The emerging power of Japan’s ‘Hydrangea’ revolution

Feature story - 6 July, 2012
Like the flower it has been named after, a budding civil movement is emerging and taking root in Japan to protest against the government’s decision to restart the Ohi nuclear plant.

The restart, just 18 months after the devastating tsunami and resulting nuclear Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, has sparked indignation and alarm in a Japanese society left scarred by the catastrophe.

We are a nation not especially known for public protests or civil disobedience, the rolling demonstrations in Japan this week and last suggest a major shift in Japanese society.

Junichi SatoThis movement against nuclear energy has been named after the Hydrangea, a flower the Japanese have traditionally loved because it blooms in June and July, giving hope during the dark, rainy season.

The symbolism of the flower is strikingly synonymous with the growing civil movement against nuclear power.

Born out of the aftermath of arguably one of Japan’s darkest hours, the movement offers hope and is gathering in numbers – similar to how the Hydrangea forms its flower; each small flower bunches together to form a bigger, more vibrant, flower.

Mass protest

Last Friday, stood with trembling excitement among tens of thousands of people shouting “Saikado Hantai” (No Restart of Nuclear Plant) in front of the gate of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

The protestors had emerged to object to a decision from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to restart the first nuclear reactor following the 3/11 disaster.  

Heading up the stairs from the subway station towards the demonstration, I could already feel the powerful energy of the protest.

Even mothers with small children, the future of Japan, were holding handmade banners saying “NO NUKES”.

Held on a Friday night, city workers in suits left their offices to join the protest after work. They too were holding placards in a protest that is truly made up of diverse parts of Japanese society.
The last time I saw a crowd of people that came close to this was a march in 2003, when the Japanese people voiced their opposition to war in Iraq.

This time, however, the atmosphere of the protest was different. It was not organised by an organisation and was absent of flags and banners brandishing a single group’s name.

Instead, people simply came to protest because they wanted to be there and directly communicate their concerns to the prime minister. That is why I felt the power of the message: it came from individuals. It was extraordinarily energizing.

Changing civil society

In 2008, I was arrested and later sentenced to a suspended prison term because I had stood up for the public good; exposing scandals in the subsidised Japanese whaling industry.

It has been an extremely hard fight to have the ideal of ‘freedom of expression’ recognised in conservative Japanese society. Generally, people have believed that the government and big corporations are always right.

A parliamentary report released this week blamed lax safety measures at the country’s nuclear plants due to what it called the country’s powerful and “collusive” decision-makers and on a conformist culture that allowed them to operate with little scrutiny.  

This is now starting to change.

The 3/11 disaster has changed people’s understanding and undermined their trust in the government and big corporations. Citizens have become more critical of government information and are more open to protest.

Last Friday, the protest spilled over from pedestrian paths onto the six-lane road in front of the prime minister’s house. Effectively, they marched on the street and occupied it. A follow-up protest will soon be held at the same location.

Although the first nuclear reactor was restarted this week, I am sure that politicians are feeling the power of ‘Revolution Hydrangea 紫陽花革命’.

Join us, support the citizens of Japan and be part of the Hydrangea Revolution.
Create a twitter storm to tell the Japanese Prime Minister Noda ‘#紫陽花革命’

Simply copy the Japanese characters (Saikado Hantai) below to tweet @kantei, too.

再稼働反対 Japanese Prime Minister Noda, #DontRestartNukes. @kantei  #紫陽花革命

Together we can take hold of a nuclear-free future.

Saikado Hantai 再稼働反対!!

Junichi Sato is Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan