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Amateur Cartoonist Lands Radioactive Drone on Japanese Prime Minister’s House

RC drone with a camera recording

For the foreseeable future, the Tokyo Metropolitan government has banned hobbyists from flying drones in public parks following a strange protest against nuclear power targeting the Japanese prime minister.

The ban on drones in Tokyo public parks, which came into effect on April 28, comes after a drone carrying trace amounts of radioactive substances was discovered on the roof of the prime minister’s official residence in central Tokyo on April 22.

Yasuo Yamamoto, a native of Obama in Fukui Prefecture, told police he was responsible for piloting the drone, and that the drone, with its payload of radioactive soil, had sat undetected on its rooftop location for nearly two weeks before being discovered. It also appeared that Yamamoto had carefully painted the drone black to avoid being spotted easily.

Yamamoto turned himself in to the police on April 24, and was formally indicted on Friday, May 15.

Since his arrest, Yamamoto has become known online as the “drone otaku” (drone geek) or “drone ojisan” (middle-aged drone guy).

The fact that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (警視庁, keishicho) is responsible for providing security for the prime minister’s residence presumably influenced the decision to effectively ban drones in and around Tokyo.

However, while drones are banned from public parks in Tokyo there are no laws regulating the use of drones themselves, particularly near public buildings such as the National Diet or the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo.

Yamamoto said that his stunt was intended to be a protest against Japan’s nuclear energy policy. He was indicted for interfering with official duties on May 15.

Yamamoto told investigators he had not intended to commit a terrorist act, but instead wanted to raise awareness of Japan’s nuclear power policies by using a drone, which he regarded as being trendy and high-profile.

Drone recording. Photo by Henrique Boney.
Drone recording. Photo by Henrique Boney.

He also claimed the radioactive soil, which investigators confirmed contained traces of cesium, a long-lived radioactive isotope that was a by-product of the 2011 accident, came from Fukushima Prefecture.

Fukushima Prefecture was the scene of Japan’s worst nuclear accident in March 2011. Widespread radioactive contamination forced thousands to be evacuated from Fukushima prefecture and sparked a strong and ongoing anti-nuclear protest movement in Japan.

Yamamoto comes from the small city of Obama in Fukui Prefecture. Fukui is home to the largest concentration of nuclear reactors on earth, and the Ohi nuclear power plant is located almost within sight of downtown Obama.

He also until recently had worked at the Sendai nuclear power plant in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima.

The Sendai plant has been in the news this spring after Kagoshima District Court rejected a bid to block it from restarting.

Following Yamamoto’s confession and arrest in late April, Japanese netizens were quick discover that he maintained a blog, and that he also uploaded original manga, or comics, to the Internet.

Based on his blog, the online consensus in Japan is that Yasuo Yamamoto is most likely not a bona fide nuclear protester but is instead a bit of an eccentric.

Japanese netizens, however, have found his manga, available for free online, irresistible.

Yasuo Yamamoto’s drone exploits have also caught the attention of famed director Mamoru Oshii. Oshii, whose popular movies include cyberpunk classic Ghost in the Shell, has long explored how humans interact with technology.

Read more: globalvoicesonline.orgWritten by Nevin Thompson

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