Arts, Culture & Media

Japan's Anti-Nuclear Music Scene in Revival

In Japan, the sympathy for victims of the March earthquake and tsunami in the north of the country has led to large celebrity outpourings of support.

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There have been "We Are the World" type benefit concerts and CDs.

Jumbotrons around Tokyo are almost continuously lit up with songs for Japan, encouraging the country to stay strong through the nuclear crisis, and to never give up hope.

But there has yet to emerge any musical campaign that is focused on ending nuclear power.

Contrast that with the "No Nukes" concert at Madison Square Garden.

After the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and a host of other artists formed MUSE, "Musicians United for Safe Energy."

There is no Japanese equivalent of MUSE.

Yet.

But there is one Japanese artist whom many Japanese are re-discovering — as a similar kind of musical activist.

His name is Kiyoshiro Imawano.

He passed away two years ago.

But while he was alive, he was an ardent critic of nuclear energy.

In his music, he cleverly rewrote classic rock tunes like Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues and added his own anti-nuclear lyrics.

In one song, Kiyoshiro sings:

"Summertime is when everyone heads to the beaches. I swim away from the crowd, nuclear plants are standing right there. I don't get why we have them. Summertime blues in cramped Japan."

Now, Kiyoshiro wasn't some Japanese pop gimmick, looking to make his name by latching on to a cause.

Nor was he a musical slouch.

He went to Memphis in 1992, and recorded with Booker T and the MG's.

And the MG's followed him back to Japan, touring with him, doing the requisite gig at Budokan stadium in Tokyo.

Kiyoshiro brought energy and creativity to the stage.

And he addressed nuclear power in the country when there were 37 plants, not the 51 that are there today.

Kiyoshiro's cover of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" was also part of his anti-nuke repertoire.

He gets angrier on this one.

But even in the mellow verse, he is asking the government and the utilities, "What the hell are you saying? Even if you give me reasons, if I think a bit, even I understand that I don't want radiation."

And then he cuts loose on the harmonica, one of his trademarks.

When Kiyoshiro recorded this, he was planning to put it on an album of other covers. But Kiyoshiro's record label was Toshiba.

And because Toshiba is heavily invested in nuclear power across Japan, they refused to release it.

But now Kiyoshiro's music is relevant again. And some Japanese are wondering whether — and when — other artists are going to step up with similar outspoken lyrics.

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