August 2011

Sayuri-san Speaks Out   August 3, 2011

Are Japan’s entertainers under pressure not to oppose the nuclear power industry? Actor Taro Yamamoto thinks so.  In an interview in the August 6 issue of Shukan Gendai, a weekly magazine that has focused on Fukushima-related issues continuously since March 11, he related his own firsthand experiences.

Japan’s entertainers have been extremely generous with their time and money since the megaquake and tsunami. Many have made huge donations and travelled to the Tohoku region to encourage and cheer disaster victims on. They’ve given performances and signed autographs, hauled in relief supplies, volunteered to help clean up and even cooked for the disaster victims but few have spoken out on the issue of nuclear power. Yamamoto claims it’s been something of a taboo for entertainers to express opinions on the topic for fear of endangering their careers and he should know. His own career took a magnitude nine jolt after he let his antinuclear views be known.

Yamamoto, a character actor perhaps best known for his roles in the film Battle Royale and the TV series Aishiteru Kaito, moved into the media spotlight this spring when he announced he was leaving his management agency so as not to cause them further trouble because of his outspoken anti-nuclear power stance. He also claims he was dropped from a TV series that he was scheduled to film this summer because of his antinuclear views.  After he expressed his feelings on Twitter, the phones at the agency that manages his career began ringing incessantly with complaints about him. The management agency’s chief suggested they wait to see if things would calm down a bit but he felt he had to quit to protect those who had helped him so much in the past.  Yamamoto was shocked at first to find he had been dropped from the TV program. He declined to reveal the name of the program or sponsor to Shukan Gendai.  All he would say was that it was not the program that is being speculated about on the Internet. He says the only reason he mentioned the incident was to show that entertainers who speak out against nuclear power can face economic and career pressures.

The actor described the difficult process of deciding to come forward and admitted he wasn’t too interested in the issue before March 11. In fact, when detractors soon pointed out he had done a TEPCO radio commercial back in 2002, his first response was “that’s a lie.” But when he checked back on his schedule, he realized he had indeed done the ad. After March 11, he got more interested in the anti-nuclear issue but his beliefs were still not strong enough to risk damaging his career. Then in April, the government announced Fukushima children  could be exposed to up to 20 millisieverts of radiation a year. At that point, he realized he could keep quiet no longer. Yamamoto himself admits he is not a big-name star. He feels people would really start to take notice if about twenty popular, influential celebrities would speak out.  His wish partially came true this past weekend when Sayuri Yoshinaga, one of the most famous and respected figures in the Japanese entertainment world, aired her views. Yoshinaga, whose long involvement with the cause of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing victims is well known, spoke out against nuclear power plants and the new fast breeder reactor project at a mothers’ peace conference in Hiroshima.

Most of the other news in the first week of August has not been as encouraging. Fears of cesium contamination have seen  the beef ban extended beyond Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures to include Iwate and Tochigi Prefectures. The government will  soon begin checking pre-harvest rice in 19 prefectures. A flurry of magnitude five aftershocks have also been shaking various locations around Honshu this past week. Although when a 6.2 quake hit the Shizuoka region August 1 just before midnight, it was indeed reassuring to know that the nearby Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant had been shutdown well in advance.

And here’s another name to add to the list of brave people willing to speak truth to power. The links below are to an informed and impassioned plea to the Diet made last week by Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo. It’s a story that somehow did not seem to make it onto the evening news reports. Found the YouTube video and a good English translation at the website below. Definitely worth a glance.

After listening to Professor Kodama, a little stress relief might be in order. Here’s the best laugh I’ve had all week: Alec and Liam Do Walmart And with that, the blog returns to vacation mode.

Copyright 2011