I lay in bed bed late this Sunday morning, reading a borrowed copy of D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love." The air was wet and sticky but just this side of cool, perfect weather to read a classic novel in your boxers. My head was still heavy in images from the night out before, a beer or two at a friend's bar in Omiya, the girls I'd talked to, some guy friends I hadn't seen in a month or so, the nervous hipsters who giggled like schoolkids at the idea of talking to a white man. Hidden among all the outdated political conversations and extinct social customs in Lawrence's writing were the raw heart-twisting bits that locked up with my Saturday night in a Japanese bar.
The clock was moving towards noon when the sounds of crackly PA's and drums echoed through my neighborhood and brought me out of the novel. The more I listened the bigger this thing sounded. I had been thinking about getting a cup of coffee for a little while, but decided to just throw on some clothes, grab my camera and go see what this was all about.
My apartment is in a small gem of a Japanese neighborhood, a warren of small shops and restaurants shouldered into back alleys. They're kept alive by the eight-storied, two buildinged Isetan Department store complex, which brings both locals and out-of-towners, and the Prefectural Capital buildings, which create a daily flow of pedestrian traffic that trickle straight through the neighborhood. I jogged down the stairs and weaved around the shoppers strolling past the old bag and tea stores. The other side of my block is a pretty main street in Urawa, which a long political march was making it's way down.
A quick glance at the banners brought no immediate theme together. The graying marchers held flags that called for Japan out of Iraq, for a recall of the new government pushed revisionist textbooks glossing over World War II, for a halt to Koizumi's changes to the Postal Savings and pension systems, and for a boycott of Risona Bank due to their recent layoffs. I snapped some shots half heartedly, but the mild humidity, no shower and no coffee meant my mind hadn't really kick started yet. I walked along the march, which wound it's way up around the Prefectural Capitol complex. I began to realize that the marchers numbered in the hundreds, if not close to a thousand or so. A Dixie-land band of retirement age Japanese men played old timey jazz in front of the Prefectural capitol building, waving to the demonstrators between solos. Cops were directing traffic and keeping things moving, but the road was still open, with City Buses and Toyota's sometimes roaring pass the graying marchers with only two feet to spare. I felt conspicuous and foolish. Unshaven, lanky white guy loping around with a Nikon camera trying to figure out what was going on.
It was on one of the PA trucks lining the march route clear as day. I sounded out the Japanese sounds until they wiggled into my groggy brain processing and came up with an answer. May Day. It was fucking May Day. It was also the beginning of Japan's "Golden Week" of holidays, and a Sunday to boot.
The marchers all seemed so weary, all the banners and chanting in unison and Koizumi caricature masks... this was a phantom limb from the 60's. The people and the style hadn't changed. There issues were all reactionary, in the original sense of the word. "No war in Iraq!" "No Change to the Pension System!" I happened to agree with them, but there was nothing here but moral smugness, nothing new, nothing constructive. That stuff takes time and effort. Don't I know it. There was a troupe of clowns in green, orange and purple, banging drums and cavorting. When I looked closer their makeupped faces were lined with wrinkles and crows feet.
I desperately needed something to eat and slouched back to my apartment for a brunch of strong black tea and leftovers. I could hear the drummers echoing around somewhere in the distance. I was going into Tokyo to haunt some used bookstores. At every train station the Volunteer Clubs of high schools were out collecting money. Over their navy and gray school uniforms they wore faded green sashes blazoned with pleas to support children orphaned by natural disastors, suicide and abandonment. I dropped them a few yen but still felt ill at ease, another leftist curling up into silence, just another passive face on the train, going shopping on a Sunday morning.