Saturday, October 15th, Occupy Wall Street went global. Around 300 people around Tokyo came out to march in 2 separate locations. Japan Subculture went to check out what was happening at Hibiya Park, where 100 protestors marched through the Roppongi district.
How did Occupy Tokyo come about? The story is another testimony to the efficiency of social networking in organizing demonstrations. According to participants, just a few days prior to the event, “meetup” group members on the forum Occupy Together were testing out interest in Tokyo. Michele from California, one of the first to post on the Tokyo thread, tells about how she and many others decided to participate; “It started off with the post ‘What’s going on in Tokyo? I’m ready if you are’, and picked up from there”. It moved from the forum to Twitter, and then Facebook; and on Saturday about 150 people showed up at Hibiya Park to march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests.
While many of the demonstrators carried signs in step with the New York City movement, many were not related to income inequality at all. Several people were out protesting against nuclear power, TEPCO, and the government, and there was also a small cohort carrying signs that said, “Free Tibet”.
A large and diverse crowd, constituting of citizens from all over Japan as well as a large number of foreigners, assembled in Central Tokyo yesterday for the “Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants” rally.
Several anti-nuclear power celebrities, including Nobel laureate and author Kenzaburo Oe, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, freelance journalist Satoshi Kamata, and author Keiko Ochiai were in attendance. The latter three, according to the Japan Times coverage, participated as architects of the event.
The number in attendance was, predictably, debated; according to an article in Seattle PI, “Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 people, while organizers said there were three times that many people.” The Japan Times also reported the 60,000 estimate.
The reported number of attendees marked a fairly dramatic increase from the supposed turnouts of prior events, including the April 10th protest in Koenji (the first major anti-nuclear protest that was held in Tokyo after the 3/11 earthquake), and the May and June protests – all of which were considerably smaller (though no less passionate).
The photos below were taken by Onnie Koski at the June 11th protest in Shinjuku, which various sources estimated had a turnout of ~10,000 people.
Amy Seaman contributed to this article.
Note: As mentioned above, these photos were taken from the June 11th protest and are posted to give a sense of what the protests have been like up to now. If you have any photos of the most recent protests, submissions are highly welcome.
Those of us living far away from our parents dread the thought. A call in the middle of the night asking you to book a flight – ASAP.
“Dad is not well.” March 2nd.
The next day I got the first possible flight out of Narita to Florida but did not make it in time to say good-bye to my 84-year old Papi. RIP.
Within 9 days I would get another middle-of-the-night call, this time from Tokyo asking me to get the first flight back to Japan.
“Japan is not well”. March 11th.
So starts my March to remember.
After quickly returning to Japan on the 13th of March, and making sure family, clients and work were fine, the decision to volunteer in Ibaraki was a simple one. 27 years ago I first came to Japan to work as a Monbusho (Ministry of Education) English Fellow, the precursor program to today’s JET program. I was assigned to Ibaraki and lived in what was then a beautiful scenic capital – Mito. After two years helping in Ibaraki schools, I then accepted a government scholarship to attend graduate school at Tsukuba University – also in Ibaraki. So those first five years in Japan rooted me deeply to the Prefecture.
When I was watching the news of the devastation from outside of Japan, the focus was on Miyagi and Fukushima – but I knew that Ibaraki had also been hard hit, especially along the coast, and especially on the northern tip near the Fukushima border. No one was telling the Ibaraki story. I felt I owed so much to the people of Ibaraki who had given me so much. It wasn’t enough to just send money or make calls. I had to do something.
I was also seeing news of foreigners “fleeing” Japan – the now infamous flyjin. I was amazed upon my return to see Narita airport full of foreigners leaving the country. The only large group of incoming foreigners to catch my attention was the Mongolian emergency rescue team!
I could not fathom leaving Japan at this time. I had to go up to Ibaraki to help.
I started making calls and seeing how I could help. All the public volunteer announcements were asking for only locals. Apparently the civil servants did not want to worry about housing or feeding volunteers. “Don’t come unless you can fend for yourself – there are no trains, few buses and long lines for gas,” I was warned. I had prepared for this and had bought plenty of camping gear and goods from the US to both hold me for at least 10 days and to bring on my trip to Northern Ibaraki.
When I arrived to the Kita Ibaraki City Offices looking like a back packer, the head coordinator smiled like he knew me, “So you are Mr. Camargo. We were told you would likely arrive. Welcome”. I had been tweeting and talking to many people in the Prefecture before my departure so apparently news of my possible arrival had already reached them.
As you can guess I was the only foreigner in our group of volunteers. No one would have cared if I had come from Mars. There was work to do. For the next week I would carry boxes of water, bags of rice and bundles of futon with about 40 other volunteers. We would also travel to either the coast or inland to help clear out debris from damaged homes. We would also visit the community centers and deliver goods.
There is where my March moment would come.
It was when I saw so many elderly alone and unattended.
The shelters have and will get plenty of relief aid. They can always use more money but that too will come. But what I saw in athletic gyms turned community centers were elderly folks sleeping on cardboard boxes near kerosene stoves. Many were alone and disoriented. Yes, they still had their lives, but many had lost their homes and some, even their loved ones.
As I watch my the 27th season of cherry blossoms twitter in the spring outside my Tokyo window, I ask myself, “what do the people in the Ibaraki shelters need most?”
Maybe what they need most is what I could not give my Dad enough of –
…..a warm hand and more time to share the blossoms.
Orlando Camargo has worked for the Japanese government, for a Wall Street Investment bank and has headed a global public relations company in Tokyo. When he is not volunteering in Ibaraki (http://orlandojpn.posterous.com/) , he can also be spotted around Tokyo’s rustic neighborhoods taking photos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurokoshiroko/) in search of the perfect yakitori.
After the earthquake, documentary photographer Max Hodges felt that it was important to document the event to raise awareness of the devastation and needs of thousands of displaced people. He headed up to some hard-hit areas, hitchhiking from city-to-city. These photos were taken on his trip there and capture some of the immense loss and devastation the earthquake caused.
Richard Orange,noted foreign correspondent and Ikuru Kuwajima, a photojournalist in Central Asia and long-time contributor to Japan Subculture Research Center, worked to put together this this fascinating piece about one Japanese POW trapped in the Soviet Union after the end of the Second World War. It differs slightly from our usual subject matter but it’s a fascinating story that we hope you’ll enjoy. ●Marina Gorobevskaya also greatly contributed to this article.
By Richard Orange and Ikuru Kuwajima, photos by Ikuru Kuwajima
Tetsuro Ahiko has his eyes closed now. The vodka has begun to affect him, and he rocks a little towards the battered cassette player from where the music―a shrill chorus of young girls’ voices―is coming. He starts to sing along under his breath: “Shoulder to shoulder, I walk to school with my brother, thanks to the soldiers… thanks to the soldiers that died for the nation, for the dear nation.” As the last voices die away, the room, in a cramped Soviet flat in a crumbling block in a impoverised town in the middle of the icy, windswept steppes of Kazakhstan, comes back into focus. “I forgot Japanese,” he says. “But I didn’t forget the songs that I listened to in my childhood.”
This cassette of World War II military songs, long since forgotten as part of a shameful past back in Japan, is one of the handful of tokens he keeps of a life that was snatched away from him one day in 1948, when, instead of repatriating him from his military school on Sakhalin Island, Soviet troops put Mr Ahiko on a train to the Gulag work camps. More than 60 years later, Mr Ahiko is still here.
“Now I’m the same as all the people here,” he says. “I’ve got used to it.”
Tetsuro is the last Japanese man still remaining in Kazakhstan out of the hundreds of thousands Stalin shipped to the most desolate parts of the Soviet Union, putting them to work in mines, in construction, and in factories. More than a tenth of them died due to the brutal working conditions.
“I think all the Japanese have gone back apart from me,” he says. “There was one from Lake Balkhash, who went to Japan because his wife was ill, and there was also one in Almaty. I think there are no other Japanese here now.”
Since the tightening of regulations against fuuzoku sex industry businesses in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-cho last year, there have been voices of concern about whether or not the neighborhood will lose its character along with its seedy image.
And it now may have a new competitor. Adult-themed businesses have been sprouting up in the Shibuya area over the past few years as the ever-changing cityscape has begun to take on a pink glow from these:
Once known as the teen-fashion capital of Asia, Shibuya is being slowly overrun by muryo annai-sho, or “information centers” that are the new gateways to adult entertainment. While the Tokyo Police Metropolitan Police Department has focused its efforts on Shinjuku ward, the Shibuya flesh merchants have taken up residence in this relatively overlooked area–just as they have done in Akihabara and Uguisuidani. Shibuya, because of its reputation as a teen mecca, also tends to attract a certain type of Japanese man with a fetish for young, and even underage women–so called loli-con or “lolita complex bearing men.”