The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Tears and Anger

Went to a left wing demo today in Hibiya where people from Fukushima were bussed in to tell the assembled tear-inducing stories of the problems they face. Harrowing stuff.

I have been shooting the extreme ends of the Japanese political spectrum (both left and right) for a few years now have become a familiar face at these events. Today though due to increasing police heavy-handedness and under-handedness regarding the radical left‘s protests against Tepco, one organizer actually wanted to know a lot more about me before letting me into Hibiya Park Hall to shoot. Luckily people I knew there vouched for me and I could get in without any more suspicions. Inside I shot the same old people making the same old speeches, expressing the usual anger felt at the regular enemies: capitalism, profiteering wars, public service privatizations and the unfair working conditions imposed on increasingly indentured and un-unionized employees by the vampiric business-owning classes.

Now I’ve heard all that before, in case you missed the grammatical hints in the last paragraph to such, and today, as at almost every other demo I’ve been to, the calls for revolution went heeded but totally unconsummated once again. A kind of intellectual, huffing and puffing anger is the usual reaction of those assembled to the inequalities that exist in the world they, and we, inhabit. Such indignation wasn’t always so ineffectual however: in the 1960s and 1970s the heady atmosphere of violent revolution in Europe and The US also inspired the young left here. Those were crazy days: people died, people killed (or not as the case may be) and a more physical, visceral anger boiled in dangerous ways that were both unpredictable and uncharacteristic of a Japanese populace that by and large was politically apathetic. Despite the fact that for many of the radical left the days of storming those barricades are now long gone, the fear of those times is still real in the minds of the powers that be which is why the police are, as a rule, all over such gatherings, recording, watching, intimidating and arresting those that rattle the bars the loudest just in case their anger spills over into action.

For so long the opinions of the far left have stood way outside the acceptable range of Japanese political relevance. When things were good the radical left’s calls for working-class revolution seemed irrelevant at best, after all everyone in Japan was meant to be middle-class. At worst they were a dangerous inconvenience that people couldn’t understand and didn’t want to. Many thought those that held such beliefs were ungrateful of the education and luxuries of modern life that hard work had enabled them and were wasting their time thinking these destructive thoughts.

But now as people slump themselves into their sofa after a 60 or 80 hour working week to watch tabloid TV channels erase critical thought or news that that finger-points ineptly at the causes of the nuclear crisis some of the old arguments the left has been making for decades seem to be making sense at last. Granted the message may have been subdued a little; become middle-aged and more comfortably absorbed, but the ineptitudes, corruption and simple arrogance of the people that, through actions designed to make money or through inactions designed to save face, have caused the problems Japan now faces, ordinary people are also getting angry. This may be a cynical lunge for mainstream support by the left and I readily argue that many on the left just like disagreeing with anything any government of any hue will ever say. Ever. But the message that nuclear power is bad and that the vested interests of those that lead in not changing anything about the industry, now resonates strongly in the hearts of Japanese people both those from the far-left inside Hibiya Park Hall but also in the minds of the ordinary Japanese who would never have found much common ground with such company before. That is perhaps why the police and secret service are even more keen to keep the messages from spreading and have become even more repressive  in their actions when policing these legal and often justified demonstrations. I had no problems today but I know people who have found shooting such demos more difficult recently. Some have even been threatened with arrest just for being too close with a camera which is unacceptable in a supposed democracy.

Perhaps that is why the man on the door wanted to know more about me before letting me in. The message is getting heard and agreed with, of a sorts, at last and no-body wants some bad press ruining that. It was uncomfortable for me, I have no wish to be known too much by the right, left or the police. I may share many of the opinions of the left but not all. I generally respect the police’s right to investigate those that present a danger to the country but not when I know I am almost certainly on the same lists and under the same scrutinies as the old men and old women that come to these demos in hope of instilling a change they perhaps can no longer make themselves. Maybe it is an innocent  hope these days, a hope that somethings will be done better, fairer, more generously. Their manifesto still scares the right but there is a hope that their (truthfully) rather endless talking about it might just seep out to energize the young into calling for that change in a way every Japanese person can lend voice to. Then the powers that (mis)lead  this country will have to be accountable, will have to mean what they say. Like the tears that flowed as the people from Fukushima got up on stage to tell their stories, they will have to care about something other than their own position and wealth and then perhaps, such tears will not have to be cried again at the next tragedy caused by greed.

The tears, unlike the anger sometimes, were real.



4 responses

  1. Really nice informative post about the less seen political worlds in Japan as always. Sorry to hear about the checks into who you were, seems to be happening more and more these days.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

  2. Charlie Kirk

    who was threatened with arrest? what’s the story?

    June 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  3. Read Torin Boyd’s post on lightstalkers Charlie, he is one that was threatened with arrest at least.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm

  4. Really great measured and thoughtful post.
    Great photos too.
    As you know I was also threatened with arrest and find myself on a police watch list for documenting the Muslims in Tokyo.
    If something good can come out of such a tragedy as the current situation in Tohoku and the blatant mismanagment of the Fukushima situation let’s hope it is a very real shift in the minds of the Japanese populous.
    The sooner they realise they live in what is effectively a Police state and are constantly being lied to by their elected representatives the better.
    No one expects or thinks a revolution is possible, but maybe just maybe it is in the minds of the Japanese people.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:42 am

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