from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan

Through the examination of the identification of the nation through the semiotics of speed in chapter 1, we looked at stillness as resilience against the forward movement. The use of a fixed camera outside the automobile, namely the lack of motion, was conceptualised as a rationalised reflection on the light and shadow of modernity. Chapter 2 develops this examination from the aspect of the exterior–interior conception that Niigata historically embodies to refer to the centre–periphery structure, Niigata being another location of nuclear power plants (NPPs).

Ura-nihon is a Japanese term that has a discriminatory undertone going beyond its use as a geographical reference to the part of Japan behind the Pacific region, exhibiting the presence of the disparity between the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan sides. During the construction of social infrastructure in the country in the process of modernisation in the late nineteenth century, the term referred to the growing disparity between the bright exterior surface of the Japan of the Pacific side and the shadowed interior surface of the underdeveloped Sea of Japan side.* The discriminatory undertone was embedded in the use of the term around 1900, which was grounded in this rapid modernisation that implemented infrastructure such as railways, ports, the mail network, telephone communication, and school systems unevenly, predominantly on the Pacific side.** In the 1960s, during the high-growth period, the term was banned, coinciding with the high-rate growth that widened the disparity and increased the unevenness of development through further prioritised investment in the industrialisation of the Pacific region. As we will see regarding the shinkansen in this chapter, the Japanese government initiated its construction in order to mitigate the uneven development between the exterior, omote-nihon, of the Pacific region and the interior, ura-nihon. Although use of the term ura-nihon was banned in the 1960s at the height of the rapid-growth era, ura-nihon, as historian Tadao Furumaya conceptualises in his Ura-nihon: Questioning Modern Japan (1997), nonetheless persists as an ideology. This chapter further examines the post-war growth through the ideology of ura-nihon. Furumaya describes the construction of subjectivity built within the ideology:***

when the term, ura-nihon, is used by outsiders to the region, it functions to conceal the construction of the disparity as the fate of the inborn geographical and climatic conditions of ura-nihon. Moreover, their use of the term is congruent with their conscious inclination towards the concealment of their rationalisation of the geographical division of labour according to the logic of economic efficiency.


In contrast, when used by insiders to the region, it shows their sense of inferiority with respect to their underdevelopedness and their internalisation of the sense of inferiority as their destiny due to the geographical conditions. On the other hand, it also conceives emotional amalgam to legitimate their affirmative action against the disparity and support their resistance and accusation against the inequality and injustice. Either way, it is an ideology of industrialism that measures society by economic development.****

Through this psychoanalytical account, Furumaya describes the industrialist aspect of the term, omote–ura-nihon, exterior–interior.***** It contains the superior–inferior intricacies of consciousness, logic, rationalisation, and concealment between the centre and the periphery. This psychology of the peripheralist, as we examined in chapter 1 at the NPP- hosting periphery of Fukushima, is constituted here by the same intricate relation. The intricacies in Fukushima were expressed as “the voluntary and strategic approach”, “automatic and voluntary obedience”, and the embracing of NPPs as the replica of the wealth in their exploited land for the sake of their survival motivated by the sense of inferiority and the disparity. “The highest point of modernity” that the periphery dreamed of was elevation within the hierarchy of industrialism and modernity. In other words, it was acceleration in order to catch up with the fastest point. From this ideological perspective, stillness, namely the lack of motion, and equally of speed, is equal to the dichotomous cultural construction of the peripherality in the subjectivity of the peripheralist.

From this point, Furumaya conceives the enquiry in the examination of industrialism as a part of modernity. This is to say, it is an examination of the shadowed sacrifice of the periphery under the bright attainment of the post-war growth. Furumaya’s conceptualisation of ura-nihon, therefore, is coalesced to the semiotics of speed as the stillness in the following way: the centre–periphery structure as a hegemony of modernity, and speed as the ideology of post-war growth and industrialism.

*Tadao Furumaya, Ura-nihon: Questioning Modern Japan, Tokyo: Iwanami-shinsyo, 1997. Tsunehisa Abe, The Construction of Ura-nihon, Tokyo: Nihon-keizai-hyoron-sya, 1997.
**The opposite side of the Pacific Ocean, taiheiyou-gawa, is geographically called nihonkai-gawa, the Sea of Japan side. This term has been subjected to much criticism, since the name of the sea shows the projection of imperial power through the Japanese modernisation and militarisation during the Meiji era in the region. For further details see Furumaya’s comments to Kim Yong-Ho in Furumaya’s Ura-nihon: Questioning Modern Japan.
***The discriminatory undertone of ura-nihon persisted after the ban; however, two major research works on the subject, namely Furumaya’s Ura-nihon: Questioning Modern Japan (1997) and Tsunehisa Abe’s The Construction of Ura-nihon (1997), were published in the late 1990s. My analysis of this trend pertaining to ura-nihon in the period reflects the economic stagnation during the so-called “Lost 20 Years” of 1990–2010, the emergence of Asian countries as economic powers, and the post-Cold War geopolitical change. Particularly due to the geoeconomics and geopolitical changes, the Sea of Japan side, the ura-nihon region, came to be seen as the gateway to East Asia and Europe through the Eurasian continent. See also the concept of the pan-Sea of Japan area as an economic region.
****Furumaya, ibid., p. 183.  *****Ibid., pp. 11–15.
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