Regional tensions spur militarisation of Japan, sparking citizen protests

Peaceful Assembly

As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, the militarisation of Japan has sparked protests throughout this year. In recent months, there have been rallies to protest the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Henoko. On 12th October 2017, 200 local residents rallied to denounce the recent emergency landing of a Marine Corps aircraft in the area and called for the cancellation of the airbase's construction. 

“We can no longer endure. To do away with U.S. military incidents and accidents there is no option but unconditional removal of the bases”.

In keeping with the sustained citizen action against the U.S. military base, on 25th October 2017 60 kayaks and 200 people protested in a waterborne flotilla set at 200 metres from the construction of the airbase. The protest on the water took place after endangered coral was found in the waters off the base and where land-fill related construction is taking place. There are no reports of either of the protests turning violent. 

In early November, 40,000 people took to the streets in central Tokyo to protest Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposed amendments to the Japanese constitution. The crowd, including activists and political party leaders, gathered outside the Diet, to decry plans to alter fundamental aspects of Japan's pacifist constitution. Buoyed by a huge election win in October, Abe's government seeks to amend constitutional commitments regarding the use of military force, partly in reaction to rising tensions in the region driven by North Korea's recently enhanced nuclear capability. The protest coincided with the 71st anniversary of the promulgation of the constitution and protesters held banners and chanted slogans saying: 

"No War" and "Protect Article 9 of the Constitution"

Political forces in favour of amending the constitution currently hold a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet, which enables them to put constitutional revisions to a national referendum. Despite the political posturing, civil society groups, including the 2017 Nobel Prize winners - the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons - reiterated calls for Japanese authorities to resist the urge to escalate the tense regional situation by disregarding Japan's pacifist principles. There are no reports of the protest in Tokyo turning violent. 


In September, a Japanese civil society group called Toyko No Hate mobilised to stop discriminatory speech on social media platforms. The group formed after it noticed an increase in inflammatory and discriminatory comments against minority communities in Japan. Despite legal safeguards against hate speech, the civic movement claims that more should be done by social media platforms to prevent offensive content from being circulated, while upholding freedom of expression and plurality of political opinion. The video below documents the group's activities.