Feature - Back Numbers

Japanese Musicians Take a Stand (2012.07.03)

By KEITH CAHOON

 

"No Nukes" is a musical protest event scheduled for July 7-8 at Makuhari

Messe. The event was largely conceived by Sakamoto Ryuichi of Yellow Magic

Orchestra, solo and soundtrack fame. In the wake of the 3/11 tsunami and

nuclear disaster, many have become critical of the government's stance on

nuclear power, feeling that the government did not enforce their own safety

standards, that "amakudari" assures that regulations will be slack, that

nuclear power by its nature is unsafe, and the  government has lied about

the disaster and threats to human health. Years ago many musicians might

have taken a public stance on such a social issue. During the 60's-early

70's folk boom, singers such as Okabayashi Nobuyasu sang about war, the

US-Japan Security Treaty, prejudice, and the working man.  However over time

record companies and managers have pressured artists to not take positions

on social issues that it might offend the public, powerful media companies,

potential sponsors or other powers that be, with the attitude that it is

better to entertain and make money than to disruptively rock the boat and risk business. 

 

There have however been a few notable exceptions, artists who

refused to censor themselves, and while some have suffered for it, others

have become heroes.  In 1987 the pop punk band The Blue Hearts wrote a song

called "Chernobyl", which was critical of nuclear power.  However their

record company at the time, the now dissolved Meldac, was related to

Mitsubishi, who were involved in nuclear power, and thus objected to the

song. The Blue Hearts left Meldac, the topic became a controversy and they

had a million selling album. Similarly in 1988 RC Succession did a re-make

of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender",

both with anti-nuclear lyrics. Their label, the now defunct Toshiba-EMI, was

involved in the nuclear industry on the Toshiba side, and protested the

lyrics. Songwriter Imawano Kiyoshiro however refused to budge, and the album

was eventually released on another label. This helped make RC Succession

even more popular, and Imawano Kiyoshiro, who died in 2009, a legend.

 

Even in regard to the 3/11 disaster of 2011, there have been a few songs

openly protesting the nuclear industry. Reggae singer Rankin Taxi made a

very clever and even humorous song and video about it, and while major media

around the world such as the NY Times wrote about it or highlighted the

video (which came in a version with English sub-titles), in Japan the media

largely stayed away. Also Saito Kazuyoshi did a live version on video of

his song "I Always Loved You", remade as "It Was a Lie". This song was also

written about internationally, and the video given English sub-titles, but

largely ignored by Japanese media, just as some anti-nuclear protestors say

the media is not reporting on anti-nuclear rallies, even when they gather

over 10,000 protestors. The mood however may be changing. Last Friday, June 29,

a huge crowd gathered at the Prime Minister's residence to protest the re-starting of

nuclear power plants, and various major media reported that there were 150,000 to

200,000 protesters, even though the police claimed there were less than 20,000 people

attending.

 

The artists who are participating in the No Nukes event include such major

artists as YMO, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Hiatus, Soul Flower Union, Hajime

Chitose, Ken Yokoyama of Hi -Standard, and Keigo Yamada, known around the

world by his stage name Cornelius. The chance that these artists may face

road blocks in their careers in the future for their public stance on this

controversial issue, is a real possibility. It is not unusual in Japan for

artists to be punished for making waves. That they have the pride and guts

to stand up for what they believe in despite of this should be commended.

 

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Originally submitted by: Raj Mahtani | See Edit History | Edit Article