March 11, or 3.11 as it has come to be known, marked the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and killed more than 20,000 people. While the mourning, flower offerings and moments of silence that were observed all over the world yesterday will always be dedicated first and foremost to these victims and their families, 3.11 is made dramatically more complex and tragic by its towering alter ego: The Fukushima nuclear crisis, the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever known.
Unlike the frequent aftershocks that keep Tokyoites feeling moments away from another doomsday, concerns about nuclear radiation are almost too easy to ignore. In the polite group ethos of Japanese culture, it can somehow feel inconvenient or impolite to bring up radiation concerns. But the topic remains the elephant in the room.
And it will be this elephant that defines the social, political and artistic movements in Japan for decades to come. Japan's Generation Y became Generation Fukushima very quickly over the past year. So what are the visible effects? For one, Japan's famously non-political youth and even more non-political pop culture are suddenly experiencing a surge in poignant political expression. Powered by the same media platforms that have recently brought about revolutions in other parts of the world, artists with messages, especially anti-nuclear messages, are suddenly getting massive exposure in Japan.
Frying Dutchman, a Kyoto-based band virtually unknown a year ago, is behind what has perhaps become the anthem of the post-Fukushima youth movement. The song "humanERROR," a poetic rant which, if nothing else, clearly articulates the narrative embraced by many Japanese, has become an internet sensation over the past three months. Organizers, concerned that people might not know how to articulate their protest on the one year anniversary of 3.11, began a campaign to get 100,000 people to play "humanERROR" on sound systems across Japan — the louder and more public the better, they explained. Sixty-seven thousand registered.
While we are only seeing the beginning stages of what will undoubtedly be a massive social, political and artistic impact stemming directly from 3.11, it is both heartbreaking and inspiring to watch Japan's artists struggle with the singular collective catastrophe of their time.
In the video above, watch Frying Dutchman perform "humanERROR" on the banks of the Kamo River in Kyoto — the same banks that gave us the Kabuki Theater.
Join Asia Society New York on Tuesday, March 13 at 6:30 pm ET for Great Japan Earthquake: One Year Later, a panel discussion featuring U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Japan and Korean Affairs James Zumwalt. Can't make it to the event? Tune in to AsiaSociety.org/Live at 6:30 pm ET for a free live video webcast. Viewers are encouraged to submit questions to [email protected].