Grassroots movements take aim at security bills

TOKYO  — Young Japanese opposed to the passage of the government’s controversial security bills looming in the current Diet session have discovered some political backbone and are making their voices heard on a mass scale.

Encouraged by a group called Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, or SEALDs, young people who generally shun political activism have been emboldened to stage rallies across the nation demanding that the ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, nix the bills.

And as Abe takes aim to enact the bills that would bolster the role of Japanese forces overseas, others are calling into question the support from the Buddhist-backed Komeito party, the junior coalition partner of the LDP.

SEALDs has captured public attention with a new, hip style of protest, featuring rap slogans and flashy pamphlets to get their message across.

According to organizers of an event on Aug. 30, 120,000 people gathered around the Diet building in Tokyo. Police sources suggested that number was inflated, saying there were 30,000 participants, but it was still nothing to sneeze at.

The bills, now in the upper chamber of parliament, would greatly expand the Self-Defense Forces’ operations overseas and allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of its allies, including the United States, under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked.

Critics of the bills say they represent a landmark shift in Japan’s post-World War II security policy, suggesting that ideas and beliefs about peace in the pacifist Constitution are wavering.

A university student who joined in the activities of SEALDs launched a signature drive via the Internet. Nobuhiro Hishida, 22, aims to collect signatures from overseas by making online forms in seven foreign languages — English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, French, Spanish and Russian.

“If the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are allowed to be actively involved in military activities with our allies around the world, Japan may become involved in a war with your country,” the English version of his Website said.

“There are a lot of people abroad who feel that these bills will become a problem directly linked to their livelihood and lives. Our voices need to be heard,” said the university student who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo. His Web page has garnered more than 2,000 signatures since its launch in late August.

In a similar move, NGO “NO WAR” network, promoting international cooperation and launched in July, issued a statement against the security bills, which gained support from a total of 331 NGOs at home and abroad over about 10 days.

“We are strongly opposed to a situation in which the people of the Asia-Pacific region could once again be in the relationship of killing or being killed as a result of Japanese war actions, or that the region could once again experience the tragic disaster of war,” said the statement.

Critics including constitutional scholars have slammed the bills as violating the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution and many in the public are concerned that the legislation would increase the likelihood of Japanese involvement in war.

Even within the strong supporting body of the Komeito party, some have started raising voices in protest.

Tatsushi Amano, 51, a member of Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization that founded the party, obtained 9,177 signatures opposing the security bills in an attempt to submit them to the headquarters of Komeito in Tokyo. He said he had been repeatedly turned away, but party officials finally accepted them.

Amano, who is a member of the party in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, started collecting signatures from the end of July after the bills were rammed through the lower house with the support of Komeito. Abe’s government is aiming to pass the bills in the current Diet session that has been extended to late September.

“I wonder whether hearing the views of every single voter is the policy of Komeito. I hope it returns to its original stance as the peace party and opposes the bills,” said Amano before the signatures were accepted.

Aki Okuda, a 23-year-old university student and a central member of SEALDs, said the nationwide anti-security bills movement is the real deal and not limited to the younger generation. Atomic bomb survivors groups and groups of mothers concerned about Japan’s future are also up in arms.

“We are getting sick and tired that nothing has changed politically even after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident (in 2011),” said Okuda at an event held in Tokyo on Sept. 8. “A national movement is happening.”

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