A few months ago, no one in the world knew who "281 Anti Nuke" was. Even today, there are only a handful of people who even know the real name of this controversial Japanese street artist. There are no photos, except with his face being covered by a white mask, no direct way of directly contacting him and like many artists, he was unknown in his own country until just a few months ago.
When I've seen his work on the streets, I'm always drawn into some childlike image, without any thought of an ulterior message. Then when you look a little closer or just think about it, you understand the message like a slap in the face. It's very quick, very sudden and it's not something you want to repeat. Not because I didn't want to see his work - I did - I just did not want to feel like I did not understand the message from the first instance, the first glance.
In the last few months, his work has appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist and Giant Robot, while he has been interviewed by Japan Rolling Stones and for the French news network Channel 24. This is an artist on the right track, getting his message and his name out there. It's always strange to me that artists in their own countries often need exposure outside of their own country to make them known at home and I feel 281 Anti Nuke is no exception.
I think that 281 Anti Nuke, who I'm sure over time will be known as "281" for short, will be an artist of great controversy. If you look at Ai Weiwei or Banksy, then I think you can see the inherent anti-establishment mentality of both these artists. It's not that they are anti-establishment, but anti "anything wrong in the world", drawing attention to any issue they personally feel strongly about.
He's been referred to as the Japanese Banksy and I have to agree. I see why people would say this, but I also think there are many who want to be seen like this and 281 Anti Nuke is up against a much more restrictive culture/government.
Standing up and criticizing governments, has never in our combined histories, been well received. But with hundreds of thousands of Japanese people supporting the end of nuclear energy in Japan and tens of millions of people internationally, 281 Anti Nuke is not alone.
A few months ago I was surprised when he agreed to a meeting. Going into a bar in Shibuya, waiting for a man in a mask to turn up, was as surreal as it was improbable. When he walked up behind me and said "Ryan?" I turned to see a Japanese man with a white mask on his face and wondered what was going to happen. It's funny what your imagination does to you. "Is 281 going to be a man or a woman?" "Is 281 11 or 87 years old" "Does 281 work for the government?"
It was all very uncomfortable at the start and for good reason. I could have been the government setting a trap. I'm not James Bond, but I did get a sense of doing something covert, something that must stay away from prying eyes. I mean, have you ever seen an interview of Banksy without the muffled voice and not just a silhouette? Maybe 281 Anti Nuke will do something controversial in the next few years, putting him on the front page of every publication and people will tear down the walls, as his art works are worth so much (it happened to Banksy).
During the meeting, I soon realized that he wants to be proud to say "I'm Japanese." He wants to feel the government is by the people and for the people, not for themselves or some strange Machiavellian plan. Put simply, he wants good governance and to live in a world, he can eat, drink and breathe without becoming radioactive.
I don't think he's asking too much, do you?
I'm not criticizing the Japanese government, I'm agreeing with an artist's desire for things we should all have. I'm not in the Japanese government, I don't need to fulfill the energy needs of 127,817,277 people (2011 World Bank) and I do not need to think about the issues of an aging population, defense or anything but this. We have but one world and a nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl (1986) spread radioactive particles over Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Finland, Denmark, Norway,Sweden, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Estonia, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, France, Corsica, Canada and the United Kingdom (UK). So how can any government have the authority to even build such an energy source, when it risks contaminating hundreds of millions of people in countries other than their own?
I feel 281 Anti Nuke is hitting at the heart of the issue and on a wider scale, reliance on nuclear energy should come to an end.
Art is intrinsically linked to politics and politics to the world. 281 Anti Nuke's works are no exception and I'll be interested to look back in 40 years to see what effect this man had on the world.
Somebody once said: "You may not think about politics, but politics thinks about you. Politics controls what you eat, where you live, how you live, what you breathe, how your children are raised. Politics is in everything around us and I think with the failure of governments and policies all over the world, it's time for a change.
The U.S. is classified as a democracy and is in debt to China, when Russia is once again a great superpower, the Middle East is ablaze, Mexico is a war zone, Europe is in a financial chaos and Japan has a stagnated economy. I think the world has been turned upside down and inside out.
Saying all of that and also talking about 281 Anti Nuke, I think Japan is in a unique position to make a dramatic change. A polar shift could make Japan one of, if not the strongest, economies in the world.
If the government focuses on renewable energy, with the massive Japanese industrial complex that already exists, they could become the world leaders in renewable energy and by creating a nationally owned renewable energy grid (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal) and providing that energy free to the Japanese people, being a relatively small land area as a country, Japan could lead the way in making a real change to the world. How we view energy and how government is supposed to operate "in the interests of the people."
281 Anti Nuke could be the start of that change.© Japan Today