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The Year of American Activism in Japan

SNA (Tokyo) — 2017 was a year unlike any other in Japan in the sense that it witnessed repeated public demonstrations by concerned Americans against the new president of their own country. The election of Donald Trump was not only unwelcome to the majority of US citizens, but spurred fears in them that hard-won civil rights were being rolled back, and even that the core values of Americanism were under assault by the new administration.

There were, by our count, nine major demonstration days by Americans in Japan in 2017, most of which occurred between January and April.

The theme which produced the strongest degree of mobilization was that of women’s rights.

A female marcher stated, “We are not moving backwards in time. We are not screeching to a halt and then moving from the progress that our mothers and our grandmothers and the generations before us worked so hard to build and to move forward and to earn the right to vote and to wear pants and to be in the workplace and all of things that women have worked so hard for. I march for that, and to progress into the future.”

Other consistent themes of the protests were calls for the protection of minorities, whether they be sexual minorities or ethnic minorities, as in the case of the January protest against Donald Trump’s original Muslim Ban.

Later in the year, the events in Charlottesville, in which the US president came very close to endorsing Neo-Nazi racism in the wake of the murder of an innocent anti-racism protester, Heather Heyer, produced another wave of activity.

It does not appear that the activism by US citizens in Japan will be sustained at the same level in 2018. All along they have faced the political ambiguity of being residents of a foreign land protesting about events occurring far away from the mental landscape of most Japanese people.

Additionally, there seemed to be a deep reluctance to tie their own concerns to those of Japanese activists.

The American activists were also hamstrung by their over-reliance on a handful of highly motivated volunteers, without creating any effective institutional networks of support beyond Facebook communities.

Still, 2017 will go down as an extraordinary year in which many Japanese heads were turned in Tokyo and elsewhere, trying to comprehend the bizarre sight of foreigners marching on their city streets.

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