Japan Cracks Down on Dissent
Image Credit: antjeverena

Japan Cracks Down on Dissent


I recently covered the accelerated construction of six new US heliports in the village of Takae and a new fence on Henoko beach on Okinawa. All of this is happening despite the apparently more conciliatory tone on base issues in Japan’s southernmost prefecture that was struck last month by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

As in the past, the sudden change in tactics appears to have been accompanied by heavy-handed police action. Protestors on Okinawa have already complained of police harassment. And this week, there comes news that two middle-aged activists were arrested about 100 metres from the US Embassy in Tokyo as they tried to approach it with a letter of protest.

According to other activists, when they asked the police the grounds for the arrests, they were told that the reason ‘would be given later.’ Witnesses say the march was largely uneventful until the two men were grabbed from the front of the protest group, dragged away to a police van and detained in Akasaka Police Station, without access to lawyers. The police have refused to comment on the case.

That means there’s no chance to ask if these men were a genuine danger to the cops or the embassy and its staff, or whether this might not be a very old and often successful strategy: nip a potentially troublesome movement in the bud by intimidating it with a couple of more or less random arrests.  A similar approach was used during Japan’s controversial Self-Defence Force ‘humanitarian mission’—since discredited—in Iraq.

The protestors had already been told to keep banners and placards concealed before running into a phalanx of cops near the embassy. Six people were then reportedly allowed to approach the embassy to hand in the protest letter, which had been prearranged, but it was rejected. And when about 50 people went to Akasaka Police Station to protest the arrest of the two men, they were ‘kettled’ into a small park for nearly three hours.

Japanese police seldom seem as enthusiastic about cracking down on right-wing violence.

Zainichi (foreign) Korean activist Daniel Choi, for example, was manhandled and beaten by a group of ultranationalists in Shibuya in December as he stood with a sign protesting moves to withdraw public funding from ethic Korean schools in Japan. Police stood by, and then arrested Choi, allowing his assaulters to amble on. Choi, of course, was causing 'real trouble,' that deserved punishment (presumably unlike the ultranationalists who have for years been shouting racist abuse at Korean schools, businesses and consular offices).

On paper, the right to legitimate peaceful protest is respected here. In reality, protests are only barely tolerated as long as they don’t seriously attempt to bother the status quo. But the reaction of the police, their extraordinary powers of detention and the lack of legal representation for arrestees raises the stakes very high for anyone daring to do anything but watch events unfold on TV. The two embassy protestors are being held, without charge, until March 3.

Opponents of the Okinawan construction, including many veteran protestors who have peacefully marched for years, say that the atmosphere on demonstrations has subtly changed in recent weeks. Some believe that the police have been told to get tough, and may even be acting under the orders of the US Embassy.

That seems unlikely, though, particularly since the Japanese authorities have proved themselves more than capable of baring their teeth all on their own when the occasion calls for it.

February 28, 2011 at 17:01

Just proves that Japan have so much in common with China. I’m sure as China continues to develop, they will become more and more like Japan.

February 28, 2011 at 14:17

Why the bases in Japan…?? Why the noisy, dangerous helicopters..?? WHY THE OCCUPATION….

HOW MANY DOLLARS ARE SPENT FOR THE OCCUPATION OF JAPAN EACH YEAR… Detroit, Cleveland Buffalo, Saint Lewis, Toledo….. the Midwest is dieing…..

Not only does the U.S spend Billions for basses in Japan, It keeps Japan’s defense costs low and U.S. defense costs high…and then the U.S. competes in auto Production and because of these cost disparities, it is in a constant lose…lose spiral DOWN… Have You ever seen what Detroit looks like these days..?? O.K., O.K., Now and then the U.S. auto industry gets bailed out at taxpayers expense… as the U.S. drowns in a polluted sea of [bad] debt….

There is NO reason to occupy Japan… Didn’t George Bush No.1 send them

February 26, 2011 at 18:13

This isn’t exactly the first time Japanese police have shown some disturbing traits, you might want to look at how crimes committed by and against foreigners are treated. Sadly of all the Japanese newspapers I’ve checked usually only the Japan Times (for foreigners) carries those stories.

February 26, 2011 at 10:23

Ethnonationalists believe that their nation has an “essence” that has not changed over decades or even centuries, older than the invention of the pressure cooker. Militarists also claim their nation’s “bellicose nature.” Thus, some critics of a particular nation-state’s ethnonationalism and militarism find themselves in odd company, with the very targets of their criticism. This lack of discursive autonomy shows that the Japanese Empire still exercises, esp. over East Asians, what Foucauldians call the fourth face of power.

John Chan
February 25, 2011 at 21:39

Everything in Japan is artificial, their democratic constitution was artificially imposed on them by an US generalissimo, their drama is artificially played behind the masks, their Sumo is conducted by artificially bred Rikishi, their garden is artificially set, . . .

Putting Class A war criminals in Yasukuni Shrine, disguising killing endangered whales as science research, closing one eye on right-wing violence by the police, ruthless baring their teeth all on their own by the police, etc., all are symptom of their imperialistic behaviour. Only the westerns and other ignorant people are fooled by their artificially calm and peaceful appearance. Japanese has changed on appearance only, not in essence since Meiji restoration, their ugly and bellicose nature can be erupted to surface any minutes when the constrains put on them by the US are removed.

Since the US is the one holding down Japan like holding down the lid of a boiling pressure cooker, so USA should better pay attention, as the old saying says ‘the hand hold down the lid of a pressure cooker is the hand get maimed first,’ the one first bite USA is most likely its old pal Japan, not China.

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