Tens of thousands of people gathered Monday near the Diet and other locations in Japan to protest security legislation enacted one year ago that greatly expands the role of the Self-Defense Forces overseas.
“We will never give up until it is scrapped,” one of the participants said during a gathering in front of the Diet that according to the organizers drew around 23,000 people.
Opposition party members who showed up criticized the legislation has violating the pacifist Constitution.
The legislation, pushed through by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, passed the Diet amid a wave of protests by youths and other people concerned the laws will open up the possibility of Japanese troops fighting overseas for the first time since World War II.
While the issue was in the spotlight last year, Tomoko Yamauchi, a 40-year-old worker at a facility for people with disabilities, said she feels interest in the issue is “waning.”
“I took part (in today’s event) to tell people around me that I went to protest in front of the Diet building on the first anniversary of the enactment. I want to continue to pay attention to it,” said Yamauchi, who brought along her 6-year-old daughter.
Also among the participants was a former member of the now-defunct youth group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, or SEALDs, which spearheaded the protests last year.
“The government has not yet given a reason to the public why it has allowed the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense,” said 24-year-old Mitsuhiro Hayashida, referring to the right to come to the aid of allied nations under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked.
Previous governments maintained the view that Japan has the right under international law but cannot exercise it due to Article 9 of the Constitution, which bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
In the city of Osaka, more than 5,000 people gathered and marched down Midosuji Street holding banners saying “No war.”
Hiroshi Nakahara, a 17-year-old high school student, said he started taking part in similar events last year.
“It could be our generation that could go to war, and I can’t stand that,” he said. “I also can’t agree with the idea that there is a possibility that the SDF will go off to war.”
Protest activities were also held in Nagoya and Sapporo.
In Sapporo, protesters voiced opposition to the SDF’s ongoing deployment to take part in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
Ground Self-Defense Force personnel who belong to a division headquartered in Hokkaido are currently engaging in the mission and the government is in the process of deciding whether to give expanded assignments to the next unit to be sent there based on the new legislation.
The new duties could include missions to rescue U.N. staff and others under attack, which critics say could expose the SDF troops to additional risks.
So far, SDF personnel have been sent to South Sudan to build roads and other infrastructure and their use of weapons has been limited to self-defense purposes and other emergencies.