Campaign group SEALDs hooking Japan’s youth with jazzy placards, fliers


Staff Writer

The sticky, humid night did not stop thousands of infuriated Japanese from gathering outside the Diet on July 15. Many held eye-catching placards that displayed messages such as, “Give peace a chance” and “Our future, our choice” to protest the approval of two security bills at the special committee of the Lower House.

One pro-democracy youth group, Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs), is credited with organizing the heated protest. Many of the roughly 175 members of the group are college students. Their fashionable and trend-conscious placards stood out in the crowd.

The catchiness of their designs may be one factor that has helped SEALDs attract an increasing number of people to its weekly Friday protests at the Diet. They also use Twitter to inform people that placards can be printed out at 7-Eleven stores.

SEALDs member Touri Ise, 19, who heads the group’s 26-person design team, said that she wanted to make “normal things,” meaning she wanted their designs to meet the standard of other designs seen in the community.

“If we want to make political involvement a standard, we need to bring design in politics to a higher level, to a standard level,” she said. “It’s a shame if people don’t glance at fliers when the design is dasai, or uncool. I’m that way, too.”

The group’s design team is divided into branches, each in charge of media such as fliers, pamphlets, placards, photographs and videos. Ise communicates to each branch her overall expectations, including the colors and arrangements, and members of the team critique each other’s work to narrow down their selection.

Although Ise is enrolled in Musashino Art University, she said she had little experience in design, adding many of the other SEALDs designers come from similar backgrounds.

As for how they manage with limited experience, both Ise and another key member, Yoshimasa Ushida, put it down to sheer willpower. “When you begin because you have to, you slowly but gradually begin to learn things like tricks in using illustrator programs,” Ise explained.

SEALDs designers incorporate techniques they see and like from their surroundings into their products. Ushida noted street culture, such as hip-hop and skateboarding, has a strong influence. Some of their designs are inspired by artists and brands such as skateboarding brand Supreme’s box logos, which are based on conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s works. The slogans they print are taken from catchy phrases that SEALDs members have actually used in their speeches and protests, including “Fight for liberty!” and “No one wants war.”

Ushida, 22, who studies sociology and philosophy at Meiji Gakuin University and aspires to become a researcher in the field, pointed to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as a example of why design is important.

He said when Napoleon contributed to the Louvre Museum collection in Paris in the early 19th century, he succeeded in connecting unrelated individuals through the shared experience of seeing the same painting of the emperor.

“Right now, in the city, individual people seem separate and disconnected from each other, but when they see things like advertisements on the train, they are brought together through this shared experience,” he said. “In this way, cool designs become power.”

In times when youth in Japan are criticized for having little interest in politics, SEALDs’ activities are proving the exception. However, online critics have said the group’s catchiness draws people who give little thought to the complexity of the issues they are protesting against.

Ushida said he understands the criticism, saying, “I used to be critical, too, and complained that people shouldn’t be shouting when they haven’t even thought much.”

He thinks differently now. “Everyone is studying much harder than I thought,” he said. “Some housewives are studying really hard about nuclear power plants and radiation. A good amount of people who participate in protests study a lot.”

He added that even if people are drawn by the catchy designs, “it would be nice if it (the protests) became an opportunity for participants to study more.”

“They can just come to observe, even. And if that influences them to start following politics more attentively, that would be great.

“Until now, there was a climate in Japan that asserted that we shouldn’t open our mouths if we haven’t thought much. But if we do that, everyone will stop saying anything. I want to fight against that.”

As design becomes utilized as a form of expression, politics may become more approachable for a once apathetic population.

Clarification: This story was updated on July 22 to make clear the fact the number of people who showed up at the July 15 rally at the Diet was an estimate provided by the student protest group.

  • Paul Martin

    When it comes to government listening to protestors Japan is no different to China, Hong Kong,etc

    As I have previously aserted Japan is NOT a democracy it is a police state dictatorship with an unelected emperor and a fascist, repressive prime minister who wants everything kept secret from those who elected him and who fools no one with his camouflaged agendas and manifestations !

    But having said that, discontented Japanese should protest more to show t5he World that they are NOT all puppets of the Abe dictatorship !

  • Why is Japan so lackadaisical about cleaning up the 7,000 tons of radiation? Is this some sort of banzai attack on mother earth?

  • At Times Mistaken

    This is an inspiring story about these young folks’ designs to change peoples hearts and minds.The estimated number of “100,000 infuriated Japanese… gathering outside the Diet” paints a picture of widespread dissent. This is the first time I’ve seen it reported anywhere that such a huge number were gathered at one time on that “sticky, humid night.” Like a lot of good stories though this one leaves me hungry for more. In this case, more information, like where did that crowd estimate come from (the police, organizers, somebody with an abacus).
    I had heard upwards of 6-digit figures being bandied about on Twitter as a cumulative total of demonstrators who came and went over the course of the entire day. In light of this report it looks like the Twitterati just didn’t have enough fingers and toes to count everybody or maybe the Japan Times has got the wrong number.

    • At Times Mistaken

      Now I see. Excellent clarification from the Japan Times. That’s good journalism by the numbers.

  • timefox

    It is a careful and this activity groups also see the parties concerned . It is a political tool .

    Takashi of Japan Innovation Party and Yukio Edano Hosono of the Democratic Party , Naoto Kan , Hiroyuki Konishi , Yoshida TadashiSatoshi and Mizuho Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party , Japan Communist Party of Koike Akiraya Kazuo Shii and Yamamoto Taro such as each lawmaker , before them of speeches and messages we have a contributor in .

    The license plate and the vehicle of propaganda vehicles SEALDs was used , lift the suspicion is the same as the Zenroren owned vehicle . In this regard , the central member Okuda Aimoto of SEALDs acknowledged borrowing from Zenroren .