Where "revolution" could once be defined in Japan as something akin to the violent protests in 1960 against the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, today's growing protests against nuclear power are redefining the term.
The protests have been orderly by comparison, attracting a broad cross-section of protesters. Their intensity is not waning, with demonstrations held every Friday night in the vicinity of the Prime Minister's Office drawing more people with each passing week.
Sponsored by the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, the July 13 rally drew about 150,000 people, according to the organizers. The police did not release its estimate of the crowd size.
Staff members volunteered to direct the demonstrators and provide emergency medical care when needed.
After about 50,000 people gathered for the protest on June 22, the writer Takashi Hirose said, "Since the young people are putting so much effort into it, we old people should also do what we can."
Hirose and his group collected donations and chartered a helicopter to take aerial photographs of the demonstrations from June 29.
While rain fell on July 6, organizers said about 150,000 people still gathered for the protest that day. The group took a longer than normal route to reach the back of the National Diet Building. Police officers encouraged latecomers to join the end of the line and many people obeyed, forming two lines.
One young police officer shouted, "For those people participating in this event, please go to the end of the line."
While some of the young protesters laughed at the request, the police officer was apparently not making fun of the demonstrators because he said it repeatedly.
The comment may have been a reflection of the fact that there was something different about the anti-nuclear demonstrations.
There were very few banners or fliers that were connected to any political party, and it was obvious that the objective of organizers to come together on the single issue of opposition to nuclear power had been followed.
However, there was also no hint that the protest was a march because there was no sign the lines of people would move.
About 30 minutes before the scheduled end of the protest, a staff member from the organizers went around the crowd saying, "There will be no further movement. Yell out the protest slogans from here."
While people began shouting their opposition to the resumption of operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, the Prime Minister's Office was still very far away. With no drums or other musical instruments, simply repeating the phrase over and over became a burden after 30 minutes.
There was none of the festive atmosphere that accompanied past protests organized by D.J.s and musicians in which music was a major part of the demonstrations.
Despite the simplicity of the anti-nuclear protest, it has attracted more participants every week.
In 1960, similar protests were held around the National Diet Building in opposition to the passage of the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. At that time, college students and labor unions played a central role. Media reports from that period describe fierce zigzagging marches in an attempt to break through the gates around the Diet building to hold a sit-down demonstration. One college student, Michiko Kanba, was killed during that protest.
The demonstrations today have no zigzagging. Because there is no room to even walk, the protests cannot even be called a march, but are closer to being a protest line.
While some participants shouted insults at the police, among the comments posted on Twitter was one that said, "Rather than being prepared for an arrest, have a sense of perseverance to continue the protest until the very end."
Ever since the Security Treaty protests, demonstrations in which labor unions have mobilized members were carefully orchestrated protests and did not draw the attention of passers-by on the sidewalks.
The music-oriented demonstrations that emerged in 2003 to protest the war in Iraq became a social phenomena because so many young people were drawn to it.
In a later protest against paying rent that was organized by a recycling shop in Tokyo's Koenji district, one argument was to take back the streets that had increasingly come under the control of the authorities.
The latest anti-nuclear demonstrations are clearly different from those past examples.
In his classic work "Ulysses," James Joyce has his pacifist protagonist make a comment about how even revolutions have to be conducted on an installment payment plan.
The current crop of protests has been labeled by some participants as the "Hydrangea Revolution." The massive numbers of protesters can be compared to the many small flowers that make up the resilient hydrangea. The weak linkage among participants, and their calm and well-mannered conduct and the persistent manner in which the main argument is repeated, conjures up similarities to the ubiquitous flower.
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