Healthcare workers typically have some knowledge of the effects of radiation


Healthcare workers typically have some knowledge of the effects of radiation

Japanese society differs in fundamental ways, however, from American and European society and movements opposed to nuclear power differ from those based on issues such as the abuse of power in the financial sector or rampant income inequality. While all of these movements took place against the backdrop of a post-industrial society, points 2) through 7) of the survey data demonstrate these important differences.

The significance of healthcare as demonstrated in point 2) illustrates a difference that stems from the fact that opposition to nuclear power was the dominant theme in Japan’s “2011”. This led them to distrust government statements about, and responses to, the nuclear accident. The importance of international connections in point 3) highlights a characteristic feature in countries where sources of information are limited. In underdeveloped countries ruled by dictatorships, where only limited information can be obtained from outlets such as the national media, international links may facilitate access to alternative information. Such connections can also help to foment criticism of the government. While the Japanese government is not a dictatorship, only limited information about the consequences of the nuclear meltdown was provided in the mainstream media immediately after the nuclear accident. One respondent to my survey had a friend whose partner was a French national. She therefore knew that the French embassy had issued an emergency evacuation warning following the nuclear accident and became suspicious of the Japanese government’s pronouncements on safety. Many other people who were not respondents to this survey have spoken about how they obtained information from outside Japan after the nuclear accident, such as via foreign language broadcasts or the internet. Having a connection with a foreign country can provide a different perspective on the dominant framework in one’s own society. One respondent linked her lack of confidence in the government with her experience as an exchange student in Ecuador. Another said that working for a foreign-owned company in Japan had made him face up to the culture of suppressing one’s own opinion in Japanese society.

The small number of participants with a university connection detailed in point 4) also provides a point of difference with the 2011 movements in other countries. While many activists in Japan were part of the “cognitive precariat”, students were not a noticeable presence among the main actors in 2012. This can be seen in the large number of respondents to my survey who were in their 30s and 40s. Some of the students with whom I came into contact in the movement told me that, on the whole, students were unable to take part in the movement because they are busy with part-time jobs due to the worsening economic situation. But economic pressures also affect students in other developed countries. Indeed, rather than preventing students from participating in social movements, economic pressures are generally thought to be among the reasons that many do take part.

What was it that led these workers to participate where salarymen in Japan’s large corporation did not?

It is important to consider the absence of students in the movement in relation to the next two groups: the full-time workers included in point 5) and the time-rich actors in point 6). These points illustrate the fact that, with the exception of people who work in foreign-owned companies or in technical professions, full-time employees in large Japanese corporations-the stereotypical “Japanese salarymen”-were absent from the movement. Why, then, given the fact that the participants came from such a broad spectrum of Japanese society, were students and salarymen largely absent?

It is true that for the time-rich actors listed in point 6, having some control over their own time is something many activists have in common

Full-time employees in Japan’s large corporations have little reason to participate in classical labor movements because they earn a high income and many enjoy employment security. There were some sole proprietors and managers in foreign-owned companies, however, among the central activists in MCAN. As Ulrich Beck has pointed out, poverty is class-based but radiation affects everyone, regardless of class. Earning a high income is not necessarily the decisive factor behind the lack of participation by regular employees in large corporations. Aside from income, it is possible that lack of time might explain the low level of participation in the movement by salarymen who work long hours. But some salarymen who do not work for large Japanese corporations, such as employees of foreign-owned companies, did become activists in the movement. These workers certainly still have to work long hours, as do many contractors and retail workers.


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