Setting Sun, Rising Voices – The Women’s March in Tokyo

On January 21st, 2017 an estimated 3.6 million to 4.5 million individuals across America marched and rallied in the Women’s March. The main event took place in Washington, D.C., but there were sister marches and rallies in major and minor cities all across the U.S. There were also sister marches on all seven continents, in roughly 80 countries, and in every major city across the globe.

The first steps of the global Women’s March movement, which stood in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington D.C., was taken on the night of January 20th at the gates of Hibiya Park in Chiyoda Prefecture. As the sun began to rise on Donald Trump’s inauguration day in America, marchers standing in unity for women’s rights and democracy took to the streets of Tokyo.

The Women’s March in Hibiya Park was blended together with the DAJ (Democrats Abroad Japan) Candlelight March in appreciation for the Obama Administration and all of the progress that was made under it. Despite the forecast for rain and the bitterly cold weather, there were 648 people present between the two marches. This was a number that far surpassed the expected 150 participants. The organizers of the two marches were ecstatic and the Japanese police took the unexpected increase in marchers in stride.

As the marchers waited for the event to begin, there was a nervous happiness throughout the crowd. The vast majority of the marchers were American ex-pats and foreigners, and many of them had an underlying worry about protesting within a foreign country. This was especially so for a country such as Japan, whose society does not look favorably on protests. In Japan, protests are often seen as a form of disrupting the peace (wa). Protests in Japan tend to be less common than in other parts of the world, and they also tend to be small.

Regardless of that slight apprehension, there was an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm within the marchers as they waited for the event to begin. Some older women reminisced about their first protest experiences in the 60’s and 80’s, while children with their families held signs tightly in anticipation.

As requested by the Japanese police, the marchers – men, women, and children of varying ethnicity, nationalities, sexual orientations, and genders – made four long lines. As the last minute preparations for the march were being made, a speech by the DAJ organizer, Tom Schmid, was given and a small photo op for the press was held. Many of the individuals in line urged the marchers with signs to get in the front, so the signs could be properly photographed and seen.

When it reached 6:45 pm, the designated starting time for the march, the Japanese police gave the go ahead and the marching began. The far left lane of traffic, en route from Hibiya Park in Chiyoda Prefecture to Mikawadai Park in Roppongi, was closed off for the march. The requested four lines of marchers was done in order to keep all the marchers within the lane and safe. The march started with a loud cheer from the crowd, but then lapsed into a respectful silence for a period of time. There were intermittent moments when the march was halted. This was done so that parts of the march that had been separated could catch up. The march was divided into fifteen different groups of marchers, with the leaders of the groups using the waiting periods to agree upon chants and get the chants going.

The chants varied from songs about unity to specific chants such as “We are women! We are proud! Say it strong! Say it loud!” or “What does democracy look like?” followed by “This is what democracy looks like!” Each section of the march had their own songs and chants, most of them focusing on the many different aspects found in the Women’s March Manifesto.

All of the Women’s Marches, both in the United States and globally, were marches that focused on women’s rights through the lens of third-wave intersectionalized feminism. This form of feminism acknowledges the fact that women are not just white, straight, middle-class, and cisgender women (women who were born female and identify as female). Rather third-wave intersectionalized feminism recognizes that women can be women of color, LGBTQIA, rich, poor, able-bodied or physically impaired, and everything in-between. It is in this way that the slogan of ‘Women’s rights are human rights!’ fits in with the march. Any and all bills, mandates, rules, and laws that affect minorities and marginalized groups will also directly affect women. The Democratic Party has a philosophy that fully embraces the intersectionality of not only women’s rights, but of human rights in general. Thus, the idea to combine the two marches together was a logical one that worked out well.

Though neither march was meant to focus on Donald Trump, there was an underlying opposition to and protest of Trump and his administration present throughout the entire march. The overtones of the march, however, were focused on female empowerment and unity in such an uncertain time in world history. It was with solidarity that the marchers walked. When a marcher fell down or tripped along the way, there was a stranger there in the group to help pick them back up. When the march passed under a bridge and pedestrians waved at them, there were waves and jubilant shouts in reply. It was an extremely positive and invigorating march.

As with the other Women’s March movements, the Tokyo March was kept peaceful, non-violent, and respectful. The marchers stayed focus on their message and promptly ignored the Anti-TPP protest that was going on at the same time along their march route.

When it came to safety, there was clear and consistent communication between the organizers and the police to ensure the protection of the marchers. The police were glad to take part and they worked diligently. Many of the marchers, as they walked passed a police officer, thanked them.

Press wise, Japanese journalists had a very busy night. Many of the press kept ahead of the marchers just a bit in order to take pictures. Meanwhile other press outlets interviewed some of the marchers. The interviews usually occurred during the moments the march was stopped, though there was also the occasional sight of a journalist jogging backwards with the marchers in order to get the interviews they wanted. The press largely remained unobtrusive and did their jobs accordingly.

The ending location for the march was Mikawadai Park in Roppongi, and as it came into sight and the march came to a close, the event was met with smiles, laughter, and cheers for a job well done.

Though the march was a success, Japan is a country that suffers from large gender inequality, but during this march there were a good number of native Japanese residences marching too. Many pedestrians on the streets and in the cars looked on at the march in interest. Prime Minister Abe’s ‘womenomics’ program (an initiative to get more women in the workplace, especially in higher positions) has largely been a failure, but it has shown a small light on the sexism and gender inequality present in Japan. Hopefully this Women’s March can be another supportive voice for our sisters in Japan. Hopefully the voices that chanted in this march can give added strength to the Japanese women who are already fighting for women’s rights in their home land. After all,  that is why women all over the world have been marching.

In the country that is often called ‘The Land of the Rising Sun,’ it was after the sun had set that the voices of the Women’s March rose.

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