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Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model via Japan Focus

By Noriko Manabe

Since Japan’s triple disaster of March 11, 2011, music has served to inform and give voice to unspoken opinions in several spaces—cyberspace, recordings, festivals and concerts, and public demonstrations. 1 In particular, music has been an integral part of antinuclear demonstrations: here, music functions not only as an expression to be heard, but also—and perhaps more importantly—as a mechanism for encouraging participation and building solidarity among antinuclear citizens.
Indeed, antinuclear music has appeared primarily in four conceptual spaces—cyberspace, festivals and concerts, recordings, and public demonstrations—which differ in risk to both the performer and the listener, as determined by 1) the degree to which those within earshot of the performance hold views contrary to those of the performer, and 2) the level of privacy with which the listener can listen to them. As explained above, it is risky for a performer to state an antinuclear view; however, in front of a like-minded crowd at a protest rally or a no-nukes-themed festival (e.g., No Nukes 2012 and 2013, No More Fuckin’ Nukes 2013, the Atomic Cafe at Fuji Rock), s/he might feel encouraged to make more antinuclear comments (as with Gotō above) or sing more antinuclear songs than at a general-interest festival like Summer Sonic or Rock in Japan. From the listener’s point of view, Japanese citizens can feel themselves at risk when they attend a demonstration, given large police presence, while they can safely listen to recordings of antinuclear music, on a CD or on the internet, in the privacy of their own homes. A general schematic for this concept is sketched out in Fig. 4, with the horizontal axis illustrating the potential number of contrary-minded, pronuclear listeners (“disagree”) and the vertical axis denoting the number of other (physically present) people with which the listener is experiencing the music. Musicians typically separate themselves in the environments in which they participate, balancing their commercial prominence against the riskiness of the environment. In Fig. 4, the range of environments in which different segments of musicians tend to participate is indicated in italics and through color filling, with yellow denoting independent artists, blue major-label artists, pink amateur musicians, and grey anonymous musicians.

Fig. 4: Schematic of different spaces in which protest music is heard
As visualized on this chart, street demonstrations are particularly high risk for both performers and protesters: in walking through the streets, they may encounter not only passers-by who glare at them in annoyance but also counter-demonstrators who hold up their own placards and hurl epithets such as “Denki o tsukauna!” (Stop using electricity!) or “Hikokumin!” (Traitors!). Such hostility compounds the less-than-ideal circumstances these musicians are already facing, such as bad weather, malfunctioning equipment, and the difficulties of performing while on top of a moving truck. Given these difficulties, major-label artists rarely perform in marching demonstrations; while long-time musician-activists like Katō Tokiko or Panta (of Zunō Keisatsu) have performed at rallies by Sayonara Genpatsu and No Nukes More Hearts All Star Demos, these rallies have much more sympathetic audiences than marching demonstrations: they are usually in the middle of parks, and people reach them purposefully rather than stumble upon them, as with a marching demonstration. Only musicians whose convictions greatly exceed their potential opportunity losses could afford to perform under such circumstances, and these musicians are usually independents.

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