An essay on
Kyou mo ii tenki: Genpatsu Jikohen
[Nice Weather Today As Well: Nuclear Accident Edition]
Frank Mondelli, Swarthmore College, Class of 2014
Following the initial frenzy of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters on March 11, 2011, many authors and creative artists in the Japanese public turned toward their art to express their feelings and personal experiences with the disasters to a wider audience. Among those works is Yamamoto Osamu's "Kyou mo ii tenki", or "Nice Weather Today As Well", a stylized autobiographical manga that, in its initial circulation from 2008 to 2009, portrayed a manga artist struggling to adapt to life in rural Japan. The work was circulated in a popular Japanese communist newspaper, Shimbun Akahata, to positive reception. As the rural area the manga depicts is in Fukushima Prefecture, which was the centerpoint for the nuclear crisis, the author himself was greatly affected by the disasters in his personal life and felt compelled to write new episodes for the series to address life post-3.11. These new chapters were ultimately compiled into a paperback book edition that has attained significant popularity. The work is important in the context of this exhibit as it directly pertains to both disasters and rebuilding in Japan, and more specifically, how different individuals impacted by the same event chose in varying ways to deal with the tremendous change that sudden disaster can bring to both them and society at large. In particular, "Kyou mo ii tenki" is helpful in illustrating the tension between government and citizens, and the doubt that citizens can place on traditional authority in times of crises and rebuilding.
The specific example in the work comes from a scene in the 10th chapter on pages 62 and 63, where the protagonist has lost his faith in the traditional authority of governmental and academic figures in Japan, as well as in the outlet of traditional media in general for uncritically presenting their reassuring words. In response to a university professor's public assurances that it is completely safe to eat most food in the Fukushima area, the protagonist vividly imagines himself turning into a superman-like hero, flying and screaming in rage to the man and verbally punishing him for what he sees as public and shameful lies. "You can't ignore normal human lifestyles and keeping telling us 'it's safe', 'it's safe'!" he yells, "All you're doing is protecting radiation and nuclear power [instead of the people]!!" This rampage stems from an important build-up in the previous chapter, where more governmental figures are shown saying that a short distance away from the Fukushima Plant is safe, upon which the protagonist learns that the United States has declared a much larger area to be dangerously contaminated. All of these experiences foster doubt in the protagonist's mind as to both the honesty and competency of the Japanese establishment.
The manga illustrates the real struggles of the Japanese public to shift through new and contradictory information and adapt to post-3.11 life. Some, like the manga's protagonist, were torn between the decision of whether they should trust the traditional authority of society or doubt that their intentions could be in the public's best interest. Since the manga is heavily autobiographical and based on real events, the style and nature of the television broadcasts, and in some cases the exact quotes of officials, are replicated on the page. As a result, it serves as a resource to help understand not just what was presented in the public sphere but also how the individual citizens of the affected areas attempted to cope with learning to live in a new and uncertain time. Later chapters in the series begin to show effects of radiation in the protagonist's personal life, such as their pet dog developing nosebleeds or his wife experiencing various health problems. One later scene confirms the protagonist's accusations of official misinformation when his wife, having been recording the radiation levels in their home and town herself, confirms that the levels are much higher than what has been officially broadcast. This confirmation in the manga mirrors real-life events in which Fukushima and other Japanese citizens took matters into their own hands and bought equipment to detect local radiation and upload their individual numbers over time onto the Internet in both social networks and other websites. The results were often shocking in terms of the overwhelming disparity that the numbers revealed in contrast to the official numbers and proclamations of safety (Slater et al).
The outlined scene in "Kyou mo ii tenki" serves as a fantasy not just for the protagonist's sake but also as an embodiment of the anger and distrust of the Japanese public as well. Wearing a superman outfit with the Japanese character for "anger" instead of an S, the protagonist's arguments for the lack of safety and the lies authorities are telling, as well as the fact that he physically punches the official, can serve as a significant catharsis for the contemporary Japanese reader. The medium of manga is used to great effect beyond the magical realism of the protagonist's transformation, as some of the written text itself is drawn with harsh, shaky lines in large, bold print that suggests anger which can then be aurally imagined by the reader. This aspect of the reader's imagination of a spoken word, which is supplemented by a visual cue, is a unique trait of the medium of comics which opens itself up to multiple interpretations on the part of the reader, as opposed to anime or other medium where there is only one way the same line can be heard. This means that if the reader is also angry at the current state of affairs, the reader can very well imagine his or her own voice reciting the lines on the page, which can make the work feel far more personal and effective. In addition, the depiction of speed lines in multiple panels, a traditional technique in anime and manga normally used to show intensity to a character's actions or words, highlight the passion of the character's fantasy. When the fantasy is over, however, the protagonist realizes that he can never actually turn it into a reality, upon which the manga depicts the character in his normal environment literally shattering and falling apart. This serves as visual reminder of his helplessness and the reality that he, and all Japanese citizens, are grounded in.
The shattering of the fantasy, however, does not mean that the desire of the manga author or of many Japanese people to angrily and passionately make their voices heard has gone away. On the contrary, the level of social activism and other methods of expressing dissent in Japan has increased significantly since 3.11. The proliferation of alternate media sources such as the Internet has also led to a people-centered and people-controlled method of distilling information, separate from the mainstream media sources in which the government and other influential powers attempt to send their messages. "Kyou mo ii tenki" is an important work for its various depictions of the disasters as well as the journey of a family adjusting to rural life in Japan, and it effectively serves as a time capsule in multiple ways for future generations to come. As realistically depicted in the manga, Japanese distrust of government authority has reached an open high that in recent times has been unprecedented, and these issues of trust versus skepticism will continue to be a critically important topic in rebuilding and disaster preparation to come in both Japan and elsewhere in the modern world.