The article below was written by our friend Jacinta Hin and first published on the excellent Dianuke site.
In Tokyo each Friday evening, many tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets around the parliament buildings and Prime Minister Noda’s residence, to protest against the decision to restart operations at the Ooi nuclear plant. These weekly demonstrations are building in number and intensity, and are spreading to other cities. Jacinta, who has lived in Japan for the past 23 years, relates why she was moved to join the Friday demonstrations.
I chose to accompany Jacinta’s text with the composite kanji 前登 (zentou), which means something like “go forward, overcoming the obstacles in your way”. It is my hope for all those whose lives were changed forever by the triple disaster; those who were most directly affected, who lost family, friends, homes, livelihoods, any sense of certainty. But also those like Jacinta, who have understood that “their voice matters” in shaping a new society post March 11…. May they all go forward, overcoming the obstacles in their way.
Hydrangea Fridays: Voices from the Heart (Jacinta Hin)
I have not participated in a demonstration for over 30 years, nor in any other form of active social engagement. Over the past decades, the closest I have come to any form of protest was the occasional opinion shared over the dinner table or a glass of wine with friends, mostly for entertainment or for the purpose of honing my debating skills.
And even when the initial post 3/11 anti-nuclear demonstrations in Japan started to gain ground, I joined once or twice only, when nothing else was on my schedule and an enthusiastic friend would take the lead in getting a group together.
But then the Tokyo Friday protests against the restart of the Oi Nuclear Plant started and something changed for me.
I now have it on my weekly agenda and everything else makes place for the time and place. Fed up with my own half-hearted engagement, one Friday evening I just went by myself, which, for the rather shy person that I am, not really at ease in groups and crowds, took a little courage.
That first Friday, some weeks ago, standing alone in the rain among my fellow protesters, reluctantly joining the peaceful shouting, something shifted for me. I was no longer voicing my opinion. I was uniting my voice with those of thousands of others.
I also felt it really mattered that I was there. If all of us would just continue to show up every week, eventually we would be heard. Eventually it would catch some influential media’s attention and make some important politician’s agenda (and it did!). More importantly, we would touch other people’s hearts, encouraging them to join, the same way I had been touched and been inspired to stand up and be counted, and the movement would grow, or lead to the next thing, and make a difference.
Looking around I realized I was not the only amateur protester. A lot of people, many of whom like me who had come alone, looked as if they were first-timers, whispering rather than shouting, slowly getting used to the routine. Protest newbies who had been propelled to come out on a rainy Friday for a reason probably similar to mine.
I think many of us in Japan are not only angry (and overwhelmed) with what has happened in Fukushima and establishment’s – government and old-school industry – decisions and style of handling things. We are also angry with ourselves for having been so blissfully ignorant all those years of comfortable welfare. And tired of feeling powerless, overwhelmed and believing that we cannot change anything anyway. We are at a turning point, not necessarily as individuals (although many people here in Japan are) but as a society. We realize that we belong to a bigger group, not just our core family. And the group, our fellow Japanese and, for some (like me), the world en large, is asking us to speak up for nothing less than a fundament of our world.
The lines we keep repeating at the Friday demonstrations sum it all up. We want our fields back, we want our food back, and we want Fukushima back (the way it was). We want to protect life, and we want to protect our children. We don’t need nuclear energy and we are against the restart of Oi and any nuclear plant.
Our message in the end,really is as simple as that. You can make it as complex as you want, but in its essence it is really simple. How do we want to live? What do we want our common ground to be? What is most important? To bring debate back to core questions that simplify perspective and can help any individual, government officials and TEPCO executives included, regain clarity on what really matters most. At least that is what I choose to believe.
At the Friday protests (and all the post 3/11 protests and anti-nuclear initiatives) we are asking for a renewed outlook on safe living and proposing a new starting point for decision-making. We are asking people, country leaders and citizens alike, to find it in themselves to stand up for something larger than mere self-interest.
And that is why we are there, every Friday, rain or no rain. To speak, from the heart, about how we want life to be, not just for ourselves but for everyone.
For me, the Friday protests are a movement of the heart. We are not a bunch of angry people enjoying the thrill of a mass demonstration. We are simply regular people who are finding and expressing their voice. Many of us have never have participated in group protests. We are Japanese, foreign residents, parents, grandparents, teenagers, young adolescents, business people and so on.
Regular folks, from all walks of life, who are learning that our voice matters and that we can make a difference, especially when we unite in the name of past, present and future.