#AsiaNow Speaks with Noriko Manabe

Noriko Manabe is associate professor at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music & Dance and author of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest Music After Fukushima, published by Oxford University Press and winner of the 2017 AAS John Whitney Hall Book Prize.

What inspired you to research this topic?

In 2011, I returned to Japan to finish my book on Japanese club musics (i.e., hip-hop, reggae, EDM), and I found that many of my contacts, like Rankin Taxi and ECD, had become involved in the post-3.11 antinuclear movement. (Both had recorded antinuclear songs previous to 3.11). I sensed their alarm, not only about the fallout from the nuclear accident itself, but from its implications for media coverage, collusion, freedom of information, and the future of Japanese democracy. Living in Japan on sabbatical in 2012, the urgency of this topic became evident to me. Therefore, I decided to complete a book on this topic first.

What obstacles did you face in this project? What turned out better/easier than you expected it would?

The biggest challenge was the sheer volume of information to absorb—the history of nuclear power, the structures shaping the industry and its relationships with other institutions, the history of protest practices, the dynamics of protests, the relations among participating groups, the plethora of protests and events, the metaphors, the symbolism. Occasionally I felt intimidated at protests or threatened by right-wing internet trolls. A few times, interview subjects were reluctant to talk.

But for the most part, people were very eager to share their ideas and concerns, and I was never at a loss for people to interview, music or sounds to analyze, events to attend for fieldwork, or topics to pursue. I’ve also been pleased that the book has found an interdisciplinary audience. (In addition to the Hall Prize, the book has also received an Honorable Mention for the Alan Merriam Prize, the top prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology.) Around the time that the book was published, I received many invitations to speak, and I was also able to schedule many talks at bookstores for the general public.

What is the strangest/funniest/most outrageous/most interesting story or scrap of research you encountered in the course of working on this book?

There was so much that was outrageous about the nuclear situation that I don’t know where to start. I’ll just mention that I was appalled to see the many ways in which antinuclear musicians were punished in the media and otherwise. The actor Yamamoto Tarō was fired from his drama series and became an unemployable actor after participating in a demonstration and making a video for an antinuclear group. The internationally acclaimed composer Sakamoto Ryūichi was brutally shamed on Twitter, weekly magazines, and national newspapers after speaking at an antinuclear rally. An indie group had an international appearance cancelled. A drum corps leader lost his adjuncting position after over fifteen years of teaching. The list is lengthy. In some cases, it’s hard to point to an antinuclear stance as the reason why an artist is blacklisted, but the pattern is not difficult to discern.

Another issue that was outrageous was the Monju Fast Breeder Reactor plant, which had been completed in the mid-1990s but has only operated for about six months and has two serious accidents, both of which was capped by the suicide of key managers. There was a subversive and very funny Twitter character called Monju-kun who parodied the yuru-kyara (loose stuffed characters) that populate Japan. He performed at rallies and sang this funny song about the sad state of nuclear affairs.

What are the works that inspired you as you worked on this book, and/or what are some other titles that you would recommend be read in tandem with your own?

I drew from a variety of disciplines and sources. Inspiring and helpful were the many timely articles in the Asia-Pacific Journal and talks at Sophia University and Temple University Japan regarding the post-3.11 condition. Here is a smattering of books I would recommend.

Daniel P. Aldrich, Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West (Cornell University Press, 2008).

Charles Tilly, Contentious Performances (Cambridge University Press, 2008). Helpful for understanding the evolving dynamics of demonstrations.

Thomas Turino, Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation (University of Chicago Press, 2008). Full of excellent theories and examples regarding the interaction of music, politics, and participation.

Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

Simon Andrew Avenell, Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan (University of California Press, 2010).

What are you working on now?

I am the series editor for 33-1/3 Japan, a series of short books on Japanese popular music published by Bloomsbury. Our first book, Supercell ft. Hatsune Miku by Keisuke Yamada, was published in August 2017, and Cowboy Bebop by Rose Bridges will be published in November. We are holding a launch event at the Society for Ethnomusicology conference at the Denver Center City Marriott on October 27 and the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver on October 29 at 1pm.

I am also working on my second monograph, Revolution Remixed: Intertextuality in Protest Songs, under contract by Oxford. It draws on my fieldwork in Japan in the post-3.11 movements, but it also incorporates examples from other parts of the world and other time periods.

A chapter that I had to cut from my book, on the antinuclear character Monju-kun, is included in a volume called Child’s Play: Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan, edited by Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall. The book will be published by University of California Press in Fall 2017.

I am also co-editing Nuclear Music: Sonic Responses to War, Disaster, and Power with Jessica Schwartz, and The Oxford Handbook of Protest Music with Eric Drott. Both books are under contract with Oxford.

Finally, I am maintaining a database of sounds I hear at protests post-inauguration. They are mainly protest chants, which I transcribe to musical notation.