Tens of thou­sands protest over mil­i­tary bills out­side Ja­pan Diet


Tens of thou­sands ral­lied out­side Ja­pan’s par­lia­ment Sun­day to protest against planned new laws that could see troops in the of­fi­cially paci­fist na­tion en­gage in com­bat for the first time since World War II.

A grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple, in­clud­ing univer­sity stu­dents and young par­ents, have joined a swelling op­po­si­tion against the con­tro­ver­sial bills as Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s rul­ing party gears up to pass them be­fore the cur­rent ses­sion ends late next month.

Hold­ing plac­ards read­ing “No war,” “Peace not war” and “Stop the se­cu­rity bills,” chant­ing de­mon­stra­tors filled the street in front of the Diet build­ing in down­town Tokyo de­spite driz­zly weather.

A huge ban­ner read­ing “Abe should step down,” adorned with black and white bal­loons, was car­ried through the crowd.

“I can­not stand idly by when I think of the ex­cesses of the Abe gov­ern­ment — Ja­pan could be­come a coun­try ca­pa­ble of go­ing to war again,” said pro­tester Kenichi Ozawa.

Un­der the planned changes the mil­i­tary — known as the Self-De­fense Forces — would be al­lowed to fight to pro­tect al­lies such as the United States even if there was no di­rect threat to Ja­pan or its peo­ple.

Un­der a U.S.-im­posed con­sti­tu­tion fol­low­ing WWII, Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary has been lim­ited strictly to self-de­fense.

While the re­stric­tions were ush­ered in by an oc­cu­py­ing force, many Ja­panese have be­come strongly at­tached to their coun­try’s paci­fism over the decades — out­lined in Ar­ti­cle Nine of the con­sti­tu­tion — and they fear any change to that sta­tus will lead them down a dan­ger­ous road.

“For 70 years, thanks to Ar­ti­cle Nine of our con­sti­tu­tion, Ja­pan has not en­gaged in war or been touched by any ag­gres­sion. Ar­ti­cle nine is our foun­da­tion,” said demon­stra­tor Masako Suzuki.

In the cen­tral city of Nagoya, home to au­tomaker Toy­ota, a group of moth­ers staged a rally near the main train sta­tion as they shouted “pro­tect our chil­dren!”

Dis­tant Wars

Or­ga­niz­ers said about 120,000 peo­ple took part in the rally in Tokyo, but po­lice put the fig­ure at 30,000. Sim­i­lar demon­stra­tions were held across Ja­pan.

Abe and his sup­port­ers say the bills are nec­es­sary for Ja­pan to deal with a changed se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in the face of a ris­ing China and un­pre­dictable North Korea.

Washington has wel­comed the move to change what some see as a one-sided se­cu­rity al­liance that com­pels the U.S. to pro­tect Ja­pan if it were at­tacked.

But op­po­nents say the re­forms will drag Ja­pan into dis­tant Amer­i­can wars, and many le­gal scholars have said they are un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The leg­is­la­tion is deeply un­pop­u­lar among the gen­eral public and sup­port for Abe’s gov­ern­ment is de­clin­ing.

Among the protesters Sun­day were pop­u­lar Ja­panese mu­si­cian and com­poser Ryuichi Sakamoto and op­po­si­tion party lead­ers in­clud­ing Kat­suya Okada, head of the Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan.

Rel­a­tively small street demon­stra­tions are fre­quent in the cap­i­tal. But on Thurs­day a group of Tokyo univer­sity stu­dents staged a rare hunger strike out­side par­lia­ment to protest at the leg­is­la­tion.

They said they would con­tinue as long as pos­si­ble.

On Wed­nes­day the na­tional bar as­so­ci­a­tion took part in a Tokyo protest rally with aca­demics and citizen groups.

The con­tro­ver­sial bills cleared the pow­er­ful lower house last month and are now be­ing hotly de­bated in the up­per house.


Protesters hold anti-war plac­ards in front of the Na­tional Diet build­ing dur­ing a rally in Tokyo, Sun­day, Aug. 30.

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