TOKYO, JAPAN – Since August 2012, Chinese citizens have violently protested the Japanese government’s purchase of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in China). At last, Japanese citizens take to the streets to add their voices to the fray. But you would hardly know it.
In the Marunouchi district of Tokyo, the House of Chen Dim Sum restaurant enjoys popularity among Chinese working in the area. The owner, Chen Guozhi, is in the habit of posting newspapers predominantly reporting the Chinese side of the months long dispute between Japan and China. Certainly, feelings are running hot in China. Japanese stores have had windows smashed. Japanese cars have been turned over, and a Japanese flag set ablaze. Chinese citizens battle with police in running fights in the streets. The House of Chen merely reflects, if only in word, the sentiments of some Chinese within Japan.
A group of eleven Japanese citizens had setup a table across the sidewalk from the partisan restaurant to counter protest on behalf of Japan. The protesters were all well dressed and immaculately groomed. On the table, covered with a lovely tablecloth, were stacks of business cards painstakingly positioned near the edges and pamphlets arranged in designs. The group offered the cards and pamphlets almost deferentially, with softly spoken words, to passersby. We could barely hear them over the casual conversations in the street.
To us, this looked more like a company offering a new cell phone service than an activist protest. We spoke with Daijiro Harada, leader of the group, and asked when people with signs and megaphones would arrive. “Oh, it is only us. That is sufficient.” A poor turnout, apparently. We asked how many ultimately planned to protest. “Here, will be only us. But, we are part of a nationwide movement of about 4,000 members.” Harada’s movement, People Resisting Unsavory Developments in the East china sea (PRUDE), planned similar protests across Japan with the same, curiously subdued, presentation. Asked, don’t you think a protest should make more noise to draw attention? Harada says, “Oh sorry. This would be very rude. How can we expect to achieve our goals if there is no respect?”
We decided to see what onlookers thought. Our Japanese-speaking liaison translated the thoughts of Hiromi Maruyama, an office worker passing nearby. “Yes, I saw them,” she says. “At first, I thought the commotion was very exciting. Still, I was very worried they might get even angrier. I crossed the street to be sure I am safe.”
Safe from what? Paper cuts?
A policeman pulled his squad car to the curb nearby and stood watching the group carefully. “Look at them,” he told us, the tension clear in his voice. “Very disruptive and causing trouble. I must apologize for Japanese people. Most of us do not behave like these, hooligans.”
Seemingly, the protest was having the intended effect, at least by Japanese standards. We decided to ask Mr. Chen, the intended target of the protest, what he thought. Luckily, Mr. Chen spoke English. At the very mention of the word, “protest,” Mr. Chen took action. Grabbing a cleaver, a gobbet of roast duck still dangling from the blade, he charged out the front door. Once on the sidewalk, cleaver at the ready, he looked straight at the protesters, then looked down the street to his left, and back to his right. “Where are the protesters?” He demanded. “Show them to me!” We indicated the PRUDE members directly in front of him. “Bah!” He scoffed. “That’s nothing. I saw them earlier. They are with the Church of Scientology.” With a dismissive wave, he marched back into his restaurant.
Reportedly, diplomatic efforts are underway to resolve the dispute between the two Asian countries. Though one can only wonder how well that can work when they cannot even agree to argue the same way.
Before we left the unusually orderly protest, we saw a group of Chinese leaving the House of Chen Dim Sum. One gentleman, Mr. Liung, spoke to us briefly. He said, “Them? Oh don’t worry about them. They’re Mormons.”