Being politically active in Japan (日本において、政治的であるということ)

I cannot deny the fact that I am a political person. Studying EU politics, getting involved in a political party, and working for a parliamentarian at the political institution… Actually, I’m the “politically active” person when I was in the EU.

Therefore, talking about politics is a natural thing for me. Luckily, the European Parliament, where I worked for half a year, was the best place to talk about politics- as you can guess the reason. Surrounded by marvelous colleagues, I enjoyed lots of political discussions; about the US’s presidential election, the recent rise of nationalism in the EU, and what the media called “refugee crisis”… Everything we talked fascinated me a lot- despite my colleagues got barely any knowledge about Japanese politics. I felt comfortable whenever we have those conversations, but at the same time, those discussions came about because they’re embedded in our daily life. We talked because we needed to think about them.

Coming back to Japan, I realized that I shouldn’t have taken such an environment for granted. Talking about politics was certainly not a natural thing for many people in Japan. This sense of feeling first came to my mind on my arrival day. It was 3 days after the Brussels’ bombing that I came back to Tokyo; Everybody asked me about the incident- how was Brussels, did I experience something dangerous, did I see lots of soldiers in the city, those kind of things. They’re nothing wrong, and they asked because they worried about me. But honestly, I thought those questions are one-dimensional and shallow. I wanted to go more than that- like, actually there are a group of people who argue AGAINST the “anti-terrorism” discourse that easily leads to extreme populism and exclusivism; against people’s blindness and suspicion to the others; against raising up security measures that harm people’s freedom (you can read one thoughtful article from here).

I wanted to raise up those discussions, but always I felt silent pressure that says “could you please not start ‘difficult conversation’?” that kept my mouth closed. But I always muttered myself- Yes, those ARE political topics. And certainly not easy to draw an conclusion. But hey, aren’t they our problem as well? you say refugees possibly disturb the social order and cause troubles, but we ARE part of the 1951’s refugee convention, an international framework that deals with refugees? Don’t you think we’re morally responsible, at least for thinking about it?

I don’t intend to blame any specific figure in this text. Japan has a long history of citizen’s struggle for political activism (like the Zenkyoto movement in 1960s, the New Left student movement oppressed by the police) and what we see now is a consequence of various factors. Most of Japanese I met here are certainly less interested in politics than people who I hang around in Europe, but I should also be biased.

However, as a Japanese citizen, and as a person who’s fascinated by the EU politics, I also want to change the current situation of Japan. Shouldn’t there be a room for politics, or something “public”- a space between “private” and “authority”- in a spectrum of Japanese society? Shouldn’t ordinary citizens be more closer to politics?  For example, after 2 weeks being in Japan, I am yet (well, I don’t really have to hide it) jobless. It’s extremely hard to find a job in Japan at this point of time- partly because I am dropped out from ordinary job-hunting process (In Japan, expected new graduates have to start and end job-hunting process all at the same time). But more than that, there are no job opportunities that fits my interests. There are barely any jobs in Japan that can pursue a certain political goal outside of the power. All they offer is whether becoming a researcher or becoming a civil servant-neither of them are not exactly what I want to do.

I might be too picky for what I want to do. Not so many people can achieve what they want for their career. But I say this, because this is what I was fascinated about the EU politics. When I started to study in Europe, I knew nothing about digital rights. I had never heard about privacy protection, nor online surveillance. Gradually, I learn the problems of the Internet freedom, what people are fighting for and started to be politically involved. I was yet nobody, but I had a feeling that I could still be involved as a citizen; we are the people who have power to change the politics. And it was the essence of democracy.

After the leak of the Panama papers, many of my friends in Iceland stood up to protest against political corruption. Am I the only one who sees this problem as my problem? Aren’t we allowed to be empowered by them, as a citizen of democratic state?

That’s a rundown of my thoughts after several weeks staying in Japan. I do whatever I could do, but still a long way to go.


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