They’re angry, frustrated and persistent. Some have been influenced by past movements in Japan. Others say they are reacting to what they perceive as slights by the government.
But the various anti-nuclear groups that continue to protest throughout Japan have managed to create a peaceful, welcoming atmosphere that has helped to prevent the movement from fading away.
"The common thread they share is the concept of 'nonviolence,'” said political scientist Ikuo Gonoi, 33. “Because the (protest) sites are nonviolent, anybody can join. The festival-like atmosphere created by the rhythm of the drums and the like also lowers the hurdles to engaging in a demonstration or protest.”
Gonoi said movements in Japan have traditionally centered on students or laborers.
“Now people from every generation, from children to seniors, and from all social backgrounds are voluntarily participating," he said.
One of the more visible anti-nuclear groups is the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, which consists of 13 citizen organizations that arrange demonstrations outside the prime minister’s office every Friday night.
The protests began in late March this year with about 300 people, but it jumped to more than 10,000 in June, when the Noda Cabinet decided to restart the Oi reactors operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. in Fukui Prefecture. Since then, the crowds have continued to grow, and the protests have spread to government offices in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district, where the sounds of drums and chants of "no restarts" echo.
"The protesters are regular people. That's why, more than anything else, our goal is safe operation,” Misao Redwolf, one of the main organizers, said. “We will continue in a safe and persistent manner to voice our opposition to nuclear power as many times as we need to."
Redwolf is the professional alias she uses in her day job as an illustrator. Five years ago, after traveling around the United States, Britain and Italy, she got involved in the anti-nuclear movement.
She also designed the star-shaped logo of the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes.
"I sympathized with the attitude of the Ouetsu Reppan Domei (a military-political coalition) that opposed the government during the Meiji Restoration. I wanted to carry on their spirit and their ‘gobosei’ (five-pointed star) mark gave me an idea," she said.
The Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes sets some basic rules for the protests, such as: no message other than abolishing nuclear power; no affiliations with political parties or other organizations; and a maximum one minute of talking time at the microphone.
"The anti-nuclear movement has a bright outlook. But democracy has not yet been rehabilitated in Japanese society. Now is a critical moment," Redwolf said.
Many anti-nuclear protests in Japan are called "sound demos." The protesters play drums and other musical instruments while they march through the streets of towns accompanied by rock or rap music.
Artist Kaya Hanasaki, a member of Shienkin Girls (Aid Money Girls), collected donations to help the disaster-hit city of Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture at a demonstration organized by Shiroto no Ran, a recycled goods dealer in Tokyo's Koenji district.
Hanasaki created oil paintings when she studied at Tama Art University before attending the graduate school of Tokyo University of the Arts. At a London gallery in the summer this year, she used audio and visual recordings from Fukushima in a performance called “3/11,” the date the Great East Japan Earthquake struck last year.
The production earned positive reviews.
Hanasaki's involvement in demonstrations and performance art continues. She has also worked with people from the Occupy movement in the United States.
"Since 3/11, there are more opportunities for students and young people to engage in daily conversation about politics,” she said. “Demonstrations have become frequent in towns, and I feel like society might be changing a little at a time."
The Sayonara Nukes 100,000 Rally, a gathering of citizens who want to phase out nuclear power, was held in July. Organizers said about 170,000 people from across Japan packed into the site at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.
Author Keiko Ochiai, 67, received loud applause when she said: "We will not falter. We question the Noda administration. When you speak of 'the people,' just who are you thinking of? 'The people' -- citizens -- are here today."
Hirofumi Harada, 45, of the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, said he is often asked by reporters if the protests outside the prime minister's office represent a "new social movement."
He said he feels the answer is "no."
"I think the anti-nuclear movement since 3/11 is similar to protests during the pollution at the Ashio Copper Mine (in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and the controversy over Minamata disease,” Harada said. “By nature, people take to the streets when they're angry. That's why there's nothing new about such movements. They're universal."
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