Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Anti-nuclear protests signal new activism in Japan

In a country not known for mass protests, the Japanese government’s restarting of nuclear reactors has galvanized people from all walks of life to demand that their voices be heard

By Mari Yamaguchi  /  AP, TOKYO

“It’s not a loud noise that we are making. It’s desperate voices of the people,” said Misao Redwolf, an illustrator who heads the weekly protests, as she demanded Noda immediately stop the two recently resumed reactors and eventually abandon nuclear energy.

“We’ll continue our protests as long as you keep ignoring our voices,” she added.

Noda promised to listen to the people’s voices carefully, before deciding Japan’s long-term energy policy, but refused to stop the two reactors.

Protest leaders said they do not expect anything to happen just because they met Noda, but they at least hold on to their hope for a change.

“All these years, lawmakers have only cared about vested interests and that was good enough to run this country,” Kiyomi Tsujimoto, an activist-turned lawmaker, said at a recent meeting with protest organizers. “The government is still seen doing the same politics and that’s what people are angry about. I think [the demonstrations] are testing our ability to respond to the changes.”

Masanori Oda, a cultural anthropologist at Chuo University who heads a drum section of the protest, said many Japanese also contributed to prolong such a system “very convenient” to politicians by not getting angry or standing up against unfavorable policies.

“Now more Japanese are learning to raise their voice. Japanese politicians should develop a deeper sense of crisis about the situation,” Oda said.

Separately, an even larger rally, joined by rock star Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Kenzaburo Oe, drew 75,000 people by police estimates on July 16, a public holiday. Organizers put the crowd at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park at nearly 200,000. Thousands also ringed Japan’s parliament after sunset on July 29 and held lit candles.

Smaller rallies have sprung up in dozens of other cities, with participants gathering outside town halls, utility companies and parks.

“Obviously, people’s political behavior is changing,” said Jiro Yamaguchi, a political science professor at Hokkaido University. “Even though a lot of people join demonstrations, that won’t bring a political change overnight. The movement may hit a plateau and people may feel helpless along the way, but there could be a change.”

Already, there are signs of change.

Many lawmakers have converted to supporting a nuclear-free future amid speculation that a struggling Noda will call an election in the coming months and that nuclear policy will be a key campaign issue.

A new party, established by veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa and about 50 followers who broke away from Noda’s ruling party after opposing the sales tax increase, has promised to abolish nuclear energy within 10 years. Some lawmakers have launched study groups on phasing out nuclear power. A group of prefectural, or state-level, legislators has formed an anti-nuclear green party.

The government was also forced to step up transparency about the method and results of town meetings to better reflect public views on energy policy to determine the level of Japan’s nuclear dependency by 2030. The options being considered are 0 percent, 15 percent, and 20 percent to 25 percent. That already delayed the energy report for several weeks and officials set up a new panel on Wednesday last week to discuss how to factor in public opinion in policies.

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