TENS of thousands of protesters have rallied outside Japan’s parliament to oppose new security legislation which would allow Japanese troops to fight abroad for the first time since the Second World War.
It was one of the biggest protests in Tokyo in years and a show of public force against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government.
Organisers are said to have put the crowd at 120,000.
The protesters chanted “No to war legislation!” “Scrap the bills now!” and “Abe, quit!” during the demonstration in the government district, filling the street outside the front gate of the parliament, or Diet.
The demonstrators oppose legislation that would expand Japan’s military role under a reinterpretation of the country’s war-renouncing constitution.
The constitution currently bars it from using force to resolve conflicts except in cases of self-defence.
In July, the more powerful lower house passed the bills that allows the Self Defence Force to engage in combat for the first time since the Second World War when allies come under attack even when Japan itself is not.
The upper house is currently debating the bills and is expected to pass them by late September, making it law.
The participation of students and young mothers have captured media attention in Japan where rallies used to be dominated by labour union members and leftist activists.
“In order to make the world a better place, where the life of even a single child is taken away, we must take action now or Japan will make a turn for the worse. That’s why I came today,” said Mami Tanaka, 35, who joined the rally with her husband and their three children. Public polls show the majority of people oppose the bills.
Katsuya Okada, head of Japan’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, told the Tokyo rally: “We need to make the Abe government realise the public is having a sense of crisis and angry.
“Let’s work together to have the bills scrapped.”
The demonstration was said to have been the biggest in Tokyo since the mass protests against nuclear power following the Fukushima atomic disaster.
Prime Minister Abe has insisted the changes are necessary to protect Japan. He has said the changes would not lead to involvement in foreign wars.
The proposed bills have been welcomed by the United States, which wants to help balance China’s influence in the region. Other governments in Asia are also said to be largely supportive, with the exception of China and South Korea.
The plan were also criticised at the recent ceremony commemorating the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki, which killed 70,000 people.
One survivor of the attack, Sumiteru Taniguchi, 86, said then that he could not accept Mr Abe’s new legislation. Yesterday’s Tokyo rally was one of more than 300 this weekend.