Many people in Japan are angry about the current administration’s unwillingness to hear vox populi concerning the restart of nuclear plants. The anxiety continues to grow over the way Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration has handle the issue. Some have likened the situation to the Japanese government’s forceful signing of New Security Treaty with the U.S. in 1960. This demonstration is also similar to that of 1960 because it lacks a strongly ideological agenda.
Due to the catastrophic situation in Fukushima Daiichi Plant and its handling by the government and Tepco, a numerous anti-nuclear rallies took place in 2011. Many of these events were organized by young professionals and non-politically oriented citizens via Facebook and Twitter.
In early 2012, the organizers of the anti-nuclear demonstrations began calling people to gather in front of the Prime Minister’s office. When they held the first meeting on March 29, there were only 300 people. They continued to meet every Friday then onward. Number gradually grew to 1000, 2700, 4000, 12,000, and to 45,000 last week. Of course, the number might not be accurate, but it is true that it has gained momentum over last few months.
Yesterday’s demonstration gathered definitely more people than the last week’s. It is hard to tell the exact number of the people gathered. The official police report states that there were 17,000; The organizers report that there were 150,000. Other media state variously from 20,000 to 200,000. Of course, it is always difficult to know the precise number in this type of event. Similar discrepancy of numbers were reported in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations as well as Anti-Putin demonstrations in last February.
For the reference, Independent Web Journal (IWJ) captured video image from the sky here.
Whatever the exact number may be, the protest has grown to a massive scale. Many people seemed to have joined the demonstration after their work. Since the event starts from 6 pm and ends at 8 pm on Friday nights, it is easy for many working people as well as family to join the demonstration. Many mothers were seen with their children as well. Also because of the event’s lack of a strong ideological basis, it is much easier for “normal” citizens to participate.
Some politicians joined the protest. Yasuo Tanaka, the former Nagano Governor as well as the leader of the New Party Japan, and Kenko Matusi, the secretary-general of the New Party Daichi-True Democrats were some of them. After the event, Mr. Tanaka stated in his twitter that he “participated the demonstration as one human being for his beloved family, neighbors, home, and for Japan.”
Would this movement continue to grow to actually make any political impact? Some are quite doubtful. Nobuo Ikeda, a well-known economist and public intellectual, regards this event to be a “fools’ march.” Mr. Ikeda argues that the participants forget that without nuclear energy, Japan is required to suffer economically and weakens the already less-competitive economy in a global market. On the other hand, Kojin Karatani, a philosopher and literary critic, thinks that the event is historic because it has emerged from the people and for the people.
In order for this demonstration to bring actual political change, there are a couple of concerns and challenges. So often, in the modern history of Japan, this sort of event has functioned as carnivals for the mass. That is, it helps to get the anger and stress of the people out for the moment without making any significant change politically.
Many of anti-this, or anti-that protest by the people and Socialist Party until 1990s fell into this predicament. Their protests functioned to release some social tension without really changing anything.
If the people desire actual political change, the movement must cunningly involve many more lawmakers. Of course, there is a risk of compromise once this type of demonstration turns into a political movement. And yet, without the tangible political form and involvement of lawmakers, it will end as another energetic but unproductive social movement.
Yes, Japanese people are tired of continual betrayals of politicians and political parties, shown most recently in the tax hike controversy. Many really thought the change is possible with the historic victory of the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009. Over the last three years, the hope has turned into bitterness concerning much of the political process.
But in times like this, politicians must hear the people and speak about the viable and possible future for the nation. Is the complete shut-down of nuclear plants as many demonstrators demand possible? Most likely not. But there have not been much effort on the side of many politicians to articulate and convince the people regarding this matter. Simply, they haven’t given any vision to the people.
Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka and Vice Governor Naoki Inose of Tokyo are rare exceptions. They must continue to offer a vision of the alternative future for the people with their realistic and pragmatic care.
The people must also see the need to commit to lawmakers and political parties in order to accomplish real change. Without the political procedure, their effort will soon grow old. They will quickly become tired of no change, and eventually they will turn to their private life in resignation.
Can Japan become freer, more just, and more economically thriving nation? Japanese politics is a mess. Its economy is deteriorating. The people are weary. But as one philosopher said, “The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering,” this might be the time for the prudent change in Japan.