Sound American: I read your article in the Asia-Pacific Journal - Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstration: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model - and felt like there were elements of ritual in the way that Japanese protestors used music and sound to connect people. I know it’s a large topic, but maybe you can start by giving a brief overview of the protest movement and the way it used music?

Noriko Manabe: There have been anti-nuclear demonstrations in Japan since the country started to promote nuclear power in the 1950s and build nuclear power plants from the 1960s onwards. There were massive demonstrations against nuclear testing, particularly in 1954 after the Bikini Atoll H-bomb test. That explosion was much more powerful than the US government had expected. A Japanese fishing boat, called the Lucky Dragon Boat #5, got exposed to radiation, even though it was outside of the restricted area. All the people aboard that boat had to be hospitalized for radiation sickness, and one of them died. In the meantime, the tuna on board had already been sold in the Japanese markets, causing a massive panic about radiation in food. This sparked major protests around Japan and a major petition campaign, which gathered about 33 million signatures—more than a third of the population in Japan at the time.

After 3.11— what we call the triple disaster of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear disaster [which occurred on March 11, 2011]—many people got involved in social movements for the first time. Historically speaking, protests are looked down upon in Japan. They’re also highly regulated: protest organizers have to apply for permission with the police to hold them. Also, the police have control over your route, which they can change at the last minute, messing up your protest plans. The organizers have to specify how many vehicles they’re going to have and what’s going to be on them, and give an estimate of how many participants they’re expecting. The police get upset if more people show up than specified on the application. It’s a highly controlled, highly contentious environment.

 An example of a Japanese anti-nuclear street demonstration

The most contentious kind of protest is the street demonstration, where protesters are walking, and trucks are rolling, down a street. A rally is less antagonistic, as you’re in a more controllable environment. A rally stays in one area; it’s in a park, some distance away from daily traffic. In a street demonstration, you’re literally on the street with the cars whizzing by you. These demonstrations feature so-called sound trucks, piled with sound equipment for DJs, rappers, reggae singers, punk bands, chindon wind bands, and occasionally noise bands. Typically, big name artists don’t perform in street demonstrations - their record companies or agencies probably wouldn’t allow it, and it is awfully difficult to control sound on top of a moving truck. So, performers on sound trucks are usually independent musicians.

These “sound demonstrations” with sound trucks go back to 2003. They began primarily as demonstrations against the Iraq War, but more accurately, they were “reclaim-the-streets” protests against globalized capitalism, which was filling urban space with fancy office buildings and retailers and shoving out the youth, who were increasingly marginalized economically. The main music of these earlier protests was techno, noise, and drumming, which filled the street with sound and allowed people to dance. The demonstrators saw the nuclear power issue as being much more immediate and close to home for the Japanese than the Iraq War (as serious as the latter is), and the primary music for the [post 3.11] demonstrations shifted quickly from wordless techno to rappers who verbalized the problems with nuclear power and engaged with the protesters. They developed specific raps that were anti-nuclear.

After about a year of sound demonstrations where musicians performed pre-composed and pre-rehearsed songs, a new kind of performance developed where the musicians engaged the protestors in a call-and-response pattern to the beats of the music. Sound trucks were playing hip-hop beats, and drum corps would beat a steady rhythm at each protest. Demonstrators got into the habit of chanting to these beats, “Genpatsu iranai,” or “We don’t need nuclear power,” and “Saikadō hantai,” or, “We oppose restarting nuclear power plants.” The rappers would use such short slogans as call-and-response patterns with which to engage the protestors.

 Drum Corps Call and Response July 6, 2012 

Shortly after the crisis in 2011, it was appropriate for the anti-nuclear movement to have musicians perform songs on top of sound trucks, because the focus of the movement was to raise awareness of the problems with the industry: for example, the nuclear power industry had falsified safety inspection reports and paid a lot of advertising dollars to media companies, which refrained from presenting anti-nuclear materials. After a year of these protests, many Japanese residents understood the problem, and 70% of the population opposed nuclear power within a couple of months. By the second year after the crisis, however, the main focus of the movement was not so much about raising awareness as mobilizing people into action to convince the government to change its policies. The music in these protests naturally became more participatory, where performers focused more on call and response, rather than prepared songs.

SA: And you’re talking about participatory versus presentational.

NM: Yes, that’s right.

SA: So what do you think the difference is? I think you’ve explained it politically, but where a crowd is concerned, do you think there is a different social atmosphere that is created by presentational acts versus participatory?

NM: The terms participatory and presentational come from Thomas Turino, who is an ethnomusicologist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. Presentational means the performer and the audience play separate roles. The performer has a set piece, which he or she has prepared, and performs it. Most concerts are set up this way. You’re a jazz musician, right?

SA: Right

NM: So, there’s a lot of give and take in jazz improvisation, but you’re not improvising with the audience, unless it’s a very unusual kind of audience. You’re playing to the audience, and the audience is sitting back and listening to you. This is presentational.

 An example of the presentational type of protest.

A participatory performance would be where everybody in the audience is taking part in some way, whether it be singing or dancing or playing a tune. So that people can participate, these tunes are made very easy so that you can perform them without much practicing, and certainly without rehearsing. In a participatory performance, there’s no gap between the performer and the audience because the audience is performing. You are paying close attention to what everyone else around you is doing.

[Participatory music] helps you to feel a certain affinity with the people around you, much as you might by either playing or singing in a group. It’s the same kind of feeling you would have if you were singing the national anthem with everyone else in a stadium, or if you’re singing your school's song at an event or a hymnal at church. These experiences make you feel at one with the people around you. It instills a sense of solidarity, which is exactly what activists needed to accomplish from a political point of view: together, the protesters feel bigger than they are alone. In participatory music, you make it easy for anyone to join, participants feel like everyone’s in this together, and the experience mobilizes them into action.

 An example of a participatory type of protest.

SA: There’s one thing you said in the article I read, and it’s a word I didn’t know. You said a lot of the sound demonstrations were connected to matsuri and that created a positive effect. Can you just give me an explanation for our readers of what that is and how it played into the protests?

NM: Yes, matsuri means festival. And in a Japanese matsuri there’s often a procession involved. There are festivals all over Japan. A lot of them take place in August during what is called Obon, which is like the Day of the Dead. People go back to their hometown, or ancestral hometown, to visit the graves of their ancestors. Small towns all over Japan have festivals in which they celebrate the town, often during the summer. They’ll often have local dances and a procession.

A demonstration can be a bit like a matsuri in the sense that it’s festive and it also carries an atmosphere that [Mikhail] Bakhtin describes as carnivalesque. At a carnival, people lose their inhibitions, and some societal norms are turned upside down. The stratifications of society are upended during this one time of year when people can let loose. A lot of the social tensions are expressed in the rituals of carnival, as one can see exemplified in the Trinidadian carnival or the Brooklyn carnival. The Japanese matsuri is a similar experience, because after a lot of drinking, people will talk to each other in ways that they probably wouldn’t otherwise; there’s a mixing of people from all social classes.

Matsumoto Hajime, who organized the first anti-nuclear sound demonstrations in 2011, likened the sound demonstrations to a matsuri, because both feature music, processions, and the mixing of people from all sorts of backgrounds. A matsuri procession also has floats with musicians on top of them, which is visually similar to sound trucks. Overall, there is a joyous quality to many sound demonstrations that are reminiscent of these festivals. Demonstrations became less joyous when the Liberal Democratic Party was re-elected in 2012, and it became clear that energy policy was not likely to change. But certainly in 2011 and much of 2012, demonstrations involved a lot of people dressing up like clowns or in radiation suits. A group of people made drums from what looked like the steel barrels in which radioactive waste is kept. There was more of a carnivalesque aspect to the demonstrations earlier on, which seems a little less prevalent now.

SA: And the thing that was important about that, I would think, would be the ability to bring a lot of people in regardless of their political leanings or class. It was a way to involve more of a mass of people in a way that may have seemed more fun and less threatening as opposed to a kind of harsh protest. Is that safe to say?

NM: Yes, that’s a very good way to put it. The old style of protest was the type run by labor unions. These protests happened in less youth-oriented parts of town like Shinjuku or the Ginza. They would chant, “Genpatsu wa . . . . iranai!” or, “We oppose . . . nuclear power!” There would be a certain melodic cadence to it, but it lacked rhythm and could be really boring.

What the younger people wanted to do with these sound demonstrations was, as you were saying, make it more fun, make it more inviting, make it easier for people to join in even if they hadn’t been to a demonstration before. Certainly if you have lots of people in clown costumes playing different instruments and looking like they are having a lot of fun, it’s a lot easier to attract attention on the street and have people join in the protest. The presentational aspect of music in the early stage of the anti-nuclear movement helped to attract people on the street as well as raise awareness of the issues. Once there was a critical mass of protesters, and things got more serious, then the musician-activists could focus more on mobilization.


Noriko Manabe is Assistant Professor of Music (Ethnomusicology and Music Theory) at Princeton University and a Research Associate at SOAS. Her publications have addressed music and the Japanese antinuclear movement; the impact of the Japanese language on rap; the aesthetics of hip-hop DJs; the differences in the online radio markets in the United States and Japan; propaganda in Japanese children’s songs; and the interaction of text and music in the songs of Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez. Her articles have appeared in Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, Asian Music, Latin American Music Review, Transcultural Music Review, two Oxford Handbooks, and several edited volumes.

Her first monograph, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Music and the Antinuclear Movement in Japan Post-Fukushima Daiichi (Oxford University Press, 2015, forthcoming), addresses the role of musicians in (self-)censored environments and the ways they convey their political messages through music in four different performance spaces—cyberspace, demonstrations, festivals, and recordings. It won the Book Subvention Award from the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Diversity Committee in 2013. An article based on a chapter, "Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model," won the Waterman Prize from the Popular Music Section of the Society for Ethnomusicology in 2014.

Her second monograph, The Revolution Remixed: A Typology of Intertextuality in Protest Songs (under contract, Oxford, forthcoming), constructs a classification of intertextuality as it pertains to protest songs and analyzes cases drawn from the Japanese antinuclear movement. In addition, she is completing one monograph on the development of nationalistic symbols and text setting in Japanese children’s songs from the Meiji Era to the Allied Occupation, and another on identity and aesthetics across three transnational popular music scenes in Japan: hip-hop, reggae/dancehall, and electronic dance music.

Her research has been funded by the NEH Fellowship for Advanced Social Science Research on Japan, Kluge Fellowship, the Japan Foundation Fellowship, the SSRC/JSPS Fellowship, Princeton, and CUNY. She serves on the editorial board of Twentieth-Century Music, as contributing editor to the Asia-Pacific Journal, and as Chair of the Investment Committee for the Society for Ethnomusicology.