Japan Sees the Emergence of a Protest Movement

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July 16, 2012; Source: Financial Times

On Monday, an estimated 75,000 people gathered at a protest close to a Tokyo city park in response to the government of Japan’s moves to restart the country’s nuclear power industry after the March 2011 leak at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The event that has since been called “the capital’s largest anti-nuclear event” by Japan’s NHK broadcaster. The Financial Times cites Tokyo-based journalist and organizer Satoshi Kamata, who offered his perspective on the timing of the movement: “It’s very late, but at last it is starting…Japanese people historically have not been used to standing up for themselves, we have been a people that just put up with things . . . Finally that is changing,” he explained.

As with social movements throughout the world, social media has become a valuable tool for organizers. The Financial Times notes that as organizers figure out a regular schedule for public protests, they are also getting more adept at coordinating with other groups, including “union veterans and peace activists,” that have joined the broader effort. As an example of what might be a typical protester, the story cites Maki Sekiguchi, a Tokyo office worker and first-time protester who attended an event with her husband and young child. “We feel we have to do something,” she said. “The government may not change its mind, but I still think it’s meaningful for us to do what we can.”

The nascent movement is significant not only because Japan boasts the world’s third-largest economy, but because it is being effectively coordinated by a new alliance of activist groups and drawing wide participation. As in the U.S., Japan was home to large nuclear protests in the 1960s. Although participation numbers in the current demonstrations have not exceeded those numbers, the movement still seems to be in its early stages. –Anne Eigeman