Television, Summer 2012

The big news in the Japanese TV world this week is that the private television networks’ have finally discovered Japan’s burgeoning antinuclear movement. Despite their protests, petitions and pleas, proponents of the antinuclear cause have been edged out of the media spotlight this past year. Now the private networks are finally beginning to take off their blinders and pay attention. TV Asahi, especially, has been allowing their live daytime shows (Morning Bird and the lunchtime Wide Scramble) to report at length on the issue this July. In a lively debate last week, Morning Bird commentators challenged the studio guest–Environment Minister Goshi Hosono–on the government’s plans to truck disaster area debris to Kitakyushu in the south for incineration. The commentators argued it was neither wise nor cost-efficient. For a public starved for small-screen information on antinuclear topics, it was quite a change.  If the antinuclear crowd feel they finally have a place to go for coverage of their concerns, who knows, it may even help TV Asahi push past the Fuji network in the race for second place in overall TV viewership. (NTV has a firm grip on first place.) Last week, TV Asahi’s Hodo Station news show even jousted NHK out of the top spot in the weekly Video Research Co. news ratings. The next test of whether TV Asahi plans to continue to widen its antinuclear coverage comes on July 16 when Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe and other antinuclear activists stage their long-planned “Sayonara Nuclear Power Plants & Citizens Initiative for 10 Million Signatures” rally in Tokyo.

It’s been hot even on the northern island of Hokkaido this summer and sweltering and soggy in the 46 provinces to the south but that has not discouraged Japan’s increasing number of antinuclear activists from holding weekly Friday night protests in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tokyo. The rallies, which began with about 300 people in March, have been steadily growing but until recently they were seldom able to get even a 15-second flash news blurb on any of the TV networks. All that changed after the huge Friday, June 29 demonstration, which was held on the eve of the reactivation of the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant. Organizers estimated between 150,000 to 200,000 people  headed over to the PM’s place that evening to voice their peaceful opposition to the restart. The police claimed the crowd was only about 17,000. (All 50 of Japan’s reactors had been shut down since May 5 when Hokkaido’s Tomari No. 3 reactor went offline.)  On the rainy night of Friday, July 6, the crowd was estimated at over 100,000 with many more people stuck underground as the police blocked off all but one exit of the Kokkai-Gijidomae subway station. That same evening, several thousand people also gathered in Osaka and several hundred even in Sapporo.

Powered by Twitter and Facebook and live streaming of the events online, the weekly Friday nights at the PM’s place were catching on and becoming difficult even for a jaded media to ignore. TBS and TV Asahi are paying the most attention and consistently emphasizing the diversity of the crowd. Protest in Japan has traditionally been the preserve of highly organized groups on the right or left but the Ajisai (Hydrangea) Revolution, as its been nicknamed, is clearly an individual thing. The desire for a nuclear- free Japan for their kids and grandkids is uniting people of all ages and backgrounds. TV Asahi interviewed a variety of participants–a young father with a child on his shoulders, a woman from Hiroshima, composer/musician Ryuichi Sakamoto who said he was participating as just an ordinary Japanese citizen. Most memorable was a middleaged woman who revealed to the TV Asahi announcer her husband had told her: whether you go to the demonstration or not isn’t going to change anything.  I ignored my irresponsible (musekinin no oto) husband and came anyway.

Well, there is certainly no reason to stay home and watch TV on a Friday night. Programming quality continues to decline and as for the summer dramas… TV Asahi is pulling ahead here too. They had three straightforward and familiar detective series in the Video Research Co. top ten drama ratings this week. Fuji had just one drama on the list–the remake of “GTO.” Fuji’s much-hyped melodrama “Beautiful Rain” starring Etsushi Toyokawa as a single parent suffering from early onset Altzheimer’s disease (with child star Mana Ashida playing his daughter) has already plummeted down to single-digit ratings. In the summer of 2012 in post 3/11 Japan, people have too much real-life angst to deal with to spend their evenings watching fictional angst-ridden series.

And now for a vacation from the TV and the blog as I work on other projects for a while.  Happy Summer Days!