More than two years after the triple disasters that included the meltdowns at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, between 160,000 and 300,000 Tohoku residents remain displaced, the power station teeters on the brink of further disaster, and large swathes of northern Japan are so irradiated they may be uninhabitable for generations to come.1 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 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 street artist, Banksy. But one major difference divides 281 from his British counterpart, whose works have been bought by Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera: 281’s designs have incurred the wrath of Japan’s resurgent far-right who – goaded by the media – have branded him a dangerous criminal and urged the public to help put a stop to his activities.
Like the other 30 million residents of Tokyo, he survived the initial quake unharmed but the following weeks triggered a seismic shift in his political outlook. “Before March 2011, I’d never been involved in activism of any kind. I’d trusted the Japanese government. But then the cracks started appearing,” he said. – See more at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jon-Mitchell/3959#sthash.q0v0kmsR.dpuf
People have been quick to dub 281 Japan’s very own Banksy – but such comparisons do him a disservice. Banksy’s art takes a scattershot approach to condemning capitalism – a viewpoint best summed up by his quote, “We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.” 281 does not have the luxury of voicing such droll sound-bites. For him, the enemies of Japan are not amorphous big businesses or “the system”. 281 knows his enemies – they are TEPCO and the politicians who put and keep them in power; they have names and they have faces and – he believes – they are endangering the children of his country for profit. 281 is Banksy with a mission – and he knows that time is running out.