What Arises from the Small Space



In the evening of January 27th 2012, the street was crowded around the tents built around the corner of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), located in Kasumigaseki, the financial district of Tokyo. It had been 139 days since its inception that the tent occupiers were ordered an eviction by METI. Bodies of more than 500 people gathered there for blockading the eviction. As the sun was setting, it was getting colder, but the people were raising their voices for protest, taking a microphone one after another: “Protect the Tent!”; “Abolish Nuclear Power!”; “Protect Our Children from Radiation!”

Among the grayish forest of buildings surrounding the tent set on cold asphalt, we were looking up the METI building which was conspicuously tall. From the highest position, the ministry is continuously ordering us on the ground to live on in this highly radioactive environment. The agent of capital is even capable of framing the policies determined inside the whitish, mammoth and ugly National Diet Building seen over the cross road. As compared to those in power, significantly smaller are the tent humbly built with light fixtures and white tarps, and men and women who sleep there, exhibiting various slogans, raising flags and stretching banners, to demand immediate termination of nuclear operations. On that day, however, no authorities showed up, past the ordered deadline of 5:00 pm .

It was September 11th 2011 when the tent was set up and the occupation began. Even past half a year since 3/11 then, the government continued to blur information, stress false safety, make people live in the areas contaminated by the same radiation level that the Soviet government deemed as evacuation zone, and even encourage to use the agricultural products from the areas for school lunch program. People took to the street and began to protest against the murderous responses, instigated either openly or secretly, to the nuclear disaster. In spite of a number of arrests, masses of people filled in the square in front of Shinjyuku Station. In Kasumigaseki, two thousands some people gathered to make a human chain sieging METI. In front of the same building, a group of youth began hunger strike. In correspondence to the actions, some old-timer leftist activists installed two tents, each of which would accommodate just about five to six people. That was the inauguration of the tent occupation that continues today.

It was when the sit-in protest by Fukushima women began at the site on October 27th that the tent became the center of national attention. Their rage was caused by the following situation. The state policy vis-à-vis evacuation has been ridiculously insufficient. It has established a ‘exclusion zone’ in 20km radius around the Fukushima Daiichi reactors and a ‘planned evacuation zone’ in 20 to 30km radiuses wherein radioactivity over 20mSv is measured in annual sum total. But radioactive materials have been continuously spreading from the reactors by the wind. Presence of the so-called ‘hot spots’ (of high radioactivity) in Fukushima and surrounding prefectures has become the center of public attention. In Fukushima City and Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture, for instance, hourly dose of 2~4μSv is detected from time to time. The people in these areas, including children, are forced to live under high radiation. And even if they choose to evacuate, it would only be considered ‘voluntary evacuation’, hence no compensation will be provided. Now they are living in agony eroding their bodies and lives, no matter what they choose to do. Under such situation, Fukushima women have been struggling by all means: choosing everyday food, worrying whether their children can go out or should stay home, negotiating with the school administration concerning children’s activities due to their suspicious negligence… All in all they have been fighting against the invisible enemies: radioactive materials invading everyday life as well as indifference of those around them. Finally they determined to express their rage in the face of METI in Tokyo by way of the sit-in.

There was an immediate resonance from women across Japan. On the day after the Fukushima women’s sit-in ended on its 10th day, all women across Japan began their sit-in. I first visited the tent site on October 30thth, the initial day of the second phase. Thereafter, beginning from December 1st, the Fukushima women again started a longer sit-in protest, which is to continue for 10 months and 10 days.

Since last year, various demos and rallies have been taking place in every town and city across the country, with the participation of people with various backgrounds. Every weekend there are some kind of demos occurring somewhere. Young mothers whom I met at the sit-in, for instance, were collecting petitions, submitting them to local governments, organizing study groups and making networks with similar groups in neighboring townships. The anti-nuke movement in Japan shows an unprecedented expansion, mostly, by the people who throw themselves into social movement for the first time, by young people and young women who have been previously keeping distance from it. As I speak with the people in demos and in the tent, I am always struck by the large diversity of their jobs and careers.

On the other hand, however, the cries for anti-nuke has created a tendency within the movement. It is primarily due to the characteristics of radiation, but as it seems to me, it is also by an intense determinacy that is paradoxically entailed in the rhetoric itself employed for negating the existing structure.

What were the women doing while they were sitting in? Each holding cards of her lingering feelings written on, sitting and relaxed, chatting with women next to them, they didn’t even introduce themselves, but without hesitation expressed and shared their anxiety of radiation, rage against the nuclear policy and critique of the capitalist logic that grounds the policy. A woman was knitting, which created a long colorful chain that could encircle METI and finally be a ball like an earth. Another woman was patching pieces of cloths, which became a huge banner and was held in hands of other women at street actions in various places. Meanwhile, a basket filled with sweets was passed around; a microphone was passed around for singing anti-nuke songs dedicated to beloved ones. They invited each other to dance the hula together. I remember the pale pink on their laps – of the throw blankets donated for them.

Not standing but sitting, calling each other to share anxiety and other feelings, creating something by hands, singing, dancing and caring for each other – in the small community created in a corner of the cold and hard world, there was a connection that is infinitely soft as if resisting the coldness and hardness of the world.

In retrospect, the actions that took place around the tent are characterized by their corporeality. Human chain, hunger strike, sit-ins — they are struggles of the vulnerable body that the police can easily eliminate, that are exposed to challenges of yet another dimension: the mega-machine called nuclear power plants now running out of human control and the sovereignty totally unconcerned to its severe effects on the vulnerable lives. Tough choices of the people — evacuating from the dangerous land or having to work at the nuclear power plant in order to live there — are determined by their economic difficulties. The only thing that is left for those who have neither wealth nor power is their body. It is precisely for this reason that the contrast of position has such strong power of representation. And many gathered with their bodies alone, as they were confronting the situation where the tent was in danger of eviction.

Being there as a women among other women, however, I have to admit that I felt puzzled at times. For what they were doing there — though not coerced in the least — was something that I would not do or would rather keep distance from in my everyday life. I don’t knit nor stitch; neither do I enjoy sweets nor pale colors. I could not help but quailing at the overwhelming femininity. It could be more overwhelming for those who have attained the habitus of masculinity and identify themselves as male. The tent has two separate parts being named “female tent” and “male tent.” The male activists who set up the tent there have been guarding it around-the-clock. My discomfort was deepened when the sit-in that began in December was named “10 months and 10 days” based upon the allegory of giving birth.

It goes without saying that such dispositions as vulnerable body and inconsistent but affectionate mind have been traditionally ascribed to femininity, and on its opposing pole, there situated has been masculinity with solid and consistent reason and strong body that protects the weak. When the space around the tent came to be symbolized by various corporealities, the corporealities came to embody expressions of desperately and barely chosen resistance, but at the same time seemed to have been washed away by the traditional and stubborn rhetoric. First of all this was made inevitable by the fact that the struggle against radiation is inexorably corporeal in the direct sense. The reason why mothers have to stand at the front line of the struggle, and continue to struggle heroically is that it is their everyday practice and care that are in at most danger.

But our language to speak about the struggle is too poor.

Then, outside the tent, those who have handicaps raised their voices of anger against the strong negativity to the possible birth defects, implied as it is in the expression of fear against the nuclear threats. Women who do not have children were hurt by the demand of anti-nuke groups to give priority for evacuation to small children and their mothers as well as young women who are capable of giving birth in the future. (Or possibly men might have been hurt, but I have not heard such voices from them.) Feminists were disturbed by the representation of media that praises mothers while implying that the responsibility of protecting children lies only in mothers.

At demos we repeatedly screamed: “Protect Children!”; “Protect Our Future!”; “Protect the Earth!”. To protect something means to prevent something from damage and violation. But it is no longer possible in the situation in Japan, since we have already been damaged. Furthermore, it is not that we have been damaged for the first time by the nuclear accident. Our society had long been damaged by the violence that maintains class, gender division and difference, wherein radiation has been added anew. The recent accident has only made visible layers and layers of fissures that the society left unattended. With the effects of visualization that the accident unwittingly realized, the anti-nuke movement had to develop in tandem with the anti-poverty movement, anti-capitalist movements, the problematic concerns with the sacrifice of the northeastern region for the benefit of the metropolis as well as the anti-base and anti-war movements having been engaged in the process of nuclear weapons’ introduction. Observing demos and rallies in terms of diversity of participants and their expressive creativity, they seem to have successfully negated, reversed and gone beyond gender hierarchy from time to time. The fact that “women and children” are protesting in the forefront is a crucial result of a long and accumulated history of women’s movements.

Nonetheless we have not been able to create a language of struggle that could go beyond the gendered rhetoric: masculine/feminine=strong/weak. Struggle over representation is equal to struggle over reality. For rhetoric is always producing reality. The people who have felt estrangement in the language of struggle have nevertheless shared the will to nuclear abolishment; it is rather that the structural contradiction embodied therein is the very object to be overcome as part of the capitalism grounded upon the maintenance of nuclear power. The power of genderization inscribed in the discourse of struggle is double-binding the tent on the foot of METI. Notwithstanding the richness of the subjectivity that drives the anti-nuke movement and the diversity of the people who sustain, support and visit the tent, the slogan “Protect Fukushima Mothers” was attached to the petition internationally distributed in January for protesting the evacuation order. And the tent itself has not yet created a practice that could go beyond the conventional rhetoric, maybe because the space is too small and ephemeral in order for us to walk further by transforming the internal critique to a driving force.

The power of occupying a space is large. More than ever I feel with my mind and body the significance of the experiences of the people across the world, struggling for recapturing the space deprived of them with their own bodies. The tent in front of METI has come to be situated at a corner of the global occupy movement. It has become the mental ground for the people fighting anti-nuke movement in various places across the country, and the center of media attention where foreign (though mainly Western) journalists frequently visit. Like Liberty Park in NYC, it has become a kind of symbol. By visiting the site, however, I am learning that its significance lies less in the fact that it was occupied than the continuous practice of occupying and making the space alive with the people.

Living in the post nuclear disaster society has to be equal to creating a future with our own wounds. Therefore, although the moments of relaxed and soft connections nurtured among the people in and around the tent are important, bringing the estrangement developed with intensities inside the anti-nuke movement into the tent is not contradictory to protecting it. The space should be open to its outside, toward its estrangement. It should not be fixed as becoming a symbol. For we have to continue to think of our future whose premises are our damages, wounds and losses. Even if the tent succeeds in surviving the compulsive eviction, at some point it will face an end of the community. But it is at that moment that the experiences will have an expanse to be part of the image of a coming society.

If not, where is the meaning of the life-or-death struggle we fight under radiation everyday? During the rally held against the eviction order, a woman, who had escaped from her home 3km away from the Fukushima Daiichi, was claiming that, when she escaped, on the assumption that she could return home soon, she only brought 3000 yen with her; but she had not been able to return; there were nothing for use in the apartment she was offered in Tokyo; her son could not get a job. And yet she had to pay for her electric bills to TEPCO, the fountainhead of agonies of hers and others. Her last cry was: “Please do something for children at least!” This claim would sweep out the commonplace ideology that has been grounding modern capitalism: mothers who protect their children, namely, the sex that bears and nurtures life must be healthy. I have been already hurt and wounded. What should I do with life in the future?

Wounded and damaged, and yet trying to live – I only cherish such power. Under the cold and grey sky, if the tent and its “10 months and 10 days” can bear something, it will have to be such future.

PDF (English)

Rin Odawara is a researcher of Italian modern history. http://www.facebook.com/rin.odawara



小田原 琳














 テントの外では、放射能の恐怖を訴える表現のなかで、放射能による奇形や先天性の疾病をもった子どもが生まれることに対する拒否感が示されることに、障害をもつ人びとが怒りの声を上げた。小さな子どもとその母親、今後出産する可能性のある若い女性は優先的に避難させよという原発反対派のことばに、子どもをもたない女性たちは傷つけられた(あるいは男性たちも傷つけられたかもしれないが、その声を私は聞いていない)。母親を称揚すると同時に、子どもを保護する責任はあたかも母だけにあるといわんばかりのメディアの表象に、フェミニストたちは苛立った。「子どもを守れ」、「未来を守れ」、「地球を守れ」と、私たちはデモで繰り返し叫んだ。守るとは失われたり、侵されたりしないように防ぐこと。しかしそれは、不可能である。私たちはすでに、傷つけられているのだから。しか も原発事故によってはじめて傷つけられたのではない。ずっと以前からこの社会は、階級や性差や、差異を維持するための暴力によってすでに損なわれていて、そこに放射能があらたにつけくわわったにすぎない。事故はこの社会が放置してきた幾重もの裂け目を可視化させただけである。同時に事故が結果として果たしたその可視化の機能によって、反原発運動は、反貧困運動や反資本主義運動、都市の利便性のための地方の犠牲、あるいは核の導入をめぐる経緯において、反基地運動や反戦運動とつらなって展開されるべきであったし、そのようにひろがってきた。デモや集会に参加する人びとの多様性や、表現の創造性においては、ジェンダーを否定し、反転させ、超えていると感じさせることもある。「女・こども」がおもてだって異議申し立てに奮闘している、そのことがすでに、女性運動が長い歴史のなかで闘い積み重ねてきた成果である。





PDF (日本語)

 小田原 琳:イタリア近現代史研究者、http://www.facebook.com/rin.odawara

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