A 50-year-old-year-old man in a suit set himself on fire this afternoon at Tokyo's densely packed Shinjuku station in protest of the Japanese government’s move toward remilitarization.
Ever since taking office in 2012, the hawk-like administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Liberal Democratic Party) in Japan, has been leading the country more towards the right — attempting to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow Japan to engage in warfare, ending the long-held ban on the export of arms by Japan and seemingly moving to remilitarize the nation.
That shift to a more war-like nation has generated a smoldering amount of protest — and today those protests literally caught on fire.
According to the Japanese media and a police officer with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, around 1 PM near the South Exit of Shinjuku Station, the man climbed aboard a metal construction framework above a pedestrian walkway. He was carrying two bottles of flammable materials in small plastic bottles and sat down on a mat.
A security guard then called the police. The area was teeming with shoppers and tourists passing through the station or enjoying many restaurants and shops in the vicinity.
The man then proceeded to speak through a megaphone lambasting the policies of the current ruling government coalition.
After reading a letter out loud — over the period of an hour — in which he protested efforts to reinterpret Japan’s constitution to allow Japan Self Defense Forces to participate in combat missions and possibly in war, he then poured the flammable liquid over himself from the head down, and lit himself on fire with a lighter.
The man was completely consumed by fire for a few seconds but firefighters who had been waiting nearby quickly put out the flames.
The man suffered major burns and was taken to a hospital nearby. He was still conscious while in the ambulance. The Shinjuku Police Department will question him about the circumstances and his motives after he recovers.
There were several protests last weekend and this weekend against the government’s determination to re-arm Japan but they have received little news play. The act of self-immolation has had the effect of galvanizing resistance and gained a surprising amount of media play in the country.
Japan has a pacifist constitution that renounces war. Article 9 states: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
Prime Minister Abe in his writings and his speeches has long expressed the belief that the pacifist constitution “imposed on Japan” by the US holds back the country and has vowed constitutional reform. After realizing that he didn’t have the votes or popular support to change the constitution, he hand picked an advisory council that rubber stamped his plans for a broader interpretation of the constitution to allow Japanese troops to engage in combat missions or assist allies in war; they formally announced their pre-determined conclusions in May. This sparked a Lysistrata like rebellion but did not seem to sway many.
The Abe Cabinet is expected to approve a policy shift early this week allowing for “collective self-defense” to cover a broader range of combat activities.
The Abe administration has taken a very heavy hand since gaining power, including passing the controversial Special Secrets Act, which criminalizes even asking questions about state secrets, and will greatly limit press freedom.
When the law was passed in the middle of the night last December, more than 10,000 people were protesting outside of Japan’s national parliament building. More than 70 percent of the public was opposed to the bill.
Japan’s second largest newspaper the Asahi Shimbun, in an editorial on June 28, accused the administration of spouting nonsense, violating the constitution and noted: “In a nutshell, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security policy initiative for collective self-defense means allowing Japan to do something that successive governments have said the nation is banned by the Constitution from doing.”