While I was following around Taro Yamamoto, an actor now famous for his anti-nuclear crusade, late last year, I unexpectedly ran into an old friend of mine at a public debate.
Masayoshi Hisada is a famous figure in gossip journalism circles in Japan, as the de facto founding chief editor of “Jitsuwa Knuckles” magazine. The magazine was the first attempt to repackage the gossip journalism traditionally targeted at older people into something that appeals to the younger generation. Reflecting Hisada’s alarmist nature, the magazine and its various spinoff publications cover a wide range of issues, from showbiz scandals and news from the underground world, to more straightforward sociopolitical scoops.
Although we no longer hung out together as often as we once did, I frequently saw Hisada, 44, now deputy chief editor of Million Publishing Co., on TV or in Internet variety programs, giving opinions on social events or lecturing comedians on how to resolve disputes with gangsters.
But during the debate in Shinjuku in early December, Hisada was anything but an objective journalist. He told Yamamoto and other participants about his anger toward the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s bungling recovery efforts afterward.
He said he planned to publish the accounts of the Fukushima experiences of three young workers who are long-term readers of his magazines and have entrusted only Hisada to record their interviews.
After the book came out in late February, he set up an interview with the trio for The Asahi Shimbun AJW in a town in Tohoku. The interview turned out to be a rare opportunity to hear their accounts of the accident and what has been transpiring at the plant since.
The three young workers looked to be no more than rural hooligans, looking much like the most intimidating members of the all-male dance pop group Exile.
What struck me most was the irony that these defiant youth are now “unnamed heroes,” according to Hisada, who are risking their lives each day for the well-being of society as a whole.
They also said that they hated to death their rural hometowns, now in the evacuation zone around the plant. However, the nuclear accident forced them to realize that their hometowns are where they belong. That is part of the reason why they work 10 hours every day despite the health risks, and for surprisingly low pay, because they want to play a part in realizing their hopes of returning home one day.
But their voices have not been heard, because they work at the very bottom of the endless layers of the plant's subcontractor system. They will be dismissed if their names are made public and openly talk about their frustrations and desperation.
Doesn’t it bother them to think that their heroism won’t be acknowledged and rewarded? Talking to them all night, I realized that they could accept this reality and still do not blame anyone, because they never had any trust in the government, TEPCO or authorities in general even before the accident.
“It’s the strength and sorrow of the lives of social dropouts,” Hisada said on our train ride back to Tokyo the next morning. He apparently pointed to the culture that the three people belong to, which is made up of an unusual balance of realism and naïve views of life.
“And we take advantage of them. I’ve never felt so proud of my readers,” Hisada said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Three intrepid reporters from The Asahi Shimbun AJW recently traversed the areas devastated by last year's March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to provide personal accounts from survivors and live coverage of the one-year memorial services. Here are their personal recollections from behind the scenes.
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