Protesters outside university campuses have become a regular fixture this summer. In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, students suddenly, it seems, became politicized. As the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to push for security legislation by reinterpreting the war-renouncing Constitution, more and more students are starting to say, “Enough.” Leaflets, street-corner speeches and Friday-night demonstrations have become more common. This generation of university students is, at long last, starting to express themselves.

Student-based groups such as the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) are articulating their vision of Japanese freedom and democracy with confidence and passion. More and more Japanese young people are becoming passionate about the importance of constitutionalism, democracy and human rights. Their recent efforts contrast strongly with the usual stereotype of passive, disinterested young people interested only in text messaging, fashion shopping or going to Disneyland. Perhaps change is possible, their actions suggest.

Some 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds will be able to express their opinions by voting, now that the legal voting age has been reduced to 18 from 20. However, many of these young people have already taken to the streets. Their newfound voice is expressed not just in demonstrations, speeches and chants outside the Diet, but also on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the other social networking sites they have grown up with. They have an endless capacity, seemingly, to get their message into all the formats available to them, and they know how to spread it to the world.

They are also joining forces with experienced political organizers, the elderly and other citizens. They are increasingly and rightly concerned about the current administration’s insistent pushing of the right to collective self-defense and the expansion of the Self-Defense Forces’ mission abroad, as well as its attempt to revise the no-war Constitution and change Japan’s peace policies.

The students are expressing their genuine and spontaneous, though hardly ideological, reaction to these potential changes, which is a main part of their strength. On their websites, the young protesters also promote the importance of changing Japan’s politics for the future, by reversing vote disparities, and by promoting the rights of sexual minorities, economic help for the poor and care for the elderly.

All of that is a pretty big set of plans. However, the young people who have become politically aware seem to be intelligent, informed and passionate, not just idealistic. Japan needs just that kind of young person. Their votes and demonstrations, but more importantly the dawning awareness, may be just enough to increase participation in Japan’s democracy in positive ways that could last far into the future.

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