Sunday, July 4, 2010

Shinjuku protest against U.S. forces in Okinawa

David McNeill argued in a June 26 piece in the Irish Times that the issue of the U.S. bases in Okinawa may lead to the collapse of another Japan government in the future. A July 4 protest against the U.S. bases in Shinjuku on July 4 showed the beginnings of a movement that ought to have the government paying attention.

While the protest was attended by only a couple of hundred people at best, those there made a lot of noise, distributed literature and caught the attention of Sunday afternoon shoppers.

Demonstrators started to gather in front of Shinjuku's East Exit from around 2 p.m., with a 30-minute march taking place from 3 p.m. The event was organized by a number of small left-wing groups and there was no right-wing presence. Of note, however, were the huge number of police. Since the 1960s, demonstrations have been rare in Japan, and whenever one takes place, the police presence provides a hint as to why: Any escalation in demonstrator numbers will be more than matched by the authorities.

The police managed the demonstration very well, however, handling traffic in an organized manner and making sure things stayed safe.

The message of the demonstrators was, as was written on one banner ''Get the bases out of Okinwa. The best way of keeping peace for America and Japan is to oppose war.'' The crowd was a mix of old and young, there were plenty of musicians, which made for a lively atmosphere, and included quite a few eccentrics. The vuvuzela also looks to have found a home at demonstrations once the South Africa World Cup has finished.

The issue of Futenma is not going to go away for the Japanese government anytime soon, and the July 4 demonstration is not likely to be the last. As time goes by, and the deadlines for moving U.S. troops draws closer, public mood may turn against the government. The people of Tokyo have shown that they are ready to make their voices heard on the streets.

William Brooks has written one of the most detailed pieces of analysis on the issue.

This piece was made in collaboration with Rick Martin.

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