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Suffering Forces Us to Think beyond the RightLeft BarrierAmamiya Karin Jodie BeckMechademia, Volume 5, 2010, pp. 251-265 (Article)Published by University of Minnesota Press

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Access Provided by McGill University Libraries at 10/05/11 6:23PM GMT

aMaMiya KarinTranslated and with an Introduction by Jodie Beck

Suffering Forces Us to Think beyond the RightLeft BarriertRanSlatoRS intRoductionAmamiya Karin is a writer with a complex and interesting relation to the notion of fandom. She came to the medias attention as the subject of a 1999 film documentary about an ultranationalist punk band, of which she was a member. Since then, she has attracted wide notice and a wide following as a spokesperson for a generation that increasingly feels left behind. Amamiya was born in 1975 in Hokkaido and now resides in Tokyo. She is a prolific writer and speaker with an agenda that has its roots in her own background: she has written extensively about her own personal history of ijime (being bullied at school), self-mutilation, and multiple suicide attempts, relating her own experiences to a wider trend of suffering (ikitzurasa) among members of Japans lost generation. Her early sense of loss, economic instability, and lack of direction led her to seek comfort and a sense of belonging in Japanese nationalism, and she became a member of the rightwing organization Totsugekitai as well as the singer for the ultranationalist punk band The Revolutionary Truth.


Amamiya has also allied herself with Japans working poor and the precariat movement (a neologism made by combining precarious with the iat of proletariat). Precarity, precariat, and related terms have been used in various countries to refer to groups of workers in unstable or precarious positions, and the material and psychological effects on their overall quality of life. Among Japans precariat, Amamiya includes such groups as furiitaa or freeters: freelance workers, temporary workers, undocumented workers, and others with low or unstable wages, few or no benefits, and little job security. The concept of precarity thus brings together various groups of workers through shared vulnerability as the basis for a common cause. Amamiya has worked with Tsuchiya Yutaka on the films Atarashii kami sama (1999, The new god) and Peep TV Show (2004).1 Atarashii kamisama uses a documentary style to delve into the conflicting views between Amamiyas right-wing nationalism and Tsuchiyas views as a leftist, activist filmmaker with an antinationalist, antiemperor system stance. In the film, we see the beginnings of Amamiyas search to find common ground through proactive dialogue and debate between her right-wing politics and that of older ultraleftist members of the Japanese Red Army. The idea that people of radically opposed political views can work together against a common enemy or a common social problem such as precarity is also taken up in the text below. After Atarashii kamisama, Amamiya and Tsuchiya cowrote the film Peep TV Show, which looks at the experiences and angst of the generation of Japanese living in a post-9/11 surveillance society. The film questions such concepts as public and private in an information age in which narratives of terror circulate on a massive scale. Amamiya recently wrote the introduction to the rerelease of proletarian writer Kobayashi Takijis Kani ksen (1929, Cannery ship), a novel that she felt spoke to Japans contemporary precariat despite a gap of about eighty years since its original publication.2 Norma Field notes that Amamiya observed [in the daily Mainichi newspaper] that, reading Cannery Ship, she was struck by how the conditions depicted mirrored the current desperate situation of young workers. 3 A leftist writer who had garnered little attention since his torture and death at the hands of authorities in 1933, Takiji has enjoyed a recent surge of interest in Japan, particularly among a younger generation, and Amamiyas contribution to the new release of Takijis novel has arguably played a role in this. This sudden and explosive interest in Takiji coincided with recognition of the severity of the economic situation and realization of the role political and economic policies were playing in creating an income-gap society. Norma Field argues that the Takiji boom was manufactured and real:

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What was required for that to happen was not only a widespread acknowledgement of economic crisis, but the much more difficult recognition for a society habituated to regarding itself as homogeneously middle-class that the solutions being adopted were creating dramatic disparities.4

In recent years, Amamiya has thus reconsidered many of her political ideas, suggesting that suffering and uncertainty may not be so simply addressed in terms of the political right or left. She has left both the ultranationalist punk band as well as the right-wing organization of her earlier days. Her political stance has changed considerably throughout her career, in what may be seen as a continued effort to develop and seek a way to move beyond a divisive or static political stance. Her passionate investment in issues of precarity and suffering can therefore be seen as one that has not led to a dogmatic agenda but rather as one that continues to evolve. Her writings and the publications in which they appear reflect this refusal to neatly compartmentalize experience. Field concludes that Amamiya, in her early thirties, seems to effortlessly cross the boundaries between old and new left and new new left, liberal, socialist, and communist publications. 5 She continues to work on issues including neoliberalism, globalization, and their effects on the lost generation of Japan, often appearing on television talk show panels. Her publications include Iki jigoku tengoku (2000, Living hell heaven), Jisatsu no kosuto (2002, The cost of suicide), and Aku no Sjiku o tazunete (2003, Visiting the Axis of Evil).6 This essay, subtitled In the Wasteland after the Bubble Burst, was published in May 2008 in a special issue of the magazine Rosujene / Lost Generation.7 Starting from some comments on her own celebrity, the author touches on a number of issues related to fandom and subcultures, including manga politics, the conflation of consumption with identity, and the double-edged sense of division and belonging generated by ideological labels.

SuFFeRinG FoRceS uS to think beyond the RiGhtleFt baRRieRRecently various people have said that I am becoming leftist. The newspaper Akahata wrote Patriotic Punk Goes Around to the Left. When I speak at public events, the epithet previously right-wing and now left-wing is sometimes attached to my name. And the fact that I became a member of the editorial committee of Shkan Kinybi in January of this year seems to be

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perceived as the decisive evidence. But when people say that I am becoming leftist, I feel extremely uncomfortable. In the first place, the reason people originally started saying that was because I had become involved with the precariat movement (the precarious proletariat), and started covering and writing about it as a main theme. Included in the precariat are the types of people typified as freeters, 8 such as irregular employees and NEETs,9 regular employees and self-employed people who are forced to do free overtime, and even people like me who do freelance writing. It is an opposition movement against the fact that people all over the world are forced into instability because of neoliberalism, which is advancing globalization. As I proceeded to collect information on things like suffering and suicide, I had really come to feel that no matter what we do, theres no way out. There were young people all around me committing suicide, denying their own existence, just repeating that they wanted to die. One day, after looking into the hearts of these people day after day, I realized that maybe there is a structural problem behind their suffering. And the word that hit the mark was precariat, and one enemy that came to mind was neoliberalism. The word neoliberalism had appeared at points here and there before, but the dots were now connected into a clear line. A lot of so-called mental health-ers [people with mental health problems] come from the generation that grew up during what people called the job market ice age. One of my acquaintances who committed suicide first became depressed after failing employment exams at a hundred companies. And I myself got canned from my job on the first day countless times when I was a freeter. At those times not so long ago, I blamed myself and attempted suicide again and again. My younger brother, who graduated from university during the job market ice age, became a freeter and several years later got a job at Yamada Denki, where he was forced to work eighteen hours a day and almost died from overwork. At a time when we were feeling so much instability within our own hearts, the idea of working normally and making a living itself was becoming unstable in this country. It was a warped picture: poorly paid freeter or regular full-time employee fated to die from overwork. Yet people say that this predicament is a matter of personal responsibility and freeters have continued to experience bashing. In the meantime, homelessness among freeters of my generation is becoming more visible. All at once the freeter issue has changed from a matter of working on your own terms to one of having the right to survive. Even if you work, you cant live. You cant eat. For irregular employees unemployment is always a presupposition: there is no guarantee that one day

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you wont suddenly lose your job. So, young people found the