Turnout to two-hour march through downtown blew away expectations.

The USA has experienced widespread protests the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 60s, and at the centre of it all is the Black Lives Matter movement, which demands an end to the longstanding systematic discrimination of black people in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Japan too, is no stranger to racism. It may not be as overt as repeated incidents of police brutality, but I can even remember talking to an employee of a major English conversation school chain whose job it was to Photoshop images of black people in textbooks, literally cutting off their heads and replacing them with those of white people.

So, it certainly wasn’t incomprehensible that Black Lives Matter Kansai was formed and eventually organized a march on 7 June both as a show of support for the ongoing movement in the US and to raise awareness of issues going on in Japan. Days before the march, the event got a big signal boost in the form of tennis great Naomi Osaka.

Still, with Japan not exactly being a hotbed of racial tension and the ever-present threat of COVID-19, the turnout was very uncertain at the time.

I went down to the event about a half an hour before the designated march time. Already there was a lot of activity, mainly volunteers and the media getting set up and a handful of marchers.

As the start time drew nearer, the crowd quickly swelled…

…and swelled…

…and swelled.

The march was to start off on the side of the river with all of the participants squeezed along its bank. Unfortunately this made it really hard to gauge the crowd’s size.

Police were present, but this being a government-sanctioned march, they were there to provide an escort along the busy streets of downtown Osaka. Other slightly more armed cops were also hanging around the periphery, but the overall vibe was very relaxed.

The march started by walking across Osaka City Hall. With all the participants chanting “Black lives matter,” and “No more racism.” 

Many carried signs with an array of slogans both in English and Japanese. The woman at the head of the march was also fluently bilingual and shouted slogans and instructions to the crowd in both languages the whole time.

The march then went across the front of the U.S. Embassy. Prior to the event, the U.S. Consul General in Osaka, Karen Kelly, tweeted her support of the march. However, at the time, no one except a line of Japanese police officers was there, probably because it was a Sunday.

Next, they reached a large intersection with a pedestrian bridge which gave me a good chance to get high and finally see how many people were there.

It was still hard to say, but with the line of marchers stretching down the block I would have guessed about 500 were there.

From there the group traveled through the busy business area of Umeda towards Nishi-Umeda park. By this time, their chants changed to “Me too,” and “Say her name,” in reference to American Breonna Taylor who was shot eight times by police officers while in bed.

Everyone in the march was wearing a mask and some held umbrellas, both to help social distancing and block the scorching sunlight that afternoon. Temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.

Still, spirits were very high as everyone neared their destination.

Once there, they let out a hearty round of applause. A few people gave speeches and everyone in the group silently kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the time that George Floyd’s neck was under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer when he died.

It was very moving but I couldn’t help but think the size of the crowd was rather small at this point. When the moment of silence was finished everyone proceeded to the centre of the park and I wondered if most people had given up from the relentless heat.

Just then, I heard someone playing Bob Marley on guitar and another wave of marchers arrived. I knew that due to the size, the participants were split into groups, but I had no idea they were staggered by about ten minutes each.

As the second group was finishing their speeches and moment of silence, another wave chanting “Black lives matter,” arrived, and then another after that. In leaps and bounds the park began to fill with marchers.

By the end, the applause of the crowd was thunderous and the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive. Looking around, people of all skin colors could be seen, all supporting each other in the name of protecting black lives and black rights.

“I look out and I see all you people, with the same mind and the same heart and a love of people,” said a member of Black Lives Kansai standing in the center of the crowd, “And I love you for that… Never forget: Do not allow injustice to be ignored. See something, say something. And speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Walk for those who cannot walk for themselves. And give voices to the voiceless.”

Osaka’s permission for the march included a strict deadline, so everyone was asked to disperse soon, and did so in smaller groups in order to aid social distancing as much as they could given such a large turnout.

But before that, all the marchers chanted one more time in unison “Black lives matter!” The sound of so many people together was formidable but inspiring.

In the end, over 2,000 people were said to have taken part on this hot afternoon in downtown Osaka. Although in the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement a lot of anger and frustration could be seen, as time and distances grows that anger seems to be evolving into more positive feelings, and hopefully positive change soon.

Prior to and after the march, there was a lot of concerns about it triggering coronavirus clusters. That danger certainly can’t be dismissed, but aside from the march, there were still hundreds of people in the street going about their daily lives. As far as I could see, every marcher was masked, but the same couldn’t be said for the bystanders at that time.

People are clearly going out in Osaka, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing either as we inch back to some form of normal life. Whatever reason it is for the individual when going outside, it’s always best to do it for something that matters.

Photos © SoraNews24
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