Last Sunday, October 18, the Japanese student movement SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) organised a large protest in Shibuya, Tokyo, together with the recently formed T-ns SOWL (Teens stand up to oppose war law). Also invited were representatives of Japan’s main opposition parties.
The rally was to oppose the new Japanese security bills, adopted exactly a month ago, allowing the country to send troops to overseas war zones for the first time since the end of World War 2. A decision deemed a violation of the Constitution by scholars and opposed by the majority of the Japanese people. The organizers also wanted to call attention to the lack of democratic process in Japan and give space to the opposition to show an united front. SEALDs has been organizing many of these rallies, also known as peace protests, over the past few months. They are always well-attended (120,000 joined August 30). We can expect these protest to continue as long as the government sticks to their hawkish plans.
Yasuo Maeda (54 years old) has participated in most of the peace protests. He also joined last Sunday, wanting to find out if the opposition parties plan to unite or not. The atmosphere was very positive, he says. People were standing together in solidarity, calling for a bright future for Japan, repeating each other’s spontaneous slogans. His favourite one? Please unite, opposition parties! For him, seeing leaders of the different opposition parties standing together on stage was the highlight. But he was also impressed by the student’s powerful speeches. He is proud of the SEALDs students and the way they speak up for a new future for Japan. But, he adds, we should not rely on them only: we middle-aged and elderly people also need to stand for Japan.
In a recent interview with the Asahi Newspaper, SEALDs member Jinshiro Motoyama describes well why these protests are so meaningful:
“Some of my friends, who had never previously discussed politics, started to ask me about the security legislation. They came in person to the scene of protests outside the Diet building, and they had discussions with their parents. A culture has taken root, even among senior and junior high school students, for believing it is normal to express your will in demonstrations. I now believe that these rallies are, after all, what democracy is all about.”
The issues in Japan are coming together. More and more people are concerned about the government’s actions and disregard for democratic process. The protests are becoming a platform to connect with others and talk about the future of society. Young people, in their teens and early twenties, join in large numbers. They talk with passion about the changes they wish to see. They are well-informed and want to participate in society. They encourage people to engage in debate and speak up, and demand that a divided opposition unites so that they can beat the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the next election.
People are listening. The opposition is listening. Their determined enthusiasm is rubbing off. Japan’s youth has reinvigorated protest in Japan and inspired an entire nation to reclaim their say in the country’s course. The zest for democracy is back. Just look at these photos by Photo Journalist Akinori Gomi who has been documenting the protests in Japan for years. They speak for themselves.