the government had already started preparing for the resumption of operations at nuclear facilities since June 2011, and had adopted a new stress test as a security measure. In response, the members of the “Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes” started organizing a rally in March 2012 in front of the office of the Prime Minister, known as the “(SYUSYŌ) KANTEI Mae Demo”, in order to send their message more directly to the political decision-making body. This was also the result of the crackdown on the movement, as they struggled to find a free space where they could express their thoughts and act as they wish without any obstruction from the authorities. In front of the “KANTEI”, the center of Japanese politics, and the closest place possible to the political decision-making body for the ordinary citizens, they began to create a “public square”. Standing in the pedestrian area in front of the “KANTEI”, people gathered from 6pm to 8pm every Friday to show their support

Further proof of the influence of the worldwide protest movement at that moment was presented in June 2012, when the anti-nuclear movement in Japan gained its greatest degree of momentum. This was when the then Prime Minister officially announced the decision to restart operations at the nuclear plant in Ōi (in Fukui prefecture, East Japan) owned by KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc.). After the announcement on June 16th, voices of opposition exploded all over the nation. This was especially true in Tokyo, where even people who had not yet joined the demonstrations started participating in the rallies, especially in front of KANTEI. Tens of thousands of citizens demanded not only the withdrawal of the decision, but also the collective dismissal of the government in the name of “protecting the people’s lives”25With this reinforced clamor, and above all the explosive apex of the protest action, people started calling the movement, following the model of the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, the “紫陽花革命(Hydrangea Revolution)”. As a flower that blossoms in June, when this movement gained the most powerful force on the street, as well as being inspired by a poem in which the author described the demonstrators as “tiny flowers of the street,” the terms of “紫陽花and “アジサイ” (both meaning “hydrangea”) were gradually diffused on the Internet through SNS using the hashtag “革命” (Revolution)26. Another activist, Karin Amamiya, a writer on social problems and one of the most engaged citizens, described the excitement of witnessing the emergence of the “Hydrangea Revolution” in her blog: 

I am witnessing a historical moment right now. Rather, I am in the middle of it. This weekend, I trembled so many times with emotion. […] As far as I could see, there was a crowd of people everywhere. People filled up the pavement in front of the office of the Prime Minister, holding placards saying things like ‘No to the restart of the nuclear plant in Ōi’, ‘STOP!’, ‘No to Noda [the name of the Prime Minister at the time]’, ‘Stop the restart!’. I looked for the end of the line of people, but I couldn’t find it, as it continued endlessly. Everyone there was shouting at the tops of their voices ‘No to restart!’ toward the office of the Prime Minister towering in front of them. The men in suits on the way back home, the high-school girls, the young mothers holding their babies. Even the guys with their families. The elderly, the kids, the students, the youth groups, the cosplayers, the guys who beat the drums. […] ‘I’ve heard that there’s more than 30,000 people!’ or ‘Already 40,000!’, my friends told me each time they saw me. Then, I heard for the first time the words ‘Hydrangea Revolution’ that day. It designates this situation. When the Jasmine Revolution happened in Tunisia, it was still before the catastrophe, and this country didn’t yet know about the explosion of the nuclear plant. Most of us were completely signed up to the myth of the security of the nuclear plant and would never have thought of joining in a protest action in front of the Prime Minister’s office one and a half years later27.

Consequently, the “Hydrangea Revolution” has become one of the largest public events ever, having mobilized 200,000 participants, which is just behind the number involved in the student movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In this “revolution”, there were no mobilizations made by the political parties or the labor unions, which had dominated the protest movement when the social movement still existed in Japan. The groups at the core of this anti-nuclear movement were all founded by citizens. Like the protest movement that spread all over the world in 2011, there was no central leader or ideology. Throughout this anti-nuclear movement, the self-resurrection of the “ordinary” Japanese people for their own sake has been exemplified. For most of them, it was their very first experience of being in the public sphere, of speaking out in public as a citizen. The victims of Fukushima raised their voices to demand justice. People living in Tokyo demonstrated on behalf of these victims but also for their own lives and for their families, facing the authorities which withheld and manipulated the information about the radiation effects and even the facts of the meltdown of the nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi. They contested in search of the truth of what was happening on their land, to their body, and to the environment. 

In fact, the nuclear issue that the movement fought against concerned everyone equally – not just the demonstrators or the victims of Fukushima, but anyone living in Japan. Regardless of nationality, age, sex, class, and even including the police who cracked down on demonstrators and the workers in the nuclear plant, everyone was exposed to the radioactivity. Perhaps it was because of this ironic equality that the emergence of the new movement, the new space for people, and the new form of citizenship became possible. The quasi-absence of public demonstration in Japanese society before March 11th 2011, demonstrates that other pressing issues only mobilized a limited number of participants, who were principally already activists or people who were concerned by those issues; however, in the anti-nuclear movement, the gravity of the issue and the extent of its influence enabled the participation of a far greater number of people, who were mostly political amateurs. In other words, the catastrophe was the final alarm call to rouse the Japanese people. Currently, the hydrangea still remains one of the symbols representing resistance against authority for the Japanese citizens committed to the movement28. Even today, the hashtag “Hydrangea Revolution” is used on the Internet. This is a sign of the inter-connection of the societies that emerged after the worldwide uprisings in 2011. And it attests that, maybe for the first time since Japan went through the process of so-called “modernization” or “occidentalization”, Japanese people looked to the non-Occidental world, mainly the Arab world, for democratic inspiration and imagination. Instead of referring to and admiring the Occident, they were inspired by the uprisings against the authoritarian states and by the symbols of the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. This clearly shows that the same repertoire of public action by the citizens entered transversely into a part of their daily lives across the world, from Tunisia and Egypt in the Arab-Muslim world to Japan in the Far East.

Protestors encircle the Diet, right next to the office of the Prime Minister, KANTEI, 2012. OPTV staff, “Human chain against nuclear power plants surrounds the Diet. Emergence of public space in front of the Diet.” 

Public space as an “atelier” for the transformation of “ordinary citizens”

The triple catastrophe of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the accident at Fukushima has brought the revolutionary aspect of Japanese society directly to light. The issue was that most Japanese neither saw nor felt any constraint on society until that day, when they began raising their voices. There was also the overbearing nature of the social structure that had been in place since 1945 and that hinged on nuclear energy, which was the linchpin of economic development. From the perspective that people’s anger and distrust as well as the inconsolable feeling of loss made it possible for people to be aware of their citizenship, the catastrophe, despite its disastrous nature, could be viewed as a “wake-up call”29 for the Japanese citizens. It was through these disasters that people finally realized the need for social and political change, and in the process, they transformed into active citizens.

Nevertheless, when the demonstrators started claiming the name “Hydrangea Revolution”, the people might not have sufficiently understood enough regarding the stakes of the Tunisian uprising, which was sparked by the symbolic immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. Critics can likely point out the problem with juxtaposing these two events. On the one hand, the Tunisian uprising achieved a democratic transition; on the other hand, the Japanese demonstrations could not even stop the reopening of the nuclear power plant. In addition, during the interviews with demonstrators that I conducted in 2015, I realized that several of them had already forgotten about the fact that they themselves declared their movement a “revolution”: to them, what they did in June 2012 may have revealed little compared to the problem they were confronting, or they may have considered it little compared to what they couldn’t achieve – changing the national policy on nuclear energy. 

Faced with this situation, one might wonder what this phenomenon termed a “revolution” really meant. Why have the Japanese demonstrators already abandoned this grand title? After such a huge social movement, people might wonder how it can make a difference if it can’t even achieve a concrete result; however, one possible answer to this question can be found in the words of a participant in the sit-in in front of KEISANSHŌ:

For me, this space of the sit-in is something like my atelier. I sit down here, I think, and I draw. Sometimes I do nothing here. But this place is an extension of my daily life […], and being neither at home nor at my workplace, I can become another version of myself. And I think that manifesting here or going to the demonstration are the actions of becoming another self. So if we speak of revolutions, we cannot ask people to change themselves or think of prompt political subversion […]. But it is something more like this change of oneself, here in this place.30

When people called for the “Hydrangea Revolution”, the term “revolution” emerged spontaneously from the “ordinary” people, who had not been involved at all in politics. It is “revolutionary” itself that ordinary people start proclaiming the term “revolution”, spontaneously, without hesitation, and after the student movement was long gone. It is a new phenomenon itself that had not been witnessed in Japanese society for several decades. Even if the people themselves have forgotten about it, or even if they are discouraged by the actual reality, the fact that 200.000 “ordinary” people gathered in front of the “KANTEI” claiming themselves to be a “revolution” will always remain. The same is true for the fact that inspiration from the protest movements spread all over the world in 2011: for the Japanese demonstrators, it served as a model for imagining another society. 

Today, the revolutionary effect of “Hydrangea” is still alive among the people. In 2015, Japanese society witnessed the biggest shift in politics since the end of the Second World War, resulting from a modification of article 9 of the Constitution, which had determined the renunciation of the right of belligerency: the so-called security bills. During the deliberations in the Diet, another massive wave of pacifist demonstrations against the security bills arose. This time, the driving force of the demonstration was hundreds of youths and university students. Among them, there was a group of students known as “SEALDs”31 (“Students’ Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy”), who were galvanized in the midst of the anti-nuclear movement and then became a key part of orienting the protest movement against the adoption of a new law, which enabled the modification of article 932. Seeing these gatherings in front of the KANTEI or Diet, people returned once more to the public arena. It was the anti-nuclear movement that gave birth to the protest movement of youth against the adoption of the security bills, and much in the same way, it was also the movement of these youths that encouraged the demonstrators of the anti-nuclear movement. As for the security bills, they were finally adopted by the dominance of the ruling party in the Diet. Despite the current situation, where the fruit of the movement is not yet visible, this new ethos of citizens engaging in politics and manifesting in the public sphere is now part of daily life for many more “ordinary” Japanese people. The outbreak of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan and its consequences have demonstrated what can be gained by acting in the public space, and it has had the effect of transforming the people, in the same way that “Jasmine” transformed into “Hydrangea”33.

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Nilüfer Göle, « Démocratie de la place publique : l’anatomie du mouvement Gezi », Socio, vol. 3, 2014, p. 351-365 ; Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Declaration, New York, Argo-Navis, 2012 ; Albert Ogien, Sandra Laugier, Le principe démocratie. Enquête sur les nouvelles formes du politique, Paris, La Découverte, 2014 ; Farhad  Khosrokhavar, The New Arab Revolution That Shook the World, Boulder, Paradigm Publishers, 2012.

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In Japan, the entire series of catastrophes is collectively known as “東日本大震災” (the Great East Japan Earthquake).

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Sato and Taguchi called this situation, following Walter Benjamin’s formulation, the “normalization of the state of exception.” Yoshiyuki Sato, Takumi Taguchi, Datsu genpatsu no Tetsugaku [Philosophie de la sortie du nucléaire], Tokyo, Jimbun Shoin, 2016. p.15-19. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. 4, 1938-1940, edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 389-400.

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Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London, Sage Publications, 1992. 

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Dupuy observed this state of “normalization of the extreme events”: “normalization of catastrophe, on the following situations as examples: the climate change, financial crisis due to the globalized neoliberal capitalism, the risk of nuclear war, which could be caused by a system error in handling the nuclear weapon, and the possibility of a catastrophic accident due to the production of energy by nuclear power plants.”Jean-Pierre Dupuy, “Kyokutan na Dekigoto no Hindo ni tsuite. Keimou Katasutorofi syugi eno Inntorodakusyon” traduit du français [« De la fréquence des événements extrêmes: Introduction au catastrophisme éclairé »] par Manabu Ishikawa, in Nichifutsu Bunka, Vol. 81, March, 2012, p. 5-12.

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This tendency cannot be explained simply by the cultural determination theory, which is an orientalist one, namely that traditional Japanese culture does not go well with social movement. Of course, we cannot ignore the student movement of the 1960s and 70s. Yet, as the objective of the research of Higuchi and his co-authors shows well, the subsequent generation did not pick up the mantle of this movement, leading to the stagnation of activism from the 1980s. Cf. Naoto Higuchi et al., “Heritage without inheritors: The negative case of youth social movement participation, Japan after the 1980s”, Asia Pacific Review, vol. 5, 2008, p. 53-67. 

As for the anti-nuclear movement itself in Japan, Oguma, tracing its history to the late 1960s when construction started on the nuclear power plants, categorized its actors into four groups: the first and second groups are the agricultural and fishery workers, and latterly the labor unions, the Socialist Party, and the intellectuals. These were active from the 60s to the 80s. The third group is the housewives in urban areas in the late 80s. Finally, the fourth group is the one we see now: the young “free” workers who have been active since 2011. As there is a gap between the 1990s and 2011, we can say that these two decades at least were also a stagnation moment for the anti-nuclear movement. Cf. Eiji Oguma, “Japan’s nuclear power and anti-nuclear movement from a socio-historical perspective,” from the conference Towards Long-Term Sustainability: In Response to the 3/11 Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, 20thApril, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2012.

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This is partly because of the lack of media coverage, but in Japan, even academic interests were absent.

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TEPCO is the electric utility that owns the nuclear power plant at Fukushima Daiichi.

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Interviewed with Risa Onodera, Tokyo, 2015.

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Interviewed with Ryota Sono, Tokyo, 2015.

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In Japan, the underemployment among the younger generation and the destabilization of society started in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Yuki Sekine, “The rise of poverty in Japan: The emergence of the working poor”, Japan Labor Review, vol. 5, n° 4, 2008, p. 49-66.

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Cf. Judith Butler, The psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1997. It is the process in which, as Yoshiyuki Sato explains, “the subject is produced by subjection to power; it is attached to subjection for its self-preservation, because the abandon of subjection is equivalent to abandon of its existence. The subject is therefore obliged to desire subjection for self-preservation.” Yoshiyuki Sato, « Quelle philosophie est possible après Fukushima ? » [online], Revue du MAUSS permanente, 23 janvier 2014. Translation by the author. Original text: « le sujet est produit par l’assujettissement au pouvoir ; il s’attache à l’assujettissement pour son autoconservation, puisque le renoncement à l’assujettissement équivaut à celui de son existence. Le sujet est donc obligé de désirer l’assujettissement pour l’autoconservation. »

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Yoshiyuki Sato, « Quelle philosophie est possible après Fukushima ? » [online], Revue du MAUSS permanente, 23 janvier 2014. Translation by the author. Original text: « Par certains “événements”, le désir d’assujettissement pourrait se transformer en celui de désassujettissement, c’est-à-dire, faculté d’agir dans un but de résistance. Autrement dit, l’“événement” peut produire la faculté d’agir dans un but de résistance au pouvoir. Et l’accident de Fukushima correspond à cet “événement ”. » 

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Tanpopo-sya”. Since its foundation in 1989, it aimed to build a society without nuclear energy destroying the environment.

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The number announced by the organizers.

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For example, the demonstration known as “Energy Shift Parade” [online], organized by the director of Greenpeace and several other civil activists (online 9/28/2017); another was organized by the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.

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Uichi Tan, “The 6-11 ‘Amateurs’ Revolt’ demonstration against nuclear power: A new movement style?” Saigai, Kiban, Syakai: Higashi nihon daishinsai kara kanngaeru [DISASTER, INFRASTRUCTURE AND SOCIETY: Learning from the 2011 Earthquake in Japan], vol.1, p. 299-304, 2011.

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Their way of creating a loosened autonomous space came across with what Hakim Bey put forward as “TAZ: Temporary Autonomous Zone.” See Hakim Bey, TAZ: Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological anarchy, Poetic terrorism, New York, Autonomedia, 1985.

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Farhad Khosrokhavar, The New Arab Revolution that Shook the World, Boulder, Paradigm Publishers, 2012. Cf. Introduction, p. 4, and Chapter 5, “The ‘Would-Be Middle Class’”, p. 61-90.

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N. Göle, « Démocratie de la place publique : l’anatomie du mouvement Gezi », in Socio, vol. 3, 2014, p. 354. (online 1/29/2019). Translation by the author. Original text: « Ces nouveaux mouvements, à la Maïdan, défient l’autoritarisme politique et rejettent le néocapitalisme. Ils déconstruisent la division entre l’Orient et l’Occident mais aussi entre le religieux et le séculier. Ils ouvrent un nouvel espace, un espace public pour les imaginaires démocratiques, en intégrant l’empreinte du personnel et du micropolitique au quotidien dans l’univers de la démocratie. »

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Tamiki Hara, “Hangenpatsu undou no Ethos: Eziputo kakumei kara ketsuida mono” [“Ethos of the anti-nuclear movement. Heritage from the Egyptian Revolution”], Nihon no Kagakusha, vol. 47, n° 9, 2012, p. 520-525. 

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Among them, there is a group called “Yosonomono Net” [online], literally translated as “network of the outsiders” (meaning those who do not live in Japan). The founder created this network of solidarity with Japanese citizens living abroad to organize public action primarily against the nuclear politics of the Japanese government but also against the current political situation. They use the image of the hydrangea with a picture of a cow, which is the symbol of Fukushima’s agriculture.

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Interview with Sato (pseudonym used according to the interviewee’s request) at the sit-in in front of KEISANSHŌ, Tokyo, 2015.

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After creating new waves of protest rally in Japan, SEALDs dissolved itself on August 15, 2016.

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Ce travail a été réalisé dans le cadre du laboratoire d’excellence Tepsis, portant la référence ANR-11-LABX-0067 et a bénéficié d’une aide au titre du Programme Investissements d’Avenir.

Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London, Sage Publications, 1992.

Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, vol. 4: 1938-1940, edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 389-400.

Hakim Bey, TAZ: Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological anarchy, Poetic terrorism, New York, Autonomedia, 1985.

Judith Butler, The psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1997.

Jean-Pierre Dupuy, “Kyokutan na Dekigoto no Hindo ni tsuite. Keimou Katasutorofi syugi eno Inntorodakusyon” traduit du français [De la fréquence des événements extrêmes: Introduction au catastrophisme éclairé] par Manabu Ishikawa, Nichifutsu Bunka, vol. 81, March, 2012, p. 5-12.

Nilüfer Göle, « Démocratie de la place publique : l’anatomie du mouvement Gezi », Socio, vol. 3, 2014, p. 351-365. 

Nilüfer Göle, Musulmans au quotidien. Une enquête européenne sur les controverses autour de l’islam, Paris, La Découverte, 2015.

Tamiki Hara, “Hangenpatsu undou no Ethos: Eziputo kakumei kara ketsuida mono” [Ethos of the anti-nuclear movement. Heritage from the Egyptian Revolution], Nihon no Kagakusha, vol. 47, n° 9, 2012, p. 520-525.

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Declaration, New York, Argo-Navis, 2012.

Naoto Higuchi et al., “Heritage without inheritors: The negative case of youth social movement participation, Japan after the 1980s”, Asia Pacific Review, vol. 5, 2008, p. 53-67.

Farhad Khosrokhavar, The New Arab Revolution That Shook the World, Boulder, Paradigm Publishers, 2012.

Albert Ogien, Sandra Laugier, Le principe démocratie. Enquête sur les nouvelles formes du politique, Paris, La Découverte, 2014.

Eiji Oguma, “Japan’s nuclear power and anti-nuclear movement from a socio-historical perspective,” from the conference Towards Long-Term Sustainability: In Response to the 3/11 Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, 20thApril, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2012.

Eiji Oguma, Shakai wo kaeruniwa [To Change Society], Tokyo, Kōdansya, 2012. 

Yoshiyuki Sato,  « Quelle philosophie est possible après Fukushima ? » [online], Revue du MAUSS permanente, 23 janvier 2014. 

Yoshiyuki Sato, Takumi Taguchi, Datsu genpatsu no tetsugaku [Philosophie de la sortie du nucléaire], Tokyo, Jimbun Shoin, 2016. 

Yuki Sekine, “The rise of poverty in Japan: The emergence of the working poor”, Japan Labor Review, vol. 5, n°4, 2008, p. 49-66.

Ryota Sono. et alDemo! Occupy! Mirai no tame no Cyokusetsu-kōdō[Protest! Occupy! Direct Action for Future], Tokyo, Sanichi Shobō, 2012. 

Uichi Tan, “The 6-11 ‘Amateurs’ Revolt’ demonstration against nuclear power: A new movement style?” Saigai, Kiban, Syakai: Higashi nihon daishinsai kara kanngaeru [DISASTER, INFRASTRUCTURE AND SOCIETY: Learning from the 2011 Earthquake in Japan], vol. 1, 2011, p. 299-304.