281_Anti-Nuke’s Art and What it Means For Japanese Politics.

Art has the power to provoke ideas and inflame passions. Politics and art, in this way, go hand in hand. When an event of historical magnitude occurs, it’s only a matter of time before an artist emerges and addresses it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan (Abenomics) as the story of the hour in news circles, it’s easy to forget that Japan endured a nuclear catastrophe just 2 years ago. In March 2011, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant underwent a partial meltdown from the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami.

Approximately 157,000 residents were forced to flee their homes due to radioactive contamination in Fukushima prefecture with little hope of ever returning. Critics blamed the disaster on negligence and incompetency concerning safety regulations willingly overlooked by TEPCO and the Japanese government.

Flash-forward to today and the public carries on as if it’s business as usual. The earthquake, tsunami, or even Fukushima rarely comes up in casual conversations. On the surface, it appears that the populace and Japanese government have forgotten the disaster altogether.

One artist hasn’t.

The man calling himself 281_Anti Nuke designed stickers, posters, and indiscreetly plastered them throughout Tokyo. His most recognizable piece is a small girl in a slicker with “I hate rain” printed beneath. It isn’t until you glimpse a nuclear trefoil inscribed beneath the text that its message dawns on you and all the events broadcasted from yesteryear return to you in a flood of regret.


His ‘mock’ propaganda is a sharp–albeit intrusive– reminder of the gravity of what happened in Fukushima not so long ago. It’s a tragedy that he claims the government created. It’s a tragedy that he believes they coerced the public to forget.

Giant Robot Magazine previously reported sightings of his art in October 2011. Back then, information on 281 was scarce. Two years later, major outlets like The Economist, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal have featured photos of his art in articles about national politics. Others like Japan Rolling Stones, Channel 24, and The Japan Times have even interviewed the enigmatic artist himself.

Besides his distrust of the Japanese government and his drive to hold them accountable, almost no one knows anything about 281′s personal life–let alone his actual name.

The retrospective at the Pink Cow bar in Roppongi on June 6th, 2013, was held to raise awareness of his work and offer a little more insight into the artist himself. The retrospective hosted a preview screening of filmmaker/photographer Adrian Storey’s self-titled documentary about 281.

Storey formerly featured some of 281′s designs in a segment that he submitted for Ridley Scott’s Japan in a Day documentary. 281 contacted Storey and requested permission to use the images from Japan in a Day for his own personal website. Story agreed on the condition that 281 consent to be the subject of the aforementioned self-titled documentary. Filming began in January of this year.

Stroey’s documentary not only depicted the platform for 281’s opposition to the corruption of Japanese politicians and nuclear industry, but also further illuminated some of the seedier undercurrents of Japanese politics and why 281′s anonymity is so imperative.

People known as the Netto Uyoku (Right-wing netizens) accuse 281 of secretly being a Zainichi Korean (Korean born in Japan) and vandalizing public property. Certain right-wing groups in Japan often associate foreigners and the Zainichi with delinquency and organized crime.

The preview featured numerous posts on message boards from the Uyoku discussing 281’s art. One in particular contained a disturbing rant from someone reacting with a wish to kill all minorities in Japan. 281 doesn’t admit it explicitly, but several of these posts accumulated to enough threats against him that he temporarily shut down his Twitter and personal webpage.

He was also originally slated to attend the retrospective and answer questions from attendants, but backed out at the last minute and held a Skype conference with visitors instead.

Ryan Roth, his manager, explained that prior to the gathering, he took precautions to ensure 281′s safety. “We had to make sure that there was a back exit,” Roth said. “Just in case things got hairy.” There was a lingering anxiety that one of the Netto Uyoku would appear and start trouble.

Roth holding a skype conference with 281 at the Pink Cow's artist retrospective

Roth took in interest in 281’s art after seeing it on the streets of Tokyo. He contacted 281 online and they agreed to meet sometime between July and August, and Roth offered to represent him through his art investment company, Roth Management. Because he is a client, Roth is one of the few people who have seen 281’s face and know him by his true name.

As severely paranoid as that sounds, it’s not without precedent. The popular Japanese image board, 2Chan, is notorious for its death threats posted liberally throughout its forums.  It reached a point where the police had to intervene and crack down on these incidents. As with the case of the “Neo-Mugicha Incident” and imitations of the “Akihabara Massacre,” which originated as threats online, observers have every reason to take these threats seriously.

Additionally, even though the image board concentrates mainly on anime and popular culture, David W. Marxy of the Neojaponismé blog pointed out that posts on the board possess a heavy footed right-wing bent.

As a result, there’s a comically predictable tendency for Japanese right-wingers to accuse people with disagreeable opinions of being “Secret Koreans” much in the same way that they responded to 281’s art. For example, online netizens have erroneously accused New York Times journalists Hiroko Tabuchi and Norimitsu Onishi when they wrote about historical tensions between Japan and South Korea.

This and the threats inveighed against 281 even had Storey treading lightly around the topic of the Uyoku in the documentary. “Notice that I simply depicted what they wrote,” Storey said. “I didn’t take any of it out of context.”

All of this adds up to a dire portrait of Japan’s political dynamics. A poll for the Asahi Shimbun claims that 59% of the people oppose Abe’s nuclear power policy. This means that the Uyoku defending this policy are in the minority.

Admittedly, the Netto Uyoku already dwell on the fringes of society and demographically don’t possess a dominant votership in Japanese elections.

And that’s precisely the problem. It doesn’t bode well for a country if the tyranny of the few can bully someone with a dissenting opinion into silence.  Despite the high number of people who share 281’s views on nuclear energy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet seems intent on restarting the nation’s reactors again in the near future. While economic matters are the forefront of the Japanese public’s concerns, one has to wonder what will happen if “Abenomics” fails to deliver. Prime Minsister Abe may be enjoying a high approval rating at the moment, but he’s arguably done little to placate his countrymen’s anxieties about the hazards of nuclear energy. One has to wonder whether voices like 281’s will grow louder once the intoxicating effects from Abenomics dissipate and bring a looming hangover.

A special thanks to Ryan Roth of Roth Management who represents 281_Anti-Nuke. To learn more about Roth Management, visit: http://roth-mgmt.com/. All inquiries to the artist should be directed to [email protected].

For more information, visit: http://www.281antinuke.com/. Follow 281 on Twitter @ 281_.

A trailer for Adrian Storey’s documentary can be accessed here. To learn more about Storey and his work, visit: http://www.uchujin.co.uk/. Follow him on Twitter @Uchujinphoto


Earthquake Early-warning System Successful During Recent So. Calif. Temblor

OH, CALM DOWN… We note that there was a presser March 13 announcing that the beta-test of an earthquake early-warning system had been a success during the 4.7 temblor (I love that word) that shook the desert in California’s Riverside County, ironically, on Monday, the second anniversary of Japan’s humongous 9.0 on 3.11.2011. Experts told a reporter from the L.A. Times that the system would give scientists “up to 30 seconds” warning of an impending quake. “Scientists”? What about us? [LAT ~ Earthquake early-warning system successful during quake]

Monday, the local news in L.A. was airing comments of those who experienced the strongest shaking:  “I just grabbed my baby and ran out of the house!,” one woman said. A teacher at a local elementary school recounted proudly how she directed her students to huddle in a doorway.  <Buzzer Sounds>  Sorry, contestants. You lose!

Japan has had an early warning system in place since 2007. The program alerted some 50 million residents ahead of the Fukushima earthquake in 2011. Yeah, but what do you do when it’s a 9.0? Reminds me of those Cold War era drop drills in case of a nuclear war.

According to a Japanese study, residents of tsunami vulnerable Tohoku region had between 10 and 19 minutes warning to evacuate to higher ground. The same study compiled with UNESCO found that 90% of the nearly 19,000 who died on 3.11 drowned, and that ~ and here’s the kicker ~ 70% of those who were swept away by the sea that day did not bother to evacuate.  [Japan-UNESCO-UNU Intl Symposium ~  Great Eastern Tsunami and The Tsunami Warning Systems: Policy Perspective  ~Rachel Roh


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LA Memorial for 3.11

3.11 in Japan memorialized in LA at the LAPD headquarters. It had to happen somewhere and not sure why at the LAPD headquarters. You’d think they could do it in various locations, except at the LAPD headquarters. (LA Times – 3.11)

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Tsunami, Then and Now

Amazing images of how things changed or didn’t too much in Japan. (Rocketnews24 – Tsunami)

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Gold Ingots Donated Anonymously to Japan Tsunami Relief

Just when you thought everything was rebuilt and complete… not quite, not close, but an anonymous donor sent in 280k worth of gold anonymously. (Guardian UK – Gold) It’s great to see people still doing nice things for each other, even two years later.

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Dock Washes up in Washington

We were messing with puns in the title, but oh well. That said, yet another piece of possible tsunami debris washes up, and it’s another exciting dock. It’s also gigantic, yet poses no threat thus far to the environment. (Seattletimes – Dock)

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Billions for Tsunami Repair Went Elsewhere

What else can go wrong for 3.11 in Japan? Lying politicians and company chairpersons, lack of safety, false information and now this. (LATimes – Billions Elsewhere)

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Nara Yoshitomo Exhibit: “a bit like you and me…”

I have a confession to make. I’m new to Japan’s pop-art scene. I haven’t fully grasped Takashi Murakami’s the theoretical frame work of his Postmodern Superflat movement, but I’m an avid fan of his work and everything and everyone associated with it.

Yoshitomo Nara sometimes comes up on the topic of Murakami and Superflat. The last time Nara’s solo exhibit occupied the Yokohama Museum of Art’s halls in 2001, it coincidentally coincided with Murakami’s at the Museum of Contemporary of Art, Tokyo. Eleven years later, Nara has returned with his next exhibit “a bit like you and me…”

It was possibility the first time that I not only had to wait in line for admittance for an art exhibit, but also the one time where I had to follow a queue of people to move from piece to piece.

Amidst all this, I immediately understood the hype. There’s something oddly bewitching about his characters and painting. Their eyes are deformed, reminiscent of the anime and manga characters’ that he consumed early on in the 1960s. Cute though his characters may be, their expressions are anything but that. Each of his pieces portrays nearly identical girls with leers that have grown to become his signature aesthetic.

A gallery of bronze cast sculptures occupy one floor and as Edan Corkill of the Japan Times reports, March 11 became the key piece to its conception. The sculptures aren’t socially or politically active so much as they’re emotionally wrought. What’s more, there feels like a touch of growing maturity to his newer paintings.

Take Ms. Spring for example. I’m not sure to what degree Nara is influenced by contemporary anime, but the multi-colored scheme reminds me of some of the digital effects rendered by photoshopped characters. The main difference is that while artists use Adobe Elements to achieve this effect, Nara took acrylic to canvas. Look deeper into the eyes of “Ms. Spring” and there’s a vividness in its color that defies her otherwise sullen mood. There’s certainly sorrow there, but the complex coloring of it all is almost elevating. What this means about the direction of Japan’s nascent Post-3.11 art movement is anyone’s best bet, but this exhibit may be one of the best places to start.

Yoshitomo Nara’s exhibit, “a bit like you and me…” continues until Sunday, September 23rd, 2012 at the Yokohama Museum of Art. For further information, visit www.nara2012-13.org.


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Protest by MANY Japanese – 200,000 People?

Some say it’s 17,000 and some 200,000. But it’s a huge turnout and a strong voice against restarting the reactors. Some nice photos at Asahi news. (Nukene.ws – Protest)

Some aerial footage:


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281 Antinuke Bombs Noda

I was wandering around Shibuya the other night and ran across a construction divider plastered with stickers of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. The stickers gradually sprung up shortly after the 1 year anniversary of the 3.11 nuclear disaster. These and many others are the work of a designer/underground artist cryptically named “281 AntiNuke” targeting Tepco Photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert documented some of 281′s handy work throughout the city along with a photograph of what appears to be 281 himself standing beside one of his stickers. I can’t find any other information on this artistic crusader otherwise.

So far, I haven’t seen these two photos uploaded online. One is a an Obama Hope poster parody with the President’s visage replaced by a collage of nuclear trefoils. The other is another of Noda as a ventriloquist dummy with the tagline “Follow the Follower.”

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40,000 Protest Against Nuclear Restart in Tokyo

Some say 20, some say 40,000 people are protesting in Tokyo over the restart of the nuclear plants. (Bangkok Post -Japan protest) Strangely, it’s hardly in Japanese news.




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Fukushima Suicides

160,000 evacuees, suicides and more. This is a video that sort of catches up on what’s going on as the news of Fukushima gets quiet. It’s about Mikio Watanabe who’s wife commit suicide. He’s now suing TEPCO – the company who runs the Fukushima nuclear plant. There are many sad videos about Fukushima, and this is just one of them. (CNN – Fukushima Suicides)

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The Need to Restart Reactors

The Prime Minister of Japan says there’s a need to restart two reactors for the livelihoods of Japan. This was bound to happens since fossil fuels cost and there’s not enough alt energy in place that’s willing to be adopted. This brings up a better discussion of what can really replace nuclear power? What are people willing to sacrifice and vote for? Bummer for the locals of the Ohi Plant, but that’s how things are going to work at the moment. (Business Week – Ohi Reactors)


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Derelict Dock from Tsunami?

A dock washes up in Oregon. For some reason, the corner casters? look too clean for it to have travelled across the pacific in a year, but then again, it also appears to have floated “wheels” up and it’s huge. There’s a metal placard on it, that mentions “service” but that’s all we can read from it. (KVAL – Dock)

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In His Own Words: NYC Artist Naoto Nakagawa’s Thousand Portraits of Japan Disaster Survivors

“When the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck northern Japan, I felt powerless to do something substantial to help my homeland. Family circumstances took me to Japan a few months later, and I resolved to visit the devastated area to see it with my own eyes. While I was there I decided to draw portraits of people who are living in shelters, to give them some token that a visitor from far away in America cares about their plight.

“I remembered that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, school children in Japan sent 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of healing and good fortune, to my children’s school. I decided to make 1,000 Portraits to give to people in northern Japan – a symbolic way to demonstrate that others care for them and that we support each other in a crisis.

“During five subsequent trips to Japan, I was assisted by a humanitarian aid group, which arranged for me to visit schools and shelters. The response was overwhelming; when I focused on my subjects, they started to talk, or sometimes to cry. One woman told me that she had lost all her family photos in the tsunami, and was so grateful to have my portrait of her.”

Nakagawa is shown (above) with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly after sitting for a portrait last year. Ironically, Commissioner Kelly briefly lived in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the 3-11 earthquake and tsunami.

Nakagawa’s “1000 Portraits of Hope” will be on display from June 18 through Aug. 8 as part of “Voices From Japan: Despair and Hope From Disaster” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112 Street. For more information, visit stjohndivine.org

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Harley Davidson Classes It Up for Tsunami Victim

Harley Davidson did the classy and offer the tsunami victim, Ikuo Yokoyama, who lost family members, a full restore of his bike, but he one upped them. Yokoyama asked Harley Davidson to keep the bike and put it in their museum and a monument.

“The Harley-Davidson Museum is honored to receive this amazing motorcycle to ensure that its condition is preserved and can be displayed as a memorial to the Japan Tsunami tragedy,” said Bill Davidson, Vice President of the Harley-Davidson Museum.” (Foxnews – Harley)

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Japanese Harley Washes Up on West Coast Shore

There will be more of these washing up. Most everything will be completely thrashed from a year of being in the ocean. If this catches more eyes, they’ll most likely track down the owner and someone will step in and restore the bike for him or her – provided the person is alive. We wrote the script ahead of time. We’ll see what unfolds. (Jalopnik – Harley)

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Minor Injuries during the Removal of the Bent Tokyo Tower

Yes, as our friend Nao Harada mentions, they should leave it bent as a symbol of the quake. (Kahoku – Bent Tower)

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Kelp at Higher Radiation Levels

Kelp along California Coast infected with higher levels of radiation. Yes, kelp will absorb it, but at the same time, animals eat kelp and that means it’s everywhere. Yet, it’s said to not be at a harmful level. It’s just higher than it was before. (redorbit – kelp)

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You Sunk Their Battleship

The Coast Guard will sink the ghost ship, Ryou-un Maru. It’s 150-200 feet of future living quarters for sealife. Hopefully, it’s not filled with toxic chemicals or fuel – which surely exists on board. (CBS – ship sink)


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