Hordes of people turn out for a metaverse protest to voice their opposition to an amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. (Provided by Sacco Fujishima)

For those unable or reluctant to come to Tokyo to rally against a bill to revise the immigrant control law, painter Sacco Fujishima has a 21st-century alternative: "Protest on the metaverse."

Fujishima has organized a virtual reality movement against the envisioned amendment that aims to deport foreign overstayers even while their refugee applications are pending.

“I expect that our voices of opposition will be taken into account for far more careful discussions on the deportation of refugees,” said Fujishima.

Her protest movement on social media is being replicated in virtual reality, garnering wide support among those who cannot turn out for an in-person demonstration.

Under the effort, people who retweet Fujishima’s objection to the bill on Twitter leads to their graphical representations popping up on the online space. Advocates’ computerized alter egos are arranged randomly on the metaverse by Fujishima.

Her post specifies one should “retweet when they are in favor” of her campaign.

The retweet number continued rising since the campaign’s release on April 21, and the participant figure reached about 11,000 by May 21 for the metaverse protest.

“The metaverse demonstration’s post has been retweeted by more than 10,000 accounts,” said Fujishima. “This is important given that there are some hurdles to it, such as their followers becoming aware of their personal opinions via social media.”

Fujishima said an image of her virtual space has been sent to the office of a lawmaker working in the Lower House Committee on Judicial Affairs and other destinations.

Her cyberworld is packed with hordes of men and women in various heights and sizes who show up in front of the Diet building replicated with 3-D computer graphics. Visitors to the space can look around as if they are part of an actual demonstration.

The upper area of the metaverse is lined by a range of airborne comments from opponents.

A message writer wants Japan to “become a country to value human rights,” and another simply states that the poster “opposes the revision” to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.

Fujishima created a virtual reality space with the same workings on a trial basis three years earlier as the COVID-19 pandemic raged.

An amendment to the Public Prosecutors Office Law was then being discussed at the Diet, so the government could delay the mandatory retirement of prosecutors in senior positions based on its own judgment.

Internet users voiced opposition through their posts marked by a hash mark and the comment “we protest the Public Prosecutors Office Law’s amendment,” contributing to the boom of the so-called hashtag activism on social networking platforms.

People were refraining from attending demonstrations at the time in the self-restrained atmosphere, as “extraordinary sights” of deserted commercial districts were common even in Tokyo during the anti-virus states of emergency.

Fujishima came up with the concept of raising her voice on the internet space as an alternative means of protest. 

“The value of information, including sympathy levels, is measured in numbers on social media,” recalled Fujishima. “My idea was that people’s enthusiasm may be shown in a visualized form if real-life activities are re-created virtually.”

Fujishima had created online protest zones every time momentum surged, for example, amid the U.S.-derived Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement against racial discrimination or the growing calls for the cancellation of the Tokyo Summer Olympics initially scheduled for 2020.

When a formerly proposed bill to review the immigration control law was submitted to the Diet in 2021, a cyber demonstration was mounted to win over 5,000 advocates.

Fujishima said the latest movement constitutes the eighth round of her campaign and that she sees firsthand “even more people with a wider variety of backgrounds are taking part” in the online protest this time than its previous counterpart.

The bill passed the Lower House on May 9. Foreign nationals are not deported during the refugee application process under the current law, but they can be repatriated under the planned framework following two rejections of their applications except for cases with reasonable causes.

The revision includes plans to enable overstayers to live out of detention centers with their supporters, too, in the hope of resolving the problem of often being put in custody for extended periods of time.

Fujishima examined quote retweets that have come with comments on her post.

The findings revealed those wanting to participate in her metaverse protest include not only people unable to join an offline demonstration due to the novel coronavirus crisis but individuals who live far from urban regions, are recuperating from illness or have difficulty going out because they are busy caring for small children or elderly family members.

One such retweet reads the poster “comes from Mie Prefecture for this demonstration.” Another says the Twitter user “cannot move due to sickness so visited the metaverse.”

A message admires Fujishima’s activity, referring to the circumstance where it is “unrealistic for me to go to Tokyo with a small child.” It also describes the traditional style of demonstration as “unsatisfactory.”

Another group of people Fujishima feels she succeeds in reaching out to via her unique drive comprise those hesitant to show their faces for real demonstrations and others who “have potential hurdles to raising their voices.”

Her post calling for active participation in her virtual demonstration is available in Japanese at (https://twitter.com/sacco395/status/1649367437736046594).