Go to contents

Japanese protesters flocking to the streets

Posted March. 22, 2018 07:57,   

Updated March. 22, 2018 07:57


On Monday evening, a 300-meter pavement from the House of Councilors building to the House of Representatives building in Tokyo was full of protesters with banners such as “Abe Resign” and “Mass Resignation of the Cabinet.” This is the anti-Abe protest that has been spreading rapidly since last week. There seemed to be close to 2,000 people at first glance.

While passing through the crowd, this reporter heard a familiar name. A man who was speaking through a microphone made an impassionate speech, saying, “The citizens of South Korea, our neighboring country, brought down President Park Geun-hye. We should also make Prime Minister Abe resign with the power of our citizens. Let 200,000 citizens siege the National Diet.” The speaker was Japan’s peace and human rights activist Shingo Fukuyama. He greeted this reporter with delight, saying, “I was able to feel the energy of the candlelight vigil by heart when I visited Seoul last year and the year before.” As speakers in the Monday protest shouted “Let’s make Abe go into prison like Park Geun-hye” and “Let’s accomplish candlelight revolution in Japan, too,” participants responded, saying, “Let’s do it.”

Protesters were pleased to see a Korean journalist. “Many Koreans are sending supportive messages through online social networks. It is great help,” said a housewife in her 40s with her thumbs up.

Korean netizens are spreading texts on the Internet that support the protest in Japan with the hashtag #RegaindemocracyJP (Let’s regain Japan’s democracy). Japanese citizens were reminded of the corruption of former President Park Geun-hye’s close aids and public officials who were apart of it when they saw Morimoto Gakuen purchasing heavily discounted government-owned land claiming to build an elementary school in honor of Shinzo Abe by having Mr. Abe’s wife, first lady Akie, in the front, the Ministry of Finance fabricating documents by erasing the first lady’s name on public documents to hide buying off government-owned land.

Japan is a country where no one complains even when trains and airplanes are delayed. This is based on social trust that matters are carried out fairly and at one’s best according to laws and principles. Japanese protests in front of the prime minister’s official residence and the approval rating of the Cabinet falling down to 30 percent is the result of betraying such long-time trust.

Looking back, there were abundant cases that the Abe administration distorted laws and principles. Early last year, the Defense Agency said that it destroyed daily reports of ground self-defense forces (GSDF) that were dispatched to South Sudan only to be found later, which led to the resignation of Defense Minister Tomomi Inada. With respect to the Gakuen school scandal, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology hid documents that mentioned the “Prime Minister’s intention” but 14 cases were revealed through reinvestigation that was initiated with the disclosure of a former permanent vice-minister. Earlier this year, discretionary labor system related data, of which the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare was so sure to say there were none were discovered in a warehouse. Citizens could not hold any longer came out to the streets as they saw repeated act of hiding data above all when it appears to be disadvantageous to the administration.

Will the rage of protestors be able to collapse the Abe administration? This reporter watched some 120,000 people (police estimate 30,000) people encircling the National Diet during the legislation and amendment of the security bill in 2015. The ruling party, however, enforced its plan and nothing changed. The limitation of Japan, where no power was brought down by citizens on the street was felt.

Would it be different this time? The scope of the protest is still small and Prime Minister Abe is expected to overcome this situation forcefully. “We prepared 3,000 candles,” said Akie Okuda, former leader of a student group called SEALDs, which was the main player of the protest three years ago, proposing a large-scale candlelight vigil modeled after South Korea. What would Abe think of when he witnesses oceans of candles in front of his official residence? The protesters are preparing for the long run, saying, “It took a considerable amount of time for South Korea to bring down its president.” Notwithstanding the amount of time it takes, if Japan is able to bring down the man with the most power with candlelight vigils of citizens, it will indeed become a historical incident.

Won-Jae Jang peacechaos@donga.com