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Japan: Toyama Kouichi calls for revolution, bloggers reflect on freedom of speech

Toyama Kouichi (from スパイ日記)

“Registered voters! I am Toyama Kouichi. My countrymen! This country is an abomination!”

So began the five minute political speech of gubernatorial candidate and street musician Toyama Kouichi, aired live on Japan's public broadcaster NHK as part of a series of election broadcasts formally allotted to each contender in the Tokyo city elections earlier this month. In the now-famous speech, the 36-year-old “extreme left-wing activist”, formerly imprisoned for two years for “political crimes”, declares that he has not “a single constructive proposal” and that “there is no choice but to abandon this country”, calling on the “people of the minority” to rise up against the majority and “overthrow the government”. Within his anti-establishment tirade, Toyama also made a somewhat endearing request to “please give me a call”, an offer that some people actually took up.

Aside from causing a major stir in Japan and across the world wide web, the video sparked a serious debate on the Internet and in the Japanese blogosphere about freedom of speech and the limits of election campaign laws. While the political speech was not the first of its kind — in 1991, rock-and-roll singer and actor Uchida Yuuya told his Matayoshi Jesus ran for office as “the only God” — it was generally acknowledged to have been the most well-choreographed and skilfully executed.

Toyama Kouichi with supporters (from スパイ日記)

Toyama Kouichi and his supporters (from スパイ日記)

At the same time as the various versions of his political speech, posted at YouTube, were drawing hundreds of thousands of views, at his “base of operations” in Kouenji, Tokyo, the real Toyama Kouichi was also causing a stir. An article posted at iza (translated here) described the events on election night:

 8日午後8時。新宿からJR中央線快速で約5分、外山氏が都知事選の「運動拠点」にし、選挙期間中は連日のように飲み会を開いていた高円寺駅南口には、すでに100人近い若者らが集まり、テレビを前に酒盛りを始めていた。
8時5分ごろ、外山氏がスクーターに乗って登場。「俺たちの外山」コールが高円寺の夜空に響き渡った。

8pm on the 8th of April. A 5 minute ride on the JR Chuo commuter express line from Shinjuku station, at the South exit of Kouenji station — the “base of operations” for Toyama's gubernatorial election campaign — drinking parties have been held every day during the campaign. On this occasion, already close to 100 of his young supporters had gathered and started watching the TV as the election results came in.

At five minutes past 8pm, Toyama made his appearance riding in on a scooter. Calls for “OUR TOYAMA” echoed through the night sky of Kouenji.

Although Toyama predictably lost the elections (with a surprising 15,059 votes), this did not deter his supporters on election night:

 午後8時半ごろ、石原氏の当確が出ると、支持者らは「石原慎太郎マンセー」の掛け声で乾杯し、盛り上がりは最高潮に達した。午後9時ごろには250人以上の聴衆が詰めかけ、高円寺駅のホームから、多くの乗降客が「一体何事?」と南口の様子を眺めていた。

At about 8.30pm, when Ishihara was called the winner, Toyama's supporters called out a cheer: “Ishihara Shintarou Mansei” [Mansei is Korean for "Banzai"], and the excitement reached a climax. By around 9pm, an audience of about 250 people had packed the south exit of Kouenji station, as passengers getting on and off at the station platforms watched and asked each other: “What on earth is going on?”

Now over two weeks later, bloggers have moved on from Toyama's political speech and his election campaign to different topics. Looking back, here's a handful of views expressed on the video and on Toyama himself.

Blogger mesmer describes his reaction upon watching the video:

これ、NHKでも放送できた。できたということが言論の自由を表しているような、そんな、政見放送。
 いきなり、「反管理教育云々、極左活動家、いまどき政治犯として2年投獄、云々、、、、」とのナレーション。

This managed to get broadcast on NHK. That it was broadcast was an expression of free speech, this election broadcast. Right at the beginning, the announcer said: “An anti-administrative education activist, extreme Left Wing activist, recently imprisoned for 2 years for political crimes, etc….”

 You tube でたっぷり見たり、インタビューを聴いたのち、外山恒一さんを、ウィキペディアで検索すると相当詳しいプロフィールが。とにかくその動きぶりが相当精力的な活動家だ。本もだいぶ出版しているらしい。高等学校教育への強烈な反発がその原点になっているようだ。

After seeing plenty of this on You tube and listening to an interview, I searched for his name on Wikipedia and found a fairly detailed profile. Anyway he's actually a fairly energetic activist. He's also apparently published quite a few books. It seems that his intense revolt against the formal high-school education system was his starting point.

 次は熊本市議選に出るらしいが、当選は元々目的ではなく、また単なる売名行為でもなく、否定するために選挙に出ているという・・・一つには、ニヒリスト的行為ともいえるが、なんだか人が集まってお祭りのようになっているのは、ニヒリストっぽくない。 とらえどころのない人だが、不思議と、理路整然とした顔立ち、理路整然とした行動を感じる人なのだ。 カリスマ、がある。

After this, I hear that he is going to enter the Kumamoto City Council elections, but from the beginning, his aim in running is not to be voted into office, nor is it a publicity stunt; rather he is trying to denounce the elections… In part you could call this nihilistic behaviour, but you know, people gathering together and having a party, that doesn't seem very nihilist-like. He is a difficult person to pin down, in a strange way, I feel that he has the features of someone who is logical and well-reasoned, and his actions are also well-reasoned and coherent. He's got charisma.

Toyama Kouichi playing guitar

Another blogger reflected on the thinking behind the video:

外山氏は政見放送で、「この国は滅びる」「やけっぱちの一票を」って言い放ち、中指を立てるパフォーマンスをした。
その結果、この様子はネットで話題になり、YouTubeではアップと削除のイタチゴッコが繰り広げられた。また、毎夜数十名の若者が高円寺にいる外山氏のところへ行き、飲みながら話したという。
知名度はネットを中心にして一気に上がり、外山氏の名前は、どのくらいかの人が知るようになった。
外山氏の思うツボ、といった感じの都知事選だった。

In his performance for the election broadcast, Mr. Toyama declared: “This country will be overthrown”, “Give me one desperate vote”, and gave the finger.

As a result, the appearance [of Toyama] became a topic of conversation on the net, and a cat and mouse game unfolded in which the video was repeatedly uploaded to YouTube and then deleted. In addition, every night, several dozen young people came to Kouenji to have a drink and chat with Mr. Toyama.

Mainly from the Internet, his name recognition all at once shot up and many people came to know Mr. Toyama's name.

I got the feeling that the elections played right into his hands.

ただ、外山氏は相当計算をしてたはず。ネットで見られる外山氏の普段の映像を見ると、政見放送とは裏腹に、かなり穏やかで礼儀正しい人って印象を受ける。
本人が言うには、政見放送が編集できない利点を使っただけじゃなく、YouTubeにアップされたりブログに書かれることを見越して、そういったパフォーマンスをしたという。(もちろん公職選挙法があるから、選挙後を視野に入れてた)確かにあの政見放送は、人の興味をひかせることを考えたら、みごとなエンターテインメントだった。
彼にとって都知事選は、自由な表現の場だった。ポスターもそう。何だって自由に書くことが保障されてる。
都知事選にあったのは、メディアや都民の注目と、これ以上ないほどの「言論の自由」や「表現の自由」だった。

However, Mr. Toyama must have planned things well. If you look at videos on the net of Mr. Toyama on an ordinary day, in contrast to the election campaign broadcast, I got the impression that he is a very quiet and polite person.

Mr. Toyama himself says that he anticipated not only that he could take advantage of the fact that the election broadcast would not be altered, but also that it would be uploaded to YouTube and written about in blogs, and so he did that kind of performance. (Of course, since there is a Public Office Election Law, he was thinking about after the elections). Certainly, if you think about how that election broadcast attracted people's interest, it was amazing entertainment.

For him, the gubernatorial election was a space for free expression. His posters are the same. The freedom of written expression is ensured.

The gubernatorial election was about getting the attention of the media and citizens of Tokyo; it was about “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression”. Nothing could have been better.

Many bloggers remarked on how they came to realize again that freedom of speech exists in Japan. Blogger escalope writes:

某知事選に出馬した外山恒一の政見放送映像を観賞。
日本には言論の自由があるのだなと強く感じたよ。
素晴らしい。
中指突き立ててもモザイクかかんないからね日本は。
国家転覆なんて言葉久しぶりに聞いたよ。
しかも、知事選だっていうのにだよ。凄い。爆笑しました。日本万歳!!

I watched the televised broadcast of the election speech of Toyama Kouichi, who is running in a gubernatorial election.
I sensed very strongly that in Japan there is freedom of speech.
Wonderful.
Even when he is giving the finger, in Japan, they don't hide it.
Subversion, it's sure been a long time since I've heard that word.
On top of that, this is the gubernatorial election. Amazing. I laughed so hard. Japan banzai!

Toyama Kouichi poster

The truth, however, is that the view that “in Japan there is freedom of speech” runs completely contrary to Toyama's own thinking. At his official webpage, there is in fact an FAQ which sets out his position on the question of freedom of speech very clearly:

「現在の日本にはすでに言論の自由はなく、例えばちょっとしたビラまきやデモなどで逮捕されることも珍しくありません。そういう事件がとくにここ数年もう頻繁に起きているのに、マスコミはろくに報道しません。その点、選挙に出ると、少なくとも期間中は、形式にはいろいろ細かい制約があるとはいえ、内容については何でも自由にやれます。選挙制度こそは、現在の日本に残された言論の自由の最後の砦であり、本当に云いたいことを云おうと思えば、これを利用する以外にもはや方法がないというろくでもない現実があるのです。都知事選での私の政見放送を見て、日本は自由な国だと再認識したというネットでの書き込みは目立ちましたが、まったく愚かな認識ですね。現実は逆で、この国ではもはや選挙の枠の中でしか、言論の自由は謳歌できないんです。」

“In present-day Japan, there is already no freedom of speech — for example if you just hand out flyers or organize a demo, it's not uncommon that you get arrested. Especially in the past few years these types of events have been happening frequently, but despite this the mass media hardly covers it at all. On this point, when you enter the elections, at least in this short period of time, you are free to do what you want in terms of content, although formally there are various detailed restrictions. The election system is the last fortress of freedom of speech in modern-day Japan — if you really want to try to say something, then other than this there is no way to do it, this is the ridiculous reality. There are notes on the net that stand out, in which people have said that they came to realize again that Japan is a free country when they saw my election broadcast on the web. But this is really a foolish perception. Quite the contrary, the reality is that in this country, it is only within the restrictions of the elections that we enjoy any freedom of speech.”

Blogger Emily at [sub]cultural studies seemed to understand this message better many others when she wrote that:

Elections are terribly bland in this country, based on slanders and backwards promises. That such a candidate is so strongly spoken and, thanks to the internet, has received so much attention is quite a feat. More than anything else I think this shows the power of a vehicle like YouTube on the future of free speech should it be allowed. Extreme (and not so extreme) anti-status quo vehicles are treated notoriously by police and media outlets alike here. “free speech” indeed often has a very small zone, subject to arrest and censorship.

While much has been made of Toyama's video performance, those who dig deeper, or who have met him personally, are aware that the issue of free speech is extremely important to him. A Japanese university student recounts his experience actually meeting Toyama on campus:

4月の1日に早稲田大学戸山キャンパスで自分の入学式があったのですが、式を終えて外に出てみると大学のとあるサークルが大学批判をしていて止めさせようとする大学職員ともみ合ってました。

On April 1st, I was attending my university entrance ceremony at Waseda University Toyama Campus. I left the ceremony when it finished and went outside, and then I noticed that some members of a student club were criticizing the university, and a scuffle had started with officials from the university who were trying to stop them.

面白いので傍から見てると、どこから現れたかヒョコッと外山氏が現れたのです。
彼はサークルの側に立ち、大学職員に対して「言論弾圧はよせ!」と言ったのです。
すると職員は「なんだあんたは?」と言いました。
すると外山氏は「私は都知事候補だ!」といい選管支給の候補旗を見せました。

It seemed interesting, so I went closer to look, and then suddenly Toyama appeared.

He took the club's side and said to the university officials: “Stop your supression of free speech!”

When he did this, the university officials were like: “Who are you?”

Toyama said: “I am a gubernatorial candidate!”, and showed them his banner issued by the Electoral Management Committee.

それから外山氏も含めて言い争ってると、お巡りさんが現れました。
大学側が外山氏の排除を求めると警察は「彼は都知事候補なのでそれは出来ません、彼には公職選挙法で認められた権利がありますので彼の遊説は自由です」と言い、逆に大学職員を排除しました。
外山氏や大学批判をしていた人たちが大盛り上がりなのは言うまでも無いでしょう。

Then Toyama also joined in the dispute, and a police officer showed up.

When the university officials demanded that Toyama be removed, the officer said: “He is a gubernatorial candidate, so I cannot do that. According to the public office election law, he has an acknowledged right to campaign freely.” And then, instead of removing Toyama, the officer removed the university officials.

You can imagine how excited the protesting people and Toyama were.

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