Around Yasukuni Shrine, New Regulations and Police Tactics Keep Noise and Violence Down During August 15th Demonstrations
By Avi Landau
For important background material on this article, read my earlier Tsukublog post on visiting Yasukuni Jinja:
August 15th, 1945 has been called Japan`s Longest Day. It was on that very date that the Emperor Hirohito (now known as The Showa Emperor) told his subjects, in a voice heard for the first time ever over the radio, that they would have to ACCEPT THE UNACCEPTABLE and surrender unconditionally to the allied forces. This announcement, coming after years of hardship and determined struggle, was met with tears, stunned confusion, and surely, by many millions of Japanese, with a great sense of relief.
Over the years since the years since the war, August 15th has also come to be what is most certainly the LONGEST DAY OF THE YEAR for Tokyo`s police department- especially its riot squad. This is because in recent years it has been their duty, on that day, to protect the procession of anti-emperor system-, and other left-wing-cause activists who ( bravely? INSANELY???) march towards the entrance of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which on the SHU-SEN KINENBI (終戦記念日- the End of the War Day ), has become a mecca for the Japanese extreme right and ultra-nationalists ( besides being the place where hundreds of thousands of average citizens quietly and reverently pay their respects to those soldiers who have died in Japan`s wars).
Together with the thousands of run-of-the-mill nationalists , who gather, flags in hand, to protect the honor of the shrine (in their mind) by uniting to form a wall, and shouting the left-wing demonstration down, there are numerous bands of fringe paramilitary groups and gangters (yakuza), whose khaki-clad members wait in ambush and try to lunge into the procession and take as many swings at the demonstrators as they can get in ( though as I have written before they usually target able-bodied young men and not the elderly or women who are marching).
Protecting the small band of demonstrators from violence as they march the few blocks towards and then away from the entrance of the shrine, is NO EASY TASK- especially considering that it requires wearing FULL RIOT GEAR during the hottest season of the year ( and it really IS extremely hot and humid!!), and involves plenty of running and often physical grappling.
To make matters even worse for the police, they have to endure a continual stream of verbal abuse from the nationalists ( and occassionally from the demonstrators they are protecting! ), who while the anti-Emperor-anti-Yasukuni procession is not within hearing distance ( which is most of the time) vent their passions on the police ( taunting them, quite illogically, for wasting the tax-payers money by protecting so-called traitors. But what are the police supposed to do, let the demonstrators get attacked? It is in fact Governor Ishihara, the Favorite of the right-wing, who should be blamed for allowing the demonstrations. The police are in fact just doing their job!).
This constant and outrageous taunting of the police is not only accomplished through the unaided voice. The leaders of the extremist groups, who sit in their specially decorated ( and air-conditioned!) buses, trucks and jeeps, blare their invectives through huge loudspeakers. When all of these get going at once, as they have in past years, the noise level is louder than several rock concerts combined!
What had always outraged my sense of logic about all the noise these trucks would make, is that although these activists claimed that they were defending the honor of Yasukuni Shrine and The Emperor, more than anyone, they were disturbing the worshipers, many of whom lost relatives in the war, as they had come to pay their respects the shrine. It is even possible that the Emperor and his family have been disturbed by the racket they make!
Still, despite the heat, tension and danger, all the officers have to constantly be on their best behaviour, as there are plenty of video and still cameras as well as eye-witnesses and anything even resembling police brutality or other form of mal-practice would be something which the right-wing groups would have to hold over them ( the mainstream media would NOT get involved, however, as they amazingly do not report what happens at these impassioned and violent demonstrations right in the heart of Tokyo!).
And though I had always been impressed by the way the police had been able to handle everything that went on in the area in front of the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15th ( surprising for many foreigners is there are never any problems WITHIN the precincts of the shrine, though there are dozens of conspicuous plain-clothes officers from special branches of the police who can be seen photographing and taking notes on the members of right-wing groups and organized crime), there have always remained major blemishes on the why past demonstrations have turned out.
First, there were the special interest groups standing between the subway station and the shrine that occassionally would intimidate people ( especially foreigners) by encircling them and shouting slogans very loudly.
Well, the group that did that to ME last year, was not allowed back! Plain-clothes police who had been closely monitoring that area and who skillfully extracted me unharmed ( physically) from the clutches of the mob had obviously made notes on what this group had been doing, and they were not allowed back. This year, all these activists groups gathered signatures for their petitions and gave out their leaflets in peace.
( for the complete story of my experience last year read:
Another problem from previous year was the large vehicles with the powerful loudspeakers mounted on them which used to rush around the neighborhood trying to find points of access to approach the anti-Yasukuni demonstrators. This year, the police got to these early, surrounding them for hours, until everything was all finished, never letting them move.
In addition, by some means, either a new law or just by pleading the common sense argument (which I myself had used with the right-wingers) that the noise and bad language blared from the loudspeakers were themselves an insult to the shrine, the police were able to keep most of these vehicles from making too much noise.
In past years, one of the biggest reasons for injuries to the demonstrators was that after the procession had passed its nearest point to the shrine, and excitement was highest, everyone would race through the narrow alleys and tried to pursue the leftists. Things got especially dangerous as the procession came to an end an the police would just say- OK, now go home fast! Suddenly, the demonstrators ( clearly identifiable by their wear) would be completely unprotected and the inflamed ( I would even say RABID) nationalist would ambush them.
This year, what the police did, was march all the officially registered nationalist groups into fenced off areas from which they could shout and wave flags. When the leftists passed, the nationalist were not permitted to moved. As you can imagine this resulted in a lot of abuse hurled on the police, and in fact, I and another foreigner with a camera, suddenly became the altenate target of everyones frustrations. Thankfully, the police let us ( and us alone) through.
What this meant is that during yesterday`s procession only a few attempts could be made on the procession by paramilitary thugs or yakuza ( and the occassional enraged salaryman). These attacks were all EASILLY contained.
Something else the police did this year that was interesting was that at the point where the procession came closest to the shrine, riot buses were actually lined up as a protective wall shielding the shrine from the view of the demonstrators ( who Im sure were not very happy about that, since they were complaining that the police had been surrounding them so completely during the whole procession that they could hardly be seen by anyone). This not only kept things a little cooler by keeping both extreme groups out of each others sight at what is usually the most climctic poit of the day, but also soothed the feelings of the nationalists by blocking the shrine from the eyes of the demonstrators.
When the day was over, I was relieved at how little violence there had been compared with years past, and by how the police were able to make positive adjustments.
Completely drained and exhausted, I started back to Tsukuba.
For everyone who was there , especially the police, August 15th proved once again to be Japan`s LONGEST DAY!
Here is a tour of Yasukuni Shrine on August 15th 2010 through my cell phone pictures: