Artist Profile

Katsumata Susumu’s Anti-Nuclear Manga

Katsumata Susumu, Fukushima Devil Fish: Antinuclear Manga (London:
Breakdown Press, 2016), cover concept by Joe Kessler

After the 2011 meltdowns, many observers remarked on the irony and injustice of the country of Hiroshima and Nagasaki becoming the country of Fukushima. If there was any country that should have known better about the dangers of nuclear power, the argument usually went, it was Japan.

To see things in this way, however, requires a bit of ignorance. True, nuclear power generation is based on technologies originally developed for the creation of nuclear warheads and nuclear-powered submarines. Also, the promotion of the civilian uses of nuclear energy has often served as cover for the actual or potential development of nuclear arms. Critics suspect as much even in Japan.

But when it comes to the history of anti-nuclear thinking in Japan, the separation of bombs from power plants has been the rule rather than the exception. Until the late 70s, the average “anti-nuke” critic saw no contradiction in this. In the 60s, future Nobel-laureate Ōe Kenzaburō supported the “peaceful use of the atom” while upholding Hiroshima hibakusha as living testimonies against nuclear weapons testing and arms proliferation. The painter Okamoto Tarō created a haunting mural about Bikini, Myth of Tomorrow (1969), then the very next year happily lit up his Tower of the Sun at Expo 70 in Osaka with the first watts from the first of many light-water reactors in Fukui. “God of manga” Tezuka Osamu repeatedly warned against World War III in his comics from the 50s, while his most beloved character, the robot Astroboy, was powered by a small reactor inside his chest. Even at Ground Zero in Hiroshima, the fact of the city’s annihilation served not as an argument against but rather as an argument for “the only country to suffer a nuclear attack” to become a leader in the Atoms for Peace movement. As for the traditional Left, the Japanese Communist Party and Japanese Socialist Party only really started to rethink their pro-nuclear power positions after Chernobyl.

A page from Katsumata’s “Devil Fish (Octopus)” (1989)

Hiroshima is thus, for the most part, a red herring in thinking about Fukushima. Much more is to be learned by looking instead at the development of industrial capitalism in postwar Japan and the various countercultures that rose up against it in the 60s and 70s. While the first demonstrations against nuclear power in Japan were rural citizen protests against plant construction, and while public concern about the potential dangers of nuclear power plants was strongly informed by anxieties regarding industrial pollution in general, the broader intellectual framework of antinuclear discourse in Japan was heavily shaped by the critique of subjectivity, institutions, and science within the late 60s student movement. This movement changed not only how many Japanese thought of scientists and the role of science within modern Japanese history, but also how many scientists themselves thought about what they do and how to do it differently and more responsibly. As in other countries, many of the leaders of the anti-nuclear movement that flowered in Japan in the late 70s and 80s were former nuclear scientists who turned against their field of employ in the name of “citizen science,” environmentalism, and protecting democracy against a state-sponsored atomic juggernaut.

So too was the case with the country’s most prolific anti-nuclear artist, the cartoonist Katsumata Susumu (1943-2007). He has the curious distinction of rising within the world of political cartooning and literary comics in the late 60s and early 70s while studying toward a graduate degree in nuclear physics in Tokyo. I am presently finishing up the research and writing for what will, I hope, be a major event in the developing fields of manga historiography and post-Fukushima Japanese studies: Katsumata Susumu’s Fukushima Devil Fish: Anti-Nuclear Manga, which will be released by London’s Breakdown Press this summer. It will be the fourth volume in the series of historically important manga that I am editing and translating with the generous support of the Sainsbury Institute. Previous books in the series, by Matsumoto Masahiko, Hayashi Seiichi, and Sasaki Maki, can be purchased through Breakdown Press’s website.

Katsuma’s four-panel manga published in Fujin minshū shimbun,
31 October, 1980

Katsumata passed away in 2007, and was thus spared seeing his birthplace, Ishinomaki, wiped out by the tsunami. But as Fukushima Devil Fish will show, Katsumata was acutely aware of the Tohoku’s region status as a “sacrifice zone” in postwar development, in which rural communities accepted (or were tricked into accepting) risky petrochemical estates and power plants in exchange for jobs, improved infrastructure, and luxuries like world-class sports centers and concert halls. Katsumata never lived in such a community, having moved to the Tokyo area in 1962 and never returning to the countryside but for brief visits. Nonetheless, with a bachelor’s in physics and a year’s worth of graduate education in nuclear physics – this while drawing four-panel cartoons and story manga for the magazine Garo on practically a monthly basis – Katsumata was fated to turn his attention to the human side of the industrialized atom when it forced its way into public consciousness in the late 70s thanks to Three Mile Island and Japanese exposés on so-called “nuclear gypsies,” the temporary laborers employed (usually under questionable terms) to clean and maintain Japan’s nuclear plants during yearly inspections and emergency shutdowns.

The forthcoming SISJAC-Breakdown book will include two stories about “nuclear gypsies” drawn by Katsumata in the 80s, a “manga reportage” piece about the Tokaimura Criticality Accident in 1999 (Japan’s worst civilian nuclear disaster before 2011), as well as more than seventy of Katsumata’s four-panel cartoons from the late 70s, 80s, and 90s criticizing various aspects of the nuclear industry and nuclear proliferation during the Cold War. It will also include about twenty of Katsumata’s Garo strips, showing how the radicalized political climate of the late 60s seeded doubts about science, research, and university education, and their links with state power. This book has proved a serious project, and a most humbling one. It is edited and annotated such that, read from cover to cover, a reader will get a decent sense of Japan’s struggle with nuclear power in the age of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. After the Fukushima meltdown, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) and government officials repeatedly tried to skirt responsibility by describing the 2011 meltdown as “sōteigai,” or “beyond the imagination.” Fukushima Devil Fish will provide more tragic proof that a catastrophic disaster at one of Japan’s nuclear facilities was not only imaginable, but, given the industry’s track record, perfectly foreseeable.

One more thing is important about this book: it will serve as a rejoinder to the reigning gender bias in accounts of Japan’s anti-nuclear movements, whether one is talking about fights against warheads or power plants. The focus is usually on male intellectuals and activists, the involvement (or non-involvement) of male-dominated political parties, the plight of male plant laborers, and lawsuits made by male lawyers against utilities represented by expressionless men in expressionless suits. But even a glance at the photographic documentation of Japanese anti-nuclear protests will tell you that women were on the movement’s frontline. While the vast majority of books on related topics have been authored by men, the popularization of hankaku (anti-nuke) and hangenpatsu (anti-nuclear power) consciousness amongst average Japanese citizens and the creation of social and political networks around anti-nuclear issues must be in large part credited to the dogged organizational work and physical efforts of female activists since the mid 50s. This begins with the signature campaigns in suburban Tokyo after Bikini (which ultimately led to the creation of Gensuikyō, the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs), continuing through the struggles against the development of nuclear plants in the countryside in the 60s and 70s (the men were typically away working in the cities), and culminating in the baby-toting mothers at the forefront of the “new wave” protests following Chernobyl.

As a male artist who published the vast majority of his anti-nuclear cartoons in a feminist newspaper (Fujin minshū shinbun), Katsumata stands with a symbolic foot upon each shore of this gender divide. From there, Katsumata provides a window on how Japanese anti-nuclear movements have been implicated, not just in Cold War politics, but also in the growth of responsible consumerism, organic farming, and slow food networks in Japan. Katsumata and his wife took these issues seriously enough to turn their home into a chemical-free and recycle-friendly zone, at a time (the late70s) when neither was common in Japan. Not surprisingly, Katsumata also illustrated a number of books on renewable energy and climate change, way-back-when in the late twentieth century.

Ryan Holmberg
Research Associate, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures
Hakuho Fellow