Anti-nuclear demonstrations that have been a fixture in front of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on Friday nights for nearly a year are still drawing sizable crowds, but nowhere near as big as in the past.
Concerned about dwindling attendance, the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, the citizens group behind the protests, is wondering how it can sustain interest in this form of activism.
The protest, held March 15 to voice opposition to restarting Japan’s idled nuclear reactors, was the 46th such rally.
The first one was held in March 2012, one year after the onset of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Only 300 people attended that time.
Organizers said the latest protest drew some 3,000 people, a far cry from the 200,000 who turned up in late June, immediately before the Noda administration restarted reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
This year, however, the protests have attracted crowds ranging in size from 2,500 to 13,000 each time, organizers said.
The Metropolitan Police Department had vastly lower estimates, putting peak attendance at around 21,000 in early July.
Even so, the police agree that the number of protesters is decreasing.
“Recently, the number of participants has been limited to several hundred,” a police officer said.
Yoichiro Mori, a self-employed man from Tokyo, has been taking part in the demonstrations once a month since last July. On March 15, he left his job earlier than usual to ensure he would not be late for the protest.
The 28-year-old said he felt that “interest in the nuclear issue is waning,” as reflected by the smaller crowds and fewer young people in attendance. “That’s probably because it’s difficult to feel how terrifying radiation is.?
Mori tries to convey a sense of the crowd atmosphere through frequent posts on Twitter.
Misao Redwolf, a core member of MCAN, agreed that the numbers are falling, but insisted the issue will not go away.
“The decrease does not mean that the number of people who are hoping for the abolition of nuclear power plants is decreasing,” she said. “By continuing to hold the rallies every week, the movement is serving like a beacon of light from a lighthouse.?
In February, MCAN started the “No Nukes Magazine Project” to convey its message to people who have not taken part in the anti-nuclear demonstrations. To encourage people to do so, MCAN has distributed leaflets in front of train stations and elsewhere.
The first issue, titled, “Kihon-hen” (Basic chapter), outlines the current situation in Fukushima Prefecture and costs of nuclear power generation in easy-to-understand language.
It plans to publish more issues in the hope of attracting more weekly protesters.
A 44-year-old woman from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, who attended the rallies at their peak last summer said she stopped going because she felt the protests were ineffective.
“The current situation is not one we can change with demonstrations,” she said. “It’s meaningless just to shout loudly (at the rallies).”
She had expectations that the rallies would influence the government, but felt let down after the reactors at the Oi nuclear plant were restarted.
A 44-year-old graphic designer from Tokyo?s Itabashi Ward who attended last summer’s rallies had a similar experience.
After the pro-nuclear power Liberal Democratic Party retook the reins of government last December, she felt disappointed.
However, she doesn’t think that her experience of having participated in the demonstrations is meaningless. But she eventually stopped going because the one-hour train ride became too much for her.
“Previously, politicians may have thought that whatever they do, the people will not complain about it,” said the woman who used to attend rallies with her 5-year-old son. “But now we have been able to make them recognize that the people will not be silent anymore.”
Chizuru Muto is one anti-nuke protester who has not given up. The 55-year-old hair and makeup artist from Tokyo’s Meguro Ward has been taking part in the demonstrations since June 2012. Linking up with friends on Facebook, she has tried to ensure that at least one person, she or somebody she knew, would turn up at the Friday night rallies.
“If we say nothing, idle nuclear reactors will be restarted one after another,” Muto said.
On March 15, the protest started at 6 p.m. in front of the prime minister’s office in Nagatacho to the rhythm of drum beats and the chanting of slogans.