TOKYO (Neil Day) - On Japan's national holiday, Marine Day, July 17, 2017, the fourth edition of the annual March for Life was held in downtown Tokyo. After a special Mass was held, the march began, embarking at 4 p.m. from Tsukiji Catholic Church (the first Cathedral of Tokyo until 1920, whose current pastor is Fr. Leo Schumacher, S.S.C), and snaked its way through a number of the capitol's most famous and fashionable districts, including Ginza and Nihonbashi. Under a blazing hot sun and high humidity, about 150 people quietly but with great dignity marched for about one hour till the final destination at Hibiya Park, Japan's first westernized garden park which borders the southern perimeter of the Imperial Palace.
Although the March for Life in Japan seems small compared to other marches across the world, it is worth noting that the very first march here only took place in 2014 (and then only 33 people marched), and this largely came about through the inspiration and will power of a private individual, Mr. Masaki Ikeda, a restaurant owner in Tokyo. He again was the principal organizer this year using his own funds and time to keep this pro-life activity continuing in Japan.
Although the website for the Archdiocese of Tokyo posted a notice (Japanese only) on its website at the beginning of July about the July 17 march, there did not seem to be much urgency in its approach to the event. During the march questions did arise among some of the marchers about the seeming lack of visibility of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ). Participants hoped that the CBCJ would get behind future editions of this annual pro-life march since as of now very little effort seems to be have been made to highlight and support the activities of Mr. Ikeda and his pro-life volunteers.
On a more positive note, this year's marchers comprised both Japanese and foreigners living in Japan including people young and old from the United States, the Philippines, South America, France, Singapore, the South Pacific Islands, Ireland and more. A city council member from Kashiwa City, Mr. Izumi Kamihashi, also joined the march, while some people even came from distant parts of Japan, such as a family from Nagoya. A representative from a pro-life multi-denominational Christian group called Ray of Hope also flew in from Taiwan to take part.
The mood was very positive, purposeful, with a deep sense of dignity, including very friendly police safely guiding the march. Indeed, many smiles and thanks were exchanged between the police and marchers. Three priests from Tokyo and Yokohama parishes also marched, and for all it was a true blessing to see the statue of our Blessed Mother Mary carried with such great reverence through the bustling streets of Tokyo.
Most of the marchers were Catholic, but this writer was informed that there is great interest from other Christian denominations here to take part in future marches, including indeed from Buddhist religious groups. The main issue at the moment is that there is so little awareness in Japan for pro-life activities such as that of Mr. Ikeda. Resources equally are so few. This year was the first time a flier was made for the event — and that only came about from a private donation!
Regarding the background to abortion in Japan, it was on July 13, 1948 that the Japanese government enacted the Eugenic Protection Law, based on a proposal made by the Socialist Party, which, after a further amendment in 1949 allowing abortion for "economic reasons," truly opened the floodgates to the killing of the unborn.
The abortion rate rose from 246,104 in the first year of the promulgation of the law to a shocking 1,068,066, five years later in 1953. In the following period, 1953–1961, over 1,000,000 abortions were performed each year in Japan, totaling 9,988,541 in just nine years! Such was the reaction to these numbers that the government made efforts to scale back this rate and over the years abortion rates have fallen to a much lower level of 170,388, recorded in 2015. From 1949 to 2015 however, the total number of officially recorded abortions stood at 38,499,348.
With an ongoing population decline that is set to see Japan's population fall from roughly 125,000,000 people today to projections of 85,000,000 by 2050, the Japanese government has recently softened its position on abortion and is becoming more pro-life, of course this motivation stems more from "economic reasons" than any high moral impulse.
At the Pro-Life symposium, which again was organized by Mr. Ikeda and held a week before (July 9th) this year's march, this writer asked Mr. Ikeda if the pro-life movement had any politicians or celebrities who supported him and the pro-life cause. He indicated that there are such people but sadly they, for now, keep their opinions and voices silent. In addition, at the march itself not one of the Japanese mainstream media organsations was present to cover the event.
For those at this year's march it seems likely that many more people in Japan are sympathetic to the pro-life cause, the challenge though is to create a national awareness that can bring people together and allow them express their views and support.
No speeches were held at the end of the march this year, but there was a great sense of reverence, dignity and prayerfulness among the participants. Hymns and prayers were recited around the stature of our Blessed Mother (as was done during the march) and everyone felt a great sense of being moved by their experience that day. The march warmly united people it seems, from the fire of their shared conviction for a noble cause, the preservation of the life of the unborn.
One can only feel upbeat about the future. There was a sizeable increase in marchers this year so with more organization and promotion, though Japan's pro-life movement is in its infancy, through healthy nutritional doses of organization and promotion it is set to grow in the years to come and can indeed become a significant event in the international calendar of the pro-life movement.