Anti-nuclear protesters are increasingly focusing their anger on Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who decided to resume operations at the Oi nuclear power plant despite widespread public opposition.
Thousands of protesters joined a July 6 demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Official Residence, many of them holding signs that said, "The prime minister should listen to our voices."
Others shouted out their opposition to the decision to restart two reactors at the Oi plant.
"This is one of the few opportunities available where I can express my opinion," a 62-year-old woman from Tokyo's Koto Ward said. "While it may barely be audible to Noda, I want to express my opposition."
Sixty-year-old songwriter and anti-nuclear activist Ryuichi Sakamoto also appeared and urged the demonstrators to not give up.
Anti-nuclear citizens groups have been staging weekly protests outside the prime minister's office since March. At first, the protests called for an energy policy that moves away from a dependence on nuclear energy and were held mainly on Friday evenings. The first protests only drew about 300 people, but the numbers increased with each passing week as more people heard about the gatherings through Twitter and other social media.
The increase in the number of police officers has led to a much more serious atmosphere, but one protester who has played a central role in the demonstrations said, "We will continue to express our anger until the administration responds."
At 7:13 p.m. on July 6, Noda left his office and returned to his nearby official residence. When reporters called out and asked if he had any intention of addressing the voices of the protesters, Noda nodded and said, "I have received many different comments."
The rare comment by Noda may be a reflection of the sharp criticism that arose after he was heard telling a police officer about the previous Friday's protest, "They are certainly making a large racket."
Such large protests outside the prime minister's office have not been seen since 1960, when Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi was forced to resign after demonstrators protested the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
To avoid further confusion, Noda has made a point of not going out on Friday nights.
At the same time, he apparently has no intention of overturning his June 16 decision on the Oi plant.
"If we really moved away from nuclear energy, the economy would worsen, people would lose their jobs, or their salaries would decrease," said a member of Noda's staff. "People are not being told about such possibilities."
Noda has also not agreed to any of the requests to meet with the demonstrators.
With the No. 3 reactor at the Oi plant about to reach full operational capacity soon, some officials close to Noda feel that the protests will gradually die down as the process of resuming operations continues.
Protest organizers said about 150,000 people turned out on July 6, while police estimated about 21,000 people had gathered outside the prime minister's office and the Kasumigaseki district, home to many central government ministries.
The huge gap in numbers is due to how each side estimates crowds.
According to protest organizers, several people use counters for about 30 minutes after the protest starts at 6 p.m. With those numbers as a base, an estimate of the total number is made by making a visual guess on the extent to which the crowd had increased just before the gathering concludes.
Police officials said their estimate was made by assuming how many people were standing on a unit of area based on the density of the crowd. For example, if a gathering is so crowded that people can barely move, the assumption is that there are eight people for every square meter. The estimate of the total number of protesters is calculated by multiplying that assumed number by the total area of the venue.
- « Prev
- Next »