Whenever I tell people that, yes, even in Japan, we have protesters at the consulate, no one ever seems to really believe me. "Do they bow before or after they shout angry slogans?" was one friend's joking response. It's not quite that ridiculous, but I have to admit that it's pretty close. Like most other things, protests in Japan are an orderly affair.
There are four main types of protests at our consulate: the first is the Ultra-Nationalist Driveby. This involves japanese right-wing nationalists (uyoku) rolling slowly past the consulate in huge, black vans mounted with equally huge megaphones belching 'patriotic sentiment' as loudly as possible. These vans are plastered with nationalist slogans, japanese flags, the emperor's crest, and other assorted banners; the windows are always blacked out so that you can't see the occupants. Their protests usually involve foreign presence in Japan (they are against it), respect for the emperor as the embodiment of japanese spirit (they are for it), and greater funding for the japanese military (currently capped at 1% of Japan's GDP -- but Japan is so rich, dollar wise only Russia, China, and the U.S. spend more). You can see a video of these vans in action here. Though I'd like to point out that I don't myself believe the police are in collusion with the uyoku. Or at least I hope not, since it's the japanese police who guard the consulate.
The second sort of protests we get are Nationalists with a Sunny Disposition. These aren't full-fledged uyoku; rather, they are to uyoku as street-corner preachers are to the KKK. They strike me as bored, middle class suburbanites who've found a cause. Unlike the uyoku, members of this group are not afraid to show their faces. They fairly beam beneath their tied-on head bands, clutching pristine banners in white-gloved hands and standing in an orderly group like a church choir. Their main beef seems to be U.S. military presence in Japan, particularly in Okinawa, where I suspect most of them have never been. I also suspect that most of them have been to Hawaii. Probably if you asked them why they feel the need to protest they'd say war is bad and no one should have a military -- but especially not America, and especially not on Japanese soil. (Naturally Japan's military doesn't count, as it's only for self defense...) They love to hand out flyers. But, for what I hope are obvious reasons, I have not gone out of my way to acquire one.
The third flavor of protest we have at the consulate is perhaps also the most colorful, and that's Buddhist Monks with Drums. There's nothing like being in the middle of a visa adjudication, then suddenly hearing thump! thump! thump! thump! drifting in through the walls. It always makes me think of that old footage of the army playing Guns N'Roses outside of the Vatican Embassy to try and irritate Noriega. Honestly, I sort of like it: as a metronome, it's a great pace-setter when you're on the line. And having the monks outside in their saffron robes certainly livens up the place. I have no idea what specific thing they're protesting, but whatever it is I hope we keep doing it so that the free concerts continue.
The last type of protest is the only one for which I have any real respect. It's a lone women who comes almost everyday on her lunch break, unrolls a little sign with the title "No WMD in Iraq," and stands quietly in front of the consulate. She never bothers the passersby; she never shouts or waves or causes any sort of fuss. She just stands without talking. It's an incredibly powerful statement, her commitment to the message she wants to convey. When I see her, I always bow my head at her slightly, and she returns the acknowledgment. I've often wanted to ask her about her story, about what it is that causes her to care so much about this issue that she'd sacrifice countless hours to stand in front of the consulate and hold an English-language sign; clearly it's aimed at us, not at influencing the Japanese walking past. In the nearly 6 months I've been here, her coutenance hasn't once changed. Her eyes are very serious, very direct... but they're not accusatory. If my next posting happens to be to Iraq, I think she's the first person I'd want to tell. I'd want to tell her that I'll try and make things better, even if just in some small way. Maybe then she'd feel her protest was not in vain. For some reason, I'd like for her to feel that way.