HIEA 112 Final Assignment *CONTENT WARNING*

  • Picture found on an article by Chris Michael from The Guardian, “Can ‘guerrilla picnics’ end Tokyo’s 50-year war on public space?”
  • Article published on June 12, 2019
  • Article/Picture accessed on March 16, 2022

I came across this image of Japanese protestors in Shinjuku when I was searching for images of Japanese protests and riots against authorities, as I wanted to talk about how the general Japanese populus often banded together to fight for what they believed was right, even if it meant going against their own government. This one particularly stood out to me because when I was reading the article I took this image from, I was able to see the contemporary significance of the events depicted in the image, as well as what the people stood for. In the image, the police are trying to take one of the demonstrators into custody, and the people are struggling to prevent that by holding back their fellow citizen. The demonstrators were trying to protest the Vietnam war by working together to occupy Shinjuku station, holding debates and handing out leaflets. However, this prompted a negative response from the police, who were trying to capture people and put them into custody, resorting to violent methods such as forcefully grabbing people.

Throughout many of the readings, we saw how police brutality and military enforcement were both a cause and effect of Japanese people’s discontent towards their government. In Matthew Allen’s “Wolves at the Back Door: Remembering the Kumejima Massacres,” we saw how people who were suspected of being spies against Japan were unfairly executed, and Allen describes how they are “evidence to demonstrate that the Okinawans were victims of Japanese illegitimate violence” (p. 39). Oftentimes, people were victims of violence from their own fellow citizens, particularly those who were part of the police or army. It took the protesting of a citizens’ group to convince the violent Lieutenant Kayama to surrender, which Tomiyama states is “an example of popular uprisings against the Japanese army in Okinawa” (p. 39). Thus, there were times where people could not even feel safe to express their true thoughts and opinions out loud, lest they be punished or suspected as a spy or traitor against Japan. However, mass public protests were sort of recurrent events throughout the history of Japan. For example, the Hibiya Riots of 1905 were a series of political riots that reflected the peoples’ anger towards the weakness of their government after the Russo-Japanese War. Moreover, the Rice Riots of 1918 were a series of primarily economic riots that reflected the desperation of the common people for their government to relieve their economic strain after the inflation of rice prices after World War I. Through these two examples, we can see the common theme of a somewhat incompetent or apathetic government and the people rebelling in order to enact change, followed often by the backlash of police brutality and mass violence.

The reason why I believe this picture is indispensable is because I feel that it is necessary to acknowledge the dark side of history, and understand that even though unforgivable things were done in the past, it is more important to work towards the betterment of society towards the future. Continuing through the article, I was able to see how even fifty years after the protests depicted in the image, people were still carrying on the legacy and the ideologies of the original protestors. According to the article, the Tokyo Picnic Club, a group of people who take inspiration from the Shinjuku protestors in the past, take part in a yearly event in which they argue against the lack of public space in Tokyo by having picnics in public throughout the city. In modern times, people are able to peacefully protest to advocate for ideas and policies that would have warranted a violent reaction from authorities in the past. It is an example of how people can work together to create change in the world, and move past their dark past. It is also an example of how events that may have seemed insignificant in the past can have a major impact on events and ideologies even in contemporary times.

I believe that this picture is indispensable for understanding Japan’s history because it enables us to see both sides of historical Japan; it is a depiction of Japan’s cruel and dark history of militaristic violence, as well as the optimistic side of people peacefully protesting and struggling to fight for what they believe in, and ultimately accomplishing their goals. Whether it is the struggles of the people in the original Shinjuku demonstrations, or the ambitions of those partaking in the Tokyo Picnic Club’s activities, there is much to understand and many lessons to learn as well.

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