After a divisive election, students at Bowdoin were reminded yesterday of the power of democracy and knowledge by a screening of the documentary “Tell the Prime Minister.” Toru Shinoda, a labor politics professor from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, attended the screening and spoke with students about the importance of political engagement. The event was sponsored by the Asian Studies department.

The film was made by a young Japanese sociology professor, Eiji Oguma. According to Director of the Asian Studies Program Vyjayanthi Ratnam Selinger, Oguma’s intent was to portray the mobilization movement that sprung up among youth in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in 2011.

The Fukushima protests were anti-nuclear demonstrations that took place after the meltdown and were primarily comprised of workers and students. The protesters called on the Japanese government to abolish nuclear power entirely. 

Shinoda said that the film screening comes at an interesting moment in American politics. 

“We can see in the film how people combine speaking up with an indirect democracy,” he said. 

“This is the film of how Japanese people, not just found, but remembered how democracy works.” 

The protests were “an energization of a population,” according to Selinger. 

After the protests, the government committed to shutting down any nuclear power plants by 2030. Shinoda said that he is surprised the policy is working, considering the transfer of power to the more conservative current government.

“The pledge will be completed since more and more people in Japan think nuclear plants aren’t necessary,” said Shinoda. “We’ve been fine without nuclear plants, in terms of providing electricity.” 

The protests, however, weren’t the only factor that caused the Japanese government to change. According to Shinoda, Japanese sentiment toward nuclear energy has also been in flux.

Selinger hopes that students relate to the sense of consciousness that the Japanese protesters had. 

“We hope that our students take away engagement in democracy and the multitudinous ways you approach and think about an event like this,” she said. “One of our goals is to have environmental studies reflect on the kind of work we do in the liberal arts.” 

The protests, prompted by environmental issues, commented on how politics approximate everyday life, and emphasized how environmental issues are interconnected with political and social life. 

“The environmental issue provided an opportunity to people to remember politics and ignite change,” said Shinoda. 

Currently, the Asian Studies Department is guiding research projects in the interdisciplinary study of environmental studies and politics. Selinger noted that one student, Michael Amano ’17, spent the summer researching the post World War II exchange of art between students in Santa Fe, Nm. and Hiroshima, Japan. 

“I notice this generation of students has a very heightened consciousness about our commitment and agency with respect to the environment,” Selinger added. “I’d like to see this tapped into.”