Social Movements and Japanese Political Culture

English: Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Rally on 19 ...

English: Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Rally on 19 September 2011 at Meiji Shrine Outer Garden 日本語: 2011年9月19日に明治神宮外苑で行われたさようなら原発集会 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Chihiro Kobayashi

When I was in the U.S., I joined some social movements such as “Stop Modern Slavery Walk” and “9.11 Unity Walk” for the first time. My image toward the U.S. is that they insist and try to change their society by themselves through social movements if the current society is not what they want. Therefore, when they want to change the society, social movements are one of the most important ways.

However, in Japan, many people would think social movements are a bad thing and they avoid doing it. One of the biggest reasons why Japanese people do not join social movement is that they fear the bizarre eyes toward people those who join movements such as demonstration march. I do not say there is no social movements at all in Japan, but I think the understanding toward social movements is lower than other countries. Since demonstration type of social movement is hated by Japanese, it is important to find the suitable social movement instead to change our society better.

At the Japanese Political Culture Theory class, I learned Japanese people tend to avoid joining social movements as their culture. Instead, they tend to rely on others to change the society. For example, in the case of politics, many Japanese people complain current policies and criticize about the government as well. However, Japanese citizens tend not to make social movements to change these, instead they depend on politicians to change these problems. I do not really know if these tendency is because of Japanese culture as I learned in the Political Theory class, but I think it is sure that many Japanese have negative image toward social movements. However, I think Japanese people need to have better understanding toward social movements because it is difficult to make our society only by depending on the politicians.

In the past seven years, the Prime Minister of Japan has changed seven times, and Japanese citizens do not expect politicians to make our society better anymore. Since Japanese cannot rely on and trust politicians anymore, how we can change our society? I think we individuals need to join social movements and speak out about the problems to the government.

For example, more and more anti-nuclear plants demonstrations have been occurring in Japan recently, since the Fukushima Nuclear disaster. However, Japanese still might avoid joining a social movement, such as a demonstration march, because they do not want to be seen as bizarre in the eyes of other people. I think there are many other ways which is more suitable for Japanese cultural characteristic to join social movements which is other than demonstration. For example, in the case of anti-nuclear power plants, we have these variety of social movements.

  1. Voting for anti-nuclear politicians: Social Democratic Party and Communist party are anti-nuclear plants.
  2. Purchasing campaign: By buying the products from local area, they can appeal that they do no need to depend on money from the nuclear power plants but they can be independent.
  3. Consumer Boycott: Avoid buying the products which company is related to building nuclear power plants, such as Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Hitachi, Ltd.
  4. Changing the deposit account: Our deposit which is deposited in mega bank such as Japan Post Bank and Bank of the post office is used in bond purchases, and as a result, it will be used to construct dam construction and nuclear power plant constriction. By changing the bank account such as to National Association of Labor banks, it is possible to prevent our deposit from being used for building nuclear power plant. (Stop Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant)

Even though these social movements do not stand out openly rather it is more hidden movement different from demonstration march in the city, these movements still have big power to change the society. Also, even if we cannot change our society and policies, we can still influence public policy by bringing attention to the issues. Considering the recent lack of trust in politicians, we individuals need to stand up to make our society better.

I think it is important for Japanese people to find the best suitable social movements for them, based on their political culture (avoiding demonstrations) because we have different culture and characteristics from Americans and other countries. These little by little hidden social movements might change not only policies but also might change people’s negative perspective toward the social movements in the future.


“Stop Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant.” Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

‘Women of Fukushima’ is available for free online viewing

Women of Fukushima

The documentary “Women of Fukushima” is available for free online viewing this week.

by Robert Moorehead

To highlight the ongoing difficulties experienced by many in Japan, the wonderful and inspiring documentary ‘Women of Fukushima’ is available for free online viewing this week. To see the documentary, click on the image above and you’ll be taken to

What’s Changed, 2 Years After Fukushima?

As one: People join hands Sunday morning on a beach in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, ahead of the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. | KYODO

by Robert Moorehead

Two years ago today, at 2:46pm, Japan suffered one of the worst disasters in its history. A magnitude 9 earthquake shook for 6 minutes, followed by a massive tsunami that destroyed entire cities and carried people and debris out to sea. The quake and tsunami also crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, taking out its backup power generators and safety systems. Tens of thousands remain displaced and likely never to return to their homes.

I watched news coverage of the tsunami and nuclear disaster from the safety of the United States, while my suitcases sat packed and ready for travel to Japan to start my position at Ritsumeikan. I heard American broadcasts warn of everything but Godzilla marching down the street, and Japanese broadcasts calmly, quietly, try to balance informing the public with protecting those in power. Somewhere in between those two extremes lied the news people needed to hear, and that is still largely ignored in the mainstream Japanese press.

Governments across Japan conducted disaster drills on the anniversary of 3-11.

Governments across Japan conducted disaster drills on the anniversary of 3-11.

This week, TV news have covered elements of the nuclear disaster in detail, and undoubtedly many people across the country will observe a moment of silence at the time the quake struck. But for the those who had to evacuate, there is likely no going back. Many still live in poorly built temporary housing and struggle to form new community ties. Victims of the disaster continue to struggle with domestic violence, unemployment, depression, and suicide. And many live just outside the evacuation areas, near radioactive hotspots, and in areas where radiation cleanup work has been shoddy and ineffective. The yakuza, Japan’s labor broker of last resort, have done well in the aftermath of the disaster, but how about the people of Tohoku?

While disasters often bring people together, leading us to help each other and to sacrifice for the common good, eventually the institutionalized patterns of corruption and inequality reappear. Prior to the disasters, the regulatory bodies that ostensibly existed to protect the public from the deadly hazards of nuclear power, instead served to protect the profits of the agencies they were supposed to regulate. This brazen failure of governance raises the question I have asked my Japanese students each semester, whom does the government serve? Does it represent you, your voice, your interests, or those of Japan’s corporate oligarchy? Is the system rigged in their favor? The questions are largely rhetorical, but I often get the sense that students had not previously given this issue much thought.

Nobel laureate writer Kenzaburo Oe (right), joins a demonstration after an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo on Saturday, March 9, 2013. Thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators rallied in Tokyo, urging Japan’s government to abandon nuclear power. — PHOTO: AFP

One cliche often heard in Japan was that 3-11, much like 9-11, changed everything. The challenge Japan faces is whether the events changed anything at all. Beyond the buildings and nearly 20,000 lives that were lost, what has changed?

The Abe administration moves ahead with plans to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants, and a newly restructured nuclear regulatory agency struggles for legitimacy. Will the new agency actually regulate the industry? Will the agency shut down nuclear power plants that were built on active earthquake faults? Will it enforce new safety regulations? Will the government be able to turn down the companies that have invested billions in plants and fuel processing facilities? Who will the government represent in making those decisions?

A protester holds an anti-nuclear power sign at a rally in Tokyo on Saturday, March 9, 2013. Thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators rallied in Tokyo on Saturday, urging Japan’s government to abandon nuclear power. — PHOTO: AP

My students tell me that Japanese people don’t protest and that there are no social movements in Japan. And if you only read the mainstream press, this perspective makes sense. But tens of thousands of people across Japan continue to protest the return to nuclear power. Will these voices be represented in government? (It’s also disheartening to hear my students ignore 60 years of protest in Okinawa, but that’s the subject for another post.)

It will take another 40 years to decommission the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, requiring the use of technologies not yet invented to remove melted nuclear fuel from inside the damaged reactors and spent fuel pools. Righting the country’s course will require continued vigilance. If that happens, then 3-11 will really have changed everything.

Ishinomaki—Then and Now

by Robert Moorehead

Filmed in Ishinomaki in November, 2011, this documentary includes interviews with survivors of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters of March 11. This moving documentary is the recipient of Best Documentary and the Grand Prix prize at Super Shorts Film Festival, 2012.

The video is also available in the following languages:

The filmmakers have also released “The Women of Fukushima,” a documentary film that examines the experiences of eight women whose lives have been changed by the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. This disaster has compelled these women to become activists in the social movement against nuclear power in Japan.

My Japanese students often tell me that there are no social movements in Japan, and that Japanese people don’t participate in such events. Not only does this view negate the existence of 60 years of protest in what is now Okinawa prefecture, but it also views the people who participate in such movements as somehow different from everyone else in Japan.

The “Women of Fukushima” challenges this view, by giving viewers a feeling of connection with these women. Hopefully this connection will compel more Japanese to speak up and demand a safer future for them and their children.

“The Women of Fukushima” is available for online rental and purchase (for only $8) at

Social movements: Anti-nuclear movements in Fukushima

by Jun Yasukawa

In March 11, 2011, a huge earthquake and tsunami occurred and wide range of Tohoku was damaged. Those damages were mostly due to the enormous tsunami, but there was another big problem. It is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Plant, after the disaster of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It is said that it is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster, which happened in 1986. Because of this nuclear problem, anti-nuclear movements occurred not only in Japan, but also in all over the world. People all over the world once again recognized the danger of the nuclear plants and the risk that they have toward citizens. On March 12, 2011, about 60,000 Germans lined up on the street, forming a human chain that is about 45-km long, from Stuttgart to the Neckarwestheim power plant. Also, on March 14, 2011, about 110,000 people protested in 450 German towns. During this social movement, opinion poll was conducted and it indicated that 80% of Germans opposed the extension of nuclear power by the government. There are many other anti-nuclear social movements all over the world, such as the ones by 2,000 anti-nuclear protesters in Taiwan and Switzerland. Of course, this is only few cases of anti-nuclear movements, and there are a lot other ones also around the world.

Although the fact that this many people all over the world protest against nuclear power plants, the reality is that we need to depend on nuclear power. That is because it is able to generate big amount of power and if we are not able use nuclear power, there might be a lack in power. Right now, all the nuclear plants in Japan are stopped, but it took long time to stop it, because Tokyo Electric Power Company hesitated to stop it.

I think that almost all the people around the world oppose or have a negative image towards nuclear power plants. However, it seems like those voices are weaker than government’s and companies’ voices, despite the fact that there are way more number of people. Since government and big companies have authorities and powers, it may be a natural thing. However, it is very unfair because unclear power problem is an issue that is deeply related to our life. So I strongly think that our voices need to be heard more. And I hope that government, electric power companies, and other top authorities will compromise and work together with citizens, and we all should seek for our bright future.


The New York Times March 8 2012, “Japan’s Nuclear Energy Industry Nears Shutdown, at Least for Now”

BBC News, March 26 2011, “Germany stages anti-nuclear marches after Fukushima”

Globalization and social movements: a revolt for globalization.

by Wataru Yukita

Globalization gives us many interests in many aspects, financial system, investment, free trade, communicate with people around the world and so on. Therefore, we can get news in the world and culture in our house. Products of TOYOTA or SONY influence wasting life in the world. However, globalization has negative aspects and they raise some social movements.

For instance, in 1980’s, IMF(International Monetary Fund) support developing countries in order to introduce open markets, easing of regulation and cutting government spending. They promoted globalization. By these political measures of IMF, investments for these counties had increased, not only traditional direct investments but also investments to stock and bond certificate for free and international financial markets. They had firm effect on economy in developing countries.

However, after economic crisis in Asia in 1997, IMF forced East Asia counties to pursue fiscal austerity. By this tight budget, these counties must take measure of cutting social welfare, unemployment, inflation of basic goods. What is worse, downturn of economy causes social disorder and political confusion. In Indonesia, Rebellions popped out by reason of cutting subvention for food and fuel. In Thailand, jobless workers in urban area pour to rural area. By these unsteadiness and confusion, the measures of IMF to East Asia introduce social movements for anti-globalization to oppose globalization.

In 1999, NGO of development and environment and labor association worked large social movements for anti-globalization in a conference by WTO at Seattle. The crowd became about 50 thousand people. These movements argued that liberalization by WTO result in much damage in many aspect, people health, environmental pollution and labor condition in many societies. Thanks to these social movements, WTO could not set up new round and create new agenda to support developing countries. In 2001, through these amendments for some policies, WTO was able to establish new round. Today, WTO is biggest regime by join 153 countries and region. WTO address to equity of trade rule and deal in development by reflecting developing countries opinion. It shows that recognition that developing countries should get benefit by free trade is shared around the world in spreading globalization rapidly.

I think that globalization give people many opportunities to progress civilization. In addition, it needs governance that control negative aspects of globalization. So, globalization requires making rule and policies that take care of wealth gap and environmental pollution in international, region and nation level. Social movements take a important role to frame these rules.


Koji Murata, “Catch International Politics”(Japanese), YUHIKAKU,2009.

Effects of framing

by Sayaka Umei

The information of posters, advertisements, commercials, TVs, election promises, or even newspapers deliver a certain and limited information. These tools highlight what the providers want to say briefly to tell the most important information. However, I would like to ask “Is this just for viewer”? NO. The providers deliver and emphasize the information, thus it causes social movement, which means it makes the problem public. In my opinion, people have to choose and inquire into the information given not to act too emotionally.

“Framing is a thought organizer, highlighting certain events and facts as important ad rendering others invisible” according to Ryan and Gamson. It is “necessary but not sufficient.” It is “valuable for focusing a dialogue with targeted constituencies” because “it involves a strategic dialogue intended to shape a particular group into a coherent movement.” According to Ryan and Gamson as well, the faming has both good points and bad points.

For the strong points, there are 4 points; first the information is explicit for viewers. So they can get the information what the providers want to say. Second, people can have many frames in their heads because there are many kinds of people all over the world, which means there are many kinds of framing as well. Third, people can get the worldview of their adversaries through successful reframing. Forth, all frames implicit or explicit apply to moral principles. I think this forth one easily can cause the social movements.

For the bad points, there are 3 points; first there is too much emphasis on the message. Second, there is too narrow a focus on the message with lack of the framing strategy. Third, political conservatives did not build political power by the broader cultural values but by the infrastructure ad relationship with journalists

Based on these strong and bad points, what we have to do to the framing is that we have to pick up the information which is given to us and not to be flourished by the information. Of course, I do not say the social movement is bad, but I think that is too directly. When people are given the information and they feel something bad for them, they promote the social movement. If the provider expects people doing so like George Bush about al-Qaeda, they are in the intent of the provider.

In conclusion, nowadays there is much information around us and the technology, sociology, or even psychology has been developing. Framing has very good strategy which we cannot notice. We have to pick up the information; especially we have to pay attention to the information which is too emphasized or too effective to people’s minds.

Why are social movements influential for society?

 by Mayu Uehara

Social movements have been worked to change the structure and environment of society. The famous one is the American Civil Rights Movement in1950s to 1960s and ‘ I have a dream’ speech which Martin Luther King spoke have been passed its story down from generation to generation. Social movements are occurred many times in Japan as well; such as demo for stop working nuclear power plant, problem of U.S military staying in Okinawa and so on. A little while ago, huge demo, which were occurred in China and provided economical impacts to Japan, were also huge social movement. From these social movements, I found there are two features of it and they are about activists and situation. These features make social movements having huge power to change society.

First, activists are not wealthy but socially weak. They often don’t have much power to against social structure. For example, demo in China were incredibly intense and violent and most of them were younger who work at factories with low payment. From my point of view, the reason why they exploded their emotion that much were because they haven’t had enough chances to speak out their complaint and also they have lived under stresses. As other example, the activists of the American Civil Rights Movements were mostly black people who had discriminated by society itself. We can observe that people who try to change structures of society are mostly in powerless position.

Secondly, I think that social movements seldom occur suddenly but they are occurred when people’s stress reached the top and they think they can’t stand any more. We can see this from the social movements in Fukushima. When nuclear power plants were working peacefully, there were not any complaints in Fukushima from its citizens. After they exploded and people who lived close to it were prohibited, they showed anger to government and leaders of corporate. At that point, they were not social movement there. Fukushima citizens got together for social movements when government tried to use nuclear power plant again. They claimed, ‘ We can’t stand being quiet any more. We can’t just look on government’s movement without doing anything.’ Their efforts influence political policy and now most of Japanese party state about finish depending on nuclear power plant in the future. I think this is because government truly felt their angers and also pressure from society.

Above all, for rich people, they can have choices to avoid unpleasant situation by using money, but in contrary, the weak people have to remain under the situation without any choices, therefore, they tend to live under stress and hardly with satisfaction. The more local people have stresses, the more social movements are bigger. Also, many times they are certain leads which stimulate them to explode their complaints. Social movement’s features are these two which I mentioned and that’s why they have great impacts to reshape political policy.

How media gives effect on social movement over Diaoyu-dao issue

by Rina Terasaki

Variety of social movements happen in worldwide, and also in Japan. As we learned in the class, social movements can bring people’s attention into issues and moreover can influence the public policy. To bring public attentions more and more, social and industrial media act a big role in the movements. One characteristic of media is bias. It only leans to one side or one specific position, and keeps insisting that they are the only right. Sometimes, ironically, media even announce things over and worse than its actual, so that it makes people confused and blindness to other ‘reasonable’ information. So the part taken by media in social movements can be said as very huge.

In this summer of 2012, there happened many movements in Japan and China over the issue of ownership of islands which is called ‘Senkaku (Diaoyu-dao) issues.’ I was on an exchange program to Beijing, China at the time of the beginning of the series of these issues. Many movement were actually happened and also media in not only Japan, China and worldwide also showed them for not a short time. Then, I felt there is happening one thing, but since the difference of information, (and also nationalism and other reason on the background), the recognition among people in these different countries also turns to be scattered. In this essay, I would like to explain the facts of ‘Senkaku (Diaoyu-dao) issues’ from each side and analyze how our recognition of this issue were made.

After Japanese governments’ announce of purchase of the island, in China, not only through the central TV news and newspapers, but also through many forms of medium, it was informed to nations. Sina Weibo, which is Chinese twitter, informed registrants the newest things at any time. This way, the issue was spread to be understood by even people who do not have television and computer. The 19th of August 2012, huge people took part in a demonstration in Shenzhen. People who participated destroyed Japanese things such as cars and shops, and Japanese TV companies kept airing repeatedly this scene on news. As I felt, hearing voices around me, abuseful scene gave people impression of savage, especially to elder people. Also at the governmental phase, the central government of China wrote propaganda on foreign masmedia. Although it seems just like propaganda that has no justifiable data as people say in Japan, through they keep insisting strongly, it can be said that ordinal people’s recognition over the world has been lean toward to Chinese side. This seems similar to what Joseph Caldwell Wylie says the “Cumulative strategy.” I felt media how much effect public opinion. This way, social movements including demonstration and a part of riot would be justified

As I wrote above, Senkaku (Diaoyu-dao) issue consists of ‘image-making’ factor. Although the fact should be one, through media with different position, and their partial strong insists, image that receiving end get would be decided differently.


-Beijing news portal. “Shenzhen Diaoyudao Demonstration hurts Japanese Cars” 25.Aug.2012 written by David Cao

-Kaikoku Bouei Journal 29.Sep.2012

Social movements all around the world

by Mao Shibata

In these times of globalization, social movements become not only domestic movement but also international and world-wide movements. For instance, the Arab Spring that originally occurred in Tunisia and spreading throughout Arab world is one of the largest revolutionary waves of demonstration, protest, and war, which began on 18 December 2010 remain vivid in most people’s memory. Social movements collect particular people to appeal particular thinking or idea, and moreover, people are organized as unity using their social networks and attempt to change or promote their society and politics. To achieve their goals, framing is essential for every social movements.

Framing enable to integrate people together and determine their direction of movements. Furthermore, social movements can incorporate more groups with a broader range of goals and great influence on popularity and public policy.

When I watched the movement against nuclear power plants in Hukushima, I was so impressed and I understood the relation between framing and social movements. I know the concepts of both framing and social movement, however, I was a little bit confused how do they impact on mutually. In the movie, women in Hukushima stood up and started to take action as they want to protect all of their children who live in radiation exposure area and moreover, they feel anger with the government who did not deal with nuclear problem seriously and sincerely. These are the framing. That’s why they decided to take action as social movements. They are now organizing social movement against nuclear plants to attain their goal that abolish the nuclear plants and turn other-not only media but also all citizens- attention to them.

However, social movements sometimes compete with each other and they miss their purpose or goal. What they need is to keep less abstract and more personal and not to focus on only one frame. We usually carry around multiple frames in our head and every people grasp affairs in difference ways. Keep thinking for example, what framing being more successful? Do people convey any clear consisting frame? And carrying on effort to reframe and considering solution lead to achieve their real goal. Social movements act to change political debates, governmental institution and wider culture under their own purpose. Sometime there are some obstacles that are put in their way such as government, police, media or their opposition campaign and it is really difficult to convey their goal to entire world, though they try to promote awareness and action that extends beyond the boundaries of one movement or campaign by pressing and carrying images and words.