Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model 日本の反原発デモにおける音楽 論議を呼ぶパーフォーマンス様式の展開


October 18, 2013

Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model 日本の反原発デモにおける音楽 論議を呼ぶパーフォーマンス様式の展開
Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model 日本の反原発デモにおける音楽 論議を呼ぶパーフォーマンス様式の展開

Volume 11 | Issue 42 | Number 3

Article ID 4015

Introduction: The Significance of Sound Demos

Since Japan’s triple disaster of March 11, 2011, music has served to inform and give voice to unspoken opinions in several spaces—cyberspace, recordings, festivals and concerts, and public demonstrations.1 In particular, music has been an integral part of antinuclear demonstrations: here, music functions not only as an expression to be heard, but also—and perhaps more importantly—as a mechanism for encouraging participation and building solidarity among antinuclear citizens. Music has long been a part of demonstrations in Japan: percussive instruments and the rhythmic eejanaika (why not) call-and-response pattern were featured in demonstrations since the end of the Edo Period. Today, demonstrations in Japan include stationary demonstrations (kōgi), in which protesters voice claims in front of the offices of the offending parties, such as the prime minister, the Diet, or TEPCO. There are also “demos,” in which protesters walk through parts of the city; they are often preceded and/or followed by rallies, in which speeches by politicians and activists alternate with musical performances. In the weekly Friday kōgi in front of the prime minister’s office (Kantei)—among the largest and longest-running weekly demonstrations Tokyo has ever seen, attracting 200,000 protesters on June 29, 2012, and running without a break for an unprecedented 19 months—drummers and horn players accompany the protesters’ calls and responses of slogans (Sprechchor), while folk singers, traditional drummers, chanters with uchiwadaiko, and fans of the late rocker Iwamano Kiyoshirō play in different spots around the block. In marching demos—which attracted 15,000–20,000 people per event in 2011, as many as 200,000 in 2012, and up to 60,000 in 2013—drum corps, brass bands, chindon bands,2 and other ambulatory musicians perform alongside “sound trucks,” piled with sound equipment, upon which rappers, singers, DJs, and bands perform. “Sound demos”—the name given to some demonstrations with sound trucks—have been credited with attracting masses of first-time demonstrators. In addition, protesters often credit the performances of musicians for establishing the mood of a demonstration. Drawing from the theories of Charles Tilly and Thomas Turino, this article focuses on the music of ambulatory demonstrations and explains the political catalysts for shifts between two styles: presentational and participatory, which I define below.

Sound trucks with musical equipment have a long history: having been popularized in Europe through events like the Notting Hill Carnival in London and the Berlin Love Parade, they appeared in LGBT parades in Tokyo in the mid-1990s and early 2000s; they also appeared in antiwar demonstrations organized by Chance! Peace Walk and World Peace Now from 2001 onwards. Nonetheless, the first sound-truck demonstrations named “sound demos” were organized in 2003 by the collective Against Street Control (ASC) as a series of reclaim-the-streets protests against the war in Iraq (ECD 2007; ECD et al 2005; Hayashi and McKnight 2005; Mōri 2003, 2005, 2009; Noiz 2011; Oda 2003). The format caught on and was replicated in Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and other cities. In the later 2000s, the used-goods shop-cum-activist group Shirōto no Ran (Revolt of the Laymen) organized several sound demos for precariat (precarious proletariat) causes (Matsumoto 2008; Deguchi 2008); sound trucks were also featured in the protests coinciding with the G8 summit in Sapporo in 2008. Hence, sound demos were already an established and popular feature of demonstrations before the antinuclear protests following the triple disaster.

Since 2011, several activist groups have formed or regrouped from earlier activist configurations to hold antinuclear demonstrations: Shirōto no Ran, which held monthly sound demos for the first six months of the crisis, and has since worked with Datsu Genpatsu Suginami; No Nukes More Hearts, which has been holding demonstrations and other events since 2007 and is led by illustrator Misao Redwolf; TwitNoNukes, which began holding regular monthly demonstrations in April 2011; and the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes (MCAN, Shutō Hangenpatsu Rengō, or Hangenren)— composed of fourteen antinuclear organizations including members of TwitNoNukes, No Nukes More Hearts, and Shirōto no Ran—which organizes the weekly demonstrations in front of the prime minister’s residence and large-scale demonstrations attracting tens of thousands every three to four months. These groups have held sharply differing philosophies as to the impact music has on a demonstration: some believe it supports it by attracting people, while others believe it detracts from the political purpose. They also disagree on its role: some believe that music should be for listening, while others consider it an activity to be shared by as many people as possible. Moreover, activists have shifted their stance as political circumstances have changed. Charles Tilly noted that protest repertoires tend to change incrementally, in response to changes in political opportunity structure, available models of performances, and connections among potential actors (Tilly 2008: 90). As I will illustrate, this theory applies well to the case of music in Japanese antinuclear demonstrations.

Part of the debate about music and demonstrations concerns the question: to what extent does a demonstrator engage with a musical performance, and in what ways? To address this question more generally for musical performances, Thomas Turino has categorized them as being in one of two styles: participatory, which has “no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles”; and presentational, where artists play music for an audience who do not participate in the music-making (2008: 26). These approaches differ in both goals and aesthetics. In the participatory approach, the aim is to involve as many people, as intensely as possible. As such, the music must be easy enough for newcomers to join in; it is usually comprised of short forms that are repeated over and over. While the repetitiveness may make the music uninteresting to an outside audience, it adds to the intensity of the performance for the participants. The emphasis is on inclusivity, regardless of the players’ ability, at the expense of showmanship. Because participants must concentrate on each other’s actions and sounds, participatory music promotes social bonding (2008: 28–41).

In contrast, presentational music involves a separation between artist and audience, with musicians performing scripted pieces, as they usually do at concerts. The goals of these performances are to entertain the audience, so that the emphasis is on showmanship and variability. The performers are not one with the audience, as in a participatory performance; rather, the audience looks at them, and they may even be heroes to some audience members (Turino 2008: 52–63). Nonetheless, presentational performances can also help to forge feelings of community among audience members, triangulated through identification with, or adoration of, the performer. Many musical performances involve some elements of both presentational and participatory approaches, but one approach usually predominates over the other.

In sound demos, the protesters and onlookers comprise the audience, but the protesters have also come to participate, whether it be by playing in one of the ambulatory ensembles, engaging in call-and-response patterns, or simply walking along with the demonstration. Hence, the performers in a sound demonstration must interact to some degree with both protesters and onlookers, and they will often shift between presentational and participatory approaches. Nonetheless, it is useful to think of a spectrum of performance styles from the presentational to the participatory; as we will discuss, several factors, including not only the artist’s genre and disposition but also the political context, affect which style predominates. This spectrum is among the many factors that organizers of demonstrations consider when they are seeking to maximize participation and impact.

The remainder of this article explains the activists’ philosophies behind the presentational and participatory performance styles and the political context for shifts between presentational and participatory style. I focus on rap and reggae performers on sound trucks and on drum corps—forms that easily lend themselves to both presentational and participatory performance. The article charts the evolution of music in demonstrations from 2011 to 2013, considering primarily the Shirōto no Ran demonstrations of 2011 and the No Nukes More Hearts and MCAN demonstrations of late 2011 to 2013, and the influence that more stoic demonstrations—TwitNoNukes, drum corps-driven protests, and the weekly protests in front of the prime minister’s residence—had on this style. Participatory-style rap, as developed by Akuryō in late 2011, has continued to play a major part in demonstrations: changing combinations of him and fellow rappers ATS and ECD performed in this style in the antiracist demonstration of September 22 as well as antinuclear MCAN demonstrations on March 10 and October 13, 2013; furthermore, the sound demo has been revived in Osaka, Sapporo, and other cities. Along the way, I consider the protest organizers’ differing ideas regarding the nature of participation, as gleaned through my discussions with them.

Presentational style: Shirōto no Ran demonstrations of 2011

While it was far from the first demonstration after the Fukushima accident,3 the Shirōto no Ran demonstration of April 10, 2011 is often cited as a milestone in the antinuclear movement because of the masses of people it unexpectedly attracted. This demonstration featured two sound trucks—one with reggae singer Rankin Taxi, female rapper Rumi, and DJs including techno DJ Mayumi, and the other with punk bands. It was joined by a drum corps headed by Oda Masanori, an anthropologist who writes under the pen name Illcommonz. Chindon-brass band Jintaramūta, headed by Ōkuma Wataru—a member of activist band Soul Flower Union Mononoke Summit—played international protest classics such as “We Shall Overcome” and Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara’s “El derecho de vivir en paz” (The Right to Live in Peace). Originally envisioned as a smaller demonstration of a thousand or so people, it grew to 15,000 participants as passers-by joined in the course of the demonstration.

As music critic and Shirōto no Ran member Futatsugi Shin explained, the demonstration had been organized because the group was astounded by the lack of antinuclear viewpoints in the media: “The going assumption seemed to be that nuclear power would continue as if nothing had happened. But people on the street felt outraged. We had to show something.” The group expected a thousand people; 15,000 people came (Futatsugi Shin, in conversation with Noma Yasumichi, Club Cactus, August 9, 2012). Matsumoto Hajime, the founder of Shirōto no Ran, was himself mystified, explaining, “It wasn’t because our group tried to recruit many people. Rather, it was because everyone was so angry that word got around on its own. We’d never had 10,000 people show up at an event before” (Matsumoto Hajime, interview with the author, Tokyo, February 12, 2012). Even Noma Yasumichi, an activist and music critic with mixed feelings about sound demonstrations (demonstrations featuring sound trucks with musicians), conceded, “Many people got into protesting through the Shirōto no Ran demonstration on April 10 [2011]. One can’t deny the importance of those demonstrations” (Noma, Cactus).

Following the success of this demonstration, the group concentrated its antinuclear demonstrations in heavily trafficked central-Tokyo shopping districts—Shibuya (May 7), Shinjuku (June 11), Ginza (August 6), and Shinjuku (September 11)—each attracting 15,000 to 20,000 participants. This choice of place was because the target audience for these demonstrations was less the government per se but citizens who were either not aware of the issues regarding nuclear power or not speaking up, despite being against nuclear power (Matsumoto, interview).

An inclusive philosophy

Shirōto no Ran’s demonstrations of 2011 were all sound demonstrations, usually with a hip-hop/reggae/DJ truck (organized by Futatsugi) and a hardcore/punk band truck (organized by Anamizu Masahiko of the hardcore band Pinprick Punishment). Futatsugi explained, “We’re not really organizers so much as we invite people to participate. If someone approaches us and says, ‘I want to have a reggae truck, a hardcore truck,’ or whatever, we invite them to do it, as long as they take care of renting the truck and sound system themselves” (Futatsugi, interview with the author, Tokyo, August 18, 2012). Similarly, Matsumoto said, “We don’t try to determine the musical genre. Usually those artists with whom our circle has relationships approach us. It naturally leans toward some genres more than others. Maybe those genres tend to be more politically conscious? There are a lot of punk rockers in Kōenji, which is why our sound demos tend to involve them. Lots of bands want to participate. We’re besieged by them” (Matsumoto, interview).

In allowing individuals to take the initiative, this approach reflects Shirōto no Ran’s philosophy that “it’s best to have a diversity of people there—suspicious characters, the shopkeepers and shoppers of the commercial streets (shōtengai), labor unions, families, everyone—showing their individuality while saying, ‘We’re against nuclear power'” (Futatsugi, Cactus). “It has more impact if you let passers-by see this chaotic amalgamation, as it naturally is, saying ‘No Nukes’ together” (Futatsugi, interview). Such diversity, the group believes, becomes more difficult if a few central people are deciding how things should be done.

Shirōto no Ran also leaves the booking of performers on each truck up to the person organizing the truck, which typically leans heavily on their personal connections. As Futatsugi explained, “The people around us have strong connections with underground musicians [i.e., outside of the major record labels],4 so we tend to invite them—acquaintances of acquaintances, friends of friends” (Futatsugi, interview). Hence, the musicians tend to be more underground and do not include many major-label musicians.

Debates over genres 

Given this reliance primarily on underground performers, the genres that are typically played in such sound demonstrations—hardcore punk, techno, reggae, and hip-hop—tend to be more subcultural than mainstream. As Noma explained, “These [subcultural] genres tend to attract people who are different. On the other hand, the mainstream is listening to AKB48 [an idol-pop girl band]. It’s a huge gap.” (Noma, Cactus). Futatsugi also acknowledged that the music would attract those who like the genre but drive away those who don’t. He noted that the aggressive nature of hardcore punk made it controversial: “Some people live by it. Those who hate it won’t go near it” (Futatsugi, interview). As one example, Miyakoshi Satoko, a member of the artist collective Sayonara Atom, who expressed horror at the punks around the sound truck in the April 10 demonstration: “Their makeup was scary. They even had their placards written in blood ink! I had doubts as to whether such a demonstration would attract more people from here on.”5 Shirōto no Ran held a meeting to discuss whether or not its demonstrations should continue to have a hardcore truck; the group decided it was “more important to present these subcultures and show all that’s in the world. . . There are people who can only express their antinuclear stance through hardcore punk. Their expression should be respected” (Futatsugi, interview). The group rationalized that each demonstration organized itself into segregated blocks, and that those who did not like the music could choose to be in a different block (Futatsugi, Cactus). This segmented approach made sense: rather than allow the demonstration to march as one continuous file, the police typically break up the protesters into blocks of several hundred to a few thousand, spacing them a large city block or two apart. This practice mitigates traffic bottlenecks—and makes the demonstration look smaller. It does, however, help to contain groups of different sounds and atmospheres. A large demonstration often includes a drum corps block, a family block for protesters with children, a sound truck or two, and general blocks centered on calling out slogans.

Performance style

More focus on rappers, singers, words

In the sound demos of the 2000s, the featured music was house and techno, with hardcore punk also included. These musics seemed a propos to the purpose of music in these demonstrations, which was to attract attention, take over sonic space, and entice dancing, in line with their reclaim-the-streets subtheme. The focus was very much on the DJ, without much rap or singing. In contrast, the sound demos since 2011 have featured more rappers, with the likes of Rumi, ECD, and Akuryō. As Oda Masanori, the drum corps leader who was also on the organizing committee for the 2003 demonstrations, explains:

This change in genres allows for calls and responses between the performers and the audience. There wasn’t much of that in the early 2000s. Back then, when DJ Mayuri played the Beastie Boys “You’ve Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party,” people would call out the refrain. But that was it. (Oda Masanori, interview with the author, Tokyo, August 16, 2012).

ECD, a rap pioneer who also participated in both the antiwar sound demos of the early 2000s and antinuclear demonstrations since 2011, concurred: “Back in 2003, there were some call-and-responses, like ‘Don’t start the war.’ But it wasn’t that much, and there were almost no speeches.” He noted that the change in music was because of a different sense of purpose between the two periods: “As serious as the war was, Iraq was very distant from us. The nuclear crisis is right in front of us, affecting every Japanese in his/her daily life. . . This time, we have an urgent message. There’s more focus on rappers and singers, who use words, fitted to music, to deliver those messages” (ECD, interview with the author, Tokyo, December 22, 2011). Hence, the change in political purpose led to the change in the central musical genre—in keeping with Tilly’s theory that changes in political opportunities cause incremental changes in contentious repertoires.

A focus on prepared songs

While performers in the Shirōto no Ran sound demonstrations improvised speeches and engaged the protesters in calls and responses, the vast majority of their performance consisted of pre-written songs and raps; hence, these performances were in the more presentational end of the performance spectrum. For example, in the June 11, 2011 Shirōto no Ran demonstration in Shinjuku, DJ Shinco of the hip-hop trio Scha Dara Parr played “Kaese! Chikyū o 2011” (Return the Earth to Us)—a mashup of Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing” (1988) with the song “Kaese! Taiyō o” (Return the Sun to Us) from the film, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)—in its multi-verse entirety. When ECD took the microphone, he performed his “Recording Report: Hangenpatsu Remix,” an antinuclear rap he wrote over the track to another of his songs; it has the opening line, “Toketa rashiizo, moreteta rashiizo” (We seem to have had a meltdown, radiation seems to have been leaking). Next, he performed “Exodus 11,a rap he wrote a few days after 3.11, having temporarily evacuated his family to Hiroshima; in the refrain, he defiantly declares that no matter how bad the world is, it won’t restrain him and his wife from having a third child if they so choose. Finally, he performed “Mada yume no naka” (Still in a Dream), about his anxieties over bringing up two daughters under straitened circumstances. At the end of the rap, he passionately repeated an additional phrase, reflecting the fears of many a parent:

Jūnen tatte, gan ni natte,6

Oya o urandari suru kamo shirenai.

Ten years later, having developed cancer,

You might come to bear a grudge against your parents.

ECD, “Mada yume no naka,” Shinjuku demonstration, June 11, 2011

Hence, ECD’s set list was composed entirely of songs that were tied to the antinuclear thematic. Most artists, however, perform a mixture of songs that are thematically connected and those that are not. Rankin Taxi’s set list for the Shirōto no Ran demos in April, May, and June 2011 included the sexual-humor song “Chin chin pin pin” and uplifting song “Aozora” (Blue Skies) along with “Dare mo mienai, nioi mo nai” (You Can’t See It, You Can’t Smell It Either), his antinuclear song first recorded in 1989, and “Mental Slavery,” a warning against being misled by politicians or the media. As Matsumoto said, “I think message songs are important, but it would seem strange to have only message-oriented songs. I think it’s fine for the musicians to perform as they usually would. It’s more important that the performers also talk and express their thoughts in their own way” (Matsumoto, interview). Futatsugi added:

While nuclear power is a serious topic, it’s not necessarily a good thing to have serious music always playing to support a serious topic. No matter how you express yourself, it’s still going to be serious, because the topic is serious. What I like about Rankin Taxi is his humor; he can shift the topic in a way that captures your interest. I think it’s best if you have musicians with a variety of approaches. You have a comical performer like Rankin, and you also have someone straight, emotional, and sentimental like Rumi. There are also different types of protesters: you’ll get people who want to shout “No Nukes” in an emotional manner, and you’ll also have people who want to say it in a funky way. It’s best for the demonstration if you have artists who could engage people in a variety of ways: those who express themselves through anger, those through laughter, and those through emotion and sentiment. Then you could appeal to people through different affects (Futatsugi, interview).

Engaging audiences

Rankin Taxi, “You Can’t See It, You Can’t Smell It Either,” Kōenji demonstration, April 10, 2011(see 2:24)

While the focus of Shirōto no Ran sound demos was on musicians performing pre-written songs, the musicians also engaged the audience-cum-protesters in more participatory practices—thus laying the seeds for a more participatory approach down the line. For example, Rankin Taxi encouraged the protesters to sing along to the bridge of “You Can’t See It, You Can’t Smell It Either.” This section quotes the melody of “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” the American children’s song popularized in Japan as “Yukai na Makiba” (Happy Farm); its familiarity makes it perfect for a call-and-response with the audience. Rankin substitutes the refrain, “EE-I-EE-I-O,” with the Japanese near-homonym “iya, iya yo,” which expresses annoyance and disgust:



生まれて来た子供に恨まれるなんて イヤイヤよ。


Do I want to die from radiation? No way!

It’s only a leak, but it can’t be stopped? I don’t want it!

Do I want to be hated by children to be born in the future? No way!

Do I want an affluent but unhealthy lifestyle? No way!

At the April 10 demonstration, the audience easily picked up this repeated scheme and sang louder with each repeat. Several copies of Rankin’s song from 22 years ago had already been uploaded onto YouTube prior to the demonstration, making it more likely that some protesters would be familiar with it.

Similarly, many protesters at the demonstrations in June and September 2011 were already familiar with ECD’s “Recording Report: Hangenpatsu Remix,” as ECD had posted it on YouTube in April 2011. The rap had spawned several remixes and a video by Illcommonz, all of which were posted on YouTube. Hence, the protesters joined ECD in the refrain, “Acchi mo kocchi mo, nicchi mo sacchi mo” (Here, there, everywhere, we’re in deep trouble), as well as the punchline, “No hōshanō, mō iranaiyo” (We don’t need any more radiation).

ECD, “Recording Report: Hangenpatsu Remix,” Shinjuku demonstration, June 11, 2011 (see 1:23) 

Performers also cultivated their signature call-and-response patterns. At the April 10 demonstration, Rankin Taxi improvised a series of antinuclear commentary with a recurring tagline in a catchy melody, which enticed the protesters to join in the sing-songy refrain, “Yappari genpatsu dame zettai” (Sure enough, nuclear power is totally useless!). Futatsugi recalled, “[That call] was a huge hit. Everyone got very excited, and they reacted really well to Rankin’s humor and gentle voice. I thought, ‘I’m really glad I invited him'” (Futatsugi, interview). In addition to these signature calls, the performers also engaged in the standard calls of “genpatsu hantai” (we are against nuclear power) and other calls. Nonetheless, these calls were not the centerpiece of these performances.

Rankin Taxi, “Yappari genpatsu dame, zettai,” Kōenji demonstration, April 10, 2011 (see 1:36) 

A move toward Sprechchor7 

While call-and-response patterns were not the primary focus of the Shirōto no Ran demonstrations, there was a pivotal event in the April 10 demonstration that hinted at the future shape of demonstrations. As Futatsugi Shin recounted:

The sound demo changed after 3.11. An interesting moment came while DJ Mayuri was DJ-ing. There was a huge crowd that had gathered around the sound truck. We were all very tense. It was still too soon after the disaster, and none of us knew what to do. We were just following the truck, not raising our voices. When the truck turned on Oume Kaidō [a major thoroughfare], Mayuri played a cool, soulful techno track [Dutch DJ Joris Voorn’s “Incident”]. . . She cut the bass for a long time. As we went into the intersection, she suddenly put the bass up, and everyone began to dance in unison. Someone spontaneously yelled out, “Genpatsu yamero!” Without being led by anyone, everyone joined in this call-and-response [in rhythm to the beats]. The Sprechchor spread throughout the entire block. It was an amazing scene. At that time, people were not yet accustomed to going to demonstrations, raising their voices, or repeating Sprechchor. Everyone had a hard time doing that. Techno music gave us this huge push, helping us to cry out in the street. ‘Everyone, we can raise our voices!’ The music was the trigger. It was one of the highlights of the April 10 demonstration (Futatsugi, interview).

Continuing this trend, at the next Shirōto no Ran demonstration of May 7, 2011, DJ Tasaka played samples of a child saying “Genpatsu hantai” (we are against nuclear power), “Genpatsu iranai” (We don’t need nuclear power), and “Imasugu tomeyo” (Let’s stop [the nuclear reactors] right now) in rhythm. The crowd engaged in a call-and-response to this child’s voice. Such incidents, however, tended to comprise a small part of the sound demo in those early days, most of which concentrated on rappers and singers performing pre-written songs or DJs playing tracks—i.e., in presentational style.

DJ Mayuri, playing Joris Voorn’s “Incident,” Kōenji demonstration, April 10, 2011

Music’s contribution to demonstrations 

Sound demonstrations were credited with attracting people to the protests, particularly at a time when only a small minority of Japanese citizens were accustomed to demonstrating. As Noma explained, “There are many people who were first attracted to a demonstration through a sound demo and have come to participate in social movements” (Noma Yasumichi, interview with author, Tokyo, December 17, 2012). Music was also seen as lending energy to participants at a protest. ECD said that sound demos and music are “good at lifting up the feelings and excitement level of the participating protesters.” The rapper ATS noted, “The protesters tell us that it’s easier to walk and shout Sprechchor when music is playing” (ATS, interview with the author, Tokyo, August 10, 2012).

Matsumoto Hajime, Founder of Shirōto no Ran, at Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demonstration, May 6, 2012, to celebrate the temporary shutdown of all nuclear power plants for maintenance (Noriko Manabe).

Many sound demos have been compared with matsuri (festivals). As Matsumoto explains:

Music is connected with matsuri in Japanese culture. Having music in a demonstration makes it feel like a matsuri, where everyone is doing something together and having fun. I think it’s very appropriate for a demonstration. It gives you the feeling that you’re united with everyone else. People who are not participating in the demonstration will hear the music as they walk along and think, “Ah, it’s a demonstration.” The music has the power to shape the overall atmosphere of the streets. That, I think is very positive (Matsumoto, interview).

Although social movements around the globe had been incorporating carnivalesque approaches since the late 1990s (Bakhtin 1998, Reed 2005), this aspect of sound demos made them prone to criticism, as it made the demonstration look like it was just having fun rather than addressing a serious matter. Matsumoto had been incorporating fun and humor into demonstrations since his “Ore no chari o kaese” (Gimme Back My Bike) demonstration of August 2005, aligning him with the approaches taken at the WTO meeting in Seattle or the antiwar sound demos of 2003. Matsumoto defended this fun-making, saying:  

I don’t think there’s any negative in having music in a demonstration. It’s narrow-minded to think that you can’t do a demonstration unless it looks completely serious. I think you must allow for the ability to express your opinions in a light-hearted manner. It’s disrespectful to musicians to say that a demonstration is not serious because there’s music there. There are musicians who are earnestly playing music, with a proper message, as a way of expressing themselves. To say that these people are just amusing themselves is wrong. That is a pin-headed way of thinking (Matsumoto, interview).

Police pressure

The large numbers of people that Shirōto no Ran’s sound demos were attracting had caught the attention of the police. In the days before the demonstration in Shinjuku on September 11, 2011, there were signs that a showdown with the police was brewing. Futatsugi explained, “During the June 11 demonstration in Shinjuku, we completely packed the Alta-mae (plaza in front of Studio Alta). We’d wanted to turn that place into a liberated zone. It was a complete victory for us. It was a complete fiasco for the police. When we did another demonstration in Shinjuku three months later, they were determined not to let us do that again, so they came to crush us” (Futatsugi, interview). Shinjuku’s reputation as a place for large assemblies and potential rioting, as in the Shinjuku Riots of 1968, had led it to develop a local police force that was more severe than Shirōto no Ran’s home neighborhood of Kōenji.

Prior to the demonstration, a number of flowerbeds suddenly appeared in Alta-mae, the location for the pre- and after-rallies; this development reduced the square footage available, limiting the number of people that could assemble there.8 At the last minute, the police ordered a complete change in the route for the demonstration, moving its starting point from Alta-mae to Shinjuku Chuo Park, far away on the other side of the railway station. As Futatsugi recalled, “It was obvious that the police were determined to make arrests from their sheer numbers, the air of tension, the way they were pushing us around, their facial expressions, their language with us” (Futatsugi, interview). A file of policemen put themselves behind the sound truck, forcing the demonstrators to walk at a considerable distance behind it. Futatsugi soon found himself arrested:

I was in charge of the DJ and rap truck, which was the most popular—humongous speakers up to here, the loudest sound. It attracted so many people from the street that you could no longer distinguish between the people on the sidewalk and the demonstrators on the road. The police hated that, because the demonstration was going to get bigger and bigger. About twenty minutes into the demonstration, seven policemen came up to me and ordered me to separate the people on the sidewalk from those on the street. They commanded me to order those on the sidewalk to get onto the road with the demonstration, or they’d arrest me. I told them that it was the personal decision of these individuals to stay on the sidewalk, and that I had no right to tell them what to do. The police wouldn’t listen. They handed me three written warnings. Upon the third time, they suddenly rushed about. Someone said, “Arrest him!” All of a sudden, a bunch of them came upon me, knocked me down, grabbed my limbs, stopped a taxi passing by, and pushed me into it. I got taken straight to the Shinjuku police station, on the suspicion that I was holding an “improper demonstration.” It was all over in an instant (Futatsugi, interview).

ECD, Shinjuku demonstration, September 11, 2011

Similarly, several demonstrators were pushed down, dragged, and arrested as the sound truck passed by Shinjuku Station’s crowded South Exit. As ECD said, “People got arrested for bullshit reasons. The police suddenly claimed my acquaintance was pushing a girl, then reached out and handcuffed him. It’s harassment.” More demonstrators were arrested around the punk-band truck. All twelve arrested were thrown in jail. Witnessing the arrests greatly affected Rumi and ECD, who were on the sound truck. In his performance that day, ECD screamed a series of sarcastic questions:



電気つかってもいいですか?. . .

子供つくっ てもいいですか?

東京にげ てもいいですか?


Do you mind if we demonstrate?

Do you mind if we cause a nuisance?

Do you mind if we use electricity?

Do you mind if we have children?

Do you mind if we escape from Tokyo?

Do you mind if we remain in Tokyo?

Shirōto no Ran conducted a campaign to get them all released; half of them, including Futatsugi, were released in two days, while the others were released within eleven. None were charged, although the police did search some of their homes.

Reflecting on his experience, Futatsugi explained that the Shirōto no Ran ethos had a built-in conflict with the police:

It’s not that the police don’t like the antinuclear cause. They don’t necessarily want to crush it. Their job is to maintain the order of the city. As police, they dislike anything that disturbs the calm. On the other hand, what distinguishes a Shirōto no Ran demonstration is that it is looking to see how much chaos it could bring to the street. We believe that if the demonstration has even a little impact on the city, it would communicate a political message. Our premise is that it is of no use to conduct a meek and obedient demonstration. No matter what we do, we’re going to end up conflicting with the police. Even if we try to do a demonstration in an obedient way, we’re inevitably going to clash with them (Futatsugi, interview).

Futatsugi’s view was confirmed while he was in detention, when the examiner told him that “it was fine for us to demonstrate, but that our demonstrations were against the rules.” From the police’s point of view, it was against the rules to have more and more people join in the course of a demonstration, or to have so many people come to watch that they overflow the sidewalk. Futatsugi surmised that the police still considered a proper demonstration to be an “old-style” one, run out of organizations and their membership: “Those protest organizers know how many participants there will be in advance, because they have a regular membership. If the organizer says 200 protesters will come, then 200 protesters will come. The police think that’s how a demonstration should be. But we think demonstrations should be allowed to grow organically” (Futatsugi, interview).

Impact on Shirōto no Ran demos

After the arrests in the September 11 demonstration, Shirōto no Ran pulled back from acting as the sole organizer of demonstrations. As Futatsugi admitted, “The arrest of twelve people in Shinjuku was a big deal. We saw right there the limit of what the loud, rough format of the sound demo could do for making an impact, at least for our group. If Shirōto no Ran got a reputation as rowdy, and we carried on organizing demonstrations after those arrests, then we risked worsening the image of the antinuclear movement. We didn’t want that” (Futatsugi, interview).

Performers and protest organizers saw the arrests as a bad sign. ECD noted, “That Shinjuku demonstration proved that the police are targeting sound demonstrations. If there were no sound truck, there wouldn’t have been so many police” (ECD, interview). Oda noted:

All the people who were arrested at the September 11 demonstrations were around the sound trucks. It showed those organizing a demonstration—not just Shirōto no Ran, but anyone—that sound trucks were high risk. Perhaps it was a turning point for sound demonstrations. In July [2012], there was a 170,000-person gathering in Yoyōgi Park organized by Sayonara Genpatsu, and they had a sound truck. The police treated that block differently from all the others; they were very strict with it. We know the police target sound demos, making it difficult to hold them. But they seem easier to do in regional cities, where the police haven’t targeted them so much (Oda, interview).

Matsumoto explained his philosophy:

For the first six months, we all did these demonstrations together with many other people. It was a good way of doing it in the initial stages. People with different philosophies were coming together to do them. But if you continue doing everything together, you get frustrated that you can’t do it your own way. Then the movement stops getting stronger. You won’t succeed if you just hold huge demonstrations with everyone over a long period of time. The number of participants will fall off. People will get exhausted and bored because they’re continuing only out of a sense of obligation. That’s not good. So we thought we’d go our separate ways, so that each group could protest in the way that it would have the most impact. The people who were coming to our demonstrations are now staging them themselves (Matsumoto, interview).

Futatsugi echoed the sense that the group’s mission had been accomplished: “We saw our role as lighting a fire. . . Half a year is the limit for staging monthly demonstrations with that level of tension. ” (Futatsugi, interview).

In addition, some performers also shared this feeling that the sound demo format, as initially conceived by Shirōto no Ran, had run its course. As ECD said in December 2011, “Up to September 11, we were concentrating on getting as many people out as possible. Sound demos were good for raising interest and getting people to come. Now, we want to concentrate on delivering the message” (ECD, interview).

Refocusing demonstrations at the local level

Photo: Rankin Taxi, Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demo, February 19, 2012 (Noriko Manabe)

Shirōto no Ran did not stop organizing sound demonstrations. Matsumoto and his crew refocused on community-oriented demonstrations primarily around their own ward of Suginami, teaming with local citizens including Harada Akira, a young councilor of Suginami Ward and a member of the Communist Party, under the name “Datsu Genpatsu Suginami” (Suginami for the Abolition of Nuclear Power). The first of these demonstrations was held in Asagaya, Suginami Ward, on February 19, 2012, with subsequent demonstrations held on May 6, December 22, and April 7, 2013. The sound demonstrations I attended in February and May attracted about 5,000-6,000 participants of a variety of ages and approaches, from punk, reggae, and techno fans following their respective sound trucks, to families with small children and the elderly.

Photo: Matsumoto Hajime of Shirōto no Ran and Amamiya Karin, Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demonstration, May 6, 2012 (Noriko Manabe).

When I met with Matsumoto prior to the February 19 demonstration, he described its goal as bringing together “a real mix-up of people at the local level—the aunts and uncles, the mothers, the shopkeepers” (Matsumoto, interview). In keeping with this goal, the group began holding organizational meetings, open to the general public and held in community centers, in January 2012 to discuss how these antinuclear demonstrations should be conducted. In a blog post inviting participants, Matsumoto described a demonstration block for everyone imaginable: a karaoke truck for the “aunts and uncles,” a DJ sound truck, a band truck, a block for parents with baby carts (including a diaper-changing cart), a Sprechchor block, a right-wing block, an “unprecedented business opportunity” block for local merchants (some of whom gave discounts to demonstrators), and a “fighting elderly” block, the latter flouting the power bestowed upon them through traditional respect for the elderly:

No one can match the magnificent power of a demonstration block whose average age is 80! If a policeman the same age as their children fails to remember his gratitude to the elderly, and thoughtlessly tries to place restrictions on the demonstration, they might well end up shouting, “You idiot!,” and deliver a firm smack on the policeman’s head! 9

In seriousness, Matsumoto was seeking to encourage people to speak up and spark local demonstrations all over Japan; after all, it is local constituents who elect many Diet members, and it is local governments who have say as to whether or not nuclear plants could be built or restarted in their towns. As he explained in February 2012:

What would be powerful about this local type of demonstration is that your neighbors would be demonstrating, which itself would be a surprise. It’s a big deal for moms, uncles, and shopkeepers who have not been politically active before to participate in a demonstration. People would see them and think, hey, these people I know are demonstrating! Most people think nuclear power is unnecessary. If all sorts of people came to raise their voices, it would have the greatest impact on public opinion. Then it will become a major issue that the government must face. That would lead to change.

If only a central group of people is demonstrating and everything depends on them, then you would just have “the people who specialize in demonstrating.” The police will think, “We’ll show these guys a thing or two.” We have to avoid that kind of situation. The world is not going to change that way (Matsumoto, interview).

Criticism against sound demonstrations

While sound demonstrations were credited with attracting people to protests, many activists had qualms about them. As Noma explained:

When you have music at a demonstration, it’s difficult to avoid the appearance that it’s just for fun. . . If there is a famous DJ heading a sound truck, you’ll attract a lot of people, but those people would be coming for the DJ. You reverse the priorities from making a political statement to entertaining a crowd. You’d see a bunch of people whooping, hollering, and getting excited to music from a sound truck. The police push and shove, and someone gets arrested. That won’t look good for the cause, and the message would be lost to the passers-by (Noma interview).

Contrary to Matsumoto’s view that fun at demonstrations encouraged participation, Noma believed it actually discouraged it: “It gives the impression that the fun is shared only among an inner circle. It’s alienating to outsiders. They will think it’s something they shouldn’t join” (Noma, interview).

Decorum at sound demos was an issue. Because they were originally conceived as a street party, many protesters at sound demos drank beer along the route. In the context of the antinuclear movement—a serious matter of national policy—activists raised questions as to the appropriateness of this behavior. As Rankin Taxi commented, “It doesn’t look good when demonstrators at a sound demo are seen dancing with beers in their hands. That’s fine for events like LGBT parades, but not for antinuclear demonstrations. It looks too rowdy for the political theme” (Rankin Taxi, Cactus).

As previously mentioned, the musical genres in sound demos were potentially controversial. Indeed, differences in musical taste or social associations of genres had the potential to undermine attempts at finding a common ground. Noma explained, “In demonstrations, the underground subcultures tend to come to the fore and dominate. It can make the demonstration look like a gathering of subcultures, or demonstrating itself to be a subcultural activity.” Furthermore, these subcultural musics excluded different groups: “Folk music is associated with an older generation. Punk and techno are associated with a younger generation. They’re all subcultures: they don’t represent everyone.” He continued:

The antinuclear movement can’t be seen as a minority rights movement or a subcultural social movement. We have to appeal to the masses. And from that point of view, the Shirōto no Ran demonstrations reached a limit there. They came to have a reputation of appealing more to young music lovers, punks, and anarchists. The movement needed to appeal to ordinary men and women, mothers and fathers, the elderly (Noma, Cactus).

A more stoic model: the TwitNoNukes and Kantei protests

At the same time as the sound demonstrations, a more stoic style of antinuclear demonstrations was taking root. One of the first new series of demonstrations was TwitNoNukes, its name derived from the fact that it was organized through Twitter. Hirano Taichi, who was then 26 years old, had attended protests in front of TEPCO headquarters and METI, but had been disappointed by the emptiness of Kasumigaseki on the weekends.10 He then participated in a Gensuikin-organized antinuclear demonstration in the Ginza on March 27, 2011, where he found 1,200 participants, many of whom, like him, had learned of the protest through Twitter. Also present at that demonstration were several future participants in TwitNoNukes, including Noma; Ishiguro Keita, MC in rap group Kimidori and former member of ASC; and the rapper Akuryō. After the demonstration, Hirano found his timeline filling up with comments such as, “Why aren’t there demonstrations in Shinjuku or Shibuya?” On April 5, Hirano tweeted, “Hypothetically speaking, if you would be interested in participating in a demonstration around Shibuya calling for the end of nuclear power, for which we’d recruit people via Twitter, please retweet.” By the following day, the message had been retweeted over 300 times.11 The first TwitNoNukes demonstration took place in Shibuya on April 30, 2011, attracting about 1,000 people. It was held about once a month until May 2012; took a hiatus while its organizers were overwhelmed with managing the weekly Friday protests in front of the prime minister’s residence, which had grown to 150,000–200,000 participants that summer; then continued again from August to November 2012, and March and May of 2013. Its format was replicated in several places across the country, including Osaka, Nagoya, Kanagawa, Hiroshima, Gunma, Fukuoka, and other areas.

Although the organizing group for TwitNoNukes included well-known musicians, music writers, and bloggers, it decided not to include music in the demonstration or have live performances at rallies before or after the demonstration. Instead, it aimed for a simple and stoic demonstration, centered on Sprechchor and placards, without a sound truck. As Noma explained, “For young people who don’t belong to a political organization, there were only two choices of demonstrations: one organized by Shirōto no Ran or one by labor unions. Many people did not want to go to either of these. We wanted to put together an alternative” (Noma, Cactus).

The Twitter demos attracted a steady rate of participation of about 1,000 people each time. Its simple concept made it easy to join, while the drum circle, Kodomo no Mirai Orchestra, and the colorful banners made by Sayonara Atom made the demonstration more inviting to first-time protesters. Several musicians participated in these demonstrations, but only as participants; they included those who had performed in sound demos, like ECD and Rankin Taxi, as well as Gotō Masayoshi of the popular rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Nakagawa Takashi of the activist rock group Soul Flower Union. But when the government began discussing the restarting of nuclear power plants that had been shut down for periodic maintenance, the once-a-month effort no longer felt sufficient.

Photo: TwitNoNukes demonstration, Aoyama Dōri, Tokyo, August 2012 (Noriko Manabe)


From November 2011 onwards, part of this group began shouting criticisms at TEPCO in front of its headquarters. This type of stationary demonstration did not need permission from the police, as it did not affect access to roads. These demonstrations served as the seeds for the stationary protests that would develop in front of the prime minister’s residence (Kantei-mae kōgi). Based on the simplest of ideas—shouting Sprechchor noting one’s opposition to nuclear power directly at the politicians in charge—the Kantei-mae antinuclear protest distinguished itself in its persistence and numbers. As previously mentioned, the protests had been going without a break for nineteen months, since March 29, 2012. As tension and outrage grew over the restarting of the Ōi nuclear reactors, these protests attracted impressive numbers of participants—about 45,000 on June 22, 2012; 200,000 on June 29; 150,000 on July 6 and July 13; and 80,000–90,000 on July 20, August 3, and August 10 (Noma 2012; Williamson 2012).

Much of this growth was due to word of mouth among individuals or through individuals’ tweets. The protests were being organized by the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes—a coalition, formed in late 2011, of several protest organizations, including TwitNoNukes, No Nukes More Hearts, Drums of Fury, Datsu Genpatsu Suginami, Tanpopo-sha and others. This coalition did not have its own Twitter account until June 21, 2012. Unable to reach the Kantei itself due to barricades and rerouting by the police, many protesters began protesting in front of other governmental offices at the same time, such as the Diet Building, METI, MEXT, and the Ministry of the Environment (in which the new nuclear regulatory agency is housed), in what Noma described as Occupy Nagata-chō (Noma, Cactus). With those types of numbers, not seen since the antiwar protests of the 1960s, the antinuclear movement was no longer subcultural. It had become mainstream.

Participatory models (1): drum corps

A reliable presence in the TwitNoNukes and Kantei demonstrations is the drum corps TDC, founded by Oda Masanori. He operates on the philosophy that “music is most powerful and effective [in social movements] when anyone can participate in it. . . It’s not about what genre you have or who performs.” He has held this belief in the participatory approach to music since the early days of sound demonstrations:

I was on the planning committee for the Iraq War sound demos, but I had some doubts about having sound systems in demonstrations. Why? Because there’s a DJ, and the DJ plays tracks that the DJ selected. The DJ is the performer. Everyone else dances, which is a form of participation, but you establish this structure of performer vs. audience. I had real doubts about that. I think one should avoid having a central figure in a demonstration. It shouldn’t be the case that one person is the performer, and everyone else is the audience watching the performer. Everyone should be a performer. That’s why I started TCDC [in 2003] (Oda, interview).

The version of the drum corps currently in operation is TDC. This collective was formed in 2010 among drummers who had met at demonstrations against Nike’s buyout of Miyashita Park in Shibuya and its plans to remake it as a fee-collecting park. The group became active again after 3.11, participating in the April 10 demonstration in Kōenji as the “Doka Doka Urusai Marching Band” (The Boom-Boom Noisy Marching Band). The group also participated in the TwitNoNukes protests. The collective also formed the project, “Drums of Fury,” under which it organizes its own demonstrations and participates in the weekly Kantei demonstrations.

The philosophy of TDC and “Drums of Fury” remains highly egalitarian. As Oda describes:

There’s no leader, conductor, instructor, or facilitator. We only have one rule at TDC. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “We must not find fault with the person who drums to a different rhythm. He might be drumming to a more generous, freer rhythm that you’ve forgotten.”12 We run TDC with that philosophy. That way, people who don’t belong to TDC can join us and beat drums with us at demonstrations. We don’t tell them if their playing doesn’t go with ours. TDC has a structure where the gap between people who are skilled in music and people who aren’t can be closed. More and more people join us in front of the Kantei who are not part of TDC. We never say, “Your rhythm is wrong,” to any new person (Oda, interview).

The group almost never rehearses. As of August 2012, Oda claimed that TDC had only rehearsed three times, each in advance of special occasions.13 This lack of polish is cultivated so that anyone would be able to join the group at any time: “If you do anything difficult, new people won’t be able to join. If you get too good, then for the people who’ve come for the first time, there will be a distinction between player and audience, or master and follower, which I absolutely hate. So it’s best not to get too good, and play really simple music.” Furthermore, all but three of the members (at the time of the interview) were beginners, having just joined after 3.11, and only one of them was a trained musician. Sometimes members of TDC play wind instruments; in keeping with the DIY spirit, Oda lends them various instruments out of his collection so that they could identify “which instrument makes them happiest when they blow into it. After that, they buy a cheap instrument on Yahoo Auctions for 1,000 to 10,000 yen [about $10 to $100 US].” Hence, Oda’s group practices a strategic amateurism; it is a similar strategy to the open memberships often espoused by radical marching bands like the Rude Mechanical Orchestra in Brooklyn and the activist street bands of HONK! festivals (Garafalo 2011). Furthermore, this amateur stance is celebrated: “We rely on the enthusiasm of amateurs and beginners, who might have no sense of pitch and a bad sense of rhythm. Anyone can join, and no one would mind if your rhythm was off.”

Drum Corps playing “saikadō hantai” riff at Kantei kōgi, July 6, 2012

The group also tries not to play songs so much as create simple riffs. According to Oda, the riff that accompanies the call, “saikadō hantai,” was formed spontaneously in front of the Kantei and is taken from “the most basic part of the samba rhythm.” The thinking is that if the group plays “simple phrases that are so easy that you don’t need to practice, then there will be more people who will be able to play along.” In contrast to this inclusivity through simplicity, attempts at playing pieces had a negative impact:

What really was a no-go was when a sax player joined us, playing a pre-written jazz number. We couldn’t match the rhythm. Even though our drums are big, that melody ended up dominating the sound. It interfered with the call and response between the protesters’ Sprechchor and the drums. So when we do a piece, we try to make it a piece no one knows, or a riff, like a simplified version of “Tequila.” We leave it as a riff so that it doesn’t become a song (Oda, interview).

Despite the potential boredom of repeating simple riffs over weeks and months, Oda found the predictability to be important: “People will see the riffs on YouTube and come along with the intention of playing them. If you do something different, they’ll be disappointed, and that won’t be good.”

Hence, TDC exhibits the characteristics of participatory music, as defined by Turino: an emphasis on inclusivity over technical competence, and a preference for easy, repetitive riffs that anyone could play. Oda thought of these riffs as an oral tradition and did not feel exclusive ownership of them:

The saikadō hantai riff has become a signature number for us. If it gets adopted in demonstrations in Kyushu or Shikoku or Hokkaido, that would make us very happy. It would make us even happier if they changed the riff in a
way we hadn’t thought of (Oda, interview).

Photo: Drum Corps, with Oda Masanori (center, red drum). (masa, used with permission)


Participatory models (2): Combining Drums and Sprechchor

In the beginning, the TwitNoNukes demonstrations were dominated by protesters shouting Sprechchor a cappella, sometimes punctuated by tambourine or other percussion instrument. Already there was a beat; as Akuryō noted, “There was a groove just from everyone shouting, ‘Genpatsu hantai.’ It was so awesome.”14 As the number of participating percussionists grew, the drums became a more pervasive accompaniment, providing not only a beat to which the protesters walked but also a rhythmic bed to which they fitted their Sprechchor. Meanwhile, Drums of Fury staged its own demonstrations on October 9, 2011, November 26, and February 11, 2012; while much of the first was dominated by the sheer sound of drums, later demonstrations showed the drums increasingly acting as accompaniment to Sprechchor, sometimes exchanging turns with the protesters in call and response. Both ECD and Rankin Taxi felt that drum corps were more effective than music in a demonstration, as protesters could both walk and shout Sprechchor to the rhythm of the drums. Rankin also felt that “drums lend a sense of urgency, so that the words and message might be better communicated” (Rankin Taxi, interview).

When the weekly protests in front of the prime minister’s residence began in March 2012, Oda initially refrained from bringing drums, as the area around the Diet Building is covered by the Noise Regulation Law. Once large crowds began to gather in June, however, he brought drums and found there was no problem with them:

Apparently the Noise Regulation Law isn’t as restrictive as we thought. We’ve never been warned about them—not even once. According to the letter of the law, what it restricts are megaphones, and there’s nothing specifically about drums. The police have led us to a spot and said, ‘Please play them here.’ Perhaps if the police wanted to, they could include all sorts of noisemakers beyond megaphones. But there have been so many people around the Kantei and the Diet Building [as of August 2012] that they don’t seem to want to force the issue (Oda, interview).

Akuryō, who had been a frequent participant in the TwitNoNukes demonstrations and led calls on them, was invited to lead Sprechchor on the Drums of Fury and Kantei demonstrations. Every Friday evening that hot summer, he and the drum corps could be seen making the rounds of Kasumigaseki, playing in front of various ministries and the Diet, shouting Sprechchor in time to the drum beats. This experience of having participated in the TwitNoNukes and Kantei demonstrations had a great impact on Akuryō’s rap style in sound demonstrations, as he understood how demonstrations work and how demonstrators act.

Participatory model (3): The sound demo, re-stylized


In the weeks following the arrests at the Shinjuku demonstration, sound demos became more scant as Shirōto no Ran retreated from organizing sound demonstrations. To counteract this trend, the illustrator Misao Redwolf took the initiative to organize sound demos herself through No Nukes More Hearts, the antinuclear group she heads (Akuryō, interview with the author, Tokyo, August 15, 2012). Dubbed the No Nukes All Star Demo, these demonstrations took place in Shibuya, Tokyo, on September 19 and December 3, 2011, and February 25, May 20, and July 7, 2012.15 These events were filled with performers, as the rallies held both before and after the sound demo featured musicians ranging from the 1970s rockers Panta (of Zunō Keisatsu, or Brain Police) and Magical Power Mako, to musicians who had also performed for the Shirōto no Ran demos, like Rankin Taxi and Likkle Mai. Generally the musicians that performed on the sound truck—Rankin Taxi, Deli, Hibikilla, DJ Mayuri—performed in presentational style, where the emphasis was on performing prepared songs with occasional call-and-response patterns. But Noma had another idea. As he explained:

People were coming to demonstrations because they wanted to shout Sprechchor like ‘Genpatsu hantai!’ (We are against nuclear power). But instead, they were just listening to music from the DJ. There wasn’t much time for Sprechchor. It was really frustrating. Meanwhile, the blocks of demonstrators without sound trucks would have someone screaming into a megaphone, “Genpatsu iranai!” (We don’t need nuclear power!), and the protesters were joining in the Sprechchor with that call. We thought, why not lead these Sprechchor from on top of a sound truck? It will be easier to say the Sprechchor if you put a beat behind it. That was the idea” (Noma, interview).

Early participatory sound demos: December 2011–February 2012

Akuryō’s first performance in a sound demo was in the second No Nukes All Star Demo on December 3, 2011—the first demonstration by No Nukes More Hearts with a sound truck. Misao Redwolf had heard his recordings of “No Nukes” and “For Children” on the internet and had been impressed by them. Noma, who had met Akuryō at TwitNoNukes demonstrations, extended the invitation.

Having participated in demonstrations for a long time, Akuryō had also seen that “just playing a bunch of songs wasn’t motivating the demonstrators” and had been thinking about another format for sound demos in line with Noma’s thinking: “I came to think that you’d rev people up more by doing call-and-responses to the beats than by doing songs. It would also be more effective in appealing to the people on the street. You can do songs, too, but it’s more worthwhile for a sound demo to be based mainly on agitation and call-and-response” (Akuryō, interview).

When Akuryō performed in the No Nukes More Hearts sound demo of December 2011, he split his time evenly between Sprechchor and prepared raps and got an excited response. Noma was impressed:

When Akuryō got on the sound truck, his speeches, Sprechchor, and provocation of the crowd was highly skilled and really effective. I thought, “This style is just right.” What he’s saying was so direct and easy to understand that passers-by were responding too.

Until Akuryō came along, most sound trucks just played music. When he’s on the sound truck, you’re not just listening to music. You’re interacting. You yell “Genpatsu hantai!” (We are against nuclear power!) and other Sprechchor from the beginning to the end of the sound demo. That style was completely new (Noma, interview).

Akuryō credited his success to his experience participating in demonstrations:

Because I’d participated as a protester in demonstrations from March to December, I knew which calls were familiar and got good responses, and how everyone wanted to appeal to people in the streets. I had thought for a long time how I would perform in a sound demo if I got the chance. I would probably have done it differently if I had suddenly been thrust into performing at a sound demo. I’d probably just done some songs, and that would have been it. If I hadn’t had that experience of having walked with everyone else for all that time, I wouldn’t have been able to perform in this style (Akuryō, interview).

Akuryō was invited back to all of No Nukes More Heart’s sound demonstrations, as well as the Datsu genpatsu sekai kaigi (Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World) in Yokohama in January 16, 2012. He was also invited to demonstrations organized by Shirōto no Ran’s associates, including a demonstration in Funabashi (Prime Minister Noda’s hometown) on June 24, the Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demo in Shinjuku on July 1, and the Datsu Genpatsu Nakano Mo demonstration in Nakano Ward on July 28, 2012.

The pace of sound demos picked up in July 2012 in reaction to the restarting of the Ōi nuclear power plant on July 5. This widespread anger over the restart, combined with protesters’ accumulated experience with demonstrations, helped to solidify the participatory style of demonstrations. As Akuryō recounts,

What really left an impression on me was the July 1 demonstration in Shinjuku. The Ōi nuclear plant had just restarted. Before I came on, there were two other groups. They were playing tunes, but the demonstrators weren’t paying any attention to them. They were spontaneously calling out, “saikadō hantai” (we are against restarts) to the beats. It was amazing. If everyone was going to shout “saikadō hantai” on top of any sound, no performance could possibly beat it. And because everyone was calling out without any prodding, I myself felt much more motivated. The demonstrators were overwhelming me! Everyone was so hungry. So I played to that, and their reaction was even more powerful (Akuryō, interview).

Photo: “Genpatsu yamero, Noda yamero demo” (Quit nuclear power! Quit, Noda!), demo by Datsu Genpatsu Suginami in Shinjuku, July 1, 2012. Note the placards calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Noda. (Noriko Manabe)

Noma, ATS, ECD join the sound demo, May–July 2012.

Noma had never DJ’d himself when he took the (truck) stage during the No Nukes More Hearts sound demonstration in May 2012. He enlisted ATS, the rapper from his i Zoom i Rockers Afrobeat unit, to perform as well. As ATS recounted, “I was wondering how we would perform, and Noma said, ‘It’s fine if we make call-and-responses the main thing. We don’t need to do songs.’ I thought that made sense. Noma suggested inviting Akuryō and doing it with him. And the combination worked,” despite an astonishing lack of rehearsal: the group rehearsed for an hour before the first joint performance in May 2012, but hasn’t had one since. Furthermore, Noma never let the rappers know in advance what he would play, forcing them to improvise to a wide variety of unexpected tracks during the actual sound demo.16

ECD, Akuryō, ATS, i Zoom i Rockers, Antinuclear demonstration, July 29, 2012

On July 7, 2012, this ensemble was joined by ECD. The rapper had been turning down invitations to perform in sound demonstrations after the arrests at the Shinjuku demonstration in September 2011, as he had come to believe that performances were not helping the cause. The July demos hence marked his return to the sound-truck stage. As ECD was a familiar figure at demonstrations, frequently participating in protests in front of METI and TwitNoNukes, he was well-versed in the rhythms of Sprechchor.

MCAN began to organize large protests in the Hibiya Park-Kasumigaseki area every three to four months, which include a rally, a demonstration march through the area, and a vigil surrounding the Diet Building. The first of these protests was on the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2012, when 14,000 people attended. For the next demonstration on July 29, 2012, Redwolf suggested adding a sound truck. As Noma recounted, “Since it was neither a static demonstration like Kantei nor named a TwitNoNukes demonstration, we thought, why not? We suggested asking Akuryō to perform on the truck because he is an effective call leader” (Noma interview). As in the July 7 demonstration, ECD, ATS, and Noma joined Akuryō on the sound truck.

Musical tactics in a participatory sound-truck performance

Format of a participatory sound demo

An analysis of the performance of Akuryō, ATS, ECD, and Noma in the antinuclear demonstration in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, on July 29, 2012 is shown in a separate PDF file in Fig. 1; the recording can be heard on Soundcloud.17 True to Noma and Akuryō’s intentions, Sprechchor comprised sixty percent of the time of this performance (Fig. 2); with this emphasis on call-and-response, this sound demo was more participatory than presentational. The rappers also engaged with the audience and passers-by in several other modes. They talked to the audience, explaining the demonstration to passers-by, introducing the performers, or talking about their views in regular speech rhythm (without fitting them to the beat); these instances, which I call the speech mode, accounted for twenty-three percent of the time. Rappers also delivered speeches as improvisations fitted rhythmically to the beats, which I call the freestyle mode; these instances accounted for five percent of this demonstration. Rappers also performed raps that they had either written or recorded; this mode of prepared raps, including improvisation and repeating of refrains, accounted for about twelve percent of the performance. Hence, the more presentational parts of the performance—the prepared raps and freestyle—only accounted for a sixth of the total time. In contrast, in the more presentational performances of the 2011 Shirōto no Ran sound demos, prepared songs took up most of the performance. Furthermore, the rappers rotated through these modes—Sprechchor, prepared raps, freestyle, and speeches—with great frequency, with each mode usually lasting less than a minute. The longest lasting episodes were the Sprechchor.

Fig. 1: Performance at sound demo of July 29, 2012: Akuryo, ATS, ECD, and Noma (please see separate pdf file) 

Fig. 2: Percent of total time spent in activities; July 29, 2012 protest, Round 1


Call-and-response Sprechchor existed before sound demonstrations; the incremental change in sound demos is that they are in metered rhythms, whereas they are not to a beat in an older-style demonstration (e.g., the Gensuikin demonstration in the Ginza, March 2011). Some typical calls, with their typical rhythms, are given in Fig. 3. Note that both the tempo (ca. 70 bpm) and rhythm of these patterns (in fours) are suitable accompaniments to walking.

Fig. 3: Basic Sprechchor patterns

The rhythms of these patterns tend not to change from performance to performance, despite the diversity of musical tracks to which rappers enunciate them. This constancy helps protesters to participate, no matter what track is being played. To give variety to often-repeated slogans, rappers change the pacing. For example, at 4:07 on the Soundcloud recording, ECD slows down the usual pace of “saikadō hantai” to double its length, in an augmentation; conversely, he doubles the speed of “Genpatsu hantai” (26:57 on the recording), in a dimunition. They also shift their pitches and sometimes sing Sprechchor in easy-to-remember (and often-repeating) melodies.

Sprechchor episodes lengthen when the protesters’ emotions are stirred—typically in front of offices of pronuclear organizations or crowds of passers-by. The longest and most dramatic stretch of Sprechchor in the July 29 demonstration, lasting over six minutes, occurred in front of METI—the ministry then in charge of promoting and regulating nuclear power, and thus responsible for the breakdowns in oversight and the restarting of the Ōi nuclear reactors (38:19ff). As the sound truck approached the offices of METI, Akuryō began freestyling (37:49):

みんな見えてるか、左手には そびえる経産省


マジで、くそったれ、経産省 原子力安全保安院?


大飯原発 活断層があるって話じゃねえかよ


Everyone, can you see coming up on your left, the towering METI [building]?

They’re the guys who approved the restarting [of the nuclear power plants], the one and the same.

Can you believe that? Scumbags! METI Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency?

Seriously, it’s dumbfounding. Everything they say is bogus.

Isn’t there talk that there’s an active fault at the Ōi nuclear power plant?

Do your jobs right, you bastards!

Akuryō’s freestyle, July 29, 2012 (Original video by ken23qu, subtitles by Noriko Manabe).

Riding the groove of the Doors’ “LA Woman” at this symbolic location, Akuryō’s freestyle effectively riled the crowd. The shouts of “saikadō hantai” intensified as the sound bounced between the METI building and the glass exterior of the building facing it, and the episode was lengthened as the sound truck was stopped at a light. It made for a dramatic entry back to the starting point of Hibiya Park. Sprechchor also intensify in front of crowds of passers-by to whom the protesters perform, such as at intersections, in front of train stations or plazas, or near overhead pedestrian crosswalks (e.g., 23:28ff, a four-minute episode approaching a crosswalk).

Photo: DJ Noma and rapper Akuryō, MCAN antinuclear protest, July 29, 2012 (Noriko Manabe)

Prepared raps and freestyle

As with presentational-style sound demos, ECD also performed prepared raps that are pertinent to the antinuclear theme: the aforementioned “Recording Report Hangenpatsu Remix”; “Straight Outta 138,” in which he implores people to speak out against nuclear power;18 and “Baby Cart and Placard,” an ode to demonstration participants, particularly mothers holding a baby cart in one hand and a placard in another, who will “surely be the ones who overturn nuclear power.” In the context of a participatory sound demo, a prepared rap has the function of giving the protesters a break and is particularly appropriate in long stretches of road. Hence, ECD broke into “Recording Report Hangenpatsu Remix” around the mid-point of the long walk up Sotobori Dōri, which is empty on Sundays and can therefore bore the protesters. Rather than perform the rap as on their recordings (or as in a presentational-style demo), however, the rappers tended to improvise around the refrain or repeat it, allowing other rappers and protesters to join in. Hence, ECD only took 34 seconds to recite his verse for “Straight Outta 138” (Time 11:23 on Fig. 1), while he and the other rappers spent more time (one minute) repeating and responding to its refrain, “Yūkoto kikaseru ban da, oretachi ga” (It’s our turn to make them listen to what we say).19 Similarly, he delivered only one verse for “Recording Report” and “Baby Cart and Placard,” taking up only half a minute each. In contrast, most musicians at a more presentationally oriented demonstration usually sing their entire song, over multiple verses. Furthermore, in all cases but “Baby Cart,” ECD rapped on the track that was playing rather than the background track on his recordings; by not disturbing the flow of Noma’s track choices and using an alternative track, the improvisatory nature of the participatory performance was preserved.

Like prepared raps, a freestyle episode gives the protesters a break from shouting Sprechchor. In the July 29 demonstration, Akuryō freestyled while the truck was stopped in the middle of the long walk up Sotobori Dōri. More importantly, freestyling gives the rapper an opportunity to comment on landmarks along the route, as in the aforementioned example in front of METI.

Frequent rotation of microphones

Rappers in participatory style rotate the lead microphone frequently; in the July 29 demonstration, the rappers generally did not take the lead for much above three minutes, one exception being Akuryō’s aforementioned episode in front of METI. In contrast, in presentational sound demos, each artist takes the microphone through a set of about four songs, lasting about 20 minutes. These rotations help to support the aura of a participatory performance rather than a presentational one, as the performance becomes a team effort, and no single performer hogs the stage to him/herself.

Interaction with musical track

Photo: Akuryō in front of METI, July 29, 2012 (Noriko Manabe)

In addition to frequent rotations of rappers, Noma was constantly changing musical tracks, usually switching them over every two-to-three minutes. The rappers had to react to the music on the spot, helping to keep the performance lively. Periodically, Noma would cut out parts of the musical track during responses in the Sprechchor; doing so allowed the protesters to hear the full force of their own volume, encouraging them to participate. He also cut the track during prepared raps to emphasize the punch line; for example, he let ECD rap “That’s nuclear power—no doubt about it,” the punch line from “Straight Outta 138,” unmasked by accompaniment (11:57). Similarly, he anticipated the punch lines in Akuryō’s freestyles, cutting the track to make stand out the words “Hoanin” (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) and “Do your jobs right!” (37:49).

While Noma chose his selections out of musical interest, from time to time he played songs out of thematic interest. In the MCAN demonstration on December 15, 2012, he began the demonstration by playing “New Kids In The City” (1979) by Lizard, one of Japan’s first punk rock bands. He explained,

I played it because the old guy who drives the sound truck is Waka, the bassist from Lizard. Not only does he drive the truck, but he’s also the guy who picks up the truck from the rental company, loads the equipment, and breaks it down after the demo. The sound truck is named after him—The Lizard. I’d originally decided to play it because I thought it would make him smile. But then I listened to the words, which say that we should leave a new future for our children. That’s very much like our Sprechchor, “Protect our children,” and “Protect our future.” And I thought, “I have to play this” (Noma, interview).

Establishment of the participatory sound demo style

It was a cold day on March 10, 2013, the eve of the second anniversary of the triple disaster and the day of MCAN’s quarterly demonstration in Kasumigaseki. I joined the large crowd following the sound truck, where ATS and Akuryō took turns on the microphone, and Noma provided the tracks. Some tactics from the July 2012 demonstration had congealed as an expected part of the performance. When we passed METI, Akuryō freestyled about METI’s role as promoter of nuclear power and launched into his sing-song call, “Keisanshō wa genpatsu yamero,” just as he had done on his second round on the sound truck in the July 29 demonstration; protesters pumped their fists in the air. Noma again stopped tracks at the responses of the protesters, so that they could hear the power of their calls. Meanwhile, the drum corps alternated between Sprechchor and the “saikadō hantai” rhythm.

Photo: Noma, ATS, Akuryō at antinuclear demonstration, March 10, 2013 (Noriko Manabe)

I did notice a few changes. Both Akuryō and ATS seemed to fall into presentational style, with prepared raps and freestyles, more often than in July 2012. Furthermore, the drum corps seemed to have more people, giving rise to inevitable differences in skill levels. Both may have been consequences of time, as the rappers and the drum corps had had more time to set their routines and try out a few new things. They may have also been responses to political circumstances; since the LDP won the Lower and Upper House elections, the number of people at the weekly Kantei protests had fallen to about three thousand—still substantial, but not the headline-grabbing 200,000 of summer 2012. While the March 10 demonstration attracted 40,000 people throughout the day, the June 2 demonstration, 60,000, and the October 13, 2013 demonstration, 40,000, these numbers were lower than the 200,000 that had come to the July 29, 2012 demonstration. Perhaps this situation pushed the role of music slightly back to that of attracting attention, so that performances seemed to place a bit more attention on the rappers themselves than in July 2012. Such incremental swings in repertoire would be expected to adjust to political circumstances.

Changed circumstances also led to a different performance in MCAN’s October 13, 2013 demonstration. With the Ōi reactors shut down for maintenance on September 15, 2013, the country is once again operating without nuclear power, yet awareness of this fact appears low: in a recent survey, only 15% of freshmen at Osaka University were aware of this fact.20 In response to this lack of awareness, ECD rapped, “Nando tashikame temo genpatsu zero” (No matter how many times you check, there’s no nuclear power), and called out the names of nuclear power plants that have applied to restart or were under construction (e.g., Ikata o yamero! Kaminoseki yamero!). ECD and ATS also shifted the focus of their calls to “Osensui tomero” (Stop the contaminated water), referring to the ongoing leakage at Fukushima Daiichi. The most dramatic performance that day was not in front of METI, but in front of TEPCO, calling on it to take responsibility.

ATS, speech in front of TEPCO

The accumulated experience also helped protesters to voice their own protests. Much of the route on March 10, 2013 was through the perimeter of the Diet Building and LDP offices, where the demonstrators were not allowed to play instruments or show their placards and flags. At the threshold of this silent area, Misao Redwolf stood on a truck with a megaphone, shouting Sprechchor. Not sure what to do, we marched silently for a while up the hill toward the Diet Building, until we passed by a few small speakers, set up discreetly along the road; they were projecting a caller shouting Sprechchor. Hearing him inspired us to chime in with responses to his calls. Our Sprechchor revived and maintained a certain rhythm, without the benefit of accompaniment or clear leaders. Having regained momentum, we carried on to a side street on which the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party are located. The protesters spontaneously erupted into the Sprechchor, “Abe Shinzō wa genpatsu yamero” ([Prime Minister] Abe Shinzō, quit nuclear power), shaking their middle fingers. The scene echoed Akuryō’s routines in front of the METI offices, closely matching his rhythm, even though neither Akuryō nor any other performer was present; it would have been hard to imagine that scene without the protesters having seen and participated in his routine. It was this accumulated experience of protesting alongside musicians that allowed us to go on shouting Sprechchor, even without the benefit of their encouragement.

ATS, calls in front of TEPCO


The performances of Akuryō, ATS, ECD, and Noma emphasized participatory practices, as outlined by Turino. The rappers made short, highly repetitive calls to which the protesters could easily respond; they kept the rhythm of individual calls constant, also facilitating participation. Upon this basis of Sprechchor, the rappers built an intensive series of variations, changing the speed of text consumption, pitch, and melody. While the tracks changed every few minutes, they usually retained the groove of the previous track, providing smooth, continuous transitions to the next track rather than the individual pieces that are more typical of presentational performances. The style allowed protesters to shout Sprechchor with more energy and excitement than they likely would have without the music; as ATS explained, “If you call out a Sprechchor with music, it comes back to you in an upsurge of energy.”

The participatory style, which aims to minimize the gap between performer and protester, required that rappers downplay their individual virtuosity to serve the cause—a seeming contradiction with the braggadocio stereotypically associated with rap. In keeping with this philosophy, the rappers limited their prepared raps to short segments and frequently rotated the microphone, never hogging it.

Let us now return to Tilly’s point that changes in protest repertoires are driven by changes in political opportunity structure, available performance models, and connections among actors. In the case of the original sound demonstrations of 2003, the idea of having a truck with a sound system itself was not new, as they had been used in Japan previously in Chance! Peace Walks and LGBT parades. What was truly new was the coming together of Against Street Control, whose members had a more confrontational, reclaim-the-streets philosophy of demonstrations compared with World Peace Now; the flavor of these demonstrations was hence sufficiently different to merit a new name.

Between those demonstrations and the antinuclear demonstrations of 2011–13, the purpose of the protest shifted from largely an expression of discontent to a desire to change national energy policies—a social movement seeking specific actions and long-term political change. Such a movement required the articulation of concrete messages, thereby shifting the predominant genre more toward the verbally oriented one of rap. It also required the building of solidarity and commitment among protesters, orienting the demonstrations toward more participatory forms that involved the shouting of Sprechchor. The aggression of the police toward sound demonstrations prompted a rethinking of the potential roles of music, paving the way to a more participatory model.

The blossoming of participatory style grew out of a confluence of factors: the participation of rappers in demonstrations as protesters rather than performers; the presence of Oda’s drum corps, with its participatory philosophy, at many demonstrations, providing a rhythmic base to Sprechchor; and surge in citizen outrage over the restart of the Ōi nuclear power plant in July 2012, giving them impetus to raise their voices at demonstrations. These performance tactics were hence born of the stage in which the antinuclear movement found itself. As Futatsugi recounted:

After more than a year of participating in demonstrations, everyone has gotten used to shouting Sprechchor, and a few phrases have become established. The rappers know to say them. That makes it possible to do a call-and-response style. It’s a big change: you wouldn’t have been able to do that on April 10, even if you tried. On the other hand, if Mayuri were to play some brilliant techno track now, I don’t think it would have so much impact. In the past year and a half, everyone’s caught on to making a political claim and verbalizing a concrete message. If back on April 10, we had wanted to destroy some murky thing we couldn’t identify, we now know much more clearly who the enemy is, and whom we have to defeat. We all want to say words and shout Sprechchor. ECD, Akuryō, ATS, and Noma take that desire and combine Sprechchor with a live performance. That is a big change (Futatsugi, interview).

In the year since the peak of the antinuclear protests in July 2012, the performance tactics have solidified so that there are some expected routines, yet flexible enough to respond to changes in priority, as in the shift in emphasis to the contamination issue and planned restarts in the October 13 demonstration. This formula has proved portable: in 2013, other performers like Rankin Taxi have adopted aspects of it on sound demos, and Sapporo and other cities have held sound demos with participatory performances.

Furthermore, the participatory style of sound demos has proven adaptable to other causes. In 2013, Noma has busied himself as head of the Counter-Racist Action Collective (C.R.A.C., formerly Reishisuto Shibaki-tai), a group dedicated to countering the Zaitoku-kai, a neo-nationalist group denouncing the “privileges given” to ethnic Koreans residing in Japan. The “tai,” written as 隊 (corps), is a pun with たい (would like to), so that “shibaki-tai” means “the corps that would like to tie up the racists.” Despite its name and rough outward appearance, the group has a non-violent philosophy. Whenever the Zaitoku-kai stage demonstrations through Korean neighborhoods in Tokyo, in which they shout “die” and “go home to Korea” at ethnically Korean children, the Shibaki-tai attempt to blockade its progress, by sitting in front of their trucks if necessary. On September 22, 2013, a “March Against Discrimination” took place in Shinjuku; it was a sound demo, with a rap sound truck with Akuryō and ATS, a DJ sound truck dedicated to LGBT rights, and Oda’s marching musicians. Just as they had in the antinuclear demonstrations, Akuryō and ATS took turns shouting the call-and-response patterns, but instead of “Genpatsu yamero” (Stop nuclear power), they shouted, “Sabetsu wa yamero” (End discrimination) and “Issho ni ikiyō” (Let’s live together). Meanwhile, Oda’s band played “We Shall Overcome,” its members having learned it from hearing Jintaramūta play it at practically every antinuclear demonstration. Three thousand enthusiastic demonstrators participated, some in traditional Korean clothing. The participatory style of sound demos, centered on rapped Sprechchor to the beats, is here for the long haul, and is being applied to multiple causes.

Appendix: Deterrents to Musicians’ Participation in Antinuclear Politics and Different Roles Taken

Since the early days of the Fukushima crisis, music has been one way by which citizens have expressed their antinuclear views. Songs like Saitō Kazuyoshi’s “Zutto uso dattandaze” (It Was Always a Lie) and “Tōden ni hairō” (Let’s Join TEPCO) have echoed the thoughts of many citizens. Music has also helped citizens give voice to their thoughts: Saitō’s song was sung in street protests as early as April 2011; as I discuss, by mid-2012, rappers were helping citizens to verbalize their claims against the government. However, the majority of musicians—particularly artists on major record labels— have been hesitant to make their views known (Manabe 2012).21 The electric power companies, associated agencies, and nuclear-industry suppliers combined were not only among the top advertisers in Japan but were particularly important sponsors of television ­programming (Nikkei Advertising Research Institute); as television was still the most important venue for introducing recording artists,22 most entertainers and industry staff considered it unwise to speak out against nuclear power (Sakamoto Ryūichi, interview with the author, September 2012). Entertainers who have spoken out have suffered consequences: in 2011, Yamamoto Tarō was fired from his drama series and found himself unable to find acting jobs after he participated in demonstrations and made a video for Operation Kodomotachi, encouraging parents to evacuate children from the 30-kilometer zone (Yamamoto 2012); only recently was he vindicated through winning a seat in the Upper House. Chindon band Jintaramūta lost a major overseas performing opportunity when the media company realized it had participated in anti-nuclear power demonstrations (Ōkuma Wataru, interview with the author, July 2012).23 In 2011, Saitō was one of very few Oricon24-charting artists to make his antinuclear views known, and the initial YouTube video of his “It Was Always a Lie”—in which he appears in anonymizing dark glasses—was claimed to have been accidently uploaded by an acquaintance (Asahi Shimbun, April 27, 2011). Many of the better-known artists playing antinuclear songs are those who had been brave enough to play in antinuclear events such as Atomic Cafe in the 1980s (e.g., Katō Tokiko, Hamada Shōgo) or who have achieved an elder statesman’s status (e.g., Sawada Kenji). It has taken time, an upsurge of antinuclear sentiment in 2012, and events such as Sakamoto’s No Nukes series of concerts (Manabe 2012) to encourage some younger musicians to speak out. Nonetheless, an atmosphere still exists where artists, and the population generally, feel uncomfortable talking about the nuclear issue; as Gotō Masayoshi of Asian Kung-Fu Generation said during the No Nukes 2013 concert in March, “I’d stopped saying antinuclear things recently. I’d started to wonder if I were a strange person [for being antinuclear].”

The recording industry censors itself, refraining from releasing recordings that name specific persons or corporations (Dorsey 2013). In addition, it tends to avoid releasing explicitly antinuclear songs: in 1988, Toshiba EMI declined to release RC Succession’s Covers, which contained Iwamano Kiyoshirō’s antinuclear versions of “Summertime Blues” and “Love Me Tender”; and in 1997, Sony pulled Katō Tokiko’s “Genpatsu Gypsy,” about workers at nuclear power plants, claiming that the word “gypsy” was discriminatory.25 Saitō’s 2011 album 45 Stones, much of which deals with the nuclear crisis, relies heavily on metaphors and allegories, never mentioning the word “genpatsu” (nuclear power)26 and only using the word “hōshanō” (radiation) once in the entire album, while Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s antinuclear song is named “N2” rather than “No Nukes,” for which it stands (Gotō Masafumi, No Nukes 2012). Generally speaking, the recording and broadcasting industry has greatly preferred charity and ouen (encouragement) songs over explicitly antinuclear songs, and events aimed at moral support for the stricken region (e.g., Project Fukushima) have gotten more media coverage than those with an explicitly antinuclear theme.27 The majority of antinuclear songs post-Fukushima have been contributed by musicians on independent labels; moreover, many of these songs began as anonymous uploads on YouTube, such as “Let’s Join TEPCO” or the original upload of Saitō’s song.

Photo: Pronuclear Counter-Demonstrators at Antinuclear Demonstration, July 29, 2012 (Noriko Manabe)

Indeed, antinuclear music has appeared primarily in four conceptual spaces—cyberspace, festivals and concerts, recordings, and public demonstrations—which differ in risk to both the performer and the listener, as determined by 1) the degree to which those within earshot of the performance hold views contrary to those of the performer, and 2) the level of privacy with which the listener can listen to them. As explained above, it is risky for a performer to state an antinuclear view; however, in front of a like-minded crowd at a protest rally or a no-nukes-themed festival (e.g., No Nukes 2012 and 2013, No More Fuckin’ Nukes 2013, the Atomic Cafe at Fuji Rock), s/he might feel encouraged to make more antinuclear comments (as with Gotō above) or sing more antinuclear songs than at a general-interest festival like Summer Sonic or Rock in Japan. From the listener’s point of view, Japanese citizens can feel themselves at risk when they attend a demonstration, given large police presence, while they can safely listen to recordings of antinuclear music, on a CD or on the internet, in the privacy of their own homes. A general schematic for this concept is sketched out in Fig. 4, with the horizontal axis illustrating the potential number of contrary-minded, pronuclear listeners (“disagree”) and the vertical axis denoting the number of other (physically present) people with which the listener is experiencing the music. Musicians typically separate themselves in the environments in which they participate, balancing their commercial prominence against the riskiness of the environment. In Fig. 4, the range of environments in which different segments of musicians tend to participate is indicated in italics and through color filling, with yellow denoting independent artists, blue major-label artists, pink amateur musicians, and grey anonymous musicians.

Fig. 4: Schematic of different spaces in which protest music is heard

As visualized on this chart, street demonstrations are particularly high risk for both performers and protesters: in walking through the streets, they may encounter not only passers-by who glare at them in annoyance but also counter-demonstrators who hold up their own placards and hurl epithets such as “Denki o tsukauna!” (Stop using electricity!) or “Hikokumin!” (Traitors!). Such hostility compounds the less-than-ideal circumstances these musicians are already facing, such as bad weather, malfunctioning equipment, and the difficulties of performing while on top of a moving truck. Given these difficulties, major-label artists rarely perform in marching demonstrations; while long-time musician-activists like Katō Tokiko or Panta (of Zunō Keisatsu) have performed at rallies by Sayonara Genpatsu and No Nukes More Hearts All Star Demos, these rallies have much more sympathetic audiences than marching demonstrations: they are usually in the middle of parks, and people reach them purposefully rather than stumble upon them, as with a marching demonstration. Only musicians whose convictions greatly exceed their potential opportunity losses could afford to perform under such circumstances, and these musicians are usually independents.

Recommended Citation: Noriko MANABE, “Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model,” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 11, Issue 42, No. 3, October 21, 2013.


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1 See the Appendix for an explanation of these different spaces in which musicians engage in the antinuclear movement and some of the musicians involved. It also discusses the music industry’s general reluctance to voice political opinions

2 Chindon bands are street bands that have traditionally been hired for commercial purposes but have also often been involved with social causes (Abe 2010).

3 Earlier demonstrations after March 11, 2011 included those in front of TEPCO headquarters from March 18 onwards; by the Zenkoku Rōdō Kumiai Kōryū Sentaa (National Trade Union Exchange Center) in Shibuya, Tokyo, on March 20; by Gensuikin in the Ginza, Tokyo, on March 27; in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, on March 31; and in Fukuoka on April 9. There were demonstrations in several cities on April 10, including Kamakura, Nagoya, Sapporo, and Toyama, as well as Shiba Park, Tokyo.

4 Some major-label musicians have performed on sound trucks. DJ Tasaka, who records on the Ki-oon (Sony) label, performed in the May 7, 2012 Shirōto no Ran demonstration. It is more usual for him, however, to perform in an after-party than the demonstration itself.

5 Futatsugi Shin, “Rensai [dokyumento han genpatsu demo (3)]: ‘Tsuittādemo’ to Sayonara Atom,” Webronza (Asahi Newspapers), March 5, 2012.

6 Throughout the book, rhymes in lyrics are italicized, while repeated words are underlined.

7 The Japanese have been using the German word “Sprechchor” to describe the call-and-response of slogans at demonstrations, marches, and other gatherings since at least the worker’s movements of the 1920s. In Germany, Sprechchor had been popular in the drama and literature of the worker’s movement of the 1920s and was appropriated later by the Nazis (Von Wilpert 1989: 878–9).

8 Ryūsaku Tanaka, “Shinjuku Aruta Zen Kakoikomi,’9 11 Datsu Genpatsu Demo’ Ni Sonae,” Tanaka Ryūsaku Journal, September 10, 2011.

9 Matsumoto, “Zendaimimon,” Matsumoto Hajime no nobi nobi daisakusen, op.cit.

10 Futatsugi, “Rensai,” Webronza, op. cit.

11 Futatsugi, “Rensai,” Webronza, op. cit.

12 The actual quote is “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

13 The first time was before the demonstration on March 11, 2012, the one-year anniversary of the disaster, when the group wanted to exhibit mournfulness. The second was for the Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demonstration on May 6, commemorating the shutdown of all nuclear reactors in Japan for maintenance, where the group wanted to be celebratory. The third was in August 2012, when the group had been invited to participate in a bon dance in Kōenji, prompting it to put together a ondō-rhythm version of “Meltdown Blues,” an improvisation popularized in demonstrations in July 2012.

14 Akuryō, “Akuryō: 311 kara no kotoba,” interview in Bmr, accessed July 8, 2013.

15 The September 19, 2011 demonstration did not feature a sound truck. All other No Nukes All Star Demos had sound trucks.

16 For the May 2012 demo, Noma played breakbeats of Fela Kuti, reggae, and dub; in the demonstrations of July and later, he added rock and funk. In December, he began using Ableton Live, which arranges pre-recorded clips along a grid and allows the DJs to pick which ones are played in real time (Noma, interview with the author).

17 i Zoom i Rockers, with ECD, Akuryō, and ATS, “7.29 Float Sessions Round 1,” Soundcloud, July 29, 2012.

18 See Manabe 2013 for an explanation of this song.

19 This refrain is significant in that it intentionally recalls “Yūkoto kiku yōna yatsura ja naizo,” ECD’s rap of defiance against excessive police at the antiwar sound demos of 2003. It became an anthem of the sound demos of the 2000s.

20 “‘Genpatsu kadō zero’ to kotaeta gakusei wa tatta 15%—handai ichinensei e no ankeeto de,” Alterna, accessed October 21, 2013.

21 This situation, and the varieties of responses musicians have taken to it, is explained in detail in my forthcoming monograph, tentatively titled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Music and Musicians in the Antinuclear Movement Post-Fukushima (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

22 Record Industry Association of Japan,”Ongaku media yūzā jittai chōsa,” Fiscal Year 2012.

23 The company gave Jintaramūta a chance to regain the gig if they did not perform in the Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demonstration of February 19, 2012. The band performed in the demonstration. Matsumoto Hajime, “Zendaimimon no uzōmuzō ga machi ni shutsugen! Datsu Genpatsu Suginami demo, iyoiyo semaru!,” Matsumoto Hajime no nobi nobi daisakusen, February 15, 2012.

24 Oricon compiles sales data of musical recordings, like Billboard in the United States. See

25 The song was originally written in 1981 as “Yami no jipushii.”

26 His song, “Ōkami chūnen” (Middle-Aged Liar), begins with the exclamation “No Nukes!” Its directness was remarked upon by practically every interview in the music press. The album climbed to number 2 on the Oricon charts.

27 Project Fukushima, organized by musicians Ōtomo Yoshihide and Endō Michirō and poet Wago Ryōichi, was held in August 2011, 2012, and 2013. Examples of the (many) charity/ouen songs include “Hana wa saku” and Kuwata Keisuke’s “Let’s Try Again” (2011).

ECD, “Mada yume no naka,” Shinjuku demonstration, June 11, 2011

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Volume 11 | Issue 42 | Number 3

Article ID 4015

About the author:

Noriko Manabe is Assistant Professor of Music (Ethnomusicology/Music Theory) and Associated Faculty in East Asian Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of a book on antinuclear protest music, tentatively titled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Music, Media, and the Antinuclear Movement in Post-Fukushima Japan (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). She has published articles on Japanese rap, hip-hop, new media, children’s songs, and Cuban music in Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, Asian Music, Latin American Music Review, and several edited volumes. More information is available on her website or on her academic site.

The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus is a peer-reviewed publication, providing critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world.

    About the author:

    Noriko Manabe is Assistant Professor of Music (Ethnomusicology/Music Theory) and Associated Faculty in East Asian Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of a book on antinuclear protest music, tentatively titled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Music, Media, and the Antinuclear Movement in Post-Fukushima Japan (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). She has published articles on Japanese rap, hip-hop, new media, children’s songs, and Cuban music in Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, Asian Music, Latin American Music Review, and several edited volumes. More information is available on her website or on her academic site.


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