From Underneath the Radar: Japanese Alternative Activists and Urban Protest after 2000

Friday, July 18, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Julia OBINGER , Department of Japanese Studies, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
The post-3/11 demonstrations against nuclear power have been regarded as a sensational development in Japan, where disruptive protest movements had been conspicuously absent since the 1970s. In contrast, I argue that collective public protests have been part of the repertoire of urban activists since the early 1990s, albeit rarely noticed by the larger public.

One prominent activist network is the group Shirōto no Ran in Tōkyō, who have been at the forefront of a number of protest movements from the early 2000s in Japan, e.g. the Freeter-movement or protests against urban regeneration and restrictive legislations. Not a pronounced environmentalist group, they nevertheless emerged as the main organizers of the early 2011 anti-nuclear demonstrations, utilizing their network and long-rehearsed creative protest repertoires. Besides these symbolic demonstrations, they enact prefigurative politics in their daily lives, implementing their alternative visions of urban sociality, entrepreneurship and empowerment. What distinguishes their network from other organizations is their strong cooperative and creative commitment beyond the restraints of conventional association like NGOs or political parties.

By interpreting their framing of the 3/11 crisis in a larger context of social change, the struggle against precarity and new developments in (proto-)political activism, I will explain how Shirōto no Ran as a non-environmental group did respond so quickly to the disaster – despite their low level of organization and professionalization. The key issues to be explored will be how they 1) organize themselves 2) develop protest agendas 3) mobilize participants, all seen under the larger topical and temporal trajectory within this group. By uncovering the workings of such seemingly “invisible” activist networks who operate outside the established civic organizations, the understanding of current forms of social movements in Japan will be broadened, re-thinking the terms of civic participation.