Over the summer, the student organization SEALDs lit a fire under Japan’s political establishment, sparking activist fervor among the nation’s hitherto dormant youth over moves to ease the conditions under which Japan can go to war. The group’s influence spread beyond its target demographic as MOTHERs, MIDDLEs, OLDs and others picked up placards to protest the government’s security bills and other perceived challenges to Japan’s postwar pacifism.
In August, that fire spread beyond Japan’s borders with the formation of OVERSEAs, a loose collective that aims to unite Japanese-speaking people who want to support specific domestic causes from outside the country. One of the group’s founders, Shin Yamaaki, 44, an anti-nuclear activist and award-winning journalist, says Japanese people living overseas were already working together before SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) exploded onto the scene. However, it was the success of the student group that inspired many of these far-flung groups to unite under the OVERSEAs umbrella.
“One reason that OVERSEAs is growing so quickly is that there were already many regional groups forming all over the world to support the anti-nuclear movement, especially after the March 11 disaster,” she says, referring to the triple disaster that struck Tohoku in 2011. “With the rising popularity of groups like SEALDs in Japan, the small pockets of Japanese activists living abroad wanted to become united into one network to make their voice stronger.”
For Michiko Nagasaka, 54, a Japanese OVERSEAs member based in Switzerland, the recent upsurge in political protest in Japan has come as a breath of fresh air.
“I’ve lived over 25 years outside of Japan, and from outside I have been observing its lack of change or stagnation with frustration,” she says. “But something fundamental has happened the last few years under the current government. This fundamental change threatens, for the first time in my life, freedom of expression, the basics of constitutionalism, the procedural justice in politics and industries. In short, I feel quite alarmed. Japan should take into account its unique position in global geopolitics and use it wisely, consciously, so that it can contribute to the world as a responsible and mature member.”
Chihiro Muranaka, 22, a student at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada, hopes OVERSEAs will demonstrate to his fellow Japanese in Japan that they are not alone.
“The majority in Japan is still keeping quiet, and getting them concerned about Japan’s current political situation will be the key,” he says. “Japanese people should get angry and speak up more in general.”
Japanese are speaking up across Europe — in Germany, France, Belgium and the U.K. — as well as in the U.S. and Canada, African nations and throughout Asia, from Thailand and the Philippines to China. OVERSEAs recently delivered a petition protesting the security bills to the Diet with over 1,500 signatures from Japanese citizens in more than 80 different countries, and held protests across the globe on Aug. 30 in solidarity with the massive protest rally that surrounded the Diet in Tokyo on Aug. 29.
Even with the recent passage of the security bills that have loosened the conditions under which Japan’s Self-Defense Forces could engage in combat abroad, OVERSEAs members are refusing to give up the fight.
“I’d like Japan to be a pacifist country,” says Yoshie Tadokoro, 36, a Japanese OVERSEAs member in Belgium. “We have more or less supported and participated in some wars, but we have never sent soldiers outside of Japan, and I think that’s something very important. For most people it’s normal that there is war in this world and Japan’s renunciation of war is utopian, but the fact that there exists a country — a developed country — which renounces war, even if it’s only on paper, should have much greater importance. Now that the ‘war law’ is passed, we must show that the majority of Japanese people were opposed to this law.”
Currently focused on building support for rolling back the Cabinet’s reinterpretation of the postwar Constitution’s “peace clause,” Article 9, and the security laws that followed, the group coordinates activities online using their website and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, much like their SEALDs compatriots. Since the Aug. 30 rally, they’ve launched protests including a Sept. 29 peace rally in New York and a protest in Paris on Oct. 10.
While some of the groups have formally adopted the OVERSEAs name, others have been inspired to form loosely linked groups with similar ideals. As Yuki Takahata, 59, a Japanese member in France of aligned organization SOLIDA Paris, explains: “We decided to create a new civic group of local residents, living in France, for peace and democracy in Asia. We think of ourselves as a multinational OVERSEAs.” At the Oct. 10 march in Paris, the group demonstrated in four different languages — Chinese, Korean, French and Japanese.
Like Nagasaka in Switzerland, Tadokoro in Belgium says she has been inspired by the student-led activism happening in Japan, but laments that it has taken this long for similar-minded people in the country of her birth to work together to effect change.
“I never thought this could happen in Japan, but after the nuclear disaster of 2011, a part of Japan has been profoundly changing,” she says. “It’s a slow change, and the rest of Japan is meanwhile experiencing a more and more critical situation, but I hope this new part of Japan will overwhelm Japan’s old ruling system, because this new part of Japan is driven especially by young — very young — people. I’m very happy about that, and at the same time I feel sorry for them that my and older generations had been so disinterested in politics, and in our own society.”
Masato Yamamoto, 60, from the Swiss chapter, also believes that something has changed.
“OVERSEAs connected many people like me around the world,” he says. “OVERSEAs enabled us to exchange our ideas in a simple and quick way. We can send our empathy to others and encourage each other. I feel I’m not alone with Japanese issues, and that means a lot.”
OVERSEAs will be represented in Tokyo this Sunday at the Takadanobaba Action rally planned in front of Big Box at Takadanobaba Station. Takahata, who is visiting from Paris, will give a short speech on the activities of SOLIDA. Website: www.overseas-no9.net. Facebook: bit.ly/overseasno9. Twitter: @overseas_for. Comments: email@example.com