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Posts Tagged ‘protests’

Finally went to Takae and Henoko today. Thanks so much to Kinjô-san and Ariarakawa-san for taking me along.

These are two sites where the US military, with the support of the Japanese (national) government either are building, or have just completed, new military installations – against the will of the Okinawan people, and despite extremely extensive peaceful protest + formal political & legal efforts.

Right: A banner reading roughly “We don’t need Ospreys in the Yanbaru forest.”

Takae is a region of the sparsely populated, densely forested, northern part of Okinawa Island, called Yanbaru. The US military has controlled a significant portion of this forest for decades, using it to stage training and practices for jungle warfare (esp. during the Vietnam War). Much of the forest has been ruined by Agent Orange, something the US kept secret for years. And now, over the last few years, they’ve tripled the number of helipads in the forest, in large part to use for the experimental Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) crafts that keep crashing, and which the Okinawan protesters have particularly seized on opposing. Meanwhile, the US returned portions of the forest to public Japanese/Okinawan use, last week, as part of a distraction, and in order to make themselves look good, and to make the Okinawans look bad. “Look, we returned all this land! You should be grateful!” “Yeah, but it’s useless land, that you stole, that we never chose to give up to begin with, and which you’ve ruined with Agent Orange.” Further, some number of people who’ve lived in this neighborhood for decades, in many cases for generations, are now voluntarily leaving because they just can’t bear to live with the noise and difficulty that these brand-new helipads – built without their agreement or permission, and indeed built against their opposition! – will bring. As the US continues to expand its operations, so long as helicopters and Ospreys continue to crash in Okinawa, it’s only a matter of time before one hits a school or hospital, a residential neighborhood, or even worse, one of the dams that – between five of them – provide some 60% of the fresh water, and much of the electricity, to the island.

Part of the Takae section of the Yanbaru forest.

As for Henoko, this is a gorgeous bay, home to corals and dugongs and much other significant sea life, a beautiful bay which would be fantastic for swimming, boating, fishing, environmental tourism… and which the US has decided to fill in partially with landfill, to create two new runways, to make up for what they’ll lose by eventually returning Futenma Air Base to public (Okinawan/Japanese) control. Of course, the Okinawans don’t want a new base. They want Futenma to be dismantled, and for nothing new to be built to ruin any other part of the island; the positive of seeing Futenma dismantled shouldn’t be balanced out by inflicting further damage and burden elsewhere.

An illustration of the plans for Henoko. The orange area shows where landfill will be done, to build two runways, and a docking area for aircraft carriers. Munitions and possibly even nuclear weapons (despite Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles) will be stored in an area labeled in white, just to the northeast. The red line, meanwhile, shows the area that will be blocked off from civilian entry. Areas circled in dotted white lines are archaeological sites, and the yellow oval within the orange shows a key section of the dugong habitat. Abu, which I mention later in this post, is just off the map to the upper right, just on the opposite side of the bay. Finally, an area just north of the red area contains facilities for hosting eco-tourism, hosting tourists/visitors who would want to enjoy the bay and its wildlife, bringing valuable revenue to the area, if only the bay weren’t ruined by an expanded US military presence. (Thanks to the protesters at the Henoko tent for this information.)

It was really something to finally visit these sites I’d read so much about in the news. To see the tents, which I’d seen so many times in photographs, where protesters have set up camp, protesting day in and day out, for hundreds – indeed, thousands – of days. Beyond that, though, there wasn’t too much to see. I’m not sure what I expected – these are military bases, after all. With the exception of places like Kakazu, where a public park happens to be located on high enough ground that it does offer a pretty nice view down into the base, otherwise, why should I expect that us civilians would ever be able to get a closer view, especially of places that are so contested, so strongly protested? Of course, that said, I have heard that there are boat tours of Henoko, and I would very much like to get to do that, see it from that perspective.

In any case, to begin, we stopped at a few small sights and things on the way up to Takae. This fellow’s name is Konsuke こんすけ. He’s a Ryukyuan boar, and he lives at the Mountain and Water Livelihood Museum 山と水生活博物館 in Higashi Village.

Look at that cute face. Don’t worry – he has plenty of space to chill. As you can see on the right side of the image, his pen goes back quite a ways. And I presume he’s well-fed and looked after.

At Takae, after walking through the protesters’ main tent / camp (where I was instructed not to take photos), we walked down a small dirt path, to find this wacky set of walls and fences and enclosures, blocking protesters (or visitors like ourselves) from even getting close to the guards (in blue, in the background), or to the actual boundaries between public/private Japanese property, and US military property. Layers upon layers. I am in no way an experienced protestor or activist, nor someone with any military background (or the like) whatsoever, so I have no idea what’s normal, but there was something about this that I found just really funny.

Indeed, overall, there’s this funny imbalance or paradox, where on the one hand the authorities have deployed a level of security totally out of proportion to the actual protester presence – suggesting that they see the protesters as a very real and serious threat – while at the same time, just totally bulldozing (sometimes literally) past/over the protesters’ opposition, showing that the protesters in fact pose very little threat at all to their agenda. Things were pretty quiet at both Takae and Henoko today – I saw no more than ten or so guards (private security firm guards) at the one area of Takae we were at (plus two police vans from the Okinawa Prefectural Police), plus a totally reasonable two to five guards or so at each of the gates we passed by.. and similar numbers at Henoko. But, to have even that many, when the protesters are doing absolutely nothing but sitting quietly in a tent by the side of the road, handing out pamphlets and whatever, while anti-base banners and the like have been put up all over the area… what the hell are you guarding against? No one’s doing anything.

Just outside the protesters’ camp, they’ve posted some signs making fun of the signs that are fucking everywhere in Okinawa, saying things like “U.S. Army Facility. Unauthorized Entry Prohibited and Punishable by Japanese Law.” These tongue-in-cheek signs say, roughly, “Entry by those associated with the Police or the Okinawa Defense Bureau is Prohibited,” with the implied earlier line “Territory of the Okinawan People, [Entry … prohibited].” Totally meaningless in terms of actual legal authority, but I really appreciate the chutzpah.

We also visited the beach at Abu 安部, where an Osprey crashed just a couple weeks ago, on December 14. Click through on the photo above to see a larger version. There was nothing really to see there today, as the cleanup was already completed quite quickly, but the crash took place just immediately off the point (Abu-no-saki 安部崎) seen on the far left in the picture. This is a quiet, secluded, beautiful beach in a tiny village, which we accessed only by walking through a small entryway at the end of a quiet street. Locals examined some kind of tank they had found on the beach – not associated with the Osprey, but whether this belonged to the US military, or what it was at all I did not learn. An older man from the neighborhood, recognizing us as outsiders (though two of our party were native Okinawans), came up and engaged us in conversation, telling us about the beach and about the crash…

After visiting Takae, and stopping at Abu, our last major stop for the day was at Henoko. The protesters’ camp/tent is located right along the waterfront, and is loaded with posters, newspaper clippings, flyers, and other resources. We arrived just before four o’clock, when the protesters apparently pack up for the day, before returning at 8:00 the next morning, much as they have done for over 4,500 days now. But, still, one of them was kind enough to take the time to talk to us, and point out on the map much of the information I have shared above. I know it’s difficult to see in this photo, but the rock on the right-hand side of the photo marks where the two runways will converge – the “point” of the “V.”

I welcome clarifications or corrections, but as far as my understanding, while the helipads at Takae were completed last week, regardless of popular opposition, construction has not actually begun at Henoko just yet. The military has conducted various surveys, and maybe some kind of digging or something on the seabed, and has started dropping concrete blocks which will help serve as foundations – something like that – but, there was a Japanese court decision in March 2016 which demanded construction be halted until the situation could be reassessed, and some degree of discussions completed between the Okinawan and national (Japanese) governments. This decision was reversed by the Supreme Court of Japan quite recently, and it is my understanding that Governor Onaga is being obliged to rescind his rescinding of permission for construction to continue, starting as early as tomorrow (Dec 27).

Just a view of Okinawa’s beautiful waters, as seen from the car, somewhere along the north/eastern coast of the island.

I was on the verge of tears several times today, just talking to people, and thinking of how the US and Japanese governments, and most especially the US military, clearly don’t care one bit about the desires or best interests of the Okinawan people. They just don’t regard Okinawa as a place full of people with real hopes and desires, with rights as citizens and as human beings which deserve to be respected – let alone as indigenous people. No, they see it purely through geopolitical strategic lenses, as a Rock, or an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” on which to situate our military bases, using the land and air and water for training and so forth, regardless of who is affected by the noise and pollution, by the crime and crowding, and by the very real dangers of potential aircraft crashes, etc.

It upsets me in particular to see people protesting so vigorously, and yet peacefully, for so long, through so many avenues, and to get just totally steamrolled. People have been holding sit-ins at Henoko for over 4,500 days, and at Takae, Futenma, and other places for at least that long (though perhaps not quite as continuously). Anti-base sentiment dominates in the chief Okinawan newspapers, and it dominates in the Okinawan people’s democratic selection of anti-base candidates for mayors (of Nago and elsewhere), for governor of Okinawa, and for Okinawa’s representatives in the National Diet. It dominates on and off the university campuses, and in academia, and in regular protests before the Prefectural Government building, and elsewhere. And yet, nothing changes. The helipads were completed anyway. The Ospreys are here anyway. Futenma is still here, 20 years after Washington and Tokyo agreed to dismantle it. And Henoko is being built as a replacement, anyway, despite extensive efforts at opposition.

Sign at Henoko. “The will of the people is NO on construction of new bases.”

I of course don’t believe that governments or other authorities should simply bend to the will of whichever group shouts the loudest, on any and every issue. Indeed, there are quite a few issues where I am glad that governments, university administrations, and other bodies of authority have stood their ground despite one group yelling and shouting their fucking heads off, pretending they represent most or all of the rest of us, when they most assuredly do not. And that’s a whole conversation for another time. So, it’s complicated. I certainly don’t think that we should automatically leap to the defense of any or every group that claims to speak for all Native Hawaiians, or all Asian-Americans, especially when one well knows that there are other Native Hawaiians, or Asian-Americans, or Asians, who disagree. But, in this particular case, while I fully recognize that there are those Okinawans who hold differing political views, and while there are some very real, practical, economic considerations for how Okinawa benefits economically from the bases’ presence, even so, I really cannot help but feel that these protesters are not some small fringe – that they truly do represent the voice of the majority of the Okinawan people, and that they truly are in the right. That their voices are being ignored, and their land and water, their sovereignty, their rights as equal citizens of a democratic country, indeed their fundamental human rights themselves, are just being trampled on by top-level (inter)national agents who just think on some other level, some ‘higher’ abstract level of pushing pieces around a Risk board – people who just don’t fucking care. What is the purpose of protest, when it accomplishes so little? It seems almost like a joke. Like a sick joke. These people are here day in, day out, putting so much effort into expressing their political will, into doing something that is at the very heart of what it means to be free and democratic – at the very heart of what it is the US military claims to be defending: Freedom and Democracy. And yet, Tokyo and Washington have the nerve to fucking disrespect and ignore these people so thoroughly, so completely, on issue after issue, month after month, year after year? There is something very very wrong here, and when peaceful protest is so totally ineffective, when a people seem so utterly powerless in the face of government/military agendas, it just makes me feel so saddened, so worried, so disappointed, in the state of our world.

A view of the ocean near the Okinawa Yanbaru Seawater Pumped Storage Power Station.

All photos my own.

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“What’s Going On in Okinawa,” located at whatsokinawa.wordpress.com, has emerged in the last few months as a go-to site publishing English translations of Okinawan news. Run by a US-based MA student in Japanese-to-English translation, the blog provides a most valuable service, making Japanese-language news articles from the Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa Times, and other papers available to the English-reading audience.

While there is no shortage of English-language material on the ongoing military base conflict, written from an Okinawa-sympathetic point of view, and thoroughly well-informed on Okinawan history and conditions, if you know where to look for it – the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus is one such place – the average reader who knows about Okinawan matters only from the Economist, ABC News, Foreign Policy, and so forth, is going to get a very different impression. The major mainland Japanese papers, such as the Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun, also convey a rather different impression of what’s going on in Okinawa than the Okinawan newspapers. And while all of these different perspectives are valuable for having a fuller understanding of the situation, the Okinawan papers are, I would imagine, for most policy wonks and so forth who read only the policy-driven media, a crucial missing link in understanding both the Okinawan perspective on these matters, and what is going on on a day-to-day basis.

(In searching around for links with which to populate the above paragraph, I actually found that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, and quite a few other papers are actually quite balanced, or Okinawa-sympathetic. Which is certainly encouraging, though it does weaken my argument for the importance of this new blog. Nevertheless, I think the blog provides an extremely valuable service.)

To summarize what has been going on lately:

First, some background: The US military controlled all of Okinawa under martial law from 1945-1972, twenty years after the rest of Japan regained its sovereignty following the Allied Occupation. Though Okinawa has been restored to Japanese sovereignty, and to equal participation in Japanese electoral/representative democracy, the US military continues to control about 20% of the tiny island of Okinawa, and Okinawa accounts for something like 75% of the total US military presence in Japan. The US has been saying since 1996 – nearly twenty years ago – that they are going to close the noisome Futenma Air Base. However, the military (backed by Washington and Tokyo) have responded to Okinawan protesters not by closing the base any faster, but quite to the contrary by delaying and delaying, saying that Futenma will be closed when a new base is completed to replace it. Okinawans have shown their collective will, through democratic elections, through protests, and through news coverage and editorials, among other means, that no new bases be built /and/ that Futenma be closed. But, again, rather than take the blame themselves, the US military, and Tokyo, have placed the blame on the Okinawans, for delaying construction at Henoko.

Henoko is a site in northern Okinawa, more remote to be sure than Futenma, which sits right in the middle of the city of Ginowan like an off-limits militarized Central Park, but for most Okinawans, who live on an island smaller and more densely populated than Oahu, this is hardly remote enough. They want to see the bases – or at least some of them – removed from Okinawa Prefecture entirely. And, with Okinawa representing less than 1% of Japan’s land area, is that really so much to ask? There’s plenty of space elsewhere. Maybe on Tsushima, which, though smaller, is far less densely populated, and has none of the exploitative colonialist history that Okinawa does. Henoko is also home to the second most bio-diverse coral reef ecosystem in the Pacific, after the Great Barrier Reef – or at least it was up until construction started, last year – and marks the northernmost portions of the range of the rare Okinawan dugong.

Protest posters hung on the fences of Camp Schwab, at Henoko, Dec 2013. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In a recent round of elections (in 2014), Okinawans elected an anti-base governor, in Onaga Takeshi, an anti-base mayor of Nago (the city where Henoko is located), and all anti-base representatives to the National Diet (Japan’s national parliament). I think the Okinawan will is clear. Out-voted and unheard in their own national political organs (much as Hawaii’s delegates are, on similar issues, in our own Congress), the Okinawan prefectural government has issued support for the establishment of a new think-tank and lobby group based in Washington, to make Okinawa’s voice heard. I find the organization’s name wonderfully snarky: New Democracy Initiative. The US claims that its military presence in Okinawa, and indeed around the world, is there to defend “freedom and democracy.” And yet, as we continue to squash the democracy and freedom of the Okinawan people, we really have to ask, “Security for whom?

While the US Marines have executed a variety of tactics to ensure that construction goes forward – such as bringing in trucks overnight when fewer protesters are around to block the streets – protestors have been demonstrating outside the gates to Henoko almost continuously since construction began last August (if not earlier). Despite freedom of speech and of assembly (i.e. peaceful protest) being enshrined in both the American and Japanese Constitutions, protesters at Henoko have been harassed, assaulted, and arrested, and both high-ranking American military officers and Japanese officials have laughed off accusations of such harsh treatment, going so far as to question the authenticity of the protests (suggesting many protesters may be plants hired by the Chinese Communist Party to cause trouble for the Japanese government), and to characterize the anti-military protests as anti-American “hate speech.” On February 22, just a few weeks ago, protestor Yamashiro Hiroji was physically grabbed and dragged across the pavement, off of Japanese land and onto base property, so he could be charged with criminal trespassing and arrested by security guards in the employ of the US Marines.

Protestors playing sanshin outside Camp Schwab at Henoko, March 4, 2015. Photo copyright Ryukyu Shimpo.

On March 4, “Sanshin Day,”1 protesters – including Living National Treasure Shimabukuro Eiji – played Okinawan folk songs, and protest songs, and managed to maintain their composure, playing peacefully even as police got “very worked up,” and forcibly removed the tarps protecting the protestors from the rain.

And, all the while, PM Abe Shinzo’s administration has been wholly unsympathetic, even willfully ignorant of the reasons behind the Okinawans’ demands or desires, painting them on occasion as petulant children, or even politically ignorant masses. (I have no idea if the term gumin 愚民 has actually been used, but as one of the standard terms used over 120 years ago when ex-samurai elites were arguing that the ignorant masses were incapable of self-rule, it would certainly bear some powerful resonances to imperialist and colonialist rhetoric of that time) Or, to make another comparison the Abe government should hopefully find embarrassing, they have been treating Okinawa like a “rogue province” which must be punished for its insolence – a rhetoric and policy stance not so different from Beijing’s treatment of Taiwan, at times.

Finally, the US military & Japanese government have hidden from the public the extent of the planned construction, sometimes lying about it outright. Concrete blocks have begun to be dropped into the ocean outside of the permitted area, damaging coral in violation of the permits, and while I can’t seem to find the article again at the moment, various blog posts and the like have expressed that the presence of the USS Bonhomme Richard would seem to suggest much larger or more extensive port facilities than the military had said they were going to be building.

Even as Nago city mayor Inamine Susumu and Okinawa governor Onaga Takeshi continue to work to find ways to repeal the permits granted by their predecessors – thus denying the national government and/or the US military use of Nago roads to bring in the construction trucks and materials – along with other legal and bureaucratic tactics, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quoted as saying:

“Our country is governed by the rule of law and our procedures are based on law. The permission for the landfill work has no legal problems at all, so our position to proceed with the work remains unchanged.”

thus showing, once again, the completely dismissive attitude and willful cluelessness of the national government when it comes to the issues most important to its citizens.

Much thanks to What’s Going on In Okinawa, for keeping us informed!!

1) The sanshin is a three-stringed banjo-like instrument which forms the core of most Okinawan music. “Sanshin” literally means “three strings,” and the development of the Japanese shamisen, essential to kabuki and Japanese puppet theatre, and to geisha & courtesan music, owes its origins to the introduction of this Okinawan instrument into Japan in the late 16th century. “Sanshin Day” is a rather unofficial holiday, but widely acknowledged or celebrated in Okinawa, as a result of the coincidence of 3/4 (i.e. March 4th), san shi in Japanese, sounding like sanshin.

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Somehow I didn’t hear about this until just now, and didn’t catch it when I watched Kôhaku myself, but apparently the Southern All-Stars’ performance of their song “Peace and Hi-Lite” at the annual New Year’s Kôhaku Uta Gassen event (broadcast on NHK, and watched by about 35-42% of Japanese households) earned the ire of many right-wingers.

This is the same band which wrote & performs “Heiwa no Ryûka” (“Ryukyuan song of Peace”) about which I’ve blogged over on my tumblr. It’s a pretty boldly political song, asking “who decided that this land is at peace?,” and then going on to speak of Okinawa under the American “umbrella,” of the way Okinawa’s people were abandoned, or forsaken, and how the wounds of the past have still not yet been allowed to heal (or, that Okinawa and its people have not yet been allowed to recover)… I wish they might have sung this at Kôhaku, especially right now as protesters against the military base they are building continue to be harassed and arrested at Henoko. But, I don’t think we can reasonably expect that such a thing would happen at a show like Kôhaku, which is so much about coming together as a country, to remember the previous year and look towards a positive future… such a political song would never play at an equivalently mainstream patriotic event in the US, either, would it?

Of course, the Japanese relationship with political satire (and the resulting relative lack of it in Japan e.g. as compared to the Daily Show, The Onion, and countless other satire venues in the US), goes far beyond that.

In any case, in the Southern All-Stars’ first Kôhaku appearance in 31 years, leader Kuwata Keisuke started by appearing with a stick-on Hitler mustache. Some have said it was more meant to reference a comedian, Cha Kato, and I hope it wasn’t meant as a direct intimation of comparison of Japanese Prime Minister Abe to Hitler, as that really is going too far, or is just misplaced, when it comes to just about anyone alive today. But, still, I think anything that draws attention to the fact that Abe’s policy positions & rhetoric smell of the authoritarianism and damaging ultra-nationalism of the 1930s, are more than deserved. Tell it like it is. Japan is seeing more protests today than our stereotypical imagining of the oh-so compliant (that’s not the word I’m looking for; what is it?) Japanese would ever have it – and for damn good reason. Get people mobilized, get people talking. Abe and his people need to go.

I won’t rehash any further the details of the event and right-wing reactions to it. You can read more about it at Global Voices Online, Japan Times, and the Asahi Shimbun (all in English).

What I will do, though, since no one else is doing it, is provide a translation of the lyrics. First, of “Peace and Hi-Lite,” the song they performed at Kôhaku this year:

I happened to look at the news today
The neighbors are angry
Even now no matter what dialogues we have
The various contentions don’t change

Textbooks run out of time
Before reading modern history
Even though that’s what we want to know most
Why does it turn out like this?

Let’s plant the seedlings of hope
Let’s raise love above ground
Until the flowers of peace bloom in the future … Blue [Melancholy/Depression]
Is it a pipe dream? Is it a fairytale?
To wish for one another’s happiness, etc.

Wouldn’t it be good to come together and help one another
check our history?
Raising a heavy fist
Won’t open hearts

A world ruled by an emperor without any clothes
Waging disputes
By convenient explanations ([claiming] a just cause) is … Insane
We should have learned by experience [being disgusted by] the 20th century, right?
This is just the flaring up of old sputtering embers

There are various considerations, though
Understand one another’s good points!

Let’s plant the seedlings of hope
Let’s raise love above ground
Being born into this beautiful world (hometown)
A sad past and foolish actions too
Why do people forget these things?

Don’t hesitate to love.

And, the lyrics to Heiwa no Ryûka (video above), an even more explicitly, directly, political song, about the Battle of Okinawa, and the continuing US military presence there today:

Who decided
That this land is at peace?
Even as people’s tears have not dried

Under America’s umbrella
We saw a dream
At the end of the war in which the people were forsaken

The blue moon is crying.
There are things which cannot be forgotten.

Let’s plant & grow love, for this island
For the people whose wounds have not healed
In order to it pass down

Who decided
That this land is at peace?
As atonement for one’s filthy self

Why do you refuse
To live like people?
You soldiers gathered next door.

The blue moon is crying.
There is a past which is not yet over.

Let’s plant & grow love, for this island
For the people who don’t forget the song
Until the day when someday the flower blooms

Thanks to J-Lyric.net for the Japanese lyrics. Translations are my own; my apologies for any mistakes or awkwardness in the translation.

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Video by YouTube user <dandomina, linked from the POST article discussed below.

POST, a blog / podcast series associated with MoMA, recently featured a podcast by Prof. David Novak, professor in the Music department here at UCSB, in which he talks about recent anti-nuclear protests in Japan. As an ethnomusicologist, Novak focuses on the music employed at the protest events, and in association with the sentiment of the movement, an approach I think is quite interesting and refreshing – to focus on a live event, a contemporary, current, ongoing set of protest marches and demonstrations, but to focus on the music performed or played at those demonstrations, which may not be by big-name artists and may not even be formally published at all.

In the aftermath of the 3/11 disasters, all of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down. I believe only one or two are active today. As the only country to have ever been attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan of course has a unique relationship with nuclear energy. And so, perhaps it comes as no surprise that as the Fukushima crisis continues, with no end in sight, people would turn against nuclear power, seeing it as too dangerous, too risky, especially in a country that is the site of a significant proportion of all earthquake activity in the world each year. That said, though, despite Japan’s reputation for cutting-edge technology and environmentalism, since the shutdown of the nuclear plants, Japan has been getting 85% of its energy from fossil fuels – and not from clean, renewable, “green” sources of energy. So, I’m not sure the solution, the answer, is so clear-cut. In the meantime, though, how has Japan managed to get through this past summer, A/C units blaring, with all but one or two nuclear plants shut down, and yet without blackouts or energy supply problems? CNN Money / Fortune magazine suggests it was simply by cutting back – more efficient use of electricity, and more efficient equipment (lightbulbs being just a start), has made a profound impact.

Regardless of where one stands on the energy issue, or how one feels about the ongoing situation at Fukushima and how it has been handled, Novak points out another very remarkable aspect of all of this: that Japan is today seeing larger, more widespread, and more active protests than it has in some time. I really don’t know very much about it, but, stereotypically, we generally associate the Japanese with not standing up or speaking out individually against the status quo, or against societal consensus. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” is said so often in association with Japan it’s cliché; but I think there’s some truth to it – there are the famous examples of Minamata disease, along with several other cases of industrial pollution, in which individuals were ashamed to speak out about their own personal, individual, suffering, and were indeed strongly pressured to not say anything against the companies, government policies, and legal decisions that were polluting their water and destroying their lives, placing emphasis instead on the prosperity and growth of the nation, and personal sacrifice for the benefit of the greater whole. The most famous, and likely largest, most extensive, set of protests in post-war Japan was in the 1960s, when student protests combined with protests against the Vietnam War, and against the renewal of ANPO, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. The campuses of a number of universities, including the University of Tokyo, were taken over by the students, as campuses were here in the US, and it was a really big deal. But have we seen such a thing since then? And is what we’re seeing today truly that much bigger than anything else since? Do the protests we’re seeing today represent a true shift in the political involvement of the Japanese public (especially young people)? If so, it’s remarkable.

Image from JapanCrush.com.

But it’s not only the anti-nuclear movement which is seeing strong activity these days. Protests against hate speech have been growing as well in recent months, along with the anti-foreigner / anti-immigration that spurred them.

This recent Japan Today article is quite brief, but describes a “rally” 2000 strong, held in Shinjuku (in Tokyo) last week, protesting against racism and hate. A large protest was also held in Osaka, back in July. Though opposed by worryingly bold and explicit anti-foreigner protests, with messages such as “all foreigners are criminals,” it is heartening, encouraging, to see that thousands of Japanese are turning out with messages like “You are the shame of this country!” and “You’re the ones who need to go home!” This, after a controversy surrounding an ESL teacher trying to teach his students about racism in Japan involved discussions that, supposedly, in Japan, it is widely believed that racism is chiefly or exclusively an American problem, and that racism doesn’t exist in Japan. It would be patronizing to suggest that this is truly the first time that anyone in Japan has really come to understand what racism and hate speech are, and that they exist in Japan – but, it’s encouraging to see that the idea seems to be spreading, and gaining traction. Only time will tell where this leads, how it develops.

Photo my own, taken Aug 6, 2013, near the gates to Futenma.

Meanwhile, Okinawa of course continues to be a separate story unto itself. The ANPO demonstrations are surely the most famous protests in the history of post-war Japan as it was taught to me, as a student, educated in the United States and United Kingdom. That education included almost nothing at all about Okinawa. So, where does the Koza Riot fit into this narrative of the history of protest in modern Japan? Where do the ongoing protests against the US military presence in Okinawa – and against the current base at Futenma, the proposed base at Henoko, and the Ospreys in particular – fit?

I don’t follow the Japanese news all that closely on a day-to-day basis, but a recent article in the Number 1 Shimbun (“Number One Newspaper”, published by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan), suggests that “What happens in Okinawa… [stays in Okinawa].” Or, to put it more explicitly, as Jon Mitchell does in this article, “the mainland press … consistently turns a blind eye to the iniquities suffered by residents of Japan’s poorest and most militarized prefecture.” He opens the article with the surprising information that in September 2012, protesters blocked the gates to the Marines’ air base at Futenma, preventing anyone from going in or out, and successfully closing the base – for the first and only time since the end of the US Occupation in 1972 – for a full 22 hours. And yet, few heard about it. Why is that?

It can be easy to ascribe the lack of attention to Okinawa’s situation to an imperialist agenda or colonialist bias (if we wish to use such strong terms), and/or to pressure from Washington, or the like, in broad terms. But Mitchell clarifies for us here, spelling out a series of reasons or factors, in a somewhat more detailed and specific fashion.

I link to many articles on this blog, but, and I hope I say this rarely enough for it to carry some weight – this is a particularly good one. I definitely recommend reading the entirety of Mitchell’s short article. I’ll certainly be keeping it, to potentially assign as readings for students if I ever get to teach Okinawan history, and for whatever other purposes.

He notes, firstly, that mainland Japanese reporters typically rely too heavily on press releases and other information from government sources (including the Japan Self-Defense Forces), and that mainland Japanese reporters tend to be well “handled” by American officials. Mitchell also describes how Okinawan reporters – or their direct mentors – made their careers handling these subjects during the pre-reversion period, at a time when Japan and Okinawa were much more distant and disconnected, in terms of their political status, travel access, etc. This is not simply to say that Okinawan reporters are “closer” to the issue, more familiar with it, plainly by being Okinawan, or even that it is more personal for them because their Okinawan, but rather that it’s a step beyond that, to say that by virtue of their direct experience handling this particular issue, Okinawan reporters are more experienced at asking harsh, biting questions, at pushing past barricades, and in otherwise interacting with or dealing with the US military and with this specific set of circumstances. This is, of course, a compelling argument, and I don’t doubt that it enters into it to some extent, but, given that it has now been more than 40 years since reversion, I’m not sure we should quite let the mainland reporters off the hook so easily. Mainland reporters today specializing in security issues, or reporters working the Okinawa desk for a national, Tokyo- or Osaka-based newspaper, have also been specializing in these issues for years; how is it they have not developed the same skills, experience, or approach?

Posters posted by students at the University of the Ryukyus (Ryûdai), one of the more politically active/activist student bodies in Japan. The one on the right reads, roughly, “Opposing the Abenomics which worsens the great poverty of students and workers! Tear down the Abe administration!” The one on the left reads, roughly, “Let’s stop the revision* of the Constitution! STOP! Opposing Osprey deployment and Henoko military base construction!” (*The normal word for ‘revision’, 改良, means roughly “to make better,” but here they’ve written 改悪, “to make worse.”)

Perhaps they see Okinawan issues more as regional issues… Of course, in my mind, I see them as major issues, and lump them in with Fukushima and other things that are prominent issues in Japan. But, I guess, when one steps back a moment and thinks about it, do any major national papers in the US give very much attention to Hawaii, at all? The big news in Hawaii right now is a spill, or more accurately, a leak, of 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu harbor on Sept 9, which many fear could devastate the local ecosystem to such an extent it might take decades to recover. For Hawaii, this is a really big deal; and, as something which is occurring within the United States, one would think it might merit national attention. Yet, while I haven’t exactly scoured any genuinely representative sample of national news sources, the New York Times, at least, seems to have devoted no more than a paragraph to the incident. So, I’m sure the feeling of Okinawa as being only of regional concern plays a large role; but, then, are Fukushima, or the recovery in Tôhoku, merely of regional concern?

Mitchell ends his article by citing the example of Nishiyama Takichi, whose reputation was destroyed by “the powers-that-be” after he reported on payments made by the Japanese government to the US in connection to the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control. It would seem that shame for stepping out of line, fear of being the nail that will be hammered down, and pressure to not rock the boat, i.e. to not challenge the mainstream consensus, is still quite a strong force in Japan after all.

It remains to be seen how these three sets of issues, these three categories of protests, will develop. Perhaps they’ll grow. Perhaps some kind of actual societal shift or policy change will be effected. Only time will tell.

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