Even so, I will continue to speak out
Article 21 of The Constitution of Japan guarantees the freedom of speech.
However, I have constantly felt suffocated. Even with this guarantee, I feel like I live in a society where I cannot speak up about any perplexing or controversial thought I have.
The old me was convinced that Japan was this "amazing, peaceful country with very few problems." My friends and I would often talk about things like new cafés, fashion, school work, and people we fancied.
However, when I went on an exchange, I saw people of similar age discussing politics and social issues in the same situations where I would chat casually with my friends in Japan when we got together. This made me realize that I was avoiding the topic of social issues, pretending that they did not exist. I was motivated to catch up to the people around me. I read newspapers and essays, listened to people speak, and shared my opinions. Since then, I learned about social issues and politics, and discussing them soon became a hobby of mine. I felt like I had struck home.
Despite this, when I arrived back to Japan, that hobby of mine was considered a nuisance. When I spoke about the issue of gender equality within Japanese society to my friends (at the time), they would dismiss me by saying things like "you’re being overly conscious" and "you’re thinking too much," and distance themselves from me. This really shocked me; the people who I thought really understood me the most told me that it was annoying, and there was no use in discussing these things. Before I knew it, I had put a mask over my mouth, and I started to concern myself with what other people thought about my beliefs. I hushed the voice that I once used to openly express my opinions, now to refrain from becoming an outlier. I thought, at the time, that this way I would not cause anyone around me harm, and I wouldn’t bring any harm to myself either.
However, when I saw the news of Hong Kong’s protests (for their fight for democratization), and that there were people the same age as myself involved, I could not keep quiet any longer. Since then, I have actively engaged in conversation with like-minded and close people about Hong Kong’s pro-democratization movement, Japan’s gender equality issue, coronavirus countermeasures, voting numbers, young people’s disinterest in politics, environmental issues, mental health preservation procedures, and so on. A spark was reignited in my soul, and I felt like I had become myself again.
To this day, I continue to voice my opinions. There are times where I get worried about people’s judgment, and it eats away at my resolve. There is a me who wants to put a mask over and hide the fact that I speak out, and participate in protests, and sign petitions, never to be known by anyone.
However, I will continue to do what I think is right.
This way, I am more honest with myself.
This way, I believe society will improve.
It has become the norm to wear a mask during this pandemic. However, I have long since taken the mask off my beliefs and will continue to voice and act upon them. I will stand against this unwritten rule of "do not speak out" in this Japanese society: from now, and from here on out.
About Rinako Yagi
Hello reader. My name is Rinako Yagi, and I am a student. I like to discuss social issues. Sometimes I like that about myself, and sometimes I don’t. The reason being, that when I voice that I think something is odd in society, the people around me think I’m different and they keep their distance from me. On the other hand, if I suppress my urge to speak out about what I think is odd, a knot in my gut appears and I start to doubt my beliefs. I have been told that "it is the norm to suppress your thoughts," however, I have been giving my love for discussing social issues more attention, and have chosen to not deny this part of myself.
Translated by Ariel Tjeuw
Graphic by Ayumi White
Edited by Emiru Okada