Dr Alexander Brown (Independent Researcher)
Editor's note: This is an obituary commemorating the life and work of Pepe Hasegawa, a renowned Japanese activist, contributed by his friend, Dr Alexander Brown, who has been a member of NZASIA since 2019. One of Hasegawa's key focuses, particularly after the triple disaster in 2011, was anti-nuclear activism whose historical connections with New Zealand , Australia and other Pacific nations since last century are worth recalling today.
Pepe Hasegawa (ぺぺ長谷川), born Tsukahara Katsu (塚原活), died 12 February 2023 of bile duct cancer. He will be remembered by the many activists and intellectuals in Tokyo and beyond who had the opportunity to know him, including many in the Japanese Studies community.
Pepe was born in Greater Tokyo in 1966. He attended Waseda University in the 1980s and became involved in the university’s vibrant non-sectarian student movement. After 8 years at university, Pepe finally graduated in the 1990s, when Japan’s bubble economy burst. He refused to compete for a job in the cutthroat employment market of the time and instead pioneered a way of living outside the mainstream. Throughout his life, he made do with part-time jobs and advocated a simple lifestyle that allowed him maximum freedom for political struggle, personal development, and building relationships with others.
In 1992 Pepe, together with his friend and fellow Waseda graduate Kaminaga Kōichi, formed the League of Good-for-Nothings (だめ連). The League was dedicated to exploring alternatives to the middle class Japanese ideal life course of a full-time job, marriage, and family.
The League’s central practice was kōryū (交流 , interaction). They valued spending time with people to talk, build relationships, and share experiences. As a result, many people struggling with fitting in in Japanese society found a home in the group. Together they examined problems associated with the hikikomori or shut-in phenomenon, gender-based discrimination, mental health problems, and loneliness.
In 1999 the League issued two edited books: Dame (No Good) (Kawade Shobō Shinsha) and Dame-ren Sengen (Manifesto of the League of Good-for-Nothings) (Sakuhinsha). This was followed by Pepe and Kaminaga’s co-authored Dame-ren no Hatarakanaide Ikiru niwa ?! (The League of Good-for-Nothings: Living Without Working?!) (Chikuma Shobō). With growing numbers of young people struggling to survive in the harsh new world of 1990s Japan, Pepe and the League briefly became something of a media phenomenon, appearing in magazines, newspapers, and on television.
Pepe was an active participant in radical intellectual culture in Tokyo where he could often be seen at seminars on critical theory and social movements. In 1997 the League was featured in the ‘Street Culture’ issue of the monthly critical journal Gendai Shisō (Contemporary Thought). However, his engagement with ideas took place less within conventional academic forums and more in the meetings and events organized through the League and in the social movements.
The most detailed English-language study of the group’s theory and practice is in Carl Cassegård’s work on the renewal of youth movements in Japan in the new millennium. As Cassegård explains, the work of Pepe and the League helped lay the groundwork for subsequent protest movements against the Iraq war in 2003 and the freeter movement in the mid-2000s. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the League was at the forefront of the Genpatsu Yamero movement that saw tens of thousands demonstrating against nuclear power in the streets of Tokyo.
Pepe continued his political work with Kaminaga and the League right up to the end of his life, through semi-regular broadcasts on Youtube under the title Dame-ren Terebi “Atsuku Revoryūshon! (League of Good-for-Nothings Television: Passionate Revolution) and at frequent events. They discussed a wide range of themes, both political and deeply personal. The power of the League’s practice was in finding connections between the two.
Pepe had a beautiful voice and was well known in the activist community in Tokyo for his love of karaoke. Over the past ten years, he performed regularly as a vocalist with the guitarist and singer-songwriter Robaato de Piiko (link: https://robert-de-peaco.bandcamp.com/releases). This performance of the group’s song Kakubakudan wa iranee (We don’t need no nuclear bombs) (link: https://youtu.be/C9pvVJ6ryYY) forms a fitting tribute to Pepe’s life.
Vale Pepe Hasegawa
Kōryū Without End!
 Ukai Satoshi, Ogura Mushitarō, Kaminaga Kōichi, Pepe Hasegawa, ‘Dame-Ren Wa Nani o Mezasu Ka?’, Gendai Shisō 25, no. 5 (1997): 304–13; Kaminaga Kōichi, ‘Dame-Ren Sengen’, Gendai Shisō 25, no. 5 (1997): 314–25.
 Carl Cassegård, Youth Movements, Trauma and Alternative Space in Contemporary Japan (Leiden: Global Oriental, 2014), 57–67.
 Alexander Brown, Anti-nuclear Protest in Post-Fukushima Tokyo: Power Struggles (London: Routledge, 2018), 88.
The views expressed in these blogs are not those of the NZASIA Executive and reflect the personal views of the blog authors.