Despite being orchestrated by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, novelist Kenzaburo Oe and other prominent figures, the Sayonara Nukes 100,000 Rally held on the July 16 national holiday in Tokyo often looked and felt like conventional old-left demonstrations.
The rally to demand a nuclear-free Japan drew a large number of labor union members, consumer and other old-time activists, waving flags of their organizations, among the estimated 170,000 participants in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward.
But in a small corner of the rally, there was a new breed of civic activists in Japan, which include fashion-conscious young people, parents with young children, artists and others who seem least likely to join a political demonstration.
From a stage caravan set up some 200 meters from the main stage in Yoyogi Park, musicians of reggae, funk, hip-hop, folk rock played anti-nuclear songs, including Akihiro Nanba, vocalist/bassist of the popular punk band H-STANDARD. In the sweltering July heat, people were dancing and cheering amid the laid-back, party-like atmosphere.
“We try to have a politically free atmosphere and people think of this protest as a life-and-death issue connected to their daily lives,” said Misao Shinoto, a Tokyo-based illustrator and one of the organizers of the stage event.
Shinoto, who goes by her artist name, Misao Redwolf, is the chief organizer of the weekly Friday night anti-nuclear protest in front of the prime minister’s office, which is drawing the largest number of protesters to Tokyo’s Nagatacho political district since the heyday of the student movement of the 1960s.
“The reason behind the success of the Friday night protest is that it has a specific target--Prime Minister Noda and his government,” Shinoto said of her campaign, which has bulked up from 300 participants when it started in late March to tens of thousands of protesters in recent weeks.
Seeing the success of the Friday protests in drawing thousands of young people, the organizers of the Sayonara Nukes rally, the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin), asked Shinoto to host the caravan event for young participants.
Backstage, her old friends from her artists’ circle and people whom she became newly acquainted with through her activism stopped by to offer words of gratitude and encouragement.
“We already know who to direct our anger toward today, and young people like our straight-forward, tangible protest,” Shinoto said.
The potential of this new trend of civic activism could also be seen in the celebrities on stage.
Actress Miyuki Matsuda, wife of the late acting legend Yusaku Matsuda, spoke from the caravan, along with Naoto Amaki, former diplomat and vocal critic of Japan’s foreign policy, and Mika Hashimoto, leader of idol group Seifuku Kojo Iinkai.
“We must be more confident of our movement, because the situation could have been much worse if we didn’t raise our voices,” Matsuda told hundreds of people in the audience, referring to the fact that only one of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors has been brought back online.
“We must keep going until the day all reactors become abolished, because the world is closely watching how Japanese can decide our own fate.”
In an interview after her speech, Matsuda said she believes that it is “very wrong” that many of her colleagues and other artists stay silent on the nuclear issue.
“Artists and other influential people in the media must be the first ones to raise their voices, because it will help everyone speak out about their beliefs.”
Guitarist Sugizo, a member of two of Japan’s most influential rock bands, LUNA SEA and X JAPAN, also stopped backstage. It is true that even rock musicians tend to remain silent about the issue, “because they are afraid of the risks” of hurting their career, Sugizo told AJW.
“But musicians whom I really admire, from Bob Dylan to John Lennon, kept their artistic integrity by speaking up for what they believe in society. Maybe I am just simple-minded, but I also believe rock music must serve as a warning call to direct the society for the better.”
Raising their voices of anger in chorus with these celebrities, the audience had cathartic moments on the day, but Shinoto said that being politically active in Japan still poses a great burden.
Since her Friday protests have gathered momentum, the event organizers have been harshly criticized and attacked on the Internet, possibly because of Japan’s culture of hammering down the nail that sticks up. Even old-time leftists often point their fingers at them, calling them too soft or naive, Shinoto said.
“I was not really a politically minded person in the first place, and I am learning that it takes a lot of self-sacrifice, time, money and spirit-wise,” she said.
“But the protest we started have been spreading nationwide, and we will not give up until the day we win a tangible victory--closure of all nuclear reactors in Japan.”
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