Anti-nuclear protesters put heat on Noda

July 14, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Fifteen weeks ago, there were only 300 of them. On July 13, according to police estimates, there were 10,000 people in Tokyo’s streets with a single, simple message for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda: “Saikado Hantai” (We oppose restarts).

The organizers of the weekly Friday night protest against the reactivation of Japan’s nuclear reactors have only one slogan and ask those attending not to carry placards unrelated to the nuclear issue.

The crowd, including students, parents and pensioners, repeatedly shout in unison: “Saikado Hantai.”

A 71-year-old man from Yokohama taking part in the protest for the first time on July 13 said it was a far cry from the famous student demonstration around the Diet building in which he had taken part in 1960.

“In those days, demonstrations, led by activists, were savage,” the man said. “The atmosphere has changed.”

A little before 1 p.m., riot police did set up roadblocks on a road leading from Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki government district to the prime minister’s office in the Nagatacho district and, at 3 p.m., police began restricting the use of entrances of a nearby subway station.

There were complaints from some protesters that the police tactics were keeping them away from the prime minister’s office.

But Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department appeared determined to avoid confrontation.

“We are focusing on ‘soft’ security to give top priority to maintaining safety of participants, instead of evicting them,” a senior police official said.

Police officials have described the protest as a spontaneous movement, rather an organized event by a particular political party or group.

About two hours before the official start, an overcast and humid afternoon turned to light rain, but that did not appear to deter the parents and children gathering in the “family area” set up in front of the Diet building at a little past 5 p.m.

Some protesters were handing out balloons. Others were posting on social networking services like Twitter.

One woman held hydrangeas. The protests have been called the “Hydrangea Revolution,” a nod to Tunisia’s 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution.

Ruri Sasaki, a kindergarten teacher, said she had traveled four hours by train from Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, with two of her children, aged 5 and 2.

“In Fukushima, we cannot even let the children touch the soil (due to fears of radiation),” the 39-year-old said.

She said she felt Fukushima had been abandoned when the No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture was restarted on July 1, the first resumption since the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant last year.

The July 13 demonstration was the first since that reactor reached full capacity on July 9. The No. 4 reactor at the Oi plant is expected to be restarted as early as this coming week.

Another group of protesters hoisted the Hinomaru national flag in front of the prime minister’s office. Their banner read, “Protect the lives of children and the beautiful mountains and rivers.”

In the Kasumigaseki government district, members of a Tokyo choir sang the folk song “Furusato” (Hometown) to a guitar and accordion accompaniment.

A 21-year-old university student from Tokyo was meeting about 10 contacts from the Facebook service at the Kasumigaseki subway station at 5:30 p.m.

“I proposed that we take part. We are meeting for the first time,” the student said. “We have made preparations for distributing video footage over the Internet. It is really exciting.”

Shunsuke Takeda, a 33-year-old graphic designer, his wife Ayumi, and their two children were standing near the prime minister’s office.

“I’m not sure if coming here achieves anything,” he said. “Our children don’t understand why we have to stand in this heat, but we’re doing it for their future. We can’t believe the government any longer, so we have to do something ourselves, even if it’s just pointing out how they don’t speak for us.”

Ayumi said: “We won’t be able to come every week, but there will be others. We’re taking turns in the group.”

The protest started on schedule at 6 p.m. When a member of the organizing group shouted “Saikado Hantai” over the microphone, participants chanted the phrase in unison.

A 55-year-old office worker said he was not political, but felt he had to do something.

“It’s no longer a political issue. It is a decision that involves all of us,” he said.

Shinji Jinkoji, a 60-year-old architect who has attended three of the Friday night protests since June, said he came because the event was intended for “normal, peaceful people.”

“The police are doing their best to keep the route safe, and the marchers are trying to keep in line as much as possible (despite the occasional friction),” he said.

Noda said July 13 he wants to listen to "the voices of many people." He earlier came under fire when he said he heard a "loud noise" of protesters.

The demonstration, which is coordinated by a citizens group called Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, was attended by Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, and Yuko Mori, an Upper House member of the new party established by Ichiro Ozawa, former president of the Democratic Party of Japan.

At 8 p.m., the organizers announced that it had finished.

“Leave here immediately. It is important to continue our protest on the next occasion,” a representative told the crowd.

Illustrator Misao Redwolf, a key member of the organizing group, said: “Our campaign has succeeded because we have held on to an approach that individuals, not organizations, take action.”

She said former anti-nuclear activists had criticized the group’s approach as kid-gloved because participants just shout “Saikado Hantai” repeatedly.

As the protesters began walking toward nearby subway stations, a 36-year-old postgraduate student from Yokohama, taking part for the second time, said: “A real-life connection that you never expected before is born here. I hope many people come and feel this atmosphere.”

On July 13, hundreds of people also protested against the reactivation of the Oi reactors in front of Kansai Electric Power’s main office in Osaka and the company’s Tokai branch in Nagoya.

(AJW staff writer Louis Templado contributed to this article.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Protesters, including elderly people, shout opposition to the reactivation in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district on July 13. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Protesters, including elderly people, shout opposition to the reactivation in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district on July 13. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • Protesters, including elderly people, shout opposition to the reactivation in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district on July 13. (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • Protesters shout opposition to the reactivation in front of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s head office in Osaka on July 13. (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • Protesters gather in front of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Tokai branch in Nagoya on July 13. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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