Osaka – The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, while pinned face down by three Minneapolis police officers has sparked angry demonstrations and marches across the United States and around the world. In Japan, similar marches against racism and police brutality are planned in some cities this weekend.
For those thinking about heading to a demonstration, here are some things for reference in either planning, or participating, in public protests or marches in Japan — as well as some do’s and don’ts — based on this reporter’s 25 years of covering dozens of protests throughout Japan and internationally.
Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association as well as freedom of speech. Street demonstrations and public protests are, however, still subject to regulations. Each prefectural police department requires permits for the use of public roads and parks for a march or rally.
When applying for a permit, a representative of the sponsors or organizers of the event must provide his or her name, home address, workplace and telephone number. If the group is not based in Tokyo but plans to protest there, then the name and phone number of a Tokyo-based participant must also be included.
Different prefectures have slightly different application procedures, all based on national road use laws and prefectural ordinances. In some places, the applicant must write down not only the date and time of the demonstration, march or rally, but also the route — if it’s a march — the place where the group will initially gather, the time it officially kicks off, and where and when it will end. The number of people expected is also required and the purpose of the gathering must be provided as well.
Once a demonstration or march begins, group leaders go out of their way to ensure confrontations between participants and police are kept to a minimum. Compared with many parts of the world, Japanese protest rallies are quite orderly and peaceful.
Marchers and demonstrators will also be monitored by the group leaders, who will ensure they don’t litter or block traffic and will follow police instructions on where and when to walk. Whatever you do, don’t get into verbal or physical altercations with hecklers or counter-protesters. Protestors should, and are often encouraged to, bring lots of water, wear appropriate clothing, and make sure they have their own bags for garbage.
Finally, participants may be filmed by both prefectural police and representatives from the Public Security Intelligence Agency, which is under the Justice Ministry. Make sure you are also filming them.
The 2019 National Policy Agency White Paper mentions the year’s activities by extreme left-wing groups, right-wing groups and the Japan Communist Party, as well as protests against U.S. bases in Okinawa, nuclear power and by those they deem to be “anti-globalization” groups, which protest the way multinational forums like the Group of 20 summit are run or hold demonstrations against international trade agreements.