About 400 Hongkongers gathered with their supporters on August 17 near Hong Kong government offices in Tokyo. They called on their compatriots to take back Hong Kong. The rally was organized by 27-year-old Seiya Hakugawa, a Japanese national born and raised in Hong Kong. Hakugawa said he was driven by a sense of crisis that Hongkongers will be deprived of their freedom.
Opponents of the protests believed to be mainland Chinese also gathered at the site and briefly caused a stir.
Learning about freedom in Hong Kong
Hakugawa's mother is Japanese and his father is Hong Kong Chinese. He moved to Japan at age 18 to attend college and now works for an IT firm in Tokyo.
Hakugawa said that as far back as he could remember, Hong Kong was already back under the control of China, but he said he had learned the importance of free speech by attending a British-influenced school in the territory. He said the school had emphasized open discussion and that some of the teachers even took the students to demonstrations.
"Our school did all it could to make sure we expressed our views freely and respected other people's views. Many people abroad say Hongkongers like to complain. In other words, we clearly say what we think and are ready to say 'no.'"
Hakugawa said many of his friends in Hong Kong were risking their lives to fight against a bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for prosecution. They say this deprives Hong Kong of its democratic freedoms. After watching the protests on social media almost every day, Hakugawa said he decided to organize a rally in Japan.
Many Hongkongers living in Japan fear they might pay a price for participating in a protest if the Hong Kong government finds out. Hakugawa says he doesn't have this worry and thought he should take the initiative to help protect Hong Kong's freedom.
"I want to protect Hong Kong because it's my home and it means a lot to me," he said. "I understand that it's difficult for us to influence the Hong Kong government and Beijing, but I wouldn't be satisfied if I didn't take action. I couldn't forgive myself."
Hakugawa witnesses the turmoil
Hakugawa went to Hong Kong in late August. He donned a gas mask and made his way to the front line of the demonstration. He saw water cannon trucks and tear gas being fired at the protesters.
He said the air was filled with the desperate feeling of protestors that they had no choice but to devote themselves body and soul to protecting their freedom.
He said the atmosphere was more stifling than on his visit to Hong Kong five years ago during the Umbrella Movement protests. He said that back then he frequently heard protestors singing songs of hope about freedom by a popular rock band, but not this time.
Hakugawa said he watched the protests turn violent, and that he didn't want to disregard this as "just the actions of some people."
He said people are demonstrating under the slogan, "Solidarity Forever." He said that both those joining peaceful marches as well as those taking more radical action cherish Hong Kong. "Everyone is doing all they can," he added. "My stance is different from those who take violent action, but I will never deny them."
Hakugawa said that he saw a ray of hope on August 31. Police had banned the mass protests, but people started to gather anyway, saying they were just taking a walk or playing Pokemon Go. He said this kind of free thinking demonstrated the strength of Hongkongers, and that he was relieved to see them keeping that strength.
No freedom, No Hong Kong
Hakugawa returned to Japan, and on September 4, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the government would withdraw the bill that had sparked the protests. At the same time, she rejected the demonstrators' demands for an independent inquiry into police conduct during the protests and a democratic election to choose the chief executive. That has disappointed many Hongkongers.
Hakugawa believes the protests will continue, and he says he is organizing seminars in Tokyo to explain what's happening and to share the protestors' aspirations for a true democracy. He says it is his mission to attract more interest from Japanese in the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.
"Freedom is Hong Kong's value and its strength. If there's no freedom in Hong Kong, then it is no longer Hong Kong," he said. "I'm Japanese and a Hongkonger and I'll keep raising my voice for the sake of Hong Kong."