“Moe” and Japan’s Energy Policy: Cultural Intervention After the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

by Yasuhito Abe

The Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 stirred deep public anxieties about the future of Japan’s energy policy. Whereas widespread public distrust of nuclear power was fueled by the nuclear disaster Japan’s renewable energy industry has struggled to carry out its projects in post-Fukushima society (Fujisaki). As of this writing, the Japanese government apparently seeks to resume operations of nuclear facilities and plans to export nuclear technology abroad (Kingston).

Nevertheless, the Fukushima nuclear disaster offered an opportunity for Japanese citizens to get engaged in shaping public discourses about Japan’s energy alternatives. This study illustrates how the nuclear disaster precipitated the development of a participatory renewable energy project: The “Moe Hatsuden Kirara to Fūka Project” or “The Moe-based Power Generation Project: Kirara and Fūka” (“The Moe Hatsuden project” hereafter). This project seeks to raise awareness of renewable energy sources in post-Fukushima Japanese society by personifying solar and wind power. The case of the Moe Hatsuden project offers a window into understanding the dynamics of visual communication and energy policy advocacy in a networked age. This article explores the meanings of producing and consuming anthropomorphized renewable energy and investigates what this could reveal about an emerging new genre of cultural intervention in energy policy.

Before investigating the development of the project, however, it’s important to start with a brief overview of a key concept: Moe. While scholars have discussed the elusive concept of moe in wide varieties of contexts Japanese critic Hiroki Azuma has noted that the concept moe is originally conceptualized as “the fictional desire for characters of comics, anime, and games or for pop idols”(47-48). Azuma further indicates that the concept of moe also reflects postmodern characteristics whereby people consume and reproduce fragmentary narratives, thereby lessening the importance of the original narrative (48). As this study shows, it is thus not uncommon that designing attractive characters with moe elements is fundamentally important when compared with constructing complete and impeccable narratives and stories in which those characters are embedded (Azuma 48). While the subject of moe does not come up as often in energy policy advocacy as it does in otaku culture, the Moe Hatsuden project applied the concept of moe for cultural intervention after the Fukushima disaster by evoking the feeling of moe through character design of Kirara and Fūka as cute girls.     

In November 2012, LMD, a Japanese animation and smartphone application production company, launched the Moe Hatsuden project on crowdfunding site WESYM (Komatsu and “Moe Hatsuden Kirara to Fūka: Moshimo Yukiusagi ga Taiyōkō Hatsuden ya Fūryoku Hatuden o Moe Kyara ka shitara”). Originally, the project sought to produce an audio drama CD about Kirara and Fūka by gathering funding equal to 500,000 JPY, which ultimately succeeded in February 2013. A project leader has noted the goal of this project as follows:

“Looking back at what has happened [in the disaster], I have realized that many of us have very limited knowledge on energy. Having energy is a given, but we know very little about it. I noticed that there are not many resources available to learn, discuss, and support natural energy. Our goal is, regardless of how small a step this project is, to increase the opportunity for people to think about natural energy.” (Murahama)

Designed with excessive moe elements by Japanese professional illustrator Yukiusagi, Kirara anthropomorphizes solar power and Fūka personifies wind power. Kirara was designed as an optimistic 16-year-old high school girl with pink hair, who can generate electricity by using her futuristic costume while Fūka was represented as a pessimistic 13-year-old junior high school girl with blue hair, who can fly in the sky (Murahama).

Whereas the basic design and characteristics of Kirara and Fūka were proffered by the project, the Moe Hatsuden project encouraged people, pro-renewable-energy local governments, and business organizations to use Kirara and Fūka for free for noncommercial purposes, unless their use of Kirara and Fūka is “offensive to public order and morals” (“Moe Hatsuden Kirara to Fūka”), as noted in its use policy. This use policy created (and constrained) a cultural space in which a variety of vastly different illustrations and narratives of Kirara and Fūka are produced and consumed. Ultimately, enthusiasts and evangelists for Kirara and Fūka participated in renewable energy advocacy discursively.

Varieties of weblogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pixiv, and video sharing websites such as Nico Nico Doga are just a few examples of online space in which various vivid images and narratives of Kirara and Fūka are developed and consumed. For instance, the Facebook page of the project has regularly reported how Kirara and Fūka are reproduced in a wide variety of media and events in Japan and beyond. As a Japanese major online community for illustrators and artists, Pixiv has provided participatory online space for derivative works of Kirara and Fūka, including four-panel manga or yonkoma comics of Kirara and Fūka authored by Yukiusagi. Moreover, local governments including Yokohama City, which is known as Japan’s second largest city by population after Tokyo, has used Kirara and Fūka in order to promote renewables. Thus, multiple illustrations and narratives of Kirara and Fūka are created, reproduced, and consumed, thereby helping envision an alternative future of post-Fukushima Japanese society individually and collectively.

This study explores one case of how the concept of moe was utilized as a cultural resource for energy policy advocacy in post-Fukushima Japanese society. What makes the Moe Hatsuden project intriguing is not only the expansion of various cultural intervention, but the challenge of thinking more deeply about the ways in which affective production and consumption provide alternative models for intervening in public discourse about energy policy. Viewing this project as an alternative expression of cultural intervention suggests that the Fukushima disaster paved the way for a wide variety of people and organizations to get engaged in shaping public discourses on the future of Japan’s energy policy.