‘Freeter’ marchers get leg up online

YouTube clips document arrests of marchers trying to view Prime Minister Taro Aso's mansion


Thwarted in the real world in their attempt to glimpse Prime Minister Taro Aso’s famously grand Tokyo mansion, a group of young people is finding better success at getting their message out in cyberspace.

Police arrested three of the young people during their “Reality Tour” march to see Aso’s home, which by some reports is worth ¥6.2 billion, on Oct. 26 in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Naoko Shimizu, chairwoman of Part-timer, Arbeiter, Freeter & Foreign Workers, which organized the walk with other unions, said the aim was only to get a sense of the economic gap in society by taking a look at the house of the wealthy prime minister.

The group also hoped, if possible, to ask Aso to prompt businesses to provide better employment conditions for temp workers.

Police said they gave repeated warnings for the group to stop before the arrests, and claimed physical force was used against the officers. They also said the group did not obtain approval for their demonstration from authorities. Shimizu denied the walk was a protest march and the other allegations.

Meanwhile, video footage of the arrests, which has been uploaded onto the Japanese YouTube site, has received hundreds of thousands of hits from Net users, turning the incident into one of the hottest topics on the country’s most popular video-sharing Web site.

The three “freeters,” the Japanese term for young part-time temp workers, who joined 40 others on the march, were arrested within five minutes of starting their walk.

According to the organizers, police had assured them in advance that they were free to approach Aso’s residence if they broke into several smaller groups of five or fewer.

A representative of the Metropolitan Police Department declined to reveal the details of what was discussed between Shibuya Ward police and the organizers before the walk, citing the need for further investigation.

One video clip shows police suddenly surrounding a placard-toting participant and detaining him as he says, “Let’s go look at Taro Aso’s home.”

Shimizu argued that the many viewings of their YouTube clips is proof that people want to see what really happened and obtain information the mass media did not report, because, according to Shimizu, news provided by some major media outlets is only based on police press releases.

“Internet users, especially those who blog, are already raising their voices on this issue,” she said. “By Tuesday we had already received over 450 in support of the three arrested freeters.”