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Friday, July 13, 2012

University opens unique archive on grassroots campaigns


An archive at Rikkyo University in Tokyo has started hosting and showing a unique collection of materials related to postwar grassroots campaigns for environmental conservation, peace and social issues, including consumer affairs and the rights of disabled people.

The collection is expected to provide an excellent resource for understanding the development of grassroots movements in Japan after World War II, experts say.

The university's Research Center for Cooperative Civil Societies, launched in April 2010, has helped researchers and students to study Japanese society from viewpoints of ordinary people, rather than those of authorities, while providing news organizations with judicial records on litigation related to atomic power plants in light of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The center's records, including a collection of more than 240,000 newsletters and bulletins, "have enabled visitors to think about how civil society has dealt with various issues and how people have promoted their agendas through their own publications," said research center director Koichi Takagi.

With around 500 individuals and groups donating their publications on a regular basis, the collection, believed to be the largest of its kind in Japan, continues to grow.

The documents were initially maintained at Saitama University, but the two universities agreed in 2009 to move them to Rikkyo for joint use, and the transfer was completed in March.

With recent additions, Rikkyo was able to open up records of the 10-year activities of the anti-Vietnam War group Japan Peace for Vietnam! Committee, known by its Japanese acronym Beheiren.

The records, filling around 920 folders, include Beheiren bulletins, photographs of demonstrations and meetings, and newspaper and magazine clippings about its campaign.

Founded in 1965, primarily by prominent philosopher Shunsuke Tsurumi and influential writer Makoto Oda, Beheiren was known for its unprecedented activities, such as taking out antiwar advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post, and a secret operation to help deserters from the U.S. military flee to Sweden and other countries, sometimes using forged passports.

It marked the launch of a new type of civil movement, as it didn't have a formal membership system and anybody involved in antiwar efforts could call themselves part of the movement. People formed innumerable Beheiren groups in schools, workplaces and communities, or acted individually.

The Rikkyo collection also includes a large volume of materials about campaigns against environmental pollution in Japan and abroad donated by Jun Ui, a distinguished environmental scientist known for his research into Minamata disease and other pollution-related issues.

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