“I feel immense pain, and my art is how I scream.” This man uses street art to remind people that Fukushima’s nuclear disaster is far from over.
An Interview with 281_Anti Nuke
October 1, 2013
The stickers went up a few months after Japan’s triple disaster in 2011—an earthquake and tsunami that took twenty thousand lives, and an ongoing nuclear crisis that threatens more. They first appeared along the shabby backstreets of Shibuya, in downtown Tokyo, a place that offers some of the very few canvasses for graffiti in a city not given to celebrating street art. The British expat photographer and filmmaker Adrian Storey couldn’t ignore them. “Being a foreigner, there was a sort of brief period after 3/11 when there was this sense of community in Tokyo that I haven’t felt before,” Storey says. “Then it kind of went away, and people just went back to shopping. I was drawn to the stickers because I realized it was a Japanese person behind them, and they actually cared about what was happening. I started photographing every sticker I found.”
Some stickers are small, eight inches or so in height. Others are the size of a stunted adult or a large child. In fact, children are featured in many of them, especially the motif of a young girl in a raincoat above the caption “I hate rain,” with the trefoil symbol for radiation stamped between “hate” and “rain.” On other stickers, silhouettes of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are suspended in white space beside the logo for the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the government-allied conglomerate responsible for the operation and maintenance of the severely damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants. Sometimes the stark black lines and blotches resemble Rorschach tests. You look and see nothing, then look again and see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s face, his mouth suffocated by an American flag.
The artist behind them calls himself 281_Anti Nuke, and he has become a cult phenomenon among Tokyo locals. The numerals refer to an athletic jersey he wore in high school. “It’s just nostalgia,” he says. “Memories of my happier times.” Tagged as the “Japanese Banksy,” he is an unlikely manifestation of Japan’s shredded identity: a contemporary artist of dissent in a country that rarely tolerates protest and barely supports modern art. His real name is Kenta Matsuyama, though few Japanese know that, since it appears only in the fine print on his manager’s English-language Web site. He is a fortysomething father born and raised near Fukushima, the site of Japan’s most pressing nuclear disaster. We meet in the heart of Shibuya, in a second-story café overlooking the most famous intersection in Japan—a crowded network of diagonal crosswalks that is featured in nearly every film set in Tokyo.
We are hiding in plain sight. “These people,” he says, gesturing toward the window and the masses below, “they only vote for the winner; they only think about the winner. They have no concept of real strength. They feel satisfied just knowing that the party they voted for won.” (That party, the archconservative, U.S.-friendly, and pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party, crows about a mandate after sweeping recent elections.) He is wearing a tight-fitting gray hoodie, pitch-black jeans and sunglasses, and a white surgical mask. It’s not always easy to hear him through the mask, so he tugs it down a bit when his speech quickens in anger. “Maybe it’s true that there’s no political party you can count on, but it’s more than that. It’s fear. It’s Japanese people never doubting their leaders. Looking out at Shibuya, I’m sure that nobody out there remembers the idea of radiation anymore. People abroad know more about the crisis in Fukushima than the Japanese. The Japanese are trying to forget. I want to make them remember.”
Anti Nuke is an active Twitter user, but when he first started posting his art, he received death threats so virulent that last year he temporarily took down his Twitter and Facebook accounts and started hiding all of his personal information. Even now, his Web site is often hacked. In public, when he is not cloaked by hoodie, sunglasses, and mask, he wears a full-body hazmat suit. As for his method: “Stickers are better than graffiti,” he says, “because they are faster to apply. You just stick them on and run off. And I use very simple English to be direct, without nuances. Like, ‘I hate rain.’ In Japanese, it’s ‘Watashi wa ame ga kirai.’ So in Japanese, you really need to talk about who hates rain, and why, and in what context. But in English it’s more iconic. There’s more room for the imagination, and that’s powerful.”
281_Anti Nuke’s work is about to reach more people via exhibitions in the New York and Los Angeles, and a documentary film about his art directed by Storey will début in festivals next year. “His mission is personal,” says Storey. “He wants people to think about the same things he’s thinking about, but, like he said to me many times, it’s about the future of his children. It’s the future of everybody’s children in Japan. He doesn’t want to make a name for himself.”
Perhaps. But donning hoodies, shades, and surgical masks, not to mention the occasional hazmat suit, is an odd strategy for anonymity. “It’s fine if I become famous if it helps communicate this huge problem,” Anti Nuke concedes. “There are bigger problems in Fukushima than we know now. I’m sure of that. I’ve communicated with people there. I have family there. The Japanese government will not save them, and since the survivors cannot escape, Fukushima people hate Tokyo people for the electricity they use and cannot conserve.”
He insists that he is not anti-American, just pro-truth. “I love the American people, but I want them to help save Japan. This time, it’s the Japanese people who are to blame. We’re not aware, and we are actively trying to forget. We need foreigners to save us from ourselves.”
Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. For more than 45 years he has pioneered the combination of investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media. He is the host of the nationally aired television program Enviro Close-Up, the narrator and host of award-winning TV documentaries on environmental and energy issues, the author of six books and writer of numerous magazine, newspaper and Internet articles.
He is program host and writer of TV documentaries produced by New York-based EnviroVideo including the award-winning Chernobyl: A Million Casualties, Three Mile Island Revisited, Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and The Push to Revive Nuclear Power.
He is chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV on Long Island.
He is a regular contributor to Internet sites including CounterPunch, OpEd News, Enformable, NationofChange and The Huffington Post.
His weekly column appears in The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press, The Sag Harbor Express, The Shelter Island Reporter, South Shore Press, Sound Observer and other Long Island newspapers and on websites on Long Island including Smithtown Matters, RiverheadLOCAL and SoutholdLOCAL.
His articles also appear on LIPolitics.com
Grossman was an investigative reporter as well as columnist for the Long Island Press, a major daily newspaper serving metropolitan New York and, with the demise of the paper in 1977, continued investigative journalism in books, magazines and newspapers, on radio and TV and, in recent years, on the Internet.
His books include: Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet; The Poison Conspiracy; and Weapons in Space.
He has given presentations at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad and before other venues including at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the British Parliament.
Awards he has received for investigative reporting include the George Polk, Generoso Pope, James Aronson and John Peter Zenger awards. He also has received citations from the New York Press Association, Press Club of Long Island, Society of Professional Journalists, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, New York Civil Liberties Union, Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting, Citizens Energy Council and Friends of the Earth. His TV documentaries have received Gold and Silver awards at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival and other honors. His journalism has been repeatedly cited by Project Censored, the media initiative at Sonoma State University, as involving the most “under-reported” issues.
At the State University of New York College at Old Westbury he has taught courses including: Investigative Reporting; Environmental Journalism; Politics of Media; Introduction to Journalism; TV and Radio Journalism; and TV Documentary: Theories and Techniques. He also runs an Internship in Journalism and Media program placing students at media throughout metropolitan New York.
He was honored in 2003 at the State University of New York “Chancellor’s Recognition Dinner Honoring Research and Scholarship in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.”
- Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power (1980)
- The Poison Conspiracy (1982)
- Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? (1984)
- Power Crazy:Is LILCO Turning Shoreham Into America’s Chernobyl? (1986)
- The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (1997)
- Weapons in Space (2001)
Grossman’s articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including: The New York Times, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Globe and Mail, The Ecologist, Earth Island Journal, E: The Environmental Magazine, The Crisis, The Nation, The Progressive, The Baltimore Sun, The Plain Dealer. The Orlando Sentinel, Columbia Journalism Review, Liberal Opinion Week, Science Communication. The Globe and Mail, Z Magazine, San Francisco Bay Guardian, CovertAction Quarterly, The Miami Herald, Space News, and Extra!.
Among the Internet sites he contributes articles to are: CounterPunch, The Huffington Post, Enformable, CommonDreams, Truthout, Nation of Change and OpEd News.
- His Blog
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- Nuclear Abolition – Prospects and Initiatives
- Cancer – The Number One Killer – And Its Environmental Causes
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- An Atomic Credibility Gap: Obama Goes Nuclear
The most recent edition of Cover Up is available free online thanks to its publisher via . Grossman encourages its download and use of the material—notably facsimiles of government and industry documents useful in exposing the dangers of nuclear power—that the book contains.
Karl Grossman’s website is at: karlgrossman.com And his blog is also featured on his http://www.karlgrossman.com website.
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