Fukushima Fallout

Weekly updates by Keito Hirabayashi

The line of protestors marches on down Omote Sando in Tokyo

The Sayonara Nukes Rally, held on July 16 in central Tokyo, was a glittering manifestation of the political awareness, determination and sheer hope that is growing almost by the day in Japan. The authorities, I’m sure, thought that once they got one nuclear reactor restarted, all the protestors would give up, go home, turn on their TVs and be good little electricity consumers again, but in fact the opposite has happened. The demonstrations at the PM’s residence every Friday show absolutely no sign of dwindling since Ohi restarted and now 170,000 people –well over the 100,000 called for—have let the world know that they want their future and that of their children to be nuclear free.

Such large numbers of people have not been seen on the streets of Japan since the student protests in the 60s and 70s and there was a distinct feeling of triumph and excitement at the rally’s main stage, as tens of thousands, packed in under the hot sun listened to messages from the organizers, followed by an explosive performance by the Frying Dutchman, whose song Human Error has been known to instantly convert university students to an anti-nuclear perspective (a recording of this song with English subtitles is available at the Flying Dutchman website and is definitely worth listening to, although the version they did at the Rally was much more interactive). This was followed by a hilarious parody act by a group called Suishinja. Although most protestors left to participate in the marches after the addresses by Sakamoto Ryuichi, Oe Kenzaburo, Setouchi Jakucho (a popular Buddhist nun, who at 90 years old, claimed to be the oldest person at the rally) and other organizers, it shows how Japanese protest culture has developed, I think, when a semi-punk band and a comedy troop are also part of the official program.

In fact there were different routes that protestors could march along and, other than the main stage, there were also different areas where different groups assembled—trade unions, Gensuikin (Japan Congress Against A- and H- Bombs) and others, had their own area within the larger venue of Yoyogi Park. I thought this was a very good way of organizing everyone—especially after the minor controversy at the Friday protests where trade unions are not allowed to bring flags showing their union’s name. There is no doubt that the new generation of protestors, who have been very active in organizing the Friday protests, have different ways and styles of doing things which sometimes do not totally fit with the more traditional organized groups of protestors, but the Sayonara Nukes Rally managed to avoid this problem by allowing everyone their own space, yet still having a strong sense of togetherness.

After the performances I ran to catch up with friends in the march, who, according to cryptic SMS messages were towards the front of the longest line of people I have ever seen. I crossed to the other side of Omote Sando, one of the main roads that was part of the route, where it was easier to run to catch up with my friends. Omote Sando likes to think of itself as the Champs Elysees of Tokyo and is normally full of very fashionable girls carrying large shopping bags, people going to weddings, and cool dudes in cafes, so it was quite a rude shock for these people to have their street invaded by large loud crowds of people in sweaty T-shirts with towels wrapped round their necks. When I crossed over the road, it was like crossing into a different world. I heard one beautiful girl say: “I can’t believe there are people who would want to have a demonstration today.” I’m not sure if she was referring to the heat or the fact that public holidays are supposed to be for shopping, but this comment reminded me piercingly that there is still a large divide between the believers and the non-believers. When I did finally catch up with my friends and rejoin the march, though, there were  passers-by who waved in support—even a petrol pump attendant in his bright orange uniform gave the thumbs up as we passed.

The feeling and message of the Rally was essentially peaceful. That such huge numbers of people could all move around without pushing and shoving, showing care and concern for all fellow human beings is an important living message, but also the words spoken by everyone from Sakamoto to the Frying Dutchman to the chants of the protestors in the streets, emphasized that there are more important things than money (Frying Dutchman: “there’s more than enough electricity in this country…what are we short of? LOVE”—this from what may seem like an angry punk band). 金より命 (Kane yori inochi)  does not translate easily into English, but basically what we have all realized after Fukushima is that our lives and the lives of future generations-life itself- cannot be reduced to a yen sign ¥. That so many people are now willing to raise their voices and become part of the movement to demand energy systems that respect life instead of destroy it, is truly inspiring and one gets the feeling that together, we will somehow find a way to bring this passionate desire to reality.

Frying Dutchman performs on the main stage of the Sayonara Nukes Rally

Umi no Hi Demo: Yoyogi Park

Courtesy: Faces of Japan

Today’s Umi no Hi (or “Ocean Day”) demonstration in Yoyogi Koen was bound to be a big one.  Monstrous, even.  I had seen a preview of the program on facebook several months beforehand and knew that since it would be held on a national holiday, even workaholics would show up.  The minute my daughter and I arrived at the Yoyogi train station, protest organizers were lined up at the ticket gates to direct participants to the park grounds; this has never been the case before. Last year, for example, I remember arriving at the correct station expecting to find information or crowds to follow and ending up wandering about, searching in vain for anyone wearing yellow (the official color of anti-nuke people) or anyone “looking like a protestor”.  Today’s reception at the station was greatly appreciated.

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We followed the white-hatted, parasol-carrying, wet-towel-draped crowd (Japanese come thoroughly prepared for the heat) to the outskirts of the park, where people, police, and official organizers were packed in like sardines, forming a long, snaking line, organized by labor unions, by civic groups, by prefectures, and various and sundry organizations…….in short, if you were marching as just a “regular person”, it was hard to know exactly where to go.  No matter: my daughter and I chose the quickest option, slipping in alongside with a busload of protestors from Aichi Prefecture.  They were so welcoming and interesting that I’ve determined I must now visit that region wherever the soonest opportunity arises.

The first photos are taken from the starting point of the parade. News reports said 170,000 people in total, but that report was making the rounds even before Sumire and I arrived on the scene. So the figure should be at least 170,002, right? And please note the photo of singers and musicians on the hillside above the parade route. My daughter ended up joining them (leaving me to fend for myself with the folks from Aichi) and spent the next three hours singing to encourage protestors.  ”We stood in the same place for three hours,” she said afterwards, “and people kept coming and coming. It was amazing.”  The day was beastly hot, there was much stopping and waiting, and marchers were cheered by the singers, who represented a Tokyo-based choral group “singing for peace”.  Also note the photo of the woman in pink with a small child in tow:  she stood apart from the crowd listening, while tears rolled down her face.

After a long wait in the blistering hot sun,  the parade began to move. And believe me, we moved at the pace of an elderly snail (I will not say turtle, because some species of turtles are actually faster than you might realize).  I had plenty of time to make friends and snap pictures while we waited for traffic, or when the streets turned narrow and protestors simply clogged the walkway.  You will also find some delightful shots of people on the sidelines or in passing cars, who spent the day cheering on the marchers.  And two boys in a treehouse who probably had more fun watching the parade than they would have at home in front of the tube. Police were everywhere, looking solemn, saying nothing, and keeping the lines neat and tidy.  Everything went smoothly, peacefully, and perhaps too orderly.  Occasionally marchers would say things like, “This is a demonstration, right?  Why do the cars get the entire street and we’re squeezed into this narrow space along the road?  What would happen if we just spread out into the road and took over this whole neighborhood? Would the government listen then?”  Others would wonder back, “what if?”,  but then continue walking along in the neat narrow designated walking space that was constantly guarded by police.

My walking route ended in Shinuku, and marchers were urged to peacefully disperse and make their way home.  As I joined the throngs walking toward the train station, people continued to discuss the day, and to network with like-minded folks from different places in the country.  Two women that I spoke with ventured  that these rallies were an important way to stay inspired, stay energized, and to re-confirm their own values and beliefs in the face of doubt and opposition from family or friends.  I agreed. Shortly thereafter, I encountered a tiny little man with a familiar-looking hat and unshaven chin. “I know you!” I crowed. “You’re the same man I met at a rally in Yoyogi Park a year ago!  You had the DON’T SING JAPAN’S NATIONAL ANTHEM placard, right??”  He admitted that he was, and his lady-friend was much impressed (“I’m not his wife, though,” she said).  I took their picture to commemorate the occasion, and you will find it as the very last shot in this album. For those of you who doubt, check out my photos from last September’s rally in Yoyogi Koen, and you will recognize him right away.  Those of you who could not attend the demonstration, please enjoy the photos.  Thank you for taking the time to experience the event vicariously.

Popular Protest in Japan against Nuclear Power Plants

Yoshiko Kurita

Professor of Middle Eastern History, Chiba University, Japan.

Member, Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs

Although the Japanese government has decided to resume the activities of the nuclear power plants, a growing number of ordinary citizens are protesting against this decision.
The Japanese public are beginning to realize, after the tragedy at Fukushima, that having nuclear plants in a country like Japan ( where people are destined to live always in the face of potential danger of earthquakes….) is unrealistic and suicidal. Concerning the resumption of the nuclear plant at Ooii town ( which is the focus of the issue now,), the Japanese government has declared that they have found the plant “safe” enough, but many experts has pointed out that this “safety” theory is only a product of mere desk work, and nothing substantial has been done to redress the vulnerability of the plant.

On the evening of Friday, 29 June, nearly 150,000 people gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in the midst of Tokyo, protesting against the resumption of the nuclear plant at Ooii. ( According to some media, the number of the protesters was nearly 200,000. ) In spite of this popular protest, the Ooii nuclear plant resumed its activities on 1 July. However, on the evening of Friday, 6 July, again, nearly 150,000 people protested in frot of the the Prime Minister’s Residence. One week later, on the evening of 13 July, again, approximately the same number of people gathered and protested.

Protest movements have been taking place in other cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukui, Saga, and Sapporo. It is expected that popular protest will continue.

In the meantime, ( as has been already mentioned in this ML), the Japanese government has amended its “Atomc Energy Law” towards the end of June, and has openly declared that Japan is developing atomic energy for the sake of “improvement of its national securuty” !!.

This is extravagant, needless to say. How can we accuse Iran for its nuclear project which “might be (potentially) turned” for military purposes, while we (Japan) openly admit that we ourselves are developing nuclear energy for “security” reasons ? !

There are many criticisms against this absurd amendment. The Japanese “Committee for Seven for World Peace” ( a group of leading intellectuals interested in the cause of peace and democracy, the present secretary-general of which is Prof. Michiji Onuma, a Pugwashite) published a statement on 26 June, denouncing this amendment, and expressing the determination of the Japanese people never to develop nuclear weapons.

 

Barriers Fail to Stop Japan’s Anti-Nuclear Demonstrators

Courtesy: Wall Street Journal

Police cordons and closed subway exits didn’t stop Japanese protesters from carrying on a nearly four-month tradition of holding Friday-night anti-nuclear demonstrations in front of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s residence in Tokyo.

Protesters shout slogans during an antinuclear rally near Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s official residence in Tokyo | European Pressphoto Agency

The protesters turned up for the 16th such rally to protest the restart of the first nuclear reactors since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and future restarts. The government approved the restart of two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in western Japan last month amid concerns about electricity shortages in the peak-demand summer months, and one reactor is already online.

Since the first rally on March 29, the number of participants has grown from 300 to approximately 150,000 this week, according to the organizers. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department told JRT it doesn’t release its own estimate of the number of participants.

Last week, organizers said the number of participants was 150,000, but local media put the number at about 21,000.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department ordered that only one of the access points to the nearby subway station be open to people exiting the station, leaving the other three as entrances for workers going home. Police also limited the areas where protesters could stand and didn’t allow protesters to spill from the sidewalk onto the streets.

Though police have limited subway-station access at past protests, Akemi Orikasa, a 62-year-old member of the Katsushika Ward Assembly who had come to observe the demonstration, said he thought it was strange the police didn’t let protesters stand along the sidewalk directly in front of the prime minister’s residence this time.

“As the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, we put the utmost priority on preventing accidents happening to the participants, which is why we are taking these measures,” a Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson told JRT. He said that closing the street to protesters was important to prevent car accidents and to allow an ambulance to reach the scene in the case of a medical emergency.

As of 5 p.m. local time, more than 30 police officers were already stationed at the one working exit to the nearest station. While JRT saw two arguments between police and protesters who wanted to be allowed into the street, once the rally started at 6 p.m., the crowd became focused on chanting anti-nuclear cheers: “Against nuclear power! Nuclear power is a crime!”

Attendees waved handmade signs bearing slogans like “Fire Noda” and “Take back the Oi restart!.” Workers on their way home snapped photographs of the protesters and joined in the cheering before police ushered them through the crowd to the nearest station.

Retired couple Masumi Tobiyama and Yukio Tobiyama cheered together; he wore a straw hat decorated with the phrase “Goodbye Nukes.” Ms. Tobiyama explained that her husband had come every Friday but that this week was her first time. Flipping open her phone, she showed off a picture of her ninth grandson.

“I’m here so that he won’t have to live in a world with nuclear power,” she said.