Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe emphasized that the Fukushima nuclear disaster marks a turning point in Japan’s postwar democracy and supported the Diet special commission’s assertion that the accident was “made in Japan.”
“I agree with (Kiyoshi) Kurokawa that it requires us to thoroughly think about Japanese mentality to understand what happened at the Fukushima plant,” Oe said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on July 12.
Kurokawa, chairman of the Diet investigative committee, said in its final report in English released on July 5 that Japanese people’s “reflexive obedience, reluctance to question authority, devotion to ‘sticking with the program,’ groupism and insularity” were the root causes of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
“In explaining his decision to restart the reactors at the Oi plant, our prime minister used very Japanese-like rhetoric, which is to pretend as if nothing really bad has happened in Fukushima,” said Oe, 77. “It was as if he forgot the fact that we caused so much trouble for the rest of the world by spewing massive amounts of radioactive materials. I believe that this is very typical of the actions and mentality of Japanese people in the nation’s 60-year postwar history.”
Oe, along with veteran journalists Satoshi Kamata and Katsuto Uchihashi, hosted the news conference to call attention to a planned protest in Tokyo on July 16 that will call for a nuclear-free Japan. Organizers estimate as many as 100,000 people will show up.
Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994, said he hopes the expanding public movement against nuclear energy, which he calls “association of awakening individuals and small communities,” is opening a new chapter in Japan’s democracy.
He pointed out that older-generation Japanese reacted to the Fukushima disaster by sticking to the principle of “shifting responsibility onto experts” and defining themselves as silent beneficiaries.
This way of thinking characterizes Japan’s postwar mentality on nuclear power and other political issues, he said.
“Now, as we are realizing that we are not at all capable of containing the damage from the accident, the established forces in the government, Diet and business circles are counting on future scientific development to solve our problems and suffering,” Oe said. “It is time for us to part from this hands-off, irresponsible mentality.”
By literally besieging these established forces in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district or elsewhere, the “anonymous masses” of young people are increasingly demanding that their voices be heard, he said.
Oe said he wants these young Japanese to “restructure the postwar mentality of the Japanese people.”
“I hope their actions will form Japan’s new national character,” he said.
While saying the root causes of the Fukushima accident might be from Japanese culture, Oe stressed that the responsibility of individuals and organizations that promoted Japan’s national policy of “peaceful use of nuclear power” must not be forgotten.
During the news conference, Kamata, a renowned journalist who has written extensively on labor issues, said that the anti-nuclear movement is the first grass-roots, bottom-up movement in Japan that can reform society.
“As you see in the labor movement of the past, social movements in Japan have been led by social groups and organization, not individuals,” Kamata said. “This movement is historic because it is not organization-based, and the ‘multitude’ is the leading force.
“I don’t think it will fail because our fear of nuclear contamination is always there, and our sense of guilt for the rest of the world and future generations is also there.”
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