Bill of Rights Comes Due; Embassy Refuses to Pay

Still unresolved since the Tree last reported on it [see “Futenma Update,” June 23, 2010] is the issue of the relocation of Futenma Air Base to Henoko.  Politicians are apparently too busy engaged in power struggles on the Diet floor and in back rooms to deal with this hot potato up front and decisively.  The mainstream media here as well have found other more entertaining diversions, like the sumo bout-rigging scandal or the recent case of a student using his cell phone to copy answers to entrance exam questions, to report as news.  Lost in all this vaudevillian soft-shoe and shuffle is any serious news of what’s happening in Okinawa.

 

Meanwhile, the eyes of the world’s media outlets are on events in Africa and the Middle East.  I have an email subscription to Global Voices, “an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media around the world.” <http://globalvoicesonline.org/>  In their email notice of Sunday, February 20, 2011, the following stories among others were posted:  “Arab World:  The Uprisings Continue,” “Algeria:  Protesters Hurt as police try to stop demonstration,” “Bahrain:  Protestors continue to camp at Pearl Roundabout,” “Morocco:  Across the Nation, Demonstration.”  A story was filed for Japan, too:  “Japan:  It’s Nursing Time on Twitter!”  You would think that all must be quiet here in Japan, and that all the turmoil is concentrated in other parts of the globe.

 

But things are not quiet on Okinawa, and the apparent large percentage of the population that is more concerned with personal than political issues represents not general satisfaction with the way things are so much as a sublime indifference to it.  Not treating an event as “news,” however, does not mean it never happened; nor does ignoring it mean that it will quietly go away.  On the same day of the above-mentioned Global Voices posting which gave the impression that all was quiet on the Japan front, a report appeared in the citizen reporter blog JANJAN (Japan Alternative News for Justices and New Cultures) on a demonstration that had taken place that same day near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

 

According to a post by citizen reporter Umigata Masashi, “Two Protesters Arrested near American Embassy” 「米大使館付近で逮捕者2名発生」,  approximately 200 people gathered near Shinbashi Station to march to the Embassy to deliver a formal written notice protesting the construction of helipads in the village of Takae in Okinawa for use by the U.S. military.  The march was sponsored by the “Don’t Tread on Okinawa!” Emergency Action Committee.  Although the march was orderly and protesters kept to the sidewalks, they were accompanied and outnumbered by a sizable force of both uniformed and plainclothes police, who also filmed them with video cameras.

 

One day last fall I attended an event at the Okura Hotel, located across the street from the American Embassy.  My route from the subway exit to the hotel took me right past the Embassy, and I arrived a few minutes late because I had not allowed time for the detour I was forced to make.  The Embassy is surrounded by Japanese policemen who ensure that nobody who has no business at the Embassy sets foot on the public sidewalk that runs next to it outside its gates.  When I attempted to do so, I was stopped and instructed to take a wide semi-circular rather than direct route to the hotel.  I felt at the time not only put out by the inconvenience but embarrassed at my position.  Here was I, an American citizen, being ordered by a Japanese policeman to keep away not from some secure area belonging to Japan but from the grounds of (what I apparently foolishly think of as) “my own” Embassy, which now resembled more a military stronghold than the diplomatic outpost of a democratic nation.

 

It was no surprise, then, to read in the JANJAN report that when the protest marchers reached the vicinity of the Embassy, they had to stop because the Embassy does not permit political demonstrations in front of its buildings.  However, several marchers began to call out to the others to move on to the Embassy anyway, and everyone began chanting loudly in chorus.  At this point, the police moved in and arrested two of the protesters for “interference with a government official in the exercise of his duties.”  After the arrest, representatives of the Emergency Action Committee went to the Embassy to deliver their written notice protesting the helipad construction, but the Embassy refused to accept it.

 

Mr. Umigata appends some commentary to his report that is especially of interest to the Tree.  He notes that while President Obama apparently welcomed the recent citizen revolution in Egypt, it seems to be a different story when it comes to citizens protesting in Japan.

 

Ironically, “it was America who taught democracy to Japan after the war. And now America is teaching Japanese people again to assert their anger and take action,” he writes.

 

He suggests that this protest march, and the arrests made, are a sign that the usually well-behaved Japanese people, who are perceived as “obediently listening to whatever their superiors say,” are undergoing change.  They are becoming more excited, and they are getting angry.  The refusal of the Embassy to accept the letter of protest will, he predicts, “up the voltage.”  “The dislike of America will increase, which may be a sign that we will grow into an independent democratic nation.”  He ends his post in English:  “Thank you, America!!”

 

[For the full article (in Japanese) with photographs of the scene visit <http://www.janjanblog.com/archives/31767&gt;.  For a video of the event, see <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN7X8xwXy58&gt;.  Many thanks to Umigata Masashi for permission to quote extensively from his post, sine qua non.]

When I read Mr. Umigata’s post and learned of the Embassy’s rejection of the protesters’ petition, I could not help being reminded of the scene in ANPO [see previous post, “Film Review:  ANPO“] where the Embassy personage tosses his cigarette butt at the crowd before turning away from them.  Has nothing changed in the 50 years since that event?

 

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