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Last week, I attended a seminar on public demonstrations in Japan. If you have ever been to Japan, you may have noticed public demonstrations are not as popular as in the United States or other countries. The speakers at this seminar proposed this thesis:

The Japanese Supreme Court is the key component that keeps public demonstrations from occuring in Japan.

To begin their argument, they analyzed video clips of public demonstrations around the world and then ones in Japan. It was clear the difference in attitude and atmosphere; Demonstrations in the US were much more energetic than those in Japan. Participants of US demonstrations appeared to be more passionate and united than the particpants of Japanese demonstrations. This is not to say they actually ARE less passionate about the topics, but it does raise a question:

Why are public demonstrations in Japan so much more subdued?

This doesn’t make sense. As with the First Amendment in the US Constitution, the Japanese Constitution has Article 21, which guarantees freedom of assembly and association and protects various forms of expression such as speech and press. Therefore, this right is guaranteed under the Japanese Constitution.

Yet, in reality, a parade permit is required before holding a public demonstration. In reviewing to approve a parade permit, the committee can request changes in the demonstration, or require police to traffic, and basically chaperone, the people.

The consequences are also more severe in Japan than in the United States. Looking at the legal consequences, participants arrested for disrupting public peace can be sentenced a maximum of three years in jail or 500,000 yen. This is shocking compared to the US, where the maximum is 15 days in jail or 250 dollars. Furthermore, in Japan, the police keep track of participants as a danger to public peace.

With this information, it is a valid argument to say it is the institution that prevents public demonstrations.  Although, in the Q&A portion, the audience raised a good point:

Is it really the system restraining the people from protest? Or rather, is it social pressure? 

This is an interesting argument because Japan’s society has a very country-centric mindset, in contrast to the United State’s belief on individuality. Could it be fear of the negative consequences that TRULY is the issue that hinders public demonstrations in Japan?