A group of high school students, led by a 16-year-old girl, has started to protest against both voter apathy and proposed changes to the Constitution. One student, named Aine (who uses only her first name, as is common online), has come to the forefront of a movement that has energized young people to reconsider Japanese politics and to engage in peaceful and meaningful protest.

Since last summer, the group, which calls itself T-nsSOWL (Teens Stand up to Oppose War Law), has organized young people, many too young to vote, to get out in the streets and express themselves. Younger than the university students who protested under the banner of SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy), T-nsSOWL has been gaining a following among students in high school and even junior high school.

They have been using the power of the Internet to express their opinions by holding press conferences, making videos of demonstrations and communicating through Twitter and social networking services. They have done a good job spreading the word about themselves over the last year, gradually gaining attention. Whether they can actually influence the government remains to be seen. It is heartening, though, to see them break the stereotype of Japanese youth as passive and self-centered, and begin to participate in politics.

As with the protests by SEALDs, these high school students are taking an active interest in the effect of politics on society. Whether one agrees with their opinions or not, the fact that young people are paying attention to politics instead of mindlessly playing video games, shopping or watching YouTube videos is a welcome change. The group’s activity reveals a potentially significant shift in the minds of Japanese young people.

Many of the teenagers, such as Aine, said they felt uneasy at first about joining public protests, but were motivated by the shock of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis to do and say something. The lowering of the voting age to 18 also induced many young people to seriously consider their rights and responsibilities as citizens. One of those rights is the possibility of openly expressing an opinion.

Instead of being turned off by politics and easily distracted by consumer culture, more and more young people seem capable of thinking for themselves, and expressing their ideas articulately and peaceably. That’s important because for too long, Japanese youth seemed to be indifferent to the most important issues facing the country. Now, they will be receiving more classes about the right to vote, which may further engage and activate them.

These teenagers’ first steps toward political awareness will help to maintain Japan’s core democratic ideals and lay the groundwork for broader participation in the political process and the many decisions on current and future issues the country faces. Wish those students well. They are the future of Japan.

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