Tens of thousands of people packed Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park yesterday for Japan’s biggest anti-nuclear rally since the Fukushima disaster last year in growing protests against government moves to restart atomic reactors.
Speakers at the demonstration, which broke up at 1:30 p.m. into three separate marches through Japan’s capital, included Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who wrote the score for the movie “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda angered nuclear opponents last month when he approved the restart of two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi plant, which were shutdown along with other units for safety checks after the meltdown and radiation release from the wrecked Fukushima station. A Mainichi newspaper poll on June 4 showed as many as 71 percent of Japanese opposed the restart.
“The government allowed the Ohi nuclear reactors to restart and it’s going to allow more reactors to restart. We feel we are insulted by the government,” said Oe in his speech to the rally. “We have to stop the government’s plan,” said Oe, 77, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.
“No to Nuclear Restarts” has become the rallying cry of protesters every Friday evening since the end of March in demonstrations outside Noda’s official residence. Police estimate around 10,000 people protested there on July 6, blocked from entering by a fleet of pale-blue police buses and dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers.
Yoyogi organizers, http://sayonara-nukes.org, said as many as 170,000 people attended the rally yesterday. National television broadcaster NHK said the figure was 75,000, citing the police. In two phone calls by Bloomberg News, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police said they were not providing any estimate for the Yoyogi rally.
“There’s something wrong in this country when even if thousands of people protest in front of the prime minister’s residence they still reactivate the plants,” said Koichiro Mori, a literature student at Kyoto University. “We’ve developed an economy that is capable of sacrificing its own people; our goal is to change such a society,” said Mori, who was at Yoyogi with students representing about 15 universities from Okinawa in the south to Tohoku in the north.
The Yoyogi gathering attracted people from regions throughout Japan, including Fukushima. Beside some singing and drums, the thousands attending -- mostly families and the elderly -- were seated on the grass waving banners and listening to the speeches, though the speakers were sometimes drowned out by half-a-dozen helicopters circling above.
Musician Sakamoto said he last attended a rally in the same park 42 years ago when he was 18 years old and demonstrators met to oppose the 1970 revision of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
“This is the first time in more than 40 years that citizens in Japan go to the streets to make their voices heard,” he said. “Anger against the Japanese government’s nuclear policy fills this nation. It’s barbarous to keep silent after the Fukushima disaster.”
Japan’s anti-nuclear demonstrators have been galvanized by a report released on July 5 by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. The commission found that the reactor meltdowns and release of radiation at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant stemmed from “man-made” failures before and after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
The March 11 disaster “cannot be regarded as a natural disaster,” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who headed the six-month investigation, wrote in the report. It “could and should have been foreseen and prevented.” The commission’s report found evidence of “collusion” between Tokyo Electric and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to avoid implementing safety measures.
No to Noda
“Some children from Fukushima city fled to our town after the nuclear disaster and they experienced health problems, such as bleeding from the nose and blood in urine,” said Tatsuko Takahashi, 63-year-old housewife who traveled from Ito city in Shizuoka prefecture to attend the Yoyogi rally.
“Their experience has never been reported by the Japanese media, which ignored inconvenient facts, so we came here to say no to nuclear power and no to Prime Minister Noda,” she said.
While the anti-nuclear crowds rally in Tokyo, rural communities in Japan that have come to depend on atomic power plants for investment, jobs and subsidies aren’t joining in.
On July 8, pro-nuclear Governor Yuichiro Ito, 64, won re-election in the south-western prefecture of Kagoshima against a challenger who opposed restarting reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s plant.
Ito, who won almost two-thirds of the votes cast, favors allowing Kyushu Electric to restart two reactors at its Sendai plant, while calling for a freeze on plans to build a third one.
The election was the first since Noda authorized the restart of the two Kansai Electric reactors northeast of Osaka.
Radiation fallout from the Fukushima reactors forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people and left land in the area uninhabitable for decades. The potential for a repeat of the disaster at another nuclear plant in earthquake-prone Japan is what is bringing Japanese old and young out on to the streets in large demonstrations not seen in decades.
“I’ve been taking part in the Friday protests every week, it’s a powerful movement,” Hidetsugu Odawara, 80, a former Citigroup Inc. employee and now retired, said at Yoyogi.
“One person alone can’t do much but 100,000 people can make a difference. I’m here to be one of the 100,000.”