October 2, 2011

JAPAN: Human Beings Cannot Live With Nuclear Power, declares Satoshi Kamata, 73

TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times / Life In Japan / October 2, 2011

In the hot seat: Satoshi Kamata pictured during his recent JT interview.
Satoko Kawasaki Photo

CLOSE-UP: Satoshi Kamata
Rebel spirit writ large

By Eriko Arita, Staff writer

Monday, Sept. 19, was Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. But on that sweltering national holiday, it wasn't the heat that that drew tens of thousands of people to Meiji Park in central Tokyo, but their concerns for all the nation's citizens, and others, who may face a threat from nuclear power.

Addressing that huge and peaceful gathering, the renowned freelance journalist Satoshi Kamata typically pulled no punches when he stepped up to the microphone on stage and declared: "Human beings cannot live with nuclear power. This fact has been proved in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima. Can we allow more people to become victims of nuclear power?"

When he followed his own question with a resounding "No!" the shouts and applause from the more than 60,000 demonstrators estimated to be there rang out like a clarion call for the abolition of nuclear power. But it was a call tinged with anger about the ongoing crisis 200 km to the north at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that was crippled after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.

The event, whose massive turnout was virtually unprecedented in passive present-day Japan, came about following months of preparation by its organizers, who included author and Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, economist Katsuto Uchihashi, novelist Hisae Sawachi and Kamata himself, who had been giving lectures around the country since April to increase people's awareness of the nuclear power industry.

Saying it loud: Satoshi Kamata (above, left) joins other organizers and demonstrators to display a banner reading "Protect children in Fukushima from radiation" at the 60,000-strong Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants rally (below) in central Tokyo on Sept. 19. Kyodo

Besides reporting on nuclear matters since 1970, though, Kamata is also well known for his dogged coverage of labor issues, the U.S. military bases in Okinawa and education issues affecting Japan's socially disadvantaged.

But this son of an acupuncturist in his native Hirosaki in northerly Aomori Prefecture is no mere talking head. In fact, after graduating from high school he moved to Tokyo and started working as a laborer in a factory making 8-mm movie cameras before moving to a print factory that used mimeographs — stencil-duplicators that predated photocopying. Faced with awful working conditions there, Kamata formed a labor union, but even after he and the other union members were fired as a result they continued to protest by staying at their jobs.

It was that labor struggle that motivated him to write about his experiences, and at age 22 in 1960 he entered Waseda University to prepare himself for a career shift. So, after graduating he got a job as a staff writer with Tekko Shimbun (Japan Metals Daily) before moving on to become editor of the now-defunct magazine, Shinpyo (New Analysis).

At age 30, however, Kamata left the security of a steady salary behind to become a freelance writer. Since then he has pursued that career actively, several times going undercover as a casual worker at major companies' factories. One result of this was his acclaimed 1973 book "Jidosha Zetsubo Kojo" ("Despair Automobile Factory"), which was translated into English in 1982 as "Japan in the Passing Lane."

As well, Kimata has reported on all 54 nuclear reactors at power plants around Japan and has published several books on nuclear issues, including "Nihon no Genpatsu Kiken Chitai" ("Nuclear Power Dangerous Zones in Japan") in 1982 and "Rokkasho Mura no Kiroku" ("The Record of a Village of Rokkasho") in 1991. That 1991 book — which brought to light the protests of farmers in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho against the construction of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant there — won him the prestigious Mainichi Shuppan Bunka Sho (Mainichi Publications Culture Prize).

Among many other honors for the more than 120 books he has written, Kamata also won 1990's Nitta Jiro Award for nonfiction for "Hankontsu" ("Rebel Spirit"), his book about Tomin Suzuki (1895-1979), a journalist who campaigned against the authorities before, during and after World War II.

Satoshi Kamata. Satoko Kawasaki Photo

Despite a full schedule of lectures, reporting and meeting deadlines for his regular columns in newspapers and magazines, the 73-year-old journalist found time for this interview in Tokyo in mid September.

Click here for Eriko Arita interviews Satoshi Kamata

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