What Was Alternative Manga? What Was Alternative Manga?

Pro-Nuclear Manga: The Seventies and Eighties

Katsumata Susumu, Devil Fish (Octopus), Little Boy (1989), as translated in Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press, 2016).

Katsumata Susumu, Devil Fish (Octopus), Little Boy (April 1989), as translated in Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press, 2016).

The present essay has been on hold since last summer. Just prior, I had promised a follow-up to my essay about 60s manga and the blood industry. But as often happens, other deadlines jumped the queue. For once that wasn’t too frustrating, because the main usurping project was something I have wanted to do for a couple of years, and that is a collection of Katsumata Susumu’s anti-nuclear manga from the 80s and 90s. Since that collection’s publication is finally in the offing, the present essay is being released from the pen.

You might be familiar with two of the stories from Le Lezard Noir’s Poissons en eaux troubles (2013). That book is the French edition of Shinkaigyō (Deep Sea Fish), a collection put together by Asakawa Mitsuhiro for Seirinkōgeisha and published in October 2011, a half year after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. Most of the stories in Deep Sea Fish are from Katsumata’s Garo years in the late 60s and 70s. They, like the stories in Red Snow, are set in Katsumata’s home region of Tohoku, pulling heavily on the region’s folklore. They deal with social issues like migration and rural depopulation, while pretending (like Mizuki I suppose, but without Mizuki’s heavy-handed irony) that tanuki and kappa were actual inhabitants of the modern world.

Katsumata passed away in 2007, and was thus spared seeing his birthplace, Ishinomaki, wiped out by tsunami. But as the nuclear-related stories in Deep Sea Fish attest – stories about so-called “nuclear gypsies,” the temporary laborers employed (usually under questionable terms) to clean and maintain Japan’s nuclear plants during yearly inspections and emergency shutdowns – Katsumata was acutely aware of the Tohoku’s region status as a “sacrifice zone” in postwar development, in which rural communities accepted (or were tricked into accepting) risky petrochemical estates and power plants in exchange for jobs, improved infrastructure, and luxuries like world-class sports centers and concert halls. To my knowledge, Katsumata never lived in such a community, having moved to the Tokyo area in 1962 and never returning to the countryside but for brief visits. Nonetheless, with a bachelor’s in physics and two year’s worth of graduate education in nuclear physics – this while drawing four-panel cartoons and story manga for Garo on practically a monthly basis – Katsumata was fated to turn his attention to the human side of the industrialized atom when it forced its way into public consciousness in the late 70s thanks to Three Mile Island and Japanese exposés on the aforementioned “nuclear gypsies.” (For more on nuclear plant labor in pre- and post-Fukushima art and comics, see my article in the December 2015 issue of Art in America).

Katsumata Susumu, Deep Sea Fish (Seirinkōgeisha, 2012), edited by Asakawa Mitsuhiro.

Katsumata Susumu, Deep Sea Fish (Seirinkōgeisha, 2012), edited by Asakawa Mitsuhiro.

The forthcoming book is titled Fukushima Devil Fish: Anti-Nuclear Manga and will be published by Breakdown Press, once again with the support of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. It will include the two nuclear gypsy stories from Deep Sea Fish, in addition to a “manga reportage” piece about the Tokaimura Criticality Accident in 1999 (Japan’s worst civilian nuclear disaster before 2011), as well as more than seventy of Katsumata’s four-panel cartoons from the late 70s, 80s, and 90s criticizing various aspects of the nuclear industry. It will also include about twenty of Katsumata’s Garo strips, showing how the radicalized political climate of the late 60s seeded doubts about science, research, university education, and their links with state power. This book has proved a serious research project, and a most humbling one. It is edited and annotated such that, read from cover to cover, a reader will get a decent sense of Japan’s struggle with nuclear power in the age of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. After the Fukushima meltdown, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) and government officials repeatedly tried to skirt responsibility by describing the 2011 meltdown as “sōteigai,” or “beyond the imagination.” Fukushima Devil Fish will provide more tragic proof that a catastrophic disaster at one of Japan’s nuclear facilities was not only imaginable, but, given the industry’s track record, perfectly foreseeable.

What I want to look at here, however, is the pro side, the manga that said that the atom is good, that it is clean, that it is wonderful, that it is necessary and desirable. I am not (at least not in this article) thinking about the grey zone, people like Tezuka Osamu in the era of Tetsuwan Atomu, who embraced the atom as an energy source while fearing its military applications. This article is instead about black and white, about pens-for-hire and propaganda. Many manga pamphlets and manga books were produced by the government and the power industry to combat rising anti-nuclear sentiments, but here I focus on newspaper ads in manga and manga-esque form, which presumably, because of the high print-run of their venues, reached the most people.

Such blatant pronuclear material abounded while Katsumata made his anti-nuclear work in the 80s and 90s, so for me the present essay is helpful as an exercise in exploring Fukushima Devil Fish’s verso. I will update this essay as I learn more about the history and issues (so if you notice errors, please say so). Were it not for 2011, such manga propaganda would be thriving today. With plants now coming back online, perhaps there will be a renaissance in pronuclear manga as well. Using manga to dispel concerns about radiation and contamination has kept the genre alive in the meantime.


Katsumata Susumu, Deep Sea Fish, Comic Baku (December 1984), showing a nuclear power plant worker eating rads.

Thanks to extensive research into all things nuclear in Japan since 2011, even the layman now has a pretty good understanding of how the only country to be nuked became one of the most avid supporters of atomic power, ultimately squeezing fifty-two reactors into a land area roughly that of California.

We know, for example, that even before the global propaganda around Atoms for Peace, many Japanese were eager to embrace nuclear energy. In the 50s, there were numerous, large-scale exhibitions in Japan, many supported by the CIA, promoting nuclear as the dream energy of the future. If you were near art house theatres in the months and years immediately following the meltdown, you might have caught screenings of the many films produced by the Japanese government and the utilities since the 60s that depict the magic of atomic science and the engineering marvels of nuclear power plants. We also know that, like in other countries where nuclear power commands more secrecy than other energy industries ostensibly because of concerns about arms proliferation but also because of the obscene financial interests involved, the Japanese nuclear industry aggressively bought off scientists and journalists to fudge data and confuse the public, while government regulatory bodies (typically staffed by pronuclear people) looked the other way as utilities broke safety rules and covered up radiation accidents.

We also know that, over the years, the power industry and its government backers have spent billions pumping media outlets full of ads touting the benefits of nuclear power, its futurism and cleanliness, and its necessity for a comfortable first-world consumerist life in resource-poor Japan.

Honma Ryū, Nuclear Advertising (Aki shobō, 2013).

Honma Ryū, Nuclear Advertising (Aki shobō, 2013).

According to a post-Fukushima report in the Asahi Shimbun (December 28, 2012), between 1970 and 2011 Japanese utilities spent nearly 2.5 trillion yen (16.8 billion USD in today’s exchange rate) on “popularization and development costs” (fukyū kaihatsu hi), a euphemism for advertising and other PR. In his books Dentsu and the Nuclear Press (Dentsū to genpatsu hōdō, 2012) and Nuclear Advertising (Genpatsu kōkoku, 2013), former Hakuhodo adman Honma Ryū points out that this figure does not include what lobby groups like Denjiren (Federation of Electric Power Companies) and government groups like the Science and Technology Agency and NUMO (Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan) have spent. If those sums were figured in, it would push the power industry’s total expenditures up to at least 4-5 trillion JPY (roughly 30 billion USD), if not manifold times greater. The highest spending utility, TEPCO, might have ranked “only” tenth in national advertising spending in 2010 (26.9 billion JPY, 223 million USD), far behind top corporate spender Panasonic’s 73.4 billion JPY or Toyota’s 50 billion JPY. But keep in mind that TEPCO advertises only in the Kanto and Tohoku regions (where its facilities are and where its electricity goes), whereas companies like Panasonic and Toyota advertise nationally. Furthermore, Denjiren used a great deal more money than even Panasonic in 2010 – a whopping 86.9 billion JPY, roughly 722 million USD – making the power industry easily the number one client of Japan’s advertising industry, at least prior to 2011. It is a peculiar status for the Japanese power industry to have, Honma argues, since this is a country where people cannot choose their power supplier, meaning that electricity is not a market commodity and utilities do not have competitors. Hence, pronuclear PR’s closer resemblance to propaganda than to advertising.

RC Succession, Covers (Polydor Records, August 1988).

RC Succession, Covers (Polydor Records, August 1988).

Considering these astronomical figures, it is easy to imagine the influence the Japanese power industry has wielded over the mass media, which is utterly dependent on corporate sponsorship and advertising revenue. Maintaining that influence, Honma claims, is the prime reason the power industry spends so much on advertising. (Hence, one surmises, pronuclear PR’s dual function as corporate media lobbying and public-directed propaganda in the conventional sense.) He documents examples of utilities and advertising firms, especially Dentsu, pressuring TV stations and newspapers to drop negative news stories on nuclear power. Award-winning producers have been reassigned without explanation after airing critical documentaries. Actors and television personalities have been abruptly fired after voicing antinuclear opinions, without knowing who exactly (the utilities themselves or the advertising agencies) ordered the axe to fall. Further afield, in 1988 the band RC Succession saw their album Covers barred from release by their own record label, EMI. Why? EMI is owned by Toshiba, a leading maker of reactor components, and the album contained covers of American antiwar and antinuclear protest songs. Many suspect the same forces dampened criticism following the Fukushima meltdown, and continue to do so today.

There are many reasons why the A-bombed Japanese grew to accept nuclear power, at the very least as a necessary risk. They believed it was necessary for their country’s energy security. They believed it was possible to separate military from civilian applications. They believed the engineering of nuclear power plants was adequately advanced to pursue their development. For people living in what became the “nuclear ginza,” they believed the compensation in terms of money and jobs was worth the environmental losses and risks. But at the heart of this nexus of beliefs was the voice of the power industry itself, which, via advertising agencies, not only pounded the public with handsome and eloquent half-truths, but also functionally controlled the expression of opinion across news media outlets both nationally and regionally. The stinging irony is that the bill for this massive “pronuclear propaganda campaign” has been paid for by taxes and electricity bills. “For forty years,” writes Honma, “Japanese citizens have been paying for their own delusion.” Not only have they been paying to be misinformed. As they stay cool in the summer, they have been funding the power industry’s influence over their society’s fourth estate.

Technology and Man (November 1976), special issue on "The Dangers of Nuclear Power Plants."

Technology and Man (November 1976), special issue on “The Dangers of Nuclear Power Plants.”

Already by the mid-late 70s, voices were speaking out against this PR front. In 1976, in a short and fiery essay titled “Promoting Nuclear Power and Informational Fascism” (“Genshiryoku suishin to jōhō fashizumu”) for the journal Technology and Man (Gijutsu to ningen), former student radical Tsumura Takashi and leading antinuclear activist Nishio Baku outline the rise of a society that has lost the ability to think and communicate outside computers and telephones (the so-called “information society”), and which “cannot even boil a cup of tea or toast bread without nuclear power.” Nuclear power, they say, expresses the inverse of Clausewitz’s adage that war is politics by other means. By adapting a weapons technology to “peaceful” ends, and building a repressive technocratic order around it, “nuclear politics” is basically “war by other means.” It is a key player in Cold War geopolitics, and has increased the power and global penetration of major multinational corporations in heavy industry and arms manufacturing. Even though there is damning proof that nuclear power is neither safe nor economical, they write, client governments continue to promote its expansion in order to maintain the political order of which it is the core.

“Informational fascism,” say Tsumura and Nishio, is one of the major ways, next to the commandeering of public energy policies and redesigning tariff structures such that nuclear power never has to worry about money, that the nuclear state maintains its power. This involves suppressing inconvenient news about accidents and economic problems. It involves a large-scale public relations campaign to get people to believe that nuclear power is essentially safe, and that the risks all have an imminent technological solution. Tsumura and Nishio call it “enlightening by stupefying” (guminka keimō): using popular actors, artists, and intellectuals to spout “scientifically reasonable information” over and over again until “people don’t know what to think about nuclear power, if they bother to think about it all.” The industry’s repeated injunction to the public to trust its own hired scientists was not only a way to marginalize the voice of antinuclear skepticism. It was more importantly a strategy to keep the debate at the technocratic level of “safety,” obscuring the more serious political and ideological dynamics – “the corruption and discrimination and repression and natural destruction” stemming from both the Prime Minister’s chambers (they were writing soon after the Lockheed bribery scandals broke) and in the rural areas where plants were being built – that make nuclear power much more than an energy issue. In Tsumura and Nishio’s view, pronuclear PR was not just propaganda pushing a specific energy policy, but moreover part of a state-sponsored effort to destroy civil society.

So what did this “informational fascism” look like? Not how you probably think. For a time in the 80s, pronuclear PR got fairly masculine and technocratic, as we will see below. But for the most part, it fulfilled what Tsumura and Nishio described as the government and industry’s desperate desire for nuclear power to be seen as “approachable” (shitashimiyasui) and “friendly” (yasashii). It could often be shōjo-esque, or at least “Munich-esque,” as the Japanese say, referring to a European world of sentimental childhood fantasy. Otherwise it plied disarming humor. Oftentimes it was both, pitting a humorous kawaii against inconvenient scientific and economic facts. Cartooning and illustration, as you might imagine (since we are speaking of a country where manga and anime rule pop culture), easily lent itself to this program.

Hayakawa Tadanori, Nuclear Utopia Japan (Tokyo: Gōdō shuppan, 2014), cover.

Hayakawa Tadanori, Nuclear Utopia Japan (Gōdō shuppan, 2014).

While Honma Ryū’s books (he has published three on the topic) contain the largest number of examples of pronuclear propaganda, the handiest compendium is Hayakawa Tadanori’s Nuclear Utopia Japan (Genpatsu yūtopia nihon, 2014), a survey of pamphlet covers, magazine photographs, children’s magazine illustrations, and most of all newspaper ads, stretching back to the early postwar years. Hayakawa’s book is useful because, arranged chronologically and topically, you get to see how the nuclear industry continually shifted its public relations tactics in response to changing concerns: from countering the public’s “atomic allergy” following Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Lucky Dragon’s irradiation near the Bikini Atoll, to taking advantage of the oil shocks of the 70s and later the Gulf War to push nuclear as a non-belligerent energy source, then appealing to people’s attachment to consumer comforts (especially air-conditioning) to argue for the necessity of nuclear plants despite growing anti-nuclear sentiments in the 80s and 90s, and finally exploiting public concern about the environment and global warming in order to push nuclear as the clean and green solution for the future. Pro-nuclear PR was smoothly designed, especially in the corporate bubble era of the 80s, crafted as it was by world-class agencies like Dentsu and Hakuhodo. But that only makes their manipulation of community and family sentiments all the more galling.

Judging from Hayakawa’s survey, pronuclear PR in Tsumura and Nishio’s time (the mid-late 70s) focused on highly aestheticized, highbrow expressions of the promises of atomic energy. The examples below are both from 1976, the year of Tsumura and Nishio’s “informational fascism” thesis, and both were commissioned by JAERO (Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, Nihon genshiryoku bunka shinkō zaidan, literally “Japan Atomic Energy Cultural Promotion Foundation”), an agency set up by the government in 1965 to promote the “peaceful use” of the atom. People today writing about Yamagishi Ryōko’s and Hagio Moto’s antinuclear shōjo manga might take these examples into account.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Yomiuri Shimbun (October 31, 1976), using illustration by Hatsuyama Shigeru.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Yomiuri Shimbun (October 31, 1976), using an illustration by Hatsuyama Shigeru, sponsored by JAERO.

The first is dated October 31, 1976, and was published in the Yomiuri Shimbun, a newspaper that was not only openly pronuclear, but which had teamed up with the Japanese government and the CIA to aggressively lobby for nuclear power’s introduction in the 50s. The central illustration is by the venerable Hatsuyama Shigeru (1897-1973), a leading figure in children’s books and magazines since the 1920s. As both an illustrator and writer, Hatsuyama was a regular contributor to Otogi no sekai (World of Children’s Tales) and Kodomo no kuni (Land of Children), both iconic dōwa (short poetic children’s stories) magazines of the Taishō era. He remained prolific and popular into the 60s. His work represented a living connection between highbrow, metropolitan, liberal middle class children’s culture of the pre-jingoist past and that of the postwar era.

As you can see from Hatsuyama’s dates, he was three years dead when this ad was printed. The illustration here, according to Takesako Yūko’s Hatsuyama Shigeru: The Eternal Modernist (Hatsuyama Shigeru: Ei’en no modanisuto, 2007), was originally drawn around 1925. It shows a dark-skinned girl being chased by an equally dark-skinned boy, with a circle of light-skinned children dancing around them. Takesako lists the original context of the illustrations as “unknown.” Regardless, it clearly reflects the dominant aesthetics of its age, what is often referred to as “Taishō romanticism,” in which childhood and children’s imagination were treated as a magical world free from the burdens of everyday life and adult expectations. The late 60s and early 70s witnessed a nostalgic and occasionally ironic renaissance of this aesthetic via figures like Hayashi Seiichi. While Hatsuyama’s work as a whole doesn’t strike me this way, I think graphically and sentimentally this particular illustration would have resonated, in a broad way, with contemporary (meaning 70s) shōjo manga aesthetics.

Which is to say, whoever designed this ad knew their middlebrow culture. The large type at top is attributed to Paul Verlaine, and reads something like: “The sun’s light falls upon us, and becomes transparent blue.” The propagandizing proper begins in the copy below. Here we get to see how the newspaper reader’s nostalgia for their own youth, their parental instincts in the present, and their susceptibility to notions of a cultured life – I assume the target audience is middle class mothers – are being deftly woven together into a guilt-ridden bait-and-switch trap. Such that, to not support nuclear is akin to being a bad parent and betraying one’s own childhood. Note: the Japanese for “youth” here (seinen), has the connotation of “adolescence,” but not in the revolting “teenager” kind of way. It’s a period of metamorphosis, but not transmogrification.



Youth’s arms are strong, they are robust. Youth’s blood burns warm, it visibly pulses. Youth is energy. It grows, it expands.

It has been twenty years since the research and development of nuclear energy has begun in Japan, and fourteen since “atomic fire” was first lit at Tōkaimura in Ibaraki Prefecture [a reference to the first indigenous Japanese reactor going critical in 1962, since the first two (1957, 1960) were based on imported technology].

The entire development of nuclear energy is premised on the fact that it is absolutely safe. All efforts are made to see that the technology ensures against any accidents. Even if an accident does occur, multiple levels of protective construction ensures that there will be no negative effects on the surrounding areas. Beginning with resource-rich countries like the USA and the USSR, now even oil-producing countries like Iran are shifting to nuclear power. There is all the more reason for a resource-poor country like Japan to do so.

Today, nuclear power generation is entering an “age of youth.” Rather than looking on nuclear energy with apprehension, we must actively support this “energy” that represents the ultimate achievement of human intelligence, and contributes to its further growth. Nuclear power is “youth” itself. And that is why each and every one of us must trust in it, look after it, and help it to grow. “Energy” must be constantly made to endeavor and create.

Had Hatsuyama been alive, I suspect he would have disapproved of this ad. In an interview conducted just before his death, he spoke of how the true spirit of children’s books and freestanding “dōga” (“pictures for children,” a Taishō word) were being corrupted by “designers,” meaning people working for advertising agencies or freelance. “Recently I went to an exhibition by the Japan Woodblock Printmakers Society, and there too you could see the bad side of designers. To them, it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, as long as you surprise people and win a prize. A designer’s work is work done for a client. It’s not like I don’t understand what it feels like to have to draw for money. But this hit-and-run method is really causing problems for us in the dōga field. . . . To draw dōga, you really need to understand a parent’s heart, you need to approach it from a parent’s perspective.”

Hatsuyama is complaining about professional designers invading the children’s book and dōga exhibition fields. I wonder how he would have felt about the inverse, about the advertising world appropriating the imagery and poetic sentiments of classic dōga to leverage “a parent’s heart” into support for heavy industry.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Yomiuri Shimbun (February 20, 1977), using Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Yomiuri Shimbun (February 20, 1977), using Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, sponsored by JAERO.

Our next example, from February 1977, is part of the same campaign, and it is even more heavy-handed. In the 70s, the creators of pronuclear PR could get away with things that would probably have gotten them verbally stoned (as in “beaten to death with flying rocks”) after Three Mile Island.

You know the image: Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” As if Twenties Tokyo wasn’t far enough away from the post-Manhattan Project present, then how about Florence in the age of the Medicis? I think the prominence of the nipple and nape is less important here than what Renaissance Europe meant to Japanese in the 70s: it meant class, it meant civilization, it meant romance and honeymoon travel. It meant experiencing the world in a way that one’s parents had never been able to, and living out the fantasies of bohemia without the discomforts of steamships and looming fascism.

The copywriter for this campaign is putting their French lit degree to good use. This time he (or she) has plucked a line from French surrealist poet Paul Éluard’s “La Mort, L’Amour, La Vie”: “To understand each other, to love each other.” Had he (or she) gone a little further with the quotation, the reader would have got the more ambiguous: “People are made to get long / To understand each other, to love each other / Have children who will become parents of mankind / Have children with neither hearth nor home / Who will reinvent mankind / And nature their homeland / That of all mankind / That of all times.”

But our copywriter is not interested in existentialist themes. What follows instead beneath the conjugal injunction to have and to hold is a paean to the wonderfulness of beautiful and fecund woman: “Wherever on the earth she stepped / grasses and flowers sprouted and flourished, / and the loveliness of life, / its abundance, was born . . .”

On the other side of Botticelli’s fan-blown model shoot (to put high culture in its proper middlebrow terms), it reads:


In Greece long ago, people sang about the goddess Aphrodite, likening their rich and peaceful life to the scenery of a well-maintained vegetable farm. First water and fire, then coal and oil, were skillfully used as energy to make life richer and more firmly rooted still. Eventually night was illuminated, and heat could be held in the hand. Mother’s hand become gentle and soft, and one gained the time to begin appreciating life.

But today, due to the drying up of oil reserves, we have begun to worry about the lack of energy. In our country, where 77% of our energy usage depends on oil, almost all of which is imported, this is a serious problem. At this rate, energy shortages will force us to walk through a tunnel of long, cold winter.

As the ancient Greeks looked to Aphrodite and the coming of spring, so must we search for an Aphrodite appropriate to this new age. Whether or not nuclear power can become our Aphrodite, the answer is in the hands of each and every one of us.

Maybe this campaign wasn’t meant to appeal to housewives, after all. Maybe it was meant to appeal to newlywed men and the expectations of them to support and nurture a certain feminized notion of home and family. Either way, it’s specious in a way similar to the previous ad: failing to nurture the growth of nuclear power is either like being a neglectful husband or a young woman who doesn’t cherish her virginity. Let’s guilt people into supporting nuclear power.

As for technical content, we see here the beginnings of a discourse – alarms about the world being strangled after the 1973 OAPEC embargo, with resource-poor Japan being particularly vulnerable – that would be repeated ad nauseam after the second, more disturbing oil shock of 1979. But, a subliminal note to the sustainable future: in Botticelli’s painting, there’s a wind-powered Zephyr blowing in nuclear Aphrodite’s hair.

From the surveys I have seen, it was right around this time that manga began appearing in pronuclear advertising. If the above “arty” examples broadly accord with a shōjo aesthetic of highbrow European romance and childhood nostalgia, manga’s incorporation into pronuclear PR will be more shōnen in spirit, with humor, action, and eventually technophilia dominating. Cuteness bridged the two to some degree.

Though all the examples below are by top names in mainstream children’s manga, it should be noted that oftentimes the most active supporters of the industry were cartoonists whose primary audience were white-collar salarymen. In the 70s and 80s, this typically meant “adult manga” artists, meaning cartoonists specializing in short humor strips for men. Two notorious pamphlets starring Tezuka’s Astroboy, Atomu Goes to the Jungle (Atomu janguru he yuku, 1977) and Rebirth: Jungle Song (Yomigaeru janguru no utagoe, 1978) were, though for children, produced (and potentially drawn) by an “adult manga” artist, Kondō Hidezō, who is much maligned for his scathing pro-Axis work during the war, his bald support of the US-Japan Security Treaty, and multiple pro-nuclear projects. That juicy nexus I will save for another occasion.

As for newspaper manga ads, presumably those that have been reprinted in antinuclear publications represent only the tip of the iceberg. The earliest example I have seen is from 1976, and is once again a JAERO commission. The artist is Sonoyama Shunji (1935-93), who was an associate of the Tokiwa-sō group in the 50s, a fairly popular children’s gag manga author in the 60s and 70s, and who maintained a closer relationship with “adult manga” authors than most of his children’s manga colleagues, which shows I think in his linear cartooning style. The pronuclear ad in question uses characters from Sonoyama’s popular series about a Stone Age family, The Yalpers (Gyaatoruzu, 1965-75), specifically the little kids’ version known as Gon: The First Human (Hajime ningen Gon). An animated version was airing weekly on television at the time of this ad.

Pro-nuclear advertisement (1976), artwork by Sonoyama Shunji, sponsored by JAERO.

Pro-nuclear advertisement (1976), artwork by Sonoyama Shunji, sponsored by JAERO.

The lead copy at right reads: “Humans have been living with radiation since primitive times.” Next to that: “The amount of radiation that comes from a nuclear power plant is less than 1/28th that of natural background radiation.” A few tags are scattered around the central drawing indicating the rads one consumes in the course of everyday life over one year: 20 mrems from foods, 30 mrems from space, and 50 mrems from the earth. If I am not mistaken, a portion of natural background radiation today is the product of modern industrialization, so this ad’s evocation of environmental conditions from time immemorial is misleading. Nonetheless, top left it reads: “The amount of radiation that comes from nuclear power plants, it’s so small that you can ignore it.” It’s so small, in fact, that you might as well be as ignorant about the science and risks of nuclear power as a Neanderthal is. You should forget about the matter and simply go about your business hunting, eating (that’s a wooly mammoth steak in the middle), and birthing children.

I imagine there’s a simple wordplay underwriting this ad, in which the word for “primitive” (genshi) as in “primitive man” is pronounced the same as the word for “atom” (genshi) as in “atomic power,” though the ad doesn’t make that explicit. As for its “ecological” content – that humans have always lived with radiation, and happily – it’s worth remembering, especially since this ad differs in subject matter significantly from what follows, that when nuclear power plants started going online in Japan in the early 70s, citizens were engaged in vicious struggles against industrial pollution. The most famous case was that against the Chisso Corporation in Kyushu, whose dumping of mercury-laced factory effluvia into area water bodies caused an epidemic of severe neurological diseases, grouped under the name “Minamata Disease.” The first legal action was taken against the company in 1969, in the wake of lawsuits lodged by residents of other areas afflicted by industrial pollution, notably in Yokkaichi (asthma caused by a giant petrochemical estate) and Toyama (mining-related cadmium poisoning). Much of Japan’s first wave of antinuclear activism had cut its teeth on such environmental issues. Likewise, one of the first photographers in Japan to take up nuclear power issues, Higuchi Kenji, began his career photographing Yokkaichi’s smokestacks and hospital patients. In 1976, the year of Sonoyama’s cartoon ad, Higuchi published his first photographs of nuclear plant laborers suffering from lethargy, acute skin rashes, and sometimes cancer. It was firmly believed (though their employers and the government refused to acknowledge it) that their afflictions were due to poor engineering, poor maintenance, and poor exposure dose monitoring inside Japan’s plants.

Katsumata Susumu, 4 panel manga (circa mid-late 80s), as translated in Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press, 2016).

Katsumata Susumu, 4 panel manga (circa mid-late 80s), as translated in Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press, 2016).

Perhaps this ad was responding to the much-publicized discovery, in 1975, that the stamens of certain varieties of spiderwort turned from blue to pink when exposed to low levels of radiation. To test the flower’s feasibility as a radiation monitor, one Dr. Ichikawa Sadao from Kyoto University planted a number near the Hamaoka Power Station in Shizuoka. His reports about how, as one can see in the spiderwort, even low levels of radiation can cause genetic mutations in living organisms caused a great stir amongst the Japanese public. Dr. Ichikawa, along with a handful of nuclear activists, began planting spiderworts near plants to prove (against industry claims of absolute safety) the creeping health hazard they were creating. Whether or not the amount was harmful to humans, separately or cumulatively when considered together with natural background radiation, is a question that I don’t believe was ever decided.

But as some critics were already pointing out, the question of what constituted “risk” was an issue the antinuclear movement needed to approach with caution. “Once we have stepped into the ring of this technological debate about safety,” wrote Tsumura and Nishio in their paper on “informational fascism” (also 1976), “we have already been put in a position where we have accepted the desirability of economic security,” in other words, we have already accepted the risks of industrial development (and the crony capitalist technocracy that goes with it) in exchange for its promised boons. “Of course, we want nothing to do with the economic security of such a loathsome form of society.”

Apparently, the basic theme of the Sonayama ad – radiation is immemorial and thus originally part of human evolution – was not limited to pronuclear advertising in Japan. Here is an ad from the United States from 1972 that I came across online. “Radioactivity. It’s been in the family for generations,” it says, with a family looking at a diorama of prehistoric humans in a natural history museum. Though slightly different in rhetoric from the Sonoyama ad, it gives you a sense of how the pronuclear establishment across the globe drew on a common stock of imagery to fudge public health concerns.

On the other hand, this is not many years after the release of Planet of the Apes (1968), in which nuclear warfare has bombed human evolution back to before the Stone Age. In the “Forbidden Zone,” where human civilization once thrived, even plants struggle to grow.

Let’s move on to our next example. If you are familiar with pronuclear PR in Japan, you have likely seen this one. Commissioned by TEPCO and published in Asahi Shimbun in September 1980, it uses gag manga king Akatsuka Fujio’s characters and nonsense textual sensibilities to create a cute, rebus-based argument ostensibly for the diversification of energy sources (though in reality for the benefit of nuclear at the expense of its competitors). Much had changed in the nuclear debate in the four years since Sonoyama’s cartoon.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (September 30, 1980), by Akatsuka Pro for TEPCO.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (September 30, 1980), artwork by Fujio Pro for TEPCO.

Interlaced with characters from Bakabon and Mōretsu A-Tarō, it reads as follows:


If you think that, in mountainous Japan, hydroelectric is number one, then you’re twenty years behind the times. Here at TEPCO hydroelectric plants occupy the number three position, accounting for just over ten percent of our total power generation. Nuclear is number two at fifteen percent. Thermal power stations are number one, producing seventy-five percent of our electricity. However, the fuel used for thermal power generation is dominated by petroleum [represented by an Arab and an oil drum]. And as you know, from both the supply and financial perspectives, petroleum is highly unstable.


Electricity is not storable. To continue delivering electricity to everyone reliably, we should stop depending solely on petroleum and instead diversify our energy fuel sources. We at TEPCO have increased the use of nuclear and LNG gas and are looking into the use of coal, while refurbishing old power plants and building new ones with a view towards a post-petroleum future. It will take five to ten years to complete to the construction of these facilities, as we steadily move toward a future where everyone can continue to use electricity without worry.

Phrased as a concern about energy security, here TEPCO (like the rest of the industry) is out to exploit a crisis. In France, the rapid expansion of nuclear power was directly linked to successful political exploitation of the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. Counter-intuitively, in the United States the first oil crisis effectively sabotaged the explosive growth foreseen by the nuclear industry by depleting utilities of financial resources, driving up the costs of borrowing money for building new facilities, and driving down demand for electricity by causing an economic recession. In Japan, the energy crisis following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 was the more galvanizing of the two “oil shocks” of the 70s. Post-petroleum became a euphemism for pro-nuclear, with the promise that, through reprocessing, the nuclear industry guaranteed a high degree of national energy self-sufficiency and thus provided a safeguard against embroiling Japan in global energy wars.

In 1989, Comic Box approached Akatsuka’s studio, Fujio Pro, about their work for the power industry. Here is there contradictory response: “Talk of nuclear power is taboo in our office. Once we created a cartoon for Chubu Electric [yet another ad], we kept getting calls in the middle of the night from hysterical ladies. We’d had enough of it after that. Nuclear power is a severe topic, after all. But if we were asked to draw something again, we intend to say yes. Anyway, that’s all I have to say on the topic.” Attributed to Akatsuka’s manager. The artist himself refused to comment

Advertising Review, no. 95 (June 1987), cover design by Yokoo Tadanori, cover illustration by Yokoo Mimi.

Advertising Critique, no. 95 (June 1987), cover design by Yokoo Tadanori, cover illustration by Yokoo Mimi.

Fujio Pro’s TEPCO ad, along with a slew of others, was taken to task many years before Honma’s and Hayakawa’s books in a special issue of Advertising Critique (Kōkoku hihyō) from 1987, potentially the first focused interrogation of the content of pronuclear PR. Aided by input from the CNIC (Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center), Advertising Critique explains that the ad’s promotion of diversified energy sources is essentially bogus. Although nuclear power only makes a brief appearance in the ad, the territory it occupies in real life is in fact detrimentally large. “Once upon a time, the government put 80% of its energy budget into nuclear, and even today the figure is about 50%. The utilities too are probably investing significant personnel and money in nuclear. When one includes not just operating budgets, but also advertising fees, regional planning strategies, and safety measures, the development of nuclear must be consuming significantly more money than other energy sources. That is where national brainpower is also focused. Compared to other countries, Japan is far behind in the development of alternative energy sources like solar and fuel cells. Part of the reason is the over-focus on nuclear. If the industry is serious about diversification, it should put an end to nuclear power.”

The identity of the star energy source is made perfectly clear in another manga-esque ad published in Asahi Shimbun in October 1980, one month after Fujio Pro’s TEPCO ad. Commissioned by Denjiren, it is a clear foreshadowing of the kyara branding to come in the 90s.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (October 26, 1980), sponsored by Denjiren.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (October 26, 1980), sponsored by Denjiren.

The copy at top left reads: “Why is Nuclear Power the Favorite of a Post-Petroleum World?” Standing in the shadows are, left to right, Hydroelectric, Petroleum, Coal, and Liquefied Natural Gas. The text along the bottom explains how only nuclear can help solve the problem of Japan’s heavy reliance on foreign energy sources by virtue of uranium fuel being recyclable through reprocessing – a dream that countries like the United States and England had already, by the mid 70s, decided was financially unviable and technologically unsafe. Even in Japan at the time, it was readily admitted in government white papers that the use of reprocessed plutonium was a possibility only some decades into the future. “The ad is filled with confidence, and perhaps industry businessman actually believed what is being said here,” says Advertising Critique about Denjiren’s superman. “However, considering that, for years after this, the dumping of spent uranium fuel was the norm across the world, the shortsightedness of this ad is even more evident.”

Nonetheless, muscular confidence was to soon become the norm of pronuclear advertising. In general, the aesthetics of the genre changed drastically in the second half of 1979, after TMI and the Iranian Revolution. Suddenly, the industry shifted to a hard-nosed post-petroleum position, with frequent use of alarmist copy and precipitously escalating graphs. Previously hiding behind veils of poetry and soft feminized beauty, nuclear power was pushed into the limelight as a heroic savior in overtly masculine terms. Often this took the form of sublime looking construction sites with loud declarations of the superiority of Japanese know-how. As Advertising Critique pointed out, these ads also served as a lesson in the intractable nature of nuclear power’s expansion. “It costs 400 to 500 billion yen to build a single nuclear plant, far more than any other kind of power facility. From the government’s standpoint, this is a wonderful economic solution. Steel is particularly suffering these days. A reactor is basically a giant mass of steel, so a single order is quite a boon to them.” Construction firms, heavy components makers, and all sorts of other industries also stood to benefit.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (October 26, 1982), sponsored by Denjiren. Center copy reads: "The world's best engineering builds Japan's nuclear power plants."

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (October 26, 1982), sponsored by Denjiren. Center copy reads: “The world’s best engineering builds Japan’s nuclear power plants.”

Also remember that the previous year, 1979, had been a very bad one for the nuclear industry. In March, the world witnessed the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, which resonated strongly in Japan with its fleet of GE and Westinghouse-designed reactors. Later that same year, a number of exposés were published in Japan on the subject of “nuclear gypsies,” the migrant subcontracted nuclear plant workers hired in the thousands to clean and repair Japan’s plants during mandatory periodic and emergency inspections. These reports outlined generally miserable working conditions in a high-radiation environment, while also exposing a culture of neglect of safety regulations and offering a portrait of nuclear plants in stark contrast to the shiny white computerized control room featured in PR materials. Emphasizing “the energy crisis” was an effective way for the industry to distract public attention from these troubling issues, which became all the more pressing in 1981 after it was discovered that the Tsuruga Plant in Fukui had been covering up radioactive leaks into the sea.

As if on cue, on October 26, 1981, the Asahi Shimbun carried a full-page ad drawn by Toriyama Akira, of Dragon Ball fame. The header reads, “Many people have sent us letters asking us to please teach them about nuclear power in a way that’s simpler and easier to understand. And so we here at Kansai Electric decided to put together Arale chan’s Nuclear Power Plant Mini Dictionary. We present a portion of it here in celebration of Nuclear Day.”

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (October 26, 1981), artwork by Toriyama Akira, sponsored by KEPCO.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (October 26, 1981), artwork by Toriyama Akira, sponsored by KEPCO.

The ad presents sample pages from said booklet, which was available for free by writing to the utility. Most of the panels feature dry diagrams of reactor interiors and charts explaining radiation. The images of Arale chan with her little companion Gajira oohing and aahing at the inner workings of nuclear power generation look like they could have been cut and pasted from the pages of Shōnen Jump.

Toriyama Akira, Dr. Slump, vol. 6 (December 1981). "Go go energy conservation girl!"

Toriyama Akira, Dr. Slump, vol. 6 (December 1981). “Go go energy conservation girl!”

Important thing: Arale chan was an android. She was not, as far as I know, reactor-powered. She refueled by drinking something called Robobitan A (after the real-life vitamin drink Ribobitan D) out of a baby bottle. At one point, she is described offhandedly as “energy conservation girl” (shō-ene musume). She later fights an Atomu type character named Obottcha-man (who she later marries). And there are other references to the original Atomu besides, as there are to other robots from manga’s past.

Toriyama Akira, Dr. Slump, vol. 6 (December 1981), depicting the "horrifying poop labyrinth." Looks like a reactor containment vessel to me.

Toriyama Akira, Dr. Slump, vol. 6 (December 1981), depicting the “horrifying poop labyrinth.” Looks like a reactor containment vessel to me. “Can you get to the end without stepping on a pile of poop?”

But more important than these associations, I think, was the fact that Arale chan was a harmlessly comical symbol of Japanese technotopia. She was created by the world’s greatest inventor, Norimake Senbei. Likewise, the nuclear industry’s assurances of safety often rested on claims of the superior training of Japan’s plant operators and the superior technological prowess of its engineering. A character like Arale chan might effectively dispel the dark clouds that had amassed over the industry after TMI by coupling disarming feminine cuteness with futuristic machinery. The humor aspect was also key. Dr. Slump was a cute and funny but fairly crass gag manga, with endless sukebe and unchi jokes. In addition to her titanic strength, Arale chan was feared for her powers of “ahorashisa” (idiocy), which involved frequently detaching her own head or sticking piles of smiling poop in people’s faces or on top of their heads. And a reader would have known that Arale chan, magical machine though she might have been, was extremely careless and destructive.

Perhaps one wasn’t meant to think too hard about the associations. Or perhaps the PR firms had this all thought out, and intentionally imbedded a backup system of catastrophic cuteness inside an ad that was ostensibly promoting amazing technological perfection. If you weren’t convinced that nuclear power was safe, at least you might let it pass because it was kawaii – a strategy plied often in the 90s.

What’s particularly unnerving about this kind of PR, and would have been so to anyone paying close attention to nuclear issues at the time, is that, while pretending that nuclear plants were in perfect working condition, utilities were constantly trying to maximize profit by cutting corners and delaying repairs. Of course, something like this, a full-page ad in a major national daily from a major cartoonist, cost infinitesimally less than upgrading a reactor. But that is precisely the point. Improving public relations was cheaper than improving public safety.

Some manga PR flatly lied about the state of affairs inside nuclear plants. Jumping ahead a few years to 1988, here is another one from Kansai Electric. It is by Matsumoto Leiji, author of the popular space operas Space Battleship Yamato (1974-75) and Galaxy Express 999 (1977-81).

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asashi Shimbun (May 28, 1988), artwork by Matsumoto Leiji, sponsored by KEPCO.

Pro-nuclear advertisement, Asahi Shimbun (May 28, 1988), artwork by Matsumoto Leiji, sponsored by KEPCO.

In antinuclear writer and activist Hirose Takashi’s Talk that will keep you up at Night (Nemurenai hanashi, 1988), this ad is slammed as an example of “fake intellectuals” being recruited to spout bogus scientific information in order to convince the public of nuclear power’s safety. As a one-page manga that follows the author on a trot through the inside of a nuclear power plant, it also reflects, Hirose suggests, the industry’s strategy of taking reporters and other public figures on guided tours of facilities (oftentimes padded with supplementary drink and entertainment, and with all expenses covered) with the understanding that they would return the favor with positive write-ups.

UntitledWhile the plant is not named, the image in the first panel is clearly Mihama Nuclear Power Station, sited scenically on an island overlooking the Japan Sea in Fukui Prefecture. It is one of Japan’s oldest plants, and featured regularly in “nuclear gypsy” literature as a shaky and dirty place. On his tour of the plant, Leiji’s bearded stand-in first goes to the squeaky-clean control room. Here, “people work around the clock” to create a system of “cooperative operation between man and machine.” Luckily he’s arrived during one of the plant’s inspection periods, which allows him access to the containment area. He puts on gloves, boots, white coveralls, and a little hat that makes him look like “a kid responsible for serving school lunches.” He takes a pocket dosimeter to measure radiation and heads into the containment, calling attention to the architectural safety features (a double airlock hatch, a one-meter thick concrete wall) along the way. Outside after the tour, he sinks his fishing line near the cooling water discharge, the warmth of which (critics call it thermal pollution) attracts fish.

Fans of Leiji’s work will know him as an artist adept with scientific instrumentation and machinery. Presumably it was a skill that helped get Leiji the present commission, with the clean technical drawings and impressive safety features designed to impress a post-Chernobyl audience harboring doubts about nuclear technocracy. If that was not enough, however, Leiji closes with a small lecture designed to nip public skepticism in the bud. “To be frank, I’m not a nuclear power specialist, nor do I really have any knowledge about it. So I can’t really judge whether nuclear power is, technologically speaking, right or wrong. Whether pronuclear or antinuclear, I think we should leave questions of energy security and our future to the cool and careful judgment of specialists. Our whole future lies before us. Let’s not make any decisions future generations will regret.” Below the manga, there is a photograph of an infant, accompanied by this copy: “For the sake of this child’s future, and with safety as our top priority, we will continue thinking about the energy that supports our daily lives.” Signed, Kansai Electric, “serving you for now eighteen years, today 50% of the power we generate is nuclear.”

For the sake of this child’s future? “It is a mystery for what purpose they make these ads,” wrote Hirose Takashi about this one’s cloying copy. As for Leiji’s injunction that debates be left to scientists, it was widely held amongst skeptics of nuclear power that most of the specialists allowed to voice their opinions in prominent media forums in Japan, especially after Chernobyl, either worked directly for pronuclear agencies or benefited from industry funding. It is those kind of voices Leiji is telling people to listen to, not just through the mouth of his stand-in but also through his clean technological drawings. As mentioned before, photographs of plants being constructed, highlighting both large scale and the intricacies of the engineering, proliferated in the early 80s after Three Mile Island. As far as the copy was concerned, the message of that imagery was Japan’s superior engineering and its close attention to quality and safety.

In Leiji’s case, one should also remember that the 80s were the heyday of critical literature about “nuclear gypsies” and “irradiated plant labor.” Leiji details not the outside of the plant but its interior, and I assume it’s no accident that he’s visiting on an inspection day. He comments on the large number of people busy in the control room, yet once inside the containment area all he sees is “the pool of blue water containing lots of fuel rods.” A turbine is currently being taken apart, he remarks, but only to point out that “it is no different from those in thermal power stations.” Any reader of “nuclear gypsy” literature would have known that the repair of plant machinery was dirty and miserable work. And that suiting up for the containment area was, contrary to Leiji, nothing like donning a cap and a frock to serve lunch to your little school peers.

Katsumata Susumu, Contamination Control Area, Comic Box (1989), as translated in Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press, 2016).

Katsumata Susumu, Contamination Control Area, Comic Box (1989), as translated in Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press, 2016).

Take, for example, Katsumata Susumu’s four-page, “Contamination Control Area” (“Hōshanō kanri kuiki,” 1989). It was published in a special, antinuclear issue of Comic Box, a news magazine for manga and anime fans, which occasionally took on nuclear power in the years following Chernobyl. Toriyama Akira and Leiji’s ads were also reproduced in this particular issue. Though Katsumata had been grappling with “nuclear gypsies” since the early 80s, “Contamination Control Area,” given its publication venue, almost reads as a direct rejoinder to Leiji’s happy version of what it’s like entering and being inside the containment area during inspection periods.

Densely informational from beginning to end, “Contamination Control Area” (which will be included in the forthcoming Breakdown collection) narrates a day at work for low-level janitorial and maintenance staff. Katsumata shows them equipping themselves with anti-c wear and radiation meters before entering the control area, conducting menial maintenance tasks in high-radiation areas (wiping up spills, scrubbing reactor core walls, cleaning contaminated gear in the plant’s laundry), the torture of working in hot cramped spaces with a gas mask on, and then the process of radiation exposure checks and bodily decontamination that the men must undergo by law before exiting the building. The manga, like much writing on “nuclear gypsies,” is essentially about the human element inside the technological wonder of nuclear power. The goal here is to provide an inside glimpse of nuclear reactors beyond the antiseptic image of autonomous technology represented by the computerized control room, which was ubiquitous in industry PR. Not only was there room for human error inside the control room, as TMI and Chernobyl proved. In order to function, nuclear plants necessitated the hiring of human sponges to clean up the radioactive leaks that are a daily reality of nuclear power even when plants are not malfunctioning.


If you squint hard at the panel in Leiji’s manga in which the containment area is viewed from above, you will make out little men in hard hats below, mainly standing around pointing or with their arms folded. In reality, they would have been rushing around to finish their jobs before their dosimeters went off and their radiation doses exceeded. But when Leiji enters the containment through the air lock, he doesn’t even bother to put on a mask. Though possible in nuclear power’s frontier days of the early and mid 70s, such nonchalance had been illegal for over a decade when Leiji drew this ad. “Truth” and “precision” are presumably what Leiji’s razor sharp rendering of machinery is supposed to convey. But obviously, realism is not the same thing as an honest depiction of reality. That would have required abandoning the kawaii technofetishism of much pronuclear PR and coming to terms with the human fallibility and dehumanized labor at the industry’s core.

Katsumata Susumu was hardly alone. There were many others in the world of manga who refused to stand by silently as the power of their medium was harnessed by the “nuclear village.” For next time, I am trying to arrange an interview with Saitani Ryō, editor and publisher of Comic Box. “If you draw them because you believe in nuclear energy,” wrote Saitani about industry PR manga in 1989, “that’s one thing. But if you’re just dancing for the money, as a cartoonist you should be ashamed.” Pronuclear PR manga took off in the 90s, in reaction to the Chernobyl disaster and the rise of the so-called “new wave” antinuclear movement in Japan. But since I had the good luck of running into Saitani at a movie screening this past autumn, I am hoping we can pause in our march through pronuclearism to get a sense of what the opposition was up to. Otherwise, probably more propaganda.

Related articles:

Nuclear Literati: Nakashima Kiyoshi’s Furusato Goes to Hell” (May 2016).

Katsumata Susumu’s Anti-Nuclear Manga” (May 2016).

2 Responses to Pro-Nuclear Manga: The Seventies and Eighties

  1. Headcrumble says:

    Oh Ryan Holmberg, how I love you. Thanks for another great piece.

  2. Cory M says:

    Ryan Holmberh. Your translations, editorial work and essays are adding so much depth and happiness to me life. I eagerly await your future projects. The Sasaki Maki Ding Dong Circus collection and all your Seiichi Hayashi collections and research are favorites of my collection. Truly amazing work.

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