The Senkaku Islands, protest marches, and crowdfunded boat activism
On August 18, 2012, a small fleet of Japanese fishing boats left ports in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture on an overnight journey to the Senkakus, a group of small uninhabited islands administered by Japan but claimed by China. On board the 20 boats were 152 Japanese right-wing activists and politicians, domestic and international journalists, and local fishermen. Shortly after arriving near the islands, several activists jumped from their boats and swam ashore to the islands, an action expressly forbidden by Japanese authorities. Their landing, which was filmed and widely publicized worldwide through social media and the press, was one of several key events that helped fuel a wave of mass anti-Japanese demonstrations and riots in over 80 Chinese cities.
This chapter explores the importance of non-state actors in the development of Japan’s ongoing territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, zeroing in on the Japanese activists who organized and led the 2012 landing. Focus is placed upon Mizushima Satoru, one of the ten activists who swam ashore that day and the two organizations that he founded. The first was Nihon Bunka Channel Sakura (Japanese Culture Channel Sakura, commonly known as Channel Sakura), a conservative media organization that distributed video content via the internet. The second was Ganbare Nippon, a nationwide activist organization led by Channel Sakura’s top figures. Following a collision between Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) patrol boats and a Chinese fishing trawler near the Senkakus in 2010, these organizations emerged as important actors in the field of contestation surrounding this territorial dispute. They transitioned from being mere reporters of the news to creating it - first through demonstrations in Japanese city streets and later through landings and fishing missions near the Senkakus. Recognizing the opportunities presented by structural shifts in 2010, they carried out an activist campaign that put pressure on the Japanese government, provoked protests from China, and helped provide shared meaning and a sense of accomplishment for their supporters.
The first part of this chapter details pre-2010 events to provide the background for more recent developments and how they can be considered as taking place within a field of contestation. The later part of the chapter will discuss events between 2010 and 2020 when an unsettling of the field created new opportunities for citizen activism. Special emphasis is placed on how Channel Sakura’s internet videos explained the situation in a meaningful way to viewers and how skilled social actors within Channel Sakura and Ganbare Nippon used new and innovative tactics to exploit shifts in the field to their advantage. From this discussion, a picture emerges in which relatively small groups of highly motivated and organized activists can influence major international disputes.