There was a biggish anti-nuclear protest in Tokyo on Sunday. The government of Shinzo Abe has stated its determination to restart and exapand on the nuclear generation of electricity and around 7,ooo people took to the streets to protest this. Though the Japan Times quoted organisers saying 60,000 people attended this seems way too many. Even the police estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 still seems high compared to my own rough calculation at the site. The police are not known for talking-up the numbers of protesters though; indeed usually they do the opposite so I wonder what the real number was.
Some might say that it is foolish to hope the country will be nuclear free in the future,;Japan has no choice but to use nuclear energy when it consumes electricity at the level it does with no significant natural resources of its own to support it.
True these protests are not of the same scale they were at their height in 2012. But a lot of people still do care that government and industry collusion and corruption created the problems that Fukushima Prefecture and Japan has been dealing with since the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th 2011.
One man, who many people credit for having saved the country shortly after those events took place is Naoto Kan. When the situation at the damaged Daichi plant was at its worst and TEPCO were apparently preparing to abandon it, he is supposed to have forced them to go in and manage the shut down. Rumour has it that he did this quite forcefully. So forcefully in fact that it appears as soon as was possible the powers in the political system and the vested interests in the power industry got rid of him pretty quickly afterwards.
So even he wasn’t exactly among friends when he turned up later in the day at the protest to speak, he could find some sympathy and gratitude in the crowd of protesters that surrounded the National Diet building.
Still as a politician, despite having nailed his green credentials to the mast most of his political career, it was a brave thing to do. His security was quite light and he was right there in the middle of an angry, motivated crowd that have a visceral distrust, even dislike, of most politicians.
I think history will be kind to Naoto Kan though.
A good day shooting.
More images of Naoto Kan speaking at the anti-nuclear demo at my archive here.
The crowds forming last night outside Ogikubo Station in Tokyo were much bigger than those that gathered for Prime Minister Noda or Shintaro Ishihara a week before. Maybe it was the celebrity factor that interrupted people’s commute home and pulled them off the pavement into a small alcove alongside the train tracks where actor, Taro Yamamoto (first image above) was giving a speech. Perhaps though it was the words he spoke that resonated more. Because here was a man talking very passionately about a nuclear free Japan. Passion is rare in politics here and many people seemed attracted to a man, famous or not, that really believes in what he is saying.
Taro Yamamoto is a famous actor in Japan and one of the first “talentos” in the country’s usually apolitical entertainment industry to publicly state his opposition to nuclear-power. It is an opinion that has, for all intents and purposes, cost him his career. Television, cinema and other media rely on sponsorship and advertising revenues to make programmes and films of course. The problem in Japan is that only a couple of agencies control most of the advertising market in the country and as their clients include big spending utility companies, such as TEPCO, they are more or less able to control what is said about their clients in the media by threatening the withdrawal of advertising. Shortly after Yamamoto San voiced his dislike of the nuclear industry, on April 9th 2011, offers for work dried up and he found himself shunned in the business.
So he has started on a new career in politics. He is running for office, in the elections this Sunday, as the hopeful representative of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward. Unaffiliated to any existing party, he is standing as an independent with a broadly left-wing and anti-nuclear power policy agenda. His pink-jacketed, support volunteers (bottom pic above), many of whom I recognised as stalwarts of the anti-nuclear protests outside the Japanese Diet building or from the left-wing protests in Tokyo I regularly cover, collected signatures and donations and kept the crowds moving smoothly. Their busiest time came when ageing idol, Kenji Sawada, (third images above) turned up to lend some considerable star power to the event. He was only there a short while but the crowd swelled massively with older women, all elbows and determination, at that time and it was difficult to move.
Though the older people who came to see Sawada San may have been there for the wrong reasons the youth of Taro Yamamoto (he is 38 years old) and his bravery in standing up for what he feels strongly about seemed to attract many of the younger people in the crowd. Doubtless some were star struck, and Yamamoto San has received criticism that his anti-nuclear stance is a ruse to create publicity and further his career. This is disingenuous at best because his beliefs have pointedly had the opposite effect on his acting career. Whether he now can use some of that residual star power to further his reach in the political theatre (some might argue that in Japan, farce is a better word) is only to be hoped for.
I was certainly impressed, he seemed genuine and energetic on the subject. He seemed to actually enjoy meeting the people on his walkabout the crowd (second image above). Though the cynics in me says all politicians want to be liked at election time and will mingle with the masses when it suits their purpose, here was a man that could have stayed in his celebrity isolation if he had wanted to, but didn’t. The world of fame is cosseted and comfortable; it is also, especially in Japan where talents are often no more than the indentikit products of fame factories often without any discernible talent, a life without will, choice, passion and intellect. These are not something Yamamoto San seemed to lack outside Ogikubo station last night and I wish him luck on Sunday.
More images of Taro Yamamoto campaigning for election in Tokyo at my archive here:
Yes I’m still here, just very busy so difficult to post as often as I would like.
The Friday night protests against nuclear power in Tokyo are still here and I go down to them occasionally to shoot some images and see how they are getting on.
It is quite amazing really to consider it is one year today since the anti-nuclear movement here set up camp outside the METI offices in Tokyo and began protesting regularly. Today they marked the anniversary of this camp with a small rally and dancing women from Fukushima apparently. I was invited along but due to other work could go, which was a shame, as I have been following the protests as often as I can even when they were threatened with eviction and seemed about to disappear . History in the making and all that. Amazing to see that they are still going strong, still attracting large numbers of people, though not the great numbers that greeted the restarts of the reactors in Oi.
I will continue to follow the story when possible, this is Japan’s Hydrangea Revolution and though it is still more or less ignored by the Japanese media the people involved are proof that the message is getting out there and striking a chord with people who would perhaps never had protested against anything before.
These are interesting days, even a year on the anger is still hot and the the problem promises to increase creating more and more angry people.
A situation to watch for sure.
Anyway an exhausting day and more of the same tomorrow, can’t write much more tonight will just share some images from last Friday’s smaller than average protest.
Interviewed a few such people and will be interviewing more, each has a different story to tell on how they arrived at a vocal and visible position that it must still be hard to justify to their more reticent friends. These are all strong, principled people that buck the racial stereotype and could just be the cause of a much needed change in the way the powers that control Japan deal with the population.
Busy day, annoying really as I only found out that the Fukushima mothers protest outside the Ministry of the Economy Trade and Industry (METI); a sort of Occupy Tokyo movement was meant to be shut down today by the police last night. Yukio Edano, the newly appointed Minister of the economy, Trade and Industry, having listened to the lobbying of the nuclear industry had declared the site a fire risk and everyone had to be out by 5pm. I had an appointment at 6:30 so had to leave around 5 and thought I’d missed the eviction time. Wonderfully un-committed journalism I am aware, but had a feeling they wouldn’t go anyway and apparently the protest has defied the order to leave their camp outside the METI offices in Tokyo.
Now the ball is very much in Edano’s court I have a feeling that the public support this anti-nuclear protest has, though diminishing it is true, is not something a nominally popular politician will easily go against. This is a very developing story however and I will be following it throughtout the rest of the evening and weekend.
Indeed I am writing this on the hoof between other duties both professional and personal (bath time for the kids and all that) and will update later wheni have more time to find out what is and isn’t happening.
Just wanted to get a picture out of one of the protesters. More images of the attempted eviction of the anti nuclear protest outside the METI offices at my archive here:
In Japan, since the Meiji restoration, the family has been the essential unit of national identity. Taken to its apogee in the era of Hirohito (known ironically as Showa or “peace era” in Japan) the emperor became the nation’s father figure and the citizens, his children. Yet the popular Meiji-era slogan of being a “Good wife, wise mother” shows the more natural order of gender politics in this country. Whilst it is true that Japan only ranks 57th in the world (and falling) in terms of Gender equality according to the 2009 UN Human Development Report within the normal family unit it is probably true to say that women rule the roost.
They certainly control the purse strings of most salarymen and push the directions and ambitions of the family and its members. They are also strong in the affections and sentiments of their sons and have an innate power to further emotionalize a people that are sentimental at the best of times. When a mother speaks in Japan, people listened and what a mother wants, she usually gets.
So when a group of mothers from Fukushima set up camp outside the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) on October 27th to stage a “sit-in” protest about the effects of radiation on their children, people listened. The protest, using this soft hook to also highlight a harsher criticism of METI’s ineptitude in dealing with TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Company) both before the Tsunami and earthquake of March 11th and in the subsequent handling of the disaster.
Though that particular protest only lasted until October 29th it did inspire other mothers and women from all over Japan to add their emotional weight to continuing the pressure on the government to not restart nuclear power stations, that had been off line since the quake, and actively pursue safety measure that have been lacking in existing power generation. Ultimately the popular hope is that nuclear power generation in Japan will be phased-out totally. The national mother’s protest against nuclear power proliferation and the government’s handling of the contamination issues and clean-up operations officially began on October 30th and ends today on November 5th.
To date around 300 women and a few men have attended the protest each day; coming from all over Japan to hold vigil outside the Ministry and inform passersby of the issues. The protest is small, passive and colourful. The Halloween-matched timing of the original protest still showing itself in some of the sloganeering decorations that involve pumpkins and calls to “trick and treaty”. This is not quite an occupy Tokyo event: the women protest from 9am to 6pm then go home. Anywhere else and it wouldn’t have made the news.
When around 60,000 people protested against nuclear energy on September 19th 2011 the media had to take notice. The demographics of that protest were one politicians fear. The majority were older, wealthy and half were women. Contrast that with a protest by young people a week before on September 11th that received almost no media coverage despite the passionate activism shown on the issue by Japanese youth who are usually considered (and reported) as feckless and politically naive. The lack of reporting on the issue of youthful anger at the government handling of the nuclear crisis and the seeming irrelevance of the protest in the minds of the Japanese government, despite the number of participants reaching nearly 1,000, also allowed the often brutal repression of this legitimate, if noisier, protest by the police. See Bruce Meyer Kenny’s images of the youth anti-nuclear protest on September 11th here.
Mothers are respected however and though the demands of this sit-in protest by women are almost exactly the same as the calls the young made on the powers that be in September, only one or two policemen guard the two white marquees and colourful banners that mark the protest site and their job appears mostly to be keeping the sidewalk clear of gawkers and journalists. The women protesters themselves sit neatly in lines to the back of the pavement, chatting, sewing banners or knitting. Some are here for the first time today, some have come everyday like 86 year old Michiko Saito (top photo), a veteran anti-nuclear campaigner who has been protesting nuclear issues since there were nuclear issues. Others are teachers, housewives, small business owners and shop workers; many arrive from near and far for a day or two or in some cases, where work pressures do not allow them more time, just a few hours.
It doesn’t matter how much time each woman puts in, the numbers matter, and the strong, feminine desire to make their voices heard. Each and every one blames the bureaucrats in the building behind them for the nuclear problems Japan now faces and are aghast that METI has announced plans to restart and expand nuclear power generation. They are determined to stop that happening.
According to Yuko Yatabe, one of the organizers, who has been at the ground everyday since the 30th welcoming others to the camp, no ministers or officials from METI have come down to visit the protest. The world is watching and listening yet no-one from the Ministry has thought to walk the few metres across the concrete to visit the camp. A press conference with the protest organizers did take place on Friday November 4th however. Yatabe San, who is from Ibaraki herself, says that women have come here from places are far apart as Hokkaido and Okinawa. One visitor, Keiko Ogata, even came all the way from Brazil to protest the nuclear issue in Japan.
“We have been living in Brazil for two years and my husband will be posted back here in a year’s time. But when I saw what was happening in Japan [after the earthquake on March 11th] I had to come back. Now is important. That’s why I came back now. I could not wait one year. Now is when it is important to be here.”
Environmental protest movements have a history of triggering fundamental changes in the politics and bureaucratic systems in Japan. That is perhaps why the government is keen to clamp-down on them. The result of protests like the one against Minamata disease have inconvenienced the business and political ties that enabled Japan’s massive economic revival but also led to it being declared the most highly polluted industrial society in the world at the end of sixties. Since that time various lawsuit,s and the understanding by politicians that environmentalism is good for their reputations, has forced industry’s arm and Japan has even become the world leader on controlling pollution. Complacency and out-right corruption on these issues still exists however as the problems that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster high-lighted.
In his book, The Making of Modern Japan, Kenneth B Pyle actually likens the power of the environmental movements that gripped Japan in the sixties and seventies to the energy generated by the civil right movement in the United States. Certainly there is a feeling, expressed for example in Ogata San’s need to be here now, that this is the time when anger and moral outrage might just be able to carry-out some necessary changes. How long the energy will last is not known but there is definitely a visceral dislike of TEPCO and METI collusion in causing the Japanese to once again suffer the effects of the atom’s inconsiderate attentions.
Such anger inspired Yukie Tokura, who has worked for humanitarian NGOs is Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Cambodia, to protest the new Japanese government plans to dump potentially contaminated food products from Fukushima on developing countries as food aid. She pulls no punches when expressing her embarrassment that her country could even consider doing something so outrageous.
“We have to protect children in the whole world not just Japan. This policy is terrible, it is cruel, it is in-human. It is unbelievable”
The artist, Rena Masayama who accompanied Tokura San in meeting with officials from the the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest the policy is even more forthright. Right into the faces of the polite, silent and constantly note-taking officials, she called the actions criminal.
Tokura San equally impassioned in her presentations at the Ministries, managed to bring one official close to tears as she said such a policy would allow “Japan bashing” and such heartlessness was embarrassing for her as a proud Japanese woman.
The officials mostly extended platitudes however; promising to bring the opinions and concerns of the protest to the attentions of the relevant Ministers. The meeting rooms were small cramped, the least welcoming space that could be found in offices that were still dark from power-saving measure. The cramped, bare rooms barely contained the passions of the women who sat opposite the suited men (always one older and one younger). The messages were blunt and the older men especially seemed moved by what they heard.
This food-aid policy was news to me and I find it incredulous that the Japanese government is thinking of off-loading unwanted and potentially dangerous food to the poor in other countries as if that was a generous act.
Japan has garnered a lot of good will and sympathy since the earthquake struck. Most other peoples, everywhere feel for the terrible situation that exists in Tohoku and the victims of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. Yet if the world found-out that the Japanese government is planning on dumping possibly contaminated food on people too poor and hungry to refuse it, that generous feeling will soon disappear.
It is incredible to think people could be that heartless. Then again the Japanese government in collusion with TEPCO has been less than honest about the contamination issues within Japan itself, putting communities and children at risk by hiding information on radiation. I guess if you can treat your own people so indifferently regarding their health it is entirely possible to be even less human to those far away and nominally less important.
Hopefully the message will have gotten through by the time the protest finishes later today (Saturday). Organizers are expecting 500 to a 1000 visitors on the last day and hope their small, quiet protest will have made enough impact to halt some of the least sensible nuclear policies that are planned. I’m not holding my breath but then again this is Japan where when a mother speaks people do listen.