November 11 Tokyo; Anti-nuclear demo at Parliament

What are the images that foreigners typically have about Japanese people, “polite” or “modest” maybe? In the aftermath of the 3.11 earthquake last year, the foreign press reported on the people affected by the disaster standing in orderly lines even during the emergency. There must be many Japanese who were reminded of their own virtues through this experience. These characteristics, however, have been also regarded as “passive” and “inarticulate”, which are not advantageous in conducting discussions and negotiations.

 

On November 11, 2012, the Metropolitan Coalition against Nukes organized a demonstration called “11.11 One Million Strong against Nuclear Energy” in the Kasumigaseki area in Tokyo, where the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and the Houses of Parliament are located. This was an opportunity where otherwise quiet Japanese people got together and raised a cry of protest.

Initially, the plan was to gather in Hibiya Park at 1 p.m. for a demonstration march, for which the Tokyo High Court did not grant permission. Instead we had to assemble in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence and the Houses of Parliament at 3 p.m. It was cloudy and the forecast was rain in the evening. When I arrived around 3 p.m. with a hooded jacket on, ready for the weather, a lot of people were already there holding a variety of placards. There was still enough room to move around, so I mingled with them and took pictures. A good number of young people showed up, but I had an impression that there was a greater number of older folks, who I imagined may be of the generation of the student movement decades ago. I could not help but thank them for their hard work and protest that was expected to be carried on in the rain. The protestors prepared so many different kinds of signs. They were dressed in interesting costumes, and making their voices heard in a variety of ways, playing instruments or displaying drawings. I felt their resolve in their attempt to stand out and speak out.

I got word that there was another protest going on in front of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There I found the people involved in the “Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial”. A woman from Fukushima in radiation-protective clothing was screaming in protest. "Please protect children from radiation as a matter of priority!" "The rain falling today also contains radiation, so if you are with children, please keep them from getting wet."

 

A number of speakers took turns. One of them said, “There is not much interest in what is happening with the thyroid test for Fukushima children. Of course, it is important to keep protesting against the restart of the nuclear reactors. But there is too much focus on this, and we need to tackle various issues surrounding nuclear power.” Among such issues are: international pressure is being put on Fukushima, as exemplified in the “Fukushima Ministerial Meeting on Nuclear Safety” organized by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Japanese government, to take place this December in Koriyama; the children in Fukushima continue to be subjected to radiation exposure, and there is a serious concern that they develop thyroid cancer; and the workers at Fukushima Daiichi are continuously exposed to a high degree of radiation every day. This speaker was pleading that we need to help Fukushima, which is suffering the most damage from the nuclear disaster. My thought was, as the media do not report much on these situations, each one of us needs to take interest and learn, so that a change can happen.

Another said, “in Chernobyl, the right to evacuate is guaranteed by the government in areas with annual radiation levels from 1 to 5mSv, with the government covering the cost of evacuation. In Koriyama, there are places that far exceed 5mSv, but the Japanese government does nothing. Even a country that is not so wealthy like Ukraine can guarantee the right to evacuate, while one of the richest economies like Japan does not. Can we allow this? This is what the Fukushima Collective Evacuation Trial's fight is about.”

Another speaker elaborated on the irresponsible handling of the thyroid examination by the government. "Thyroid cancer is normally found in the ratio of one case in a million people. In Fukushima, the first thyroid cancer was found in September after examining 80,000 children." This speaker conveyed the statements of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki at the Fukushima Medical University. "In Chernobyl, thyroid cancer was not diagnosed until 4 years later. It has been only a year since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. It is premature to conclude that this cancer case is related to the accident. We will look into the causality of radiation when it starts to manifest, but at this time, we do not have the intention to consider the impact of radiation." There is a need for the doctors throughout Japan to protest such grossly inadequate examinations. A story like this does really make one feel sad.

In order to encourage a large number of people to participate, so as to exert needed pressure, this demonstration was called on the unified anti-nuclear theme. It was valuable that those who are suffering most, and carrying the messages for Fukushima children and Fukushima Daiichi plant workers joined in. The people in Tokyo tend to lose interest in these issues. I hope that their messages get stronger, and heard widely.

 

The number of people who take part in demonstrations around a simple message such as “anti-nuclear”is decreasing as time passes. According to the Metropolitan Coalition against Nukes, the demonstrations were explosive in June this year, but in recent months they are getting smaller, though 10,000 to 20,000 people still continue to show up for the now regular Friday evening demonstration. It is important to keep our commitment strong and continue on with our effort. The Metropolitan Coalition against Nukes organizes a monthly protest also in front of the Liberal Democratic Party Office, in expectation of the general election to be called.

As the night fell, the rain got stronger. The demonstration seemed to be at its climax. The people were overflowing out of the closed-off area in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence. In front of the Houses of Parliaments, the poles used for the demarcation of pedestrian sidewalks, street for traffic and space for the protestors were taken down at many places. Waves of the protesters packed on the sidewalks had to go somewhere, so they were overflowing onto the street. In the future, in order to ensure the safety of the protesters, we should close off the traffic. That would help drum up the demonstration too.

The mainstream media did not cover this demonstration, so it is hard to say to what extent the politicians and the Prime Minister got the message. We will continue to voice our views and opinions until there will be no nuclear power plants in Japan. We cannot go back to being quiet voiceless Japanese. If we go back, and if we let our resolve fade away as time passes, we will be giving to the politicians and TEPCO exactly what they want.

 

Takuma Sobatani 

World Network for Saving Children from Radiation

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