Monday, December 22, 2014

suicide protests in japan

On the evening of November 11, 2014, a man set himself on fire at Hibiya Park in Tokyo, an area where government buildings are concentrated. The act was a protest against both the “July 1 Cabinet Decision,” which paved the way to lifting the constitutional ban onJapan’s exercise of its right to collective self-defense, and the new US military facility construction at Henoko and Takae in Okinawa.

Just four and a half months earlier, in Shinjuku, a major Tokyo commercial and entertainment district, another man from Saitama, north of Tokyo set himself afire in the middle of a busy shopping street, barely escaping death. His name has not been reported but Asahi Shimbun’s follow-up article two month later describes him as a previously homeless man in his sixties now living on welfare. This self-immolation occurred on June 29, in the midst of a national debate over re-interpretation of Article 9 of the constitution that would allow Self Defense Forces to fight wars outside Japan in support of its allies, namely the United States. His act was witnessed by hundreds, many of whom photographed it and posted on social media sites. 

In contrast to the international media that acted quickly, the major Japanese media followed slowly, with the exception of NHK, which blacked out the incident at a time when the Abe administration was bent on eliminating the constitutional restriction on Japan’s overseas military action. The incident took most observers by surprise, as self-immolation as an act of political expression is, as Temple University Japan’s Jeff Kingston writes, “a last-resort demonstration of defiance normally confined to despotic states.”

The Japanese media response to the November 11 event was swifter than it was to the earlier self-immolation. The story was covered by NHKAsahiYomiuriMainichi, and Jiji, but their reports were uniformly based on the information provided by the police – the man was seen on fire at around 6:55 PM, November 11 in Hibiya Park, and he died shortly after being taken to a hospital; he had a camera set up to film the event and left a note addressed to Prime Minister Abe and the two parliamentary leaders, demanding nullification of the July 1 Cabinet Decision and the Henoko/Takae construction.

Most Japanese newspapers ran a small story buried inside the paper. Internationally, BBCTelegraphDaily MailIndependent and RTwere among those that provided coverage, but interestingly there did not seem to be any US mainstream media coverage of the second incident, in contrast to the June self-immolation when the New York Times and CNN were among those that quickly reacted. Whether this had anything to do with the fact that the second suicide protested not just the Japanese government’s policy but also the construction of new US military facilities in Okinawa is unknown. But many of those that did report the November 11 self-immolation only mentioned opposition to constitutional revisions as the motive, making no mention of the US military base issue.

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