Skip to main content

Nuclear protesters, you have to learn how to toyi-toyi!

Africa isn't known for its civil obedience: it can claim many revolutions, coups d'état and brutal civil wars. My own country, South Africa, didn't get rid of a white nationalist government by following rules. I myself belonged to a forbidden student union when I was at university, published a few controversial articles in a student newspaper and got thrown in jail, but that's another story for another day.

Protests aren't pretty, and in Africa they often end in bloodshed. I'll add a scene from a movie called Stander, depicting a protest in 1970s South Africa against Afrikaans in high schools (Afrikaans was seen as the language of the oppressors) at the end of this post. 

So when I hear "protest", I think of toyi-toyi, a military-style song/dance/march routine. These days toyi-toyi gatherings aren't stopped with guns anymore, but they still happen regularly. I'll add a second video that teaches you how to toyi-toyi.

I had to give a fairly long introduction to this post about Japan's nuclear protests so that you can understand my reaction when I went to Kasumigaseki last Friday night to observe the proceedings.

I didn't go to protest, but to observe. I'm not against nuclear power as in "immediately switch off all nuclear power plants and stop all research into nuclear fusion". I believe the issue is far too complex to justify an emotional response, and I think it's the height of hypocrisy to protest against nuclear power and then to return to your air-conditioned home. Work towards a long-term sustainable energy policy, but in the meantime, ask yourself whether trains run on anti-gravity, idle nuclear power plants contain no radio-active fuel and there's no rapidly escalating budget deficit thanks to gas imports.

I've read so many conflicting reports that when fellow blogger Cecilia suggested a visit, I immediately agreed. I'm surprised she didn't slap me silly during our walk around the area, because I kept halting in my tracks, muttering in confusion, "This is not a protest. This is a protest? This is not a protest." Then I'd walk a few meters and stop again, muttering, "Why so few protesters? Why so many police officers? Why this overkill?"

It was a fascinating experience. This is how you control a protest in Tokyo:

Deploy hundreds if not thousands of very polite, but very firm police officers as well as plainclothes police officers.
Cordon off roads.
Allow protesters one half of a sidewalk.
Don't allow protesters to walk.
Don't allow passersby to stop.
Allow the protest to take place between 6 and 8, and stop it promptly at 8.
Rely on citizens' good manners and natural tendency towards obeying rules.

Cecilia has attended protests before, and she says Friday night had far fewer people. My guess? It was just too hot. However, one of the organizers, who asked us whether we wanted to come along, said there would be another protest near Kokkaigijido-mae Station today (Sunday 29 July) from 3:30 which will include a candlelight protest.

August is approaching: 6 August Hiroshima, 9 August Nagasaki, 15 August Emperor's speech, 2 September Japan surrendered. It's an emotional time, and left as well as right might ramp up their limited activities. I deliberately add "limited" so that you don't get the impression that Japan is a boiling cauldron of lunatic hostilities. It isn't, OK, it just isn't.

If I may veer off again: far right actions are tolerated with more leeway than far left / Communist demonstrations in Japan, but I don't know enough about politics to expand on that topic.

My observation is that the current anti-nuclear protests consist of mostly women and mostly older folk, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything: men and younger people would be working on a Friday evening at 6 pm. I suspect that many protesters are "repeat attendees" and I strongly doubt that any of them think twice before switching on their air con.

I tend to go on rants when it comes to air con. These constant complaints about heat … I don't geddit. Tokyo is not the only hot city in the world, though if you were to believe the media and lamenting Tokyoites, it apparently is. My mother's family comes from the Northern Cape, where 40 degrees is regarded as normal. I can't recall anybody being rushed to hospital, despite a total lack of air con. 

If everybody in Tokyo switched off their air cons, the city's temperature would immediately drop by 5 degrees. I'm still not using air con at night. (I don't eat much meat or any sea animals either, which is probably more than 90% of the nuclear protesters can claim.) This apartment is on the 11th floor with windows on three sides and no surrounding buildings. It ensures a nice breeze. Not sure for how much longer though.

I've hijacked my own post with an anti- air con verbal toyi-toyi! Where wos I?

There was a conspicuous absence of white foreigners, who – based on internet discussion boards – are some of the most vocal opponents of nuclear power in Japan. I noticed two in the protest line: a disheveled bearded guy and a tough-as-old-leather アルフォ woman. However, foreigners might have been working too, and might be better presented on weekends.

This was a splinter group in another street. Not sure why they didn't join the main protest.

Main protest

Che Guevara? You've GOT to be kidding me!

Give us back our northern islands! A banner against Russia's occupation of  the Kuril Islands.

Total number? I have no idea. I was too taken aback. I understand that this might represent a grass-roots level moment which is unprecedented in a nation not known for its unrest, yet to me – child of South Africa's bloody past – it's a very subdued protest. I understand why NHK doesn't cover it, and I say that not as a resident of Japan or a pro/anti-nuclear advocate, but as a former television executive. There's nothing to cover, just people standing in a queue behind long lines of police vehicles. 

I'm infinitely grateful that I didn't see a single AK-47, yet … yet … I really think we need to teach the protesters how to toyi-toyi! They do fulfil a very important role: force the government to overhaul the cosy collusion between players and ensure better regulations in the nuclear industry.

Nuclear power is a complex and emotionally charged issue. If you'd like to read more about protests from various perspectives, I'd like to suggest:

Toyi-toyi by all means in the comments, but no AK-47s will be allowed!

PS: Cecilia, thanks! I'll fight with you in the trenches any day!

Popular posts from this blog

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.

It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.

Call it remorse

Something out of memory walks toward us,
something that refutes
the dictionary, that won’t roost
in the field guide. Something that once flew
and now must trudge. Call it grief,
trailing its wings like a shabby overcoat,
like a burnt flag. Call it ghost.
Call it aftermath. Call it remorse
for its ability to bite and bite
again. — Don McKay, from “Angel of Extinction,” Angular Unconformity: Collected Poems 1970-2014 (Icehouse Poetry, 2014)

The princess who loved insects

Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)

Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…

Hiking along the old Tōkaidō in Hakone

How in heaven's name did Edo travellers walk long this road …

over this pass …

wearing straw sandals?!

Last week I walked along the old Tōkaidō (東海道East Sea Road) in Hakone while The Hero was trolling¹ for trout on Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖Ashinoko). I did it in sturdy hiking boots, and although my feet weren't disgruntled, they weren't entirely gruntled either, if I may paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse.

It was the first time I visited Hakone, and I enjoyed it so much that I'll just have to go again. Since The Hero agrees with me, I predict more Hakone posts, but this one will focus on my first trip's main goal: following the Tōkaidō, the road that connected Edo and Kyoto. The old road has been replaced by modern highways² and high-speed railways, but you can still walk along the original route between Moto-Hakone (800 meters above sea level) and Hakone-Yumoto (80 meters above sea level), a distance of about 10 km. The sea levels should warn you that it's a steep route.
I didn't…

The Princess Who Loved Insects (updated)

My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi).

It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.

I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect).  A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!

Donald Keene mentions in hi…

Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.
Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!
Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…

The ultimate guide to Kanda Myojin

I'm floundering. I don't know how to start a post about Kanda Myōjin (神田明神), because how do you choose a highlight from this collection below?
The decapitated head of a rebellious samurai who's still haunting Ōtemachi is buried in the vicinity, and his deified spirit is enshrined here.It's been called the world's geekiest shrine thanks to its proximity to otaku heaven Akihabara. The shrine has a Facebook, Twitter and LINE account.You can see some extremely generously endowed young ladies on the shrine's ema.It has a horse. A real horse. A tiny living breathing pony.Birds protect it against fire.
See my problem? Where do I start the ultimate guide to the ultimate shrine?

Why Kanda Myōjin?
Let's be boring and kick off with my own connection with Kanda Myōjin, which is very simple: I've always lived within walking distance of the shrine. My first four years in Tokyo were spent in Kanda, blissfully close to the book district Jinbōchō, and I frequently passed …

Hōzuki Ichi (Chinese lantern plant market)

I've written about this market before; this time I'm shamelessly copying an old post. The photos are new, though. ;)

Every year on 9 and 10 July a Chinese lantern market is held at Sensō-ji. "Chinese lantern" is a plant: scientific name Physalis alkekengi, Japanese namehōzuki. They have translucent orange pods that might remind you of Chinese lanterns, and they were used as a medicine for fever, gout and just about any ailment you can think of.
The temple's precinct is packed with 200 hōzuki vendors selling plants for ¥2000 to ¥2500, and wind chimes (fūrin). This year my visit was brief, because Sensō-ji has become a rather unpleasant experience. Too many tourists. Sigh.