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Yamamoto Taro: New Prospects for Progressive Politics in Japan via Foreign Policy in Focus

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One of the most impressive of this new generation, who is currently touring Tokyo to give speeches in the lead-up to the July 21 elections, is the charismatic and committed Yamamoto Taro.

A long-time critic of the government’s denial of environmental damage resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, he has openly advocated on behalf of the citizens of the region who suffer from high rates of cancer. Yamamoto made headlines when he handed the previous emperor, Akihito, a letter in 2013 describing the terrible health conditions of children living around the disabled nuclear plant and the workers involved in the cleanup. Mainstream politicians attacked him for trying to use the emperor for political purposes at a public event, and many demanded that he resign and that be barred from future such events.

Yamamoto’s willingness to talk about the details of daily life for those confronted with the fallout of the nuclear disaster – in spite of the virtual media blackout on the issue – won him a small but devoted base in Japan.

Yamamoto started his career as an actor and established himself as a “talent,” a popular figure who appears on late-night talk shows to discuss current affairs and culture in a lighthearted manner. He took up the anti-nuclear issue after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake. To the detriment of his acting career, Yamamoto threw himself into activism, promoting renewable energy and working with those whose health was effected by the disaster.

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A New Party

Yamamoto broke his primary affiliation with Jiyuto (Freedom Party) in April 2019 and launched a new political coalition known as Reiwa Sinsengumi. The Reiwa Sinsengumi (Reiwa New Election Team) coalition has fielded multiple candidates for the current elections (including Yamamoto) and has taken forceful positions not found among other established opposition parties. For example, Reiwa Rinsengumi demands an immediate end to the regressive consumption tax (other opposition parties only ask that the rate not be raised), has openly opposed the construction of the Henoko Base in Okinawa, has demanded an immediate and unconditional end to nuclear power in Japan, and has proposed a 1500-yen-an-hour minimum wage.

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