Ichi-F -Japanese workingman’s blues

One of my Christmas gifts was Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

As it says on the cover, it is a worker’s memoir. The book has been criticized as being insufficiently muckraking. The author has a generally positive view of the nuclear industry as a whole. He is not analyzing anything or blaming anyone for anything, other than the journalists who are spreading false stories about how bad things are there.

What I find it most useful for is as a look at Japanese working class men and labor. The narrator is a  semi-employed manga artist who goes to considerable trouble to get work at the Fukushima nuclear clean-up site and to work in the most dangerous parts of it.1 Why does he want to to this? It is not to draw about it, although he does end up doing that. He mentions the money, but that is not really it. It is pretty clear that he wants to do useful work. Lots of people have bullshit jobs. He wants to be a hero worker, boldly building Magnitogorsk or Daqing or the Hoover Dam or something. He downplays this a bit, but his motivation is always to get back to the worksite and get back to work, or, as he sometimes calls it, the front line.

He likes drawing wreckage.

He may not be writing this as an expose of the subcontractor system and the many ways it hurts workers, but all that stuff is in here.

His subcontractor boss. He’s not shady, he’s just drawn that way

He spends most of his time on (unpaid) standby,

the subcontractors charge him for all sorts of stuff, and the entire system is extremely opaque, meaning that he spends much of the book trying to move up to a second or third level subcontractor (Their are at least 6 levels of subcontractors,  so if you want to figure out who is responsible for what or where all the money is going, well, good luck.)

Who does he work with? Other men, of course. Real men who do things with their hands and bond together in manly manlyness. Other workers play a lot of pachinko (which he does not) and drink (which he does, but not that much.) He sometimes comments on the fact that pretty much everyone who works there is male. There are some bits about trying to find shared housing and such, but mostly what they do is work. Some of it is trivial work, (lots of form filling out and safety inspections, but we are all part of the same team)

some of it is heroically rushing into a high-radiation area to move something,

some of it is using a off the shelf video game controller to run a robot, but all of it needs to be done carefully, efficiently, and as part of a team. He had actually paid for his own training as a welder and crane operator before even getting the job, but he is in awe of the skilled workers he meets at Ichi-F.

This of course fits in with a lot of Japanese manga that focus on work, but I think that mostly those have not been translated. If you want a lot of details of nuclear clean-up work, this is the manga for you.

As I mentioned, he is not blaming anyone, other than journalists, for anything. The whole tone is quite positive. More and more areas are radiation free. He can now drive north and eat delicious local delicacies and play folksongs at old folks homes! Our work is achieving something! Every day and in every way, things are getting better and better.

The review I linked to above speculates that the real reason he uses an assumed name is not to avoid getting fired, but because he is a nuclear company shill. I’m not sure if that is true, but honestly, the book would not be that much different if he were.

I don’t think this would work all that well as a classroom book. Most students would drop the class at once if they saw a book this thick on the bookstore shelves. Also, it reads backwards, which will turn off your serious manga students. Still, it is a good book to give a student (or professor) interested in labor.



  1. I will leave aside the question of how reliable a narrator he is  

1 Comment

  1. Fascinating what gets translated and published these days.
    The authorship question would definitely knock it out as a classroom work for me.
    But the labor system stuff is interesting, of course.

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