About 2,500 protesters formed a “human chain” around the Diet building in Tokyo to oppose the Abe administration’s attempt to push Japan away from the pacifist ideals set in the postwar Constitution.
Banners were waved and chants were repeated in the demonstration May 13, criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to reinterpret the Constitution to lift the nation’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense. An advisory panel to Abe will submit its report on the issue on May 15.
According to protest organizers, the hand-holding participants included people of all ages, including civilians who experienced the hectic days of World War II under Japan’s military government.
“I joined this event after contemplating what could be done as the mother of a daughter,” said Yoko Ninomiya, a 45-year-old part-time worker from Tokyo’s Chofu.
When her daughter asked for an explanation of the right to collective self-defense, Ninomiya said she replied that the right could lead the nation to participate in war.
“The government should deepen discussions on the future of our children,” said Ninomiya, who joined the protest with two friends.
Exercising the right to collective self-defense would allow Japan to launch counterstrikes against a country that attacks an ally. One such scenario the Abe administration has in mind involves Japan’s Self-Defense Forces coming to the rescue of a U.S. vessel under attack by a third country.
Abe says a reinterpretation is needed to deal with potential threats to Japan’s security in East Asia.
Defenders of the Constitution, however, warn that a constitutional reinterpretation runs the risk of Japan becoming embroiled in conflicts overseas.
“We should never let Japan become a type of country that wages war again,” said Tetsuji Takada, a 78-year-old resident of Tokyo’s Adachi Ward who joined the rally with his wife.
Takada was 9 years old when World War II ended.
He said many of the older neighbors he used to play with were called up to fight for Japan.
On the day the neighbors left for their missions, Takada’s family smiled and threw their arms in the air in a “banzai” salute to cheer them on. Many of his friends never returned from the battlefields.
Takada described the time as an “insane period” when one’s death was equated with honor. He also lamented the current lack of “realistic discussions” on the ramifications of exercising the right to collective self-defense.
“I wonder if we would be treated as heroes again if we died in war now,” he said.
Junji Sasaki, an 82-year-old resident of Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward, called himself a “child of war.”
Sasaki was born in 1931, when the Manchurian Incident occurred, leading to the Japanese rule of northeastern China.
He said his childhood, bereft of the chance to study, was at the mercy of the war. At one time, he was mobilized to haul coal at a station. On another occasion, he had to engage in agricultural work.
It was not until Japan’s pacifist Constitution went into force in 1947 that he realized the fallacies of militarism.
Sasaki worked as a court clerk and campaigned to defend the Constitution throughout the postwar period.
“Japan should not repeat the same mistakes again,” he said.