The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

New Kids On The Block

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dcjj -201606031262.jpgThere was a protest this Friday outside the National Diet building by a group of high-school studentts called the T-nsSOWL.

That catchy name stands for “Teens Stand Up to Oppose War Law” and is a small group of teenagers determined to follow the success of last year’s SEALDs movement in calling for Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe to reverse the changes he made to Article of the Japanese constitution. They would also like him to quit.

Last July the hawkish Abe “reinterpreted” Article 9, which forever forbids Japan to undertake aggressive military action except in defence of the nation, to allow the Japanese armed forces to take part in collective self-defence. What this means is that the Japanese military can come to the aid of allies even if Japan, itself is not itself under attack. For many Japanese this is anathema and they fear Japanese soldiers getting dragged into foreign wars in support of the US. There were massive protests against this “reinterpretation” last year. Despite this Abe pushed the change through the Diet.

The Student organisation, SEALDs (Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) energised the protests last year, bringing the protests to the attention of the mass media where their issues could be openly discussed as a social phenomena. Japanese youth are often seen and generally portrayed as feckless and politically apathetic or naive. SEALDs to a greater or lesser degree changed that image and one of their leaders, Aki Okuda even met with opposition leaders and spoke in parliamentary committee meetings.

Okuda san was present last night, leading moral support, when T-nsSOWL gathered outside the Diet to voice their own concerns about the direction Japan is going. The Upper House elections which take place later this year are the first that teenagers will allowed to vote in since the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 last summer. The group is determined to galvanise the extra 2.4 million voters this change has created into a force of that will keep Japan peaceful.

How successful they will be is hard to gauge. Certainly the protest attracted the media who surrounded the site of the demo. What it didn’t attract however were the teenagers whom it hoped to inspire. I could only see four actual teenagers and the crowd of 200 or so people was mostly made up of the usual older protesters that still gather outside the Diet building most Fridays to call on Abe to resign. Indeed the warmer weather has reinvigorated the usual anti-nuke protests in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and their angry calls often drown-out the teenagers. Though this was one of their first protests and this embryonic group may yet grow into a force as vocal and influential as SEALDs were it was also hear to escape the feeling that these teenagers were very, well, teenagery: They looked bored, they checked their iphones and their hair during the chants; and the protest slogans and logos seemed borrowed from the only slightly deeper convictions of the SEALDs movement.

Early days yet and it will be interesting to see how Japanese high school students will use their newly given voting powers in the up-coming election. Less then a third of people in their twenties voted at the last election and generally the young in japan feel that politics doesn’t apply to them. Perhaps this group will inspire those people to get politically connected again. The dissatisfaction that has galvanised youthful support for progressive candidates in many countries: from Jeremy Corbyn to Bernie Sanders is one that the young also feel here. The need to protest about something being wrong with their lot in life obviously is keenly felt but who will take up the challenge on a level that seriously threatens the establishment here has yet to find a face. Several politicians came to talk at the SEALDs demos: riding the wave of support the organisation generated to mark out their difference from the black-suited norm. A couple of law-makers spoke last night too and each congratulated the teenagers on their desire for change. Yet after these speeches the chants the high schoolers made were the same: the endless dirge of anti-Abe vitriol which no-one really expects him to listen to or be troubled by. Even the faces of the teens showed that resignation and I am left wondering why young people, given the power to mould their world for the first time in their lives, are not thinking of new ways to affect that change.

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