Could Fukushima provide catalyst for Japanese youth to reach criticality?


Cooler King
Staff member
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Calls to protest bring thousands, the conventional press is shunned and rogue academics suddenly find people are willing to listen—it would be going too far to say Japan was joining the “Arab Spring,” but the nuclear crisis has shown there are limits to youth apathy in this country.

The 20 years since the bubble burst have at times seemed like an experiment to make a population as lethargic and hopeless as possible and then observe the decline. But there was always a twist that made things different than the malaise of a Tunisia or an Egypt: decent living standards. A roof over one’s head and food on the table are virtually guaranteed, and almost everyone has enough for a trendy wardrobe, a PlayStation and a night of oblivion in an izakaya once or twice a week. If you are satisfied with that, you don’t even have to work very hard for it.

There lies the rub—anyone not willing to settle for a low level of mindless materialism finds their avenues for achievement choked off more and more each year. Those who want to join the elite must throw away their teens in a cram school for a spot in a top school and a chance at one of the ever-shrinking number of escalator-to-success jobs with a major company. Poor nations with little upward mobility turn into breeding grounds for crime and political extremism. Japan—with few worries about basic health and safety—has been stuck with the chronic, rotting disease of apathy. There is plenty of anger, just check out 2 Channel on any given day, but it is a sarcastic screech instead of an indignant shout.

This has changed notably, if perhaps not yet drastically, since March 11. Faced with a public truly scared about nuclear disaster, TEPCO and government officials have found that mealy mouthed platitudes and apologies no longer get them off the hook.

In the last few weeks, the Net has exploded with people looking for and sharing information. NicoNico has transformed from the best site to see the latest drama into a broadcaster of press conferences that draw tens of thousands, underground Geiger counters on live webcams, and a platform for academics and nuclear experts the regular networks won’t give space to. People who had spent hours each day cultivating virtual eggplants on Mixi’s Sunshine Farm began to steep themselves in technical nuclear jargon; becoming conversant in becquerels, suppression chambers and the half-life of cesium-137. And they proved they were willing to leave their computer screens to take to the streets in numbers that surprised everybody on April 10 for a protest in Koenji.

Like any anti-establishment movement worth its salt, this one has developed some conspiracy theories: TEPCO is using the threat of blackouts to keep the public cowed; NHK moved all its staff to Osaka due to inside information on radiation; and my personal favorite, the United States caused the March 11 earthquake so it could strengthen its military foothold in Japan. There’s also been some bad apples calling for the heads of TEPCO employees (I doubt I would have been performing a public service by taking out that old guy who checked my meter last week) but so far no violent words have spilled over into action. The nascent activists have been characterized by the seriousness, morality and attention to detail that is typical of this society at its best.
Could Fukushima provide catalyst for Japanese youth to reach criticality? ? Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

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