Wednesday, January 09, 2013

For The Love Of Fukushima

On the 7th, representatives of the Tokyo Olympics committee submitted the Tokyo Metropolitan District's bid for the 2020 Olympics. (Link)

One of the claims made in the bid is that the games will be a celebration of and a contribution to the recovery of the Tohoku from the effects of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns. Considering that the Tokyo Olympics 2.0 would be held eight years from now and almost entirely within a small area inside the TMD, the association with the recovery effort seems a stretch. The proposal has two or perhaps three of the preliminary soccer matches played in Sendai, but otherwise the link between the Olympics and the Tohoku disasters will be tenuous to the point of stimulating nervous laughter.

I had a chance to hear Inose Naoki, now officially the governor of the TMD, offer some more concrete examples of how the TMD was contributing to the Tohoku recovery effort. The TMD has dispatch hundreds of TMD bureaucrats on short stays to help administer the recovering areas (many prefectures are doing this, most prominently Aichi Prefecture) and is training and housing applicants for school teaching positions in the Tohoku.

One of the programs Inose described sounded trivial but was in fact important. The TMD has issued coupons offering discounts on day trips or overnight stays in the Aizu-Wakamatsu area of Fukushima Prefecture. Whilst several towns the coast region of Fukushima are uninhabitable due to the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power station disaster, and vast areas of coastal and central Fukushima are contaminated with nuclear fallout, the interior area around the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu is relatively contamination-free. However, as the region is inside Fukushima Prefecture, the largest of Japan's prefectures, it has seen its tourist visits fall through the floor. Since Aizu-Wakamatsu area was dependent on tourism, the false association with Fukushima Dai'ichi has sledgehammered the local economy.

In the wake of the TMD's efforts to promote a return to the area (for a of slideshow from my one visit to Aizu-Wakamatsu, in 2009, click Here) the national broadcast network NHK has a new Taiga Dorama series, Yae no Sakura, set in Aizu-Wakamatsu. Like most Taiga dramas, the current series, airing every Sunday night for the rest of this year, is strongly tied to local, prefectural and NHK-led national efforts to promote tourism to the locales in which the story takes place.

Learning the lesson brought home by last year's calamitous series on Taira no Kiyomori (one senryu of autumn last year had Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko musing, "No matter how bad my popularity ratings are, they are still better than those for that Taiga Drama series on Taira no Kiyomori...") the main character, like the protagonists of the recent smash hits Atsuhime and Gon...Himetachi no Sengoku is a plucky young female historical figure.

For some reason watching young women fight disdain, prejudice and adversity is more fun than watching middle-aged men sitting around shouting at one another.

Of course, Yae no Sakura takes "plucky" to a whole new level, as the heroine is Yamamoto Yae, the bakumatsu badass with a Spencer rifle carbine who served as a commander in the defense of Aizu-Wakamatsu's castle against the forces of the Meiji government (Link), fighting alongside her estranged first husband. She survives the war, moves to Kyoto and marries Iijima Jo (Joseph Hardy Neesima), the founder of Doshisha University. (Link)

In the NHK depiction, the decidedly nonconformist Yae mutters the Aizu-Wakamatsu motto naranu koto wa naranu mono desu ("that which must not be shall not be") with contemptuous irony.

Not so salutory was private broadcast network TBS' attempt at a costume drama contribution to Aizu-Wakamatsu tourism, Byakkotai. If Yamamoto Yae's story is one to remember, the story of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Company) is a story one wishes everyone would forget. The teenagers of the White Tiger Company managed to make nothing of their brief lives, winning fame only for committing suicide upon the belief, mistaken as it turned, that Aizu-Wakamatsu's castle had fallen to the armies of the Meiji Emperor.

Just to make the already horrid (visiting the reconstructed Aizu-Wakamatsu castle and seeing the large portraits each of the young men under moody lighting makes one ill) story more wretched, TBS made no attempts to hide selfish goal of producing yet another does-the-country-with-its-high-suicide-rate-really-need-yet-another-glorification-of-suicide-as-beautiful-and-brave drama: the promotion of the latest generation of precious jimusho boys and boy band wannabees. (Link)

For the love of Fukushima, give me the girl with the gun!


franchiseplaya said...

The list of the Tohoku revitalization related activities is pretty lacking.

Olympic torch relay down the coast
■聖火リレー 三陸沿岸や福島県浜通り地方を縦断して東京まで聖火を運ぶ。大会前に聖火リレーを想定した「東北復興ランニングイベント」も実施

Using Miyagi Stadium for soccer qualifiers
■競技会場として 宮城スタジアムでサッカーの予

Olympics lottery to spend (re: waste frivolously) on sports facilities in Tohoku
■五輪宝くじ 16~19年に発行し、約100億円の収益を見込む。被災各県にも分配し、スポーツ施設整備などに活用

Children "supporters" from Tohoku
■子供レポーター 被災地の小・中・高校生を公認特別レポーターに任命して大会に招待し、子供の視点で情報発信

Cultural programs (i.e., "let's learn the traditions of these people we pity so much!")
■文化プログラム 大会3年前から都内で東北の伝統文化や祭りのコンテスト「祭りんピアード」を開き、世界に紹介

Special priority for Tohoku companies for building materials for temporary sports venues
■被災企業への優先発注 競技の仮設会場整備に関する物資・資材調達は被災した企業に受注の機会を提供。被災地のイベントは地元発注が原則

MTC said...

franchiseplaya -

Thank you for the list. While I am still not impressed, I am less unimpressed.

Anonymous said...

[No matter how bad my popularity ratings are, they are still better than those for that Taiga Drama series on Taira no Kiyomori]

What a fantastic quote!!! :)

I just do not get the appeal of the Taiga Dorama. These shows with subtitles are available where I live here in the states. I find the acting, writing, and directing atrocious. They are awful, awful, awful. :D

The best parts tend to be the cg graphics during opening credits. I find some of them mesmerizing and beautiful.

I caught parts of Kiyomori and Atsuhime while working on projects. I sometimes keep the tv on in the background and am more of a night person, which is when these shows air. I often felt embarrassed for what the actors were made to say and how they performed their lines.

Maybe you can explain something. I have a large collection of DVDs of old mostly black and white Japanese films from the 50s-70s which I cherish. The only Japanese films and tv shows I have on DVD from the 80s on are almost all animes (I have dozens of animes but only 3 live action films from this period).

Whatever happened to Japan's live action cinema and tv?

MTC said...

franchiseplaya -

Just to make sure, the quote is not of an actual Noda utterance. It is a long version translation of a senryu, a comic verse.

MTC said...

franchiseplaya -

As for the scripwriting and acting quality of the Taiga Dorama, the general consensus is that they reached their apogee in 1987's Dokuganryu Masamune. Since then, the NHK has struggled to keep the series relevant.

NHK's production values during that era, with lighting, sets and costumes unworthy of 1960s American and European productions, make even the Date house saga almost unwatchable.

Atsuhime, for all its faults, breathed new life into the genre. Production values have also improved.

As for the collapse of Japanese cinema, all kinds of elements seem to have contributed. Film scholars are still unraveling the tangle.