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.|
|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!