Protesting at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo

Just a diary entry, of sorts, about what a protest can be like in Japan

Dave Gutteridge

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Me talking to a Japanese police officer.
Negotiating with the Japanese police for how many people can be in front of the Russian embassy (Photo by David Mareuil)

A day or so after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, I was across the street from the Russian embassy in Tokyo, yelling “nyet voyny,” which I was told by a Russian woman there means “no war.” I wanted to yell a few more choice words along the lines of “fuck Putin,” but the Russian for that was a little tricky so we kept it simple. I hope if I was heard above the traffic by anyone in the embassy, my terrible pronunciation was akin to the audio torture Noriega got while hiding in the Vatican embassy in Panama.

Of course, it’s almost certain that no one inside the embassy heard me in particular, though I’m sure the embassy was vaguely aware of protestors outside. Even if they had heard us, what’s the point? A friend of mine I was texting with later told me that she thought it was “cool” that I went to do that, but at the same time, that she kind of feels like protests don’t do anything and they’re pointless.

Especially a protest like this one. Years ago, when the US invaded Iraq for a second time, I went to protest at the US embassy, and it was a wildly different scene. There were crowds of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people surging against police lines to approach embassy grounds. I was particularly impressed by some Japanese anarchists, who would test police resolve by walking straight into them as if the police weren’t even there. I knew they were anarchists, by the way, because they had anarchist symbols and slogans written in white all over their otherwise all black clothing, and the black flags they carried.

The energy of that protest was more like a form of civil disobedience, possibly the most I’ve ever personally seen in Japan. I don’t go to protests all the time, but I like to get out there now and again. The last one I went to before this was the “black lives matter” march, which is much more representative of how protests or rallies or marches go here in Tokyo. There was an overwhelming police presence, and the marchers were not only constrained to certain routes down predetermined streets, the police were ahead of the march, guiding everyone. There was a woman on top of a police van yelling instructions in English and Japanese about which way to turn…

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Dave Gutteridge

I don't post often because I think about what I write. Topics include ethics, relationships, and philosophy.