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Anti-nuclear Power Protest Tents in Tokyo Removed

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Japanese officials led a predawn raid on August 21st to forcibly remove the protracted anti-nuclear power sit-in protest in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) headquarters in central Tokyo. At around 3.30 a.m., some 100 security guards and court officials descended on the so-called “No Nukes Plaza,” a collection of tents that had occupied a corner of land in front of METI in government district of Kasumigaseki since September 11th, 2011.

It had been the longest surviving example of Japan’s post-Fukushima protest movement. The weekly Friday night vigils outside the nearby prime minister’s residence have also continued, albeit with far fewer participant numbers than their peak in 2012, when tens of thousands were gathering in Kasumigaseki.

The protest tents were started by veteran left-wing activists from Japan’s postwar period, though it was supported by a younger generation of activists. It soon achieved a significant level of international attention and mainstream press coverage. The “plaza” evolved into a polestar for the movement, hosting talks, film screenings, and other events that strove to keep the debate over nuclear power in the public eye. One of the tents was even turned into a de facto art museum with Fukushima-inspired exhibits.

The administration of Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan (now the Democratic Party) left the tents alone, but following the return to power of Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party in late 2012, the government made it a priority to remove the protesters. In 2013, the government filed for the removal of the tents, which were manned 24 hours a day by activists. After this was approved by the courts, the activists appealed, claiming it was tantamount to suppressing freedom of speech and the right to free assembly, which is protected by the Constitution of Japan. The court also ordered the protesters to pay a daily fee of over \20,000 (approx. $200) for using government land.

In addition to the authorities, the protesters also attracted enemies from Japan’s ultra-nationalists. Beginning soon after they were erected, the tents were subject to regular attacks by right-wing activists and groups, including one as recently as the weekend before the eviction.

In July, the Supreme Court upheld the earlier ruling that the tents could be removed, meaning the protestors were out of legal options and effectively on borrowed time. METI officials no doubt deliberately chose the early morning to enforce the eviction so as to circumvent any resistance: the protesters were supported by a number of leftist activists known for aggressive hate speech counter-protests and who could be mobilized quickly.

When officials came to dismantle the tents, five activists were reportedly inside but were powerless to stop the proceedings, which took around 90 minutes. By Sunday morning, the tents were completely removed and the area where they previously stood was fenced off. Erecting any new tents was now impossible, but activists have vowed to continue their protest by sitting on chairs and standing at the same corner. Police initially blockaded even the sidewalks for some of Sunday, in fear of a backlash from the activists, though did relent and allow demonstrators to return to the site of their protest. One activist was arrested following a confrontation with police but was later released.

The anti-nuclear protest tents came to be seen as one of the pivotal aspects of the post-Fukushima movement, which blamed METI and the government for the crisis. Occupying the site was arguably just a symbolic gesture, but nonetheless an important one for Japan, where public land is strictly controlled and police and private security are quick to pounce on people who squat. No one else dared to do this kind of protest: the Friday night vigils pack up and go home at 8 p.m., and likewise the student group SEALDs, which generated much press coverage last year for its protests against the government’s controversial security legislation, was orderly and even praised for picking up trash after its demonstrations at Kasumigaseki.

As such, the tents were a renegade and unrepentant presence in the protest culture of Japan, and a constant reminder that the problems of Fukushima have still not been resolved even more than five years after the disaster.

The timing of the removal is also significant. It came shortly before the fifth anniversary of the sit-in, as well as during protests over the restarting of a reactor at Ikata Nuclear Power Plant. Unrest currently continues in Okinawa, too, as demonstrators clash daily with hundreds of riot police protecting the construction of new United States military helipads in the jungle near Takae.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/09/anti-nuclear-power-protest-tents-in-tokyo-removed/

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September 9, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-nuclear power protest tents forcibly removed from outside ministry

Yesterday I wrote a long-ish post about last weekend’s attack on the anti-nuclear power protest tents that have occupied a corner of land outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Kasumigaseki since 2011. I included some of the history of the tents and resistance against the orders calling for their removal. After the Supreme Court rejected the activists’ final appeal in late July, the end seemed nigh and it seems I jumped the gun.

The post about last week’s incident swiftly became obsolete when around 100 security guards and court officials arrived at the tents in the early hours of today, August 21st. Starting at 3.30 a.m. on the 1,807th day of the sit-in, it took all of 90 minutes for them to remove the tents, placards and other materials that were the signs of a five-year protest movement. There were apparently some five activists staying at the tents overnight but they could do nothing to prevent the removal.

 

The choice of the early morning to enforce the eviction was surely a deliberate one to avoid trouble with protestors. If it had been during the daytime, the activists could have quickly mobilised dozens, maybe even hundreds, of supporters, as we saw at last weekend’s incident. Earlier on August 21st, police and security guards completely barricaded the corner of the street in a show of force in case there was an ugly response from activists.

Today there was also a demonstration by a hate group in Kawaguchi City, on the outskirts of Tokyo, which consumed the manpower of the counter-protest group C.R.A.C., who otherwise may have rallied activists to the ministry.

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Ironically, I had been planning to go see the tents today, since I knew it might be my last chance. In the end, I missed my opportunity. Nonetheless I went to see the aftermath and found a mood that was muted yet resilient. There were no more tents; the iconic facade of the site was gone, replaced by large fences obstructing any new tents from being erected. But still there were some 15 protestors sitting on chairs, banners unfurled on the pavement and flags stuck into the hedges. A couple of activists were banging a drum. There was a police presence, of course: a few officers and some riot police vans. A random rightist was spewing forth anger at the protestors from the street while being physically held back by police officers. You can just about see him in the right of the photograph below.

 

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Earlier an activist had been arrested and was being held at a police station in Marunouchi, and many of others had gone there to call for his or her release. By chance, Masami Yoshizawa from Kibō no Bokujō (Farm of Hope) was also in the area, driving around a car with a fake cow on a trailer. He has previously brought actual diseased cattle to Tokyo in an attempt to remind bureaucrats of the continuing plight of Fukushima.

The activists told me that they would be continuing the protest at the site, only no longer with tents. Alternatively known in English as the Occupy Tents, Anti-Nuclear Occupy Tent, No Nukes Plaza or Tent Plaza, the central structures are now gone but the idea of the “plaza” survives.

However, Japan’s relatively harsh rules on public assembly may make it harder for protestors to gather at the location in greater numbers for events like they used to, since now they will literally just be standing or sitting on the street. In theory, any public demonstration is required to be registered with police in advance.

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In my post on August 20th, I wrote that “the fury of Fukushima lives on in Kasumigaseki”. Was that too optimistic? We shall see.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

https://throwoutyourbooks.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/anti-nuclear-power-protest-tents-forcibly-removed-ministry/

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-nuclear activists’ tents forcibly removed from economy ministry premises after yearslong battle

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Police stand guard as Tokyo District Court officials remove tents built by anti-nuclear activists in the Kasumigaseki district of the capital at 3:59 a.m. Sunday

Tokyo District Court officials on Sunday removed activists’ tents on the economy ministry’s premises nearly five years after they were erected by anti-nuclear campaigners protesting the government’s handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The removal of the three tents — which took place before daybreak Sunday — came after the government asked the court to enforce its order to dismantle the site.

Handed down in February 2015, the order was upheld by the Tokyo High Court last October. It became final after the Supreme Court in July rejected an appeal filed by the two anti-nuclear campaigners.

The three tents were set up in September 2011 on a roughly 50-sq. meter plot of land at the economy ministry, which oversees the nuclear power industry.

The site had been used as a base to conduct anti-nuclear activities outside the ministry after the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, with activists uploading live video footage online, staging a hunger strike and forming human chains.

The forcible removal by court officials took place in the early hours of Sunday, a time when there were few passers-by.

About 10 citizens, including some who were staying in the tents overnight, protested as officials fenced off the encampment and blocked the road around the premises before dismantling the tents.

The government is pushing through the reactivation of nuclear power plants without taking responsibility (for the Fukushima crisis),” said a 53-year-old company employee who had been staying in one of the tents on Saturdays since the first one was erected in September 2011.

We will carry on with our protests,” he added.

In its ruling last year, the Tokyo District Court also ordered the activists to pay roughly ¥21,000 ($209) per day in fees for using the land for as long as they remained at the site. The unpaid amount has now totaled more than ¥30 million.

The district court said that while it “understands the campaigners’ compelling motive to join anti-nuclear activities after the atomic accident” that affected many people, they “do not have special rights to use the land” belonging to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in the capital.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/21/national/anti-nuclear-activists-tents-forcibly-removed-economy-ministry-premises-yearslong-battle/#.V7lanmXH87R

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-nuclear power protest tents in Tokyo attacked by far-right group

On August 14th, members of Japan’s ultra Right targeted the anti-nuclear power protest tents that have stood for nearly five years outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Kasumigaseki, the government district in central Tokyo.

The “attack”, as it was swiftly dubbed by those on the Left, happened perhaps deliberately on the day before the annual anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War that always turns Yasukuni Shrine into something of a pantomime of militarist cosplay.

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It is unclear to me if this was a co-ordinated action between several groups or individuals, but online reports claim that the racist hate group Zaitokukai was the main organiser. The perpetrators of the attack seemed to attempt to surround the tents with flags and banners. The hot summer day then quickly became more heated as supporters rallied to protect the tents, and police struggled to keep the two groups on opposing sides of the street while vehicles decorated with nationalist slogans drove into the fray. The anti-tent demonstrators included at least one man wearing a war-time military costume, just as can always be seen at Yasukuni on August 15th.

Japan’s far Right has diversified in recent years, now encompassing netizens who vent nationalist anger online (the so-called netto uyoku), hate speech groups like Zaitokukai who particularly target Korean communities, and sundry protestors who march against the recent territorial incursions by China and Japan’s other neighhours. The customary black vans of the traditional uyoku are no longer the only icons of rightist groups, nor does this emerging demographic necessarily belong to the New Right or minzoku-ha that developed out of the student movement. (In fact, elements of the New Right and other nationalists also added their voices to the anti-nuclear power movement.) The hate groups and xenophobic activists view any kind of leftist, liberal or anti-government movement as an enemy of Japan, hence they have attacked protests against nuclear power or the state security bills. Shall we call it the New New Right?

The incident comes at time of renewed tensions between the state and citizens due to the ongoing clashes at Takae in Okinawa over helipad construction, which has seen hundreds of riot police despatched from the mainland to maintain order among local and visiting protestors. While the scale of that movement is still relatively small, the situation is not dissimilar to what happened during the construction of Narita Airport in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is far from the first time the tents have attracted far-right attention, including hate activists like Shusei Sakurda. Rightists damaged and attempted to disrupt the tents as earlier as 2011, which has led the anti-nuclear protestors to develop a network of supporters that can be mobilised to guard and protect the tents. As can see from the video, this is very successful as a defence strategy. The attack on August 14th was met by a vigorous counter-protest of self-professed “anti-fascists” from the movement which has also become a prominent feature of protest culture in Japan over the past few years in response to the way the ultra-nationalists have evolved. These counter-protestors strive to outnumber and drown out the noise of right-wing or hate groups’ street actions, and do not shy away from engaging directly in physical confrontations. The activists are at times as aggressive as the hate groups and others they picket, prompting a greater police presence to keep the two sides apart.

This video was made by Rio Akiyama, a freelance photographer and film-maker who spends his days crisscrossing the country to cover counter-protests and other social movements. The work of Akiyama is mirrored by that of Rody Shimazaki, a punk-turned-photographer who has also documented the 2015 security bills protests and the hate speech counter-protests. Both Shimazaki and Akiyama have published photo-books in recent months, adding to the post-Fukushima discourse with (carefully curated) versions of the protest movements.

The protest tents were first erected on September 11th, 2011, shortly after the much-publicised hunger strike at Kasumigaseki, and around the time that the anti-nuclear power movement really began to pick up momentum. The organisers themselves use the name “Tento Hiroba” (Tent Plaza), and in English “Anti-Nuclear Occupy Tent”. It has been called the Occupy Tents, or the “tent village”. The concurrent timing is coincidental, but we might dare to christen it “Occupy Kasumigaseki”, though the contexts and aims of the tents are far removed from what went on at Wall Street in those heady anti-capitalist days of late 2011.

What is the significance of the Occupy Tents? The motley structures function as a listening post; a gathering place for demonstrators, talks, music, video screenings, and information exchange. One of the tents is now a free art museum featuring work by the likes of 281_Anti Nuke. The corner where they stand is one of the symbols of the movement, along with the art of Yoshitomo Nara that was used prolifically on placards at the major rallies.

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The tents have also become a kind of protest commons: a shared place for various stakeholders in the diverse anti-nuclear power protest movement to come together and exchange views. It occupies land that is public yet also government (not mutually exclusive concepts), and forces the issue of Fukushima and nuclear power to stay in the public domain even as the the Friday night vigils in front of the Kantei (prime minister’s official residence) have dwindled. That is not to say they have stopped: they continue resiliently every week, though the numbers of participants are far lower than their remarkable peak in 2012. But Tent Plaza is certainly the most materially resonant site of the movement, since the Friday night vigils are by their nature transient and shifting in scale and exact location.

In this way, the tents form a permanent platform for discourse, a “plaza” in a very real sense — a rare thing in Japan, where public land is often tightly controlled and managed. Kasumigaseki, in particular, is not amenable to assemblies, where demonstrators are not allowed to occupy the roads and are forced to gather on the snaking pavements in the district. Tent Plaza repudiates this topographical restraint and replaces it with a micro Tokyo version of Speakers’ Corner.

In addition to the ongoing crusade against nuclear power, the tents have also served as a locus for other anti-government causes, such as the protests against the state security bills last year. In one memorable episode, Buddhist monks gathered at the tents in 2015 to pray for the so-called “war bills” to be rejected.

If the unquestionably partisan Japan Atomic Industrial Forum is to believed, “members of a shadowy coalition of primarily far-left groups have continuously occupied [the tents], displaying signs criticising national nuclear policy and proclaiming the site a symbol of the anti-nuclear movement”. “Shadowy” or not, the people associated with the tents are not simply drawn from the rank’s of Japan’s far Left. There are indeed activists with long experience in radical groups. (For example, Shinzaburō Iwamoto is one of the people involved and this seems to be the same person who was part of a faction of Chūkaku-ha forced out in 2006.) But the nature of the protest is much more genial than the dogmatic tactics of the far Left, and, as we saw, a lot of its grassroots support now comes from the younger hate speech counter-protestors as opposed to the more established radical Left.

Here is someone explaining how she got involved in helping at the tents, as recorded by the Voices of Protest Japan project.

I wanted to do something as one who lives in metropolitan area. Though I did not participate from the beginning, I participated in Fukushima women’s group and did a sit-in. Also I started to visit here two or three days when I heard that Fukushima women were coming after the hunger strike done by five young people in front of METI. Then Japan’s women group continued the movement for ten more days. I didn’t participate for the whole thing but little bit. After that, the men at the first tent built the second tent when a hundred of Fukushima women were coming to the tent. But because of lack of participants after this movement, the tent was always closed when I came. In the same year, March of 2012, I started to come when I heard that they needed member for Saturday shift. So I started to go to that shift and also began to come for Thursday. Then I came for every other week rotating with another person. And now, I come for Thursday shift.

Just as the Wall Street occupiers were hounded out of Zuccotti Park, so too does the Japanese state want these pesky Kasumigaseki squatters gone. METI has been attempting to have the tents forcibly removed since 2014, though the orders have been challenged by protestors in the courts. Amidst the anti-nuke paraphernalia, the tents are also ostensibly fenced off by railings hung with signs informing the world that this is state land. In late July, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling the the tents must be removed and the occupiers pay a vast sum for “using” public land (around ¥20,000 for every day the tents have been there). The tents are effectively on borrowed (and expensive) time, though the state knows that any clumsy eviction could result in violence.

On September 11th, the tents are celebrating their anniversary with a “9.11 Anger Festival”. The fury of Fukushima lives on in Kasumigaseki.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

https://throwoutyourbooks.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/anti-nuclear-power-meti-protest-tents-tokyo-attack-far-right-group/

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , , | Leave a comment