Does Japan need a Greta to lead a climate campaign?


Politicians in Britain sometimes complain they are constantly bombarded by campaigners over issues relating to climate change and the environment.

Huge protests by a group known as Extinction Rebellion brought parts of London to a standstill last year. There was also a big climate change rally in the British city of Bristol this week, which included a speech by the teenage activist, Greta Thunberg.

According to the Guardian “As Thunberg spoke, onlookers clambered on to bus shelters and up trees and hung out of windows to catch a glimpse.”

Criticising governments and the media, she said: “Once again they sweep their mess under the rug for us – young people, their children – to clean up for them. We must continue and we have to be patient. Remember that the changes required will not happen overnight.”

Future Tokyo

Greta has her fans in Japan, too.

An organisation called Fridays for Future Tokyo, or FFF Tokyo, was created in 2018, soon after the campaigner started appearing in the global media.

When FFF Tokyo first hosted a protest in March, no more than 100 people showed up. However, the Japan Times reports that since then, there’s been a steady increase in attendance at climate protests across the country.

The paper carried an interview with a 22-year-old climate activist called Eri Okada who said: “In Japan, public demonstrations are seen as radical or dangerous, which might explain why people distance themselves from protests and marches.”

Less intense

I learned this week of an interesting conversation between a British and Japanese minister, which took place in Tokyo recently. It seems to illustrate the fairly mild approach towards environmental campaigning in Japan, compared to the UK.

“Don’t you get a lot of young people lobbying you to do more to protect the planet and prevent global warming?” the British minister asked his Japanese counterpart.

“Yes,” replied the Japanese minister. “We really must do more to awaken the young people to the importance of such issues and encourage them to be more involved.”

The British politician was taken aback by that reply and wondered if his question had become muddled in translation.

Natural disasters

Yet of course, the Japanese are not ignoring the issue of climate change. It is a subject on the mind of people of all ages, particularly in the wake of recent natural disasters linked to extreme weather, including a tornado last year which killed around 80 people.

The position of Minister of the Environment is currently held by a glamorous and popular politician called Shinjirō Koizumi.

He is the son of the former Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi and has often been tipped to become the next leader of the ruling Liberal Democrat Party, once Shinzo Abe leaves that role.

I assumed Mr Koizumi was trusted to take on this important role because Mr Abe sees him as one of his most adept ministers.

However, a diplomat I spoke to this week had a different interpretation.

“It could be that Mr Koizumi’s been put in such a difficult job because it will scupper his political career and prevent him from making a challenge for the leadership,” said my source.

I hope that will not be the case. Japan, like other countries – including Britain – requires skilled and determined people to take the lead on environmental issues – right up to the highest level of government.

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