More than two years after the triple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, hundreds of thousands of residents of the Tohoku region of northeastern Honshu remain displaced, the power station teeters on the brink of further disaster and large swaths of northern Japan are so irradiated they’ll be uninhabitable for generations to come. But today in Tokyo, it is as though March 11, 2011, never happened. The streets are packed with tourists and banners herald the city’s 2020 Olympic bid; the neon lights are back on and all memories of post-meltdown power savings seem long forgotten.
Given this apparent mood of collective amnesia, the large poster on a wall near Shibuya Station comes as a surprise. It shows a little girl wearing a long red dress stenciled with the words “3.11 is not over” — nearby another poster depicts a Rising Sun flag seeping blood and the message “Japan kills Japanese.”
These posters — and dozens of others pasted around Tokyo — are the work of Japanese artist 281_Anti Nuke. While the origins of his chosen name are murky, the way in which his subversively simple images force passersby to stop — and think — has led to comparisons with British street artist Banksy. 281′s designs have also made him a target for Japan’s far right, who have branded him a dangerous criminal and urged the public to help put a stop to his activities.
Sparking the outcry was one of 281′s posters depicting politician Shinzo Abe — then the leader of the opposition but today the prime minister — with a radiation-emblazoned bandana over his face and the message, “Don’t Trust.” The image was found by Tokyo Sports during national election season and the paper accused 281 of initiating a smear campaign.
The story set the Internet ablaze. On bulletin boards, Japan’s rightists demanded 281′s immediate arrest for interfering with the election. Such commentators seemed oblivious to 281′s previous designs, which had been equally critical of Abe’s rivals. One of his most scathing posters, for example, depicted then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Tsunehisa Katsumata, the former president of Tepco, locking tongues in a deep French kiss.
This sense of mission motivated 281′s latest series of works, which target the three key problems he believes Japan currently faces: the ongoing nuclear crisis, the rise in militarization and the planned entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One of his new designs depicts three images of Abe wrapped again in bandanas — the first has the same nuclear symbol that sparked last year’s online outrage, the others, military camouflage and the American flag.
Inevitably, works such as these will plunge 281 into the limelight once more. In addition, some of his designs will move from the street to an art space in Tokyo for his first show next month. British filmmaker, Adrian Storey has also just completed a documentary about his work titled “281_Anti Nuke.”