Over 20,000 people marched on Japan’s parliament today, July 29th (Sunday/Japan time) to demand a ban on nuclear power. The demonstration concluded with a candle-lit human chain surrounding the Diet like it was Fort Apache. Japan’s anti-nuclear protests are heating up like the Japanese summer, which reached 32 degrees Celsius today. Even the heat wasn’t enough to discourage today’s participants.
It was the largest protest yet.
There was a huge discrepancy in the number of reported participants, with organizers claiming 200,000 people participated while the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department put the number at under 20,000. However, no one argues that it surpassed the previous anti-nuclear demonstration on the first anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown this year, which was 14,000 people. Dutch journalist Kjeld Duits also captured the highlights of the protest eloquently in a video released today.
Japan’s anti-nuclear movement is growing rapidly, and at such a pace that the mainstream media is no longer able to ignore it. According to a survey conducted by the Mainichi Shinbun, one of Japan’s largest papers, 47% of the public feels solidarity with the protestors. While only 37% of those in their twenties agreed with protestors, over 50% of Japanese people in their 50s and 60s agreed with the movement.
The weekly magazine SAPIO and the monthly magazine Takarajima both published articles in the last week lamenting Japan’s mainstream media’s failure to fully report on the growing movement. In response to Takarajima’s enquiries only one television network responded as to why the coverage of the protests had been minimal, saying that they had given it due coverage. Other networks refused to answer.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which was responsible for the second worst nuclear meltdown in history, had a yearly advertising budget of roughly 300 million dollars a year and has deftly used it to suppress anti-nuclear stories over the last decade, according to government critics.
The demonstrators began marching in Hibiya Park around 4:50 pm, passed by the headquarters of TEPCO, demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, and despite a minor skirmish with the police, they almost completely encircled the National Diet (Parliament) in a candlelight rally that evening. The protestors were made up of up housewives, children, white-collar workers, Buddhist monks, and people from all strata of Japanese life. Holding placards in English and Japanese that read “No Nukes”, they demanded that the current Japanese government, headed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, forsake nuclear power and close down all Japan’s nuclear reactors.
After the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March of last year, all 50 working reactors in Japan were taken off-line while stress tests and routine maintenance were conducted.
Weekly demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s residence have been going on for months, but in the last few weeks, thanks partly to a well-conducted internet campaign by citizen’s network, The Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes (MCAN), the numbers have swelled to over 10,000 per protest in the last few weeks.
Many of the protestors feel that nuclear power is unwise in earthquake prone Japan. The National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) released a report on the Fukushima disaster that blamed government and corporate incompetence for the meltdown recently which has further accelerated anti-nuclear sentiment. The report also suggested that the earthquake might have been a major factor in the meltdown of the aging Fukushima nuclear power plant—a suggestion that questions the fundamental safety of many nuclear power plants in this volcanic ridden country.
A tattoo-covered female artist, a printing school trainee, and a white-collar worker head the loosely structured MCAN. At a press conference, this Friday, Misao Redwolf, the female artists and spokesperson noted, “If the individual Japanese people can influence their government’s decisions, we consider this as a big victory for our country.”
MCAN has managed to gather huge numbers of local citizens in peaceful protests via the use of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. Even former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, have recently joined the protests—although many dismiss his actions as shameless political opportunism.
The organizers have made great efforts to make the demonstrations and protests family events, and kept their distance from the radical left and extremist groups.
Misao Redwolf, a leader of the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, explained the genesis of the movement as follows, “Around March and May, people came (to the protests) but they left after 30 minutes, because they were scared. So our goal is also to make people feel good in what they are doing…I am embarrassed to use this phrasing, but in Japan, ‘normal’ people are not used to protesting at demonstrations. People who protest are seen as outsiders or troublemakers. So, we decided to create a more social environment, and make it easier for people to access the demo. We are trying to set up family spaces for the demo.”
The protests are surprising in their civility and that the protestors clean up the garbage after they are done and politely thank the police for overseeing the events. There were several hundred police present maintaining order at today’s events. The leaders of the protest also called for the crowds to behave themselves at several points in the evening.
Mr. Taku Tomita, 36, is a ward councilman. He recently married but has no children yet. “I have many friends who have children, and I wanted to contribute in making good things happen for my country,” he said. To make for a more relaxed family atmosphere, he wore a festive costume and was giving directions to the crowd of protesters, reminding them to, “kindly show your best manners and behave nicely.”
The police did arrest two protestors for obstruction of duty after clashes with the special mobile police squad but other than that there were no real violent confrontations between the police and the citizens.
When asked about his views on the anti-nuclear protests, Naoto Matsumura, aka the Buddha of Fukushima said: “Fight until at least 5 people get arrested, if you don’t fight until arrests take place, you won’t change anything.” Naoto Matsumura is fighting, and he is fighting until radiation takes his life, for his protest against the government is to stay inside the marked forbidden zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Normally, police relations to protestors in Japan are highly adversarial but at present, both sides are remarkably well behaved. A sign, perhaps, that even amongst the traditionally conservative police, that the protestors may have some sympathizers. The times seem to be changing faster than the Japanese government.