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Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, new forms of solidarity have developed in Japan. Super-connected youngsters are shaking things up by multiplying their actions online and experimenting with new methods of solidarity in real life. Their energy comforts the organisers, adapting to local habits to raise awareness towards the genocide taking place in Palestine.

A tough diplomatic act

In October, the Japanese government expressed its solidarity towards Israel and condemned the terror attacks by Hamas.

Three weeks later, foreign affairs minister Kamikawa took a four-day trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan which was perceived as a tough balancing act between showing solidarity to Israel and maintaining a neutral diplomatic stance.

The country later on decided to temporarily suspend additional funding to UNRWA. On February 25, Kamiwaka announced a new 32 million dollars in aid to Gaza.

“Protests here are very different than in Europe. We sing, shout, dance, put on some music and walk in the streets of Shibuya, Koenji and Shinjiku”

Three events significantly impacted the public debate and received central media coverage. First, on December 12, Rakuten’s CEO Mikitani donated 3.3 million dollars to Palestine and confessed feeling “deeply saddened by the plight of ordinary citizens in Gaza.”

Itochu Corp then announced on February 6 its intention to cancel its relationship with Israeli military company Elbit Systems after an ICJ court order. Nippon Aircraft Supply (NAS) followed Itochu in ending its cooperation. Such stances are motivating the Tokyo-based supporters of Palestine.

An active mobilisation for Palestine

For 29-year-old Japanese worker Aiko, those decisions are the result of the active mobilisation that she joined: “Protests here are very different than in Europe. We sing, shout, dance, put on some music and walk in the streets of Shibuya, Koenji and Shinjiku. On 19 November, thousands were walking together to stop the war! I also participated in a silent sit-in in front of the headquarters of Itochu to pressure them to cut their ties with the Israeli army.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Gazan Hanin and 31-year-old Algerian artist Zac are behind some of these game-changer efforts to centralise initiatives and “put Palestinian voices in the centre” in a country geographically far from the Middle East.

In October, Zac felt the need to “make people feel the pain of death”. Therefore, they decided to recreate the white death shroud of a Gazan baby and mourn it in front of the embassy of Palestine.

“Tears for Palestine” in Shibuya [photo credit: David Lundin]

A couple of weeks later, “Tears for Palestine” took place in the heart of the city. Participants were invited to draw red tears with paint on a huge 10×1,4 metre canvas while reciting the names of the victims. This cathartic experience was then replicated in other cities including Hawaii, San Francisco and New York.

A duty to inform

For Hanin, “being as loud as she can” is “an extra duty” as “many Palestinians are in a position where they cannot speak.” The Gazan-born Palestinian considers Japan as her second home and a “unique case where people who know the Palestinian struggle position themselves”.

After October 7, she started meeting other Palestinians: “We are now 16 in contact, and I also met Palestinians from Sweden and Germany visiting Tokyo. Such contacts are so heartwarming.”

Focusing her actions on Japan was a conscious decision: “I felt like I can have a real impact here. In the beginning, it was hard to join protests where we were only a few but having interactions with other humans was very special, and we are now building a community.”

For his part, Zac insists that their action is not about numbers, but about creating a broad set of initiatives that constantly raise awareness towards Gaza.

Hanin proudly mentions the diversity of events that the small group has managed to implement. Along the marches, protests, sit-ins, vigils, and cultural activities that emerged, the “letters to Gaza” workshop where locals wrote their messages to Palestinians, moved her deeply.

On March 3, she and Zac will attend the Palestinian Diaspora Stories series, discussing “firsthand experiences of growing up and living under the occupation and oppression.”

A new movement for the Japanese youth

French Japanese artist Carole is 26 years old and has been actively participating in the protests. If she joined other social movements in the past, this is the first time that she actively engages in Palestinian solidarity: “I couldn’t stand doing nothing.”

Her first action was to join a small gathering in front of the American embassy in Tokyo after the bombing of the al-Ahli hospital, in the presence of a heterogeneous crowd composed of “Buddhist monks, professors doing speeches, Japanese students and young expats.”

By her side, many youngsters are also new to the topic, a phenomenon which inspires her friend Aiko: “We Japanese are sometimes isolated because of our language. Many people here are not fluent in English. This time, professional translators have been translating daily news into Japanese through social media. Their commitment was a game-changer which caught the attention of many youngsters. It is beautiful to see them express publicly their solidarity with the people of Gaza, when we Japanese are not used to being politically active, even in domestic politics.”

Carole particularly enjoyed the “Sound up for Palestine” meeting, where all participants were invited to “make some noise with musical instruments but also any object including kitchen utensils.”

Both were looking forward to attending the embroidery workshop organised by Maki Yamamoto, founder of “Palestinian Embroidery OBI”, on February 20, at the Palestinian embassy.

Maki Yamamoto’s Palestinian obi designs [photo credit: Maki Yamamoto]

Maki discovered the Palestinian art of cross-stitches through her friendship with Hanin’s family and decided to combine it with traditional Japanese “Obi” belts for kimonos. Maki visited the West Bank 20 times in the last decade to meet local partners, based in Ramallah, Nablus, and Gaza.

On Syrian fabrics, Palestinian women embroider traditional patterns on hundreds of Obis sold in her pop-up store in Tokyo, to the delight of her Japanese clients. Maki is currently extremely worried about her partners in Gaza: if she could get in contact with the manager, other embroiderers are missing, and their fate is unknown.

Maki Yamamoto’s trip to the West Bank [photo credit: Maki Yamamoto]

Links with the Japanese history

In other Japanese cities, smaller actions are taking shape. Aiko underlines that witnessing solidarity in Hiroshima and Okinawa moves her deeply and might accelerate some discussions among the youth.
She vividly mentions the “Hiroshima-Palestine vigil community” protesting every Saturday in front of the atomic bomb dome, and the February 14 protest in Hiroshima’s prefecture, Fukuyama where 500 students wrote the words “stop the genocide” with candles.

A broad set of actions has emerged, including the screening of films and the organisation of debates, but also the creation of a petition calling for the city of Hiroshima to take action for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

In Okinawa, the images of Gaza also reopened old wounds. While the slogan “Free Gaza, free Okinawa” appeared in the Tokyo marches, the province council unanimously passed a resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire”.

The draft directly refers to the 1945 battle of Okinawa, which cost the lives of 100,000 civilians. Indeed, as Carole explains, anti-war and anti-nuclear activists also joined the ranks of the protestors as the ongoing genocide resonates with their commitment, including the recent debates regarding the possibility of reforming the Japanese constitution, article 9 of which “renounces war.”

Elise Daniaud Oudeh is a researcher and PhD candidate specialising in Russian-Syrian relations, the Syrian conflict and political discourse analysis.

Follow her on X: @elise_daniaud

Source: The New Arab

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