Former far-left radical Yukiko Ekita faces backlash over release of children’s book

When Yukiko Ekita, a former member of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front and Japanese Red Army, was released from prison in March this year, it was the most prominent example of a far-left radical walking free in Japan for many years, if not decades.

Her rehabilitation into society followed an initial incarceration from 1975 to 1976, when she was released by the Japanese government in response to Japanese Red Army hijackers’ demands, and then a further 20 years behind bars after her recapture in the 1990s. This alone was newsworthy but it was made doubly so by the almost immediate release of a children’s book, Mako no takaramono (Mako’s Treasure), written by Ekita (also frequently spelt Ekida).

yukiko ekita east asia anti-japan armed front japan radical

Yukiko Ekita at the time of her arrest in 1975

Last month, the weekly magazine Shūkan Shinchō published an article about a backlash against Ekita’s post-prison career. It ignores Ekita’s time spent with the Japanese Red Army abroad and instead focuses exclusively on the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front. This is a choice determined by timing, no doubt. The end of August marked the 43 years since the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries bombing, which is the most infamous incident among the various bombings in the campaign waged by the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front. It was not, however carried out by the Ekita’s cell, which only joined the front afterwards. The bombing killed eight people when explosives ripped through the ground floor of the corporation’s headquarters in Marunouchi, but it was planned and executed by the main cell, led by Masahi Daidōji, who died in May in prison. A series of smaller, non-fatal bombings followed, targeting other corporations, until almost all the cells’ members were arrested in May 1975.

Various convicted criminals and prisoners have written books both while serving their sentences and after their releases. The spree killer Norio Nagayama found acclaim as a novelist behind bars and Tatsuya Ichihashi, who murdered the English teacher Lindsay Hawker, also published a memoir. Likewise, many far-left radicals have published accounts of their activities and other books, typically released through small and sympathetic presses. Ekita’s one-time colleague Fusako Shigenobu has published two major books since her arrest and there are numerous other examples. What is perhaps unusual about Ekita’s case is that she hasn’t written the standard memoir but rather a book for children that does not touch directly on her past at all.

The Shūkan Shinchō article picks up on this absence as well as the anti-war message of the story, which is written in the dialect of Ekita’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi.

It then quotes the 70-year-old brother of one of the victims of the Mitsubishi attack. “We never had any contact from Ekita after the incident. Of course, anyone is allowed to write a book, but this is lacking in common sense. This leaves me appalled. My younger sister was 23 years old at the time and I was 27. Our mother died in 1989 but grieved for her only daughter right until the end. I also pray to the Buddhist altar in our house every day. I cannot forget my sister. What would the children who read this book think if they knew that the author was a criminal who committed indiscriminate terrorist incidents?”

Technically speaking, Ekita was not an accomplice in the Mitsubishi attack — something that the article seemingly fails to iterate. It does, however, interview a man, now aged 68, who was injured in the Taisei Corporation headquarters bombing of December 1974, which was carried out by Ekita’s cell, Daichi no Kiba (Fangs of the Earth). The attack injured nine people.

“I have nothing to say, but I think she should have written at least some kind of apology in the book. Even today I still think of her in fear. How can someone like that write a book for children? She should have just become a Buddhist nun and lived out her days quietly.”

The magazine claimed that it attempted to contact Ekita but her publisher, Gendai Kikakushitsu, said she is not doing press interviews at this time. (Most far-left radicals have avoided the media spotlight after their release, though some do appear at public talks and events from time to time.)

The article then concludes on a strangely phrased critical note. “Unless [Ekita] sincerely faces up to the families of the victims, no matter how much she tries to portray life, she will never be able to weave words that resonate in the souls of children”.

The problem of what former radicals do upon release from prison is something of a parlour game. Many quickly disappear into the ether, going off to live with families or get by while supported by a network of ageing activists. A few cases are well known, such as that of Takaya Shiomi, who led Sekigun-ha (the Red Army Faction) until his apprehension shortly before the Yodogō hijacking in 1970, worked at a car parking lot and wrote about his experience. He recently attempted without success to make a move into mainstream politics by standing for election.


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A review of Japanese ultra-nationalism mockumentary Go! Go! Second-Time Gaijin

As we approach the end of the Heisei period with the abdication of the current emperor — a situation unprecedented in modern times — we can expect the sound and fury of the ultra-nationalists’ black vans, known as uyoku gaisensha, to grow louder and more numerous, especially as small yet brave anti-emperor protests also increase. The continued tensions with North Korea and Japan’s other neighbours also adds fuel to the more recent and effectively discrete wave of nationalist and far-right marchers whose xenophobia has now been legally identified and banned as hate speech. In short, it’s a liminal point in time for the far Right.

Observers of ultra-nationalism in Japan — and I hesitate to include myself among them, specialising more in far-left radicalism — have a lot to process at present. Perhaps this is why we are also seeing various developments at once, including the publication of an English translation of Naoto Higuchi’s Japan’s Ultra-Right and Meirō Koizumi’s film Today My Empire Sings (of which a long-in-gestation article to appear one day soon). And when a Spaniard was spotted at several hate speech rallies and marches, it seemed initially too good to be true. Is he just trolling them, a satirist willing to go further than others would dare?

Though parody thrives, political satire in Japan, much less mockumentary, is rare. The comedian Minoru Torihada or the stand-up Hiro Matsumoto are two prominent outliers, but they are cult or fringe figures. Overseas, the last few years have yielded gold dust for the likes of Chris Morris or Armando Iannucci, not to mention the immense boost that the Trump administration has gifted comedy and satire in the United States. But don’t expect television comics in Japan to step up in this way.

go go second time gaijin ultranationalism mockumentary satire japan

And so it falls to an independent film-maker to produce what may be one of the most courageous works of the year. And though announced last year, Go! Go! Second-Time Gaijin now almost feels like a case of life being stranger than fiction in the viral wake of our Spanish advocate for Japanese ultra-nationalism.

Directed by Robert Nishimura, a long-time resident of Yamaguchi, and written by Nishimura and Stirling Perry, the mockumentary is a snappy 60 minutes that starts as a cod Pathe-style trailer with plummy British narration tracing the rise of the uyoku dantai (ultra-nationalist groups) and ideas of racial purity in post-war Japan. We are then introduced to Kazuo Ishida (played by Nishimura himself), leader and sole member of the Great Japan Purity Party. The eponymous foreigner (gaijin) proudly presents the alterations he has made to his car with flags, slogans and loudspeakers. At first we do not see his face but the shot then pans to his face as he speaks to camera: a white man wearing a standard uyoku-style jumpsuit with a flag.

go go second-time gaijin gaisensha ultranationalist film mockumentary japan

go go second-time gaijin gaisensha ultranationalist film mockumentary japan

The film largely focuses on Ishida’s preparations for a trip to Yasukuni Shrine to take part in the August 15th parade, when caravans of uyoku dantai vehicles converge on central Tokyo to mark the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. Chilling footage of this is edited into the start and end of the film.

Why does Ishida believe he is Japanese, much less an ultra-nationalist? He apparently fell down the stairs when leaving the immigration office after completing his naturalisation application. The bump on the head made him completely fluent in Japanese and believe himself to be a Japanese nationalist. His Japanese wife is resigned to this personality change — and is actually more concerned about the dodgy film-makers with whom her husband is now associating.

Ishida’s voice is dubbed over by one with a native Japanese accent, and the attempts to mask this are deliberately only superficial. When speaking on his car to locals in his rural backwater, the scenario is funny but partially deflated by the lack of sense of tangible danger as the audio sounds like it has been added in post-production. The “bystanders” are, of course, actors. That being said, when he visits the immigration office and shouts at other foreigners, it is laugh-out-loud funny. There is another hilarious moment when Ishida for the first time meets “a fellow compatriot” he met online and the reaction of the man is, well, let’s just say less than welcoming.

Some names in the credits are redacted, which may seem like a gimmick to imitate edgy documentaries, but could also be an actual precaution at the request of certain participants against rightist reprisals. (The film did suffer a few production difficulties and rejections due to its delicate subject matter.) Nishimura resorted to guerrilla-style tactics at times to secure the footage he wanted. “I withheld certain plot points to get genuine interviews,” he told me. Likewise, the uyoku seen in certain shots were naturally not aware that they were extras in a mockumentary, though he more or less managed to avoid major confrontations with real ultra-nationalists and the authorities. “The only problem we had was during preliminary shooting, when the police rolled up while I was driving the gaisensha through the Korean district. Once they realised I was white, they were too shocked and confused by it to even ask my name so they just let me go.”

With its vociferous, irrepressible subject who drives around Japan causing mischief, the film evidently recalls Kazuo Hara’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987). Nishimura throws in another sly reference to Hara with his title (the “go, go” echoes the Japanese name for Hara’s film) as well as to Kōji Wakamatsu’s Go, Go, Second-Time Virgin (1969). Long-term expats in Japan may also sense how Ishida is a kind of inversion of Debito Arudou, an American who became a naturalised Japanese citizen. Arudou, who was involved with the film at one point, is regarded by supporters as a tireless champion of human rights, and as a pointless troublemaker by his detractors.

Ishida is not actually the only gaijin in the uyoku. A Korean-Japanese interviewee at one point explains that he has Korean friends who are part of the uyoku, doing it for work or to deflect attention from themselves. (This is not a cheap gag but a reference to something of an open secret about the far Right in Japan.) But he worries that a person who is so obviously not “Japanese” pretending to be an ultra-nationalist will insult and provoke others.

go go second-time gaijin gaisensha ultranationalist film mockumentary japan

The central conceit of the film is that it is a not just a mockumentary but also a meta-film. The “director”, Katō, is shown explaining to the camera about how he stumbled upon the foreigner and was inspired to make a film about him. “This documentary will change everything,” he promises. At times, it isn’t clear who is the more deluded: the “artist” making the film or the gaijin? Much of the humour revolves around the incompetence of the “film crew” as they try to interact with the subject and interviewees as well as the pretentious posturing of the sunshades-sporting auteur, constantly griping because he can’t get the shots he wants. The director and his cameraman bicker about the director’s silly attempts to stage scenes in the documentary, such as getting the foreigner to go to the Russian Embassy. This forms a kind of clownish mirror for the titular gaijin, reflecting his own risibility. The crew-of-one even answers back to the Ishida during interviews (“Don’t we need to remain open to the world?”).

Ishida, however, believes the film-within-the-film is a collaboration; they are helping him make a propaganda film. He then starts to take over by hiring a composer to score a soundtrack. In this way, the film morphs into a sharp examination on the relationship between the artist and subject. This reaches a climax at the end when the director and his long-suffering cameraman have to decide whether to accompany Ishida to Yasukuni. Fearing genuine danger, they struggle ethically and artistically over what to do.

The finale at Yasukuni is nail-biting stuff as Ishida wanders around in his jumpsuit while real uyoku dantai line the streets of Tokyo. Will they notice him? Will they realise this is a mockumentary? Would they even understand? When he finds himself isolated from the procession, we are left with a portrait of a naive individual alone in his self-satisfied radicalism. It’s a brilliant image of the grim reality of most uyoku, foreign or otherwise. “I am a true believer,” he claims, but we cannot agree.

Though pestered by the film crew in interviews about the uyoku and the gaijin, the public is indifferent. This becomes a running joke. No one seems to notice that the gaijin is a nationalist — or even care. But this is not just a joke. It is a sharp commentary on the apathy of the Japanese electorate, who are indeed so accustomed to these racist and nationalist elements in society that they turn a blind eye. The problem is that the uyoku dantai are only the most obvious, wacky example, and there are more insidious, subtle ones concealed within the ranks of the media and establishment. As suggested by the final shots of the film, revealing what Ishida ultimately does next, ignore them at your peril or they may wheedle their way into power.

The parallel between regular lawmakers and the ultra-nationalists was something Nishimura spotted when he first arrived in Japan. “At that time I thought [the ultra-nationalists] flew in the face of everything I assumed Japan to be, but I quickly learned that politicians use the same method to harangue the public.” Food for thought indeed.


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Veteran Narita Airport protest leader Kōji Kitahara dies, aged 95

Kōji Kitahara, the Narita Airport protest leader, has died, aged 95.

He passed away in the afternoon of August 9th in a hospital in Tomisato, Chiba. A farmer and landowner, Kitahara was the official head of the Sanrizuka-Shibayama United Opposition League Against the Construction of Narita Airport (also known as the Farmers League Against the [sic] Narita Airport, or more colloquially known in Japanese as Hantai Dōmei, or the Opposition League), which campaigns against the expansion of Japan’s premier airport.

After Issaku Tomura, who initially led the protest movement until his death in 1979, Kitahara was the most prominent figure in the Hantai Dōmei. Though increasingly frail in recent times, Kitahara’s fervour was boundless. I met Kitahara once and heard him at rallies on a few occasions. He remained a passionate public speaker despite his advancing age and he was still participating in rallies until last year.

koji kitahara-sanrizuka narita protest leader

Kōji Kitahara at a rally in Narita City in March 2015. Image source: Kanjitsu Sanrizuka

While Japan today enjoys an unprecedented inbound tourism boom that has seen record numbers of foreign visitors use Narita Airport, the protest movement has now endured for over five decades. Also known as the Sanrizuka movement after the area in rural Chiba in which the airport was built, the protests saw local farmers unite with activists from far-left groups to oppose the construction of a massive new airport. The decision to build the airport in Sanrizuka was announced in 1966, affecting several villages in the district. Locals and activists quickly rallied under the umbrella of Hantai Dōmei, using both violent means and civil disobedience to resist the surveys and eventual expropriation of the land. Though many did accept reality and sell up, opposition escalated throughout the 1970s, resulting in several deaths on both sides, lengthy delays and suicide.

In the 1980s and following the opening of the airport, Hantai Dōmei split into three main factions, though Kitahara’s has refused to accept any form of terms with the airport authority and continues to organise protests and launch law suits. Kitahara’s faction has long benefited from the firm support of Chukaku-ha (Central Core Faction), the common name for the far-left Kakukyōdō (Revolutionary Communist League). Over the past few years, their joint efforts have particularly revolved around supporting the farmer Takao Shitō in his campaign to protect his land from seizure.

News of the death of Kitahara also comes coincidentally just prior to the opening of a new documentary about the airport protest movement, The Fall of Icarus: Narita Stories, a sequel to the successful 2014 film The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories. While the first film had focused only on the local farmers, the latest one highlights the contribution of student activists and young radicals. It opens from mid-September at Image Forum in Tokyo.


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Police arrest Kakurōkyō activist over mortar attack on United States Air Force base in 2013

Police have announced the arrest of an alleged member of the radical far-left group Kakurōkyō over a projectile attack at Yokota Air Base, a United States military facility in west Tokyo, in 2013. The 65-year-old Toyotsuna Numata was arrested, Tokyo Metropolitan Police said on July 14th, on suspicion of violating the Criminal Regulations to Control Explosives Law.

Originally known as Shaseidō Kaihō-ha (Socialist Youth Union Liberation Faction), Kakurōkyō (Revolutionary Workers) is a Marxist group committed to the struggle against capitalism and the US-Japan alliance. In addition to another, much earlier breakaway group, Kakurōkyō comprises two factions: the “non-mainstream faction”, also called Kimoto-ha, Yamashige-ha or Sekisaisha-ha; and the “mainstream faction”, or Hazama-ha or Gendaisha-ha. The non-mainstream, or anti-mainstream, faction is probably the only far-left group left in Japan that apparently pursues violent tactics in some form, albeit sporadically and largely ineffectively. It is suspected of some 25 violent incidents since 1999, typically targeting United States military facilities, though this is the first time police have pursued a case like this.

Numata is alleged to have manufactured the timer device for launching the projectiles in his apartment in Toshima ward. The arrest is far from out of the blue, since police have steadily investigated the case in the hopes of securing enough evidence to bring charges. Numata was previously arrested earlier this year on a minor charge relating to using false names, for which he was given a suspended sentence in May. In February 2016, police searched three suspected Kimoto-ha sites in connection with the attack on Yokota Air Base and arrested six members who obstructed the searches. It was during these raids that police uncovered plans, written on soluble paper, for building a timer circuit in Numata’s Toshima apartment, which matched one found at the air base with the mortar. The plans and other notes had Numata’s fingerprints on them.

kakurokyo activist arrest mortar attack american base

The incident took place on the night of November 28th, 2013 at Yokota Air Base, west Tokyo. Two projectiles were launched from a homemade mortar towards the vicinity of the base. One projectile landed around 600 metres from the base area. There were no injuries or damage to base property. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Revolutionary Army, which police believe is a covert guerrilla organisation within the non-mainstream faction of Kakurōkyō.

Such “attacks” carried out by Kakurōkyō are essentially more symbolic gestures than genuine paramilitary activities, though they also represent the final lingering vestiges of Japan’s violent far-left movement. Other groups also continued to carry out fatal and dangerous attacks until the 1990s, especially related to the anti-emperor and anti-Narita Airport movements, and even the notoriously violent in-fighting between the factions (known as uchi-geba) lasted until the start of this century in the case of Kakurōkyō, whose rift into its current two main factions was particularly brutal

According to media reports, Numata is the first member of a radical group to be arrested for an incident involving explosives since 1993, when a member of Chūkaku-ha was arrested in connection with the famous rocket attack on Akasaka Palace immediately prior to the start of the G7 summit in Tokyo in 1986.

Kakurōkyō is suspected of other recent projectile attacks, such as one in in Saitama in late 2014 and the April 2015 attack on Camp Zama.


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On the campaign trail with the eternal rebel Kōichi Toyama

It’s election season in Tokyo again, which can mean only one thing: noise. Elections are a clamorous affair, from stump speeches delivered on top of vehicles in plazas, to the constant pilgrimage of campaign vans roaming around the neighbourhoods, blaring out the name of the candidate over and over again. Election rules mean that door-to-door canvassing is banned, replaced instead by mobile hubbub. It’s a strange kind of carnival, both in your face yet distant, and speaks volumes — forgive the pun — about the troubled nature of Japan’s democracy.

Part of the carnival is the role played by the joke contenders or perennial candidates, known in Japanese as hōmatsu-kōho: the weirdos and wackos, the agitators for the basket of deplorables, the flotsam and jetsam. They are a guilty pleasure loved by all but the most dour of dullards. Some are silly, like Mac Akasaka; others are more sinister, like Shōkō Asahara or Mitsuo Matayoshi.

Kōichi Toyama is one such perennial candidate. With his shaved head, black clothes and jackboots, at first glance he looks like a cross between an ultra-nationalist and a Buddhist monk. Born in 1970 in Kyushu, he apparently started off as a leftist in the late 1980s and protesting the education system before undergoing tenkō (a political recantation or conversion) while serving a prison sentence in the early 2000s. He is now a Third Positionist of sorts, a self-professed “fascist” spouting ideas with a right-wing flavour while condemning capitalism and nuclear power. He is anti-American yet pro-China and also, he claims, opposed to democracy. In short, he offers plenty to confuse the netto-uyoku.

koichi toyama political election broadcast

Kōichi Toyama’s notorious election broadcast in 2007.

Calling his “fascist party” Ware-ware-dan (loosely, The Us Group) and advocating a hybrid anarchism-nationalism, Toyama quickly attracted a cult following online for his election broadcast for the 2007 Tokyo gubernatorial election. It is a wonder to watch as the rabble-rouser spends his valuable few minutes deriding the entire political system: “An election is simply a festival for the majority.” After calling for the “us minority people” to rise up and overthrow the “majority”, he finishes by flipping the bird at the voters and the whole status quo. (He came eighth in the poll with 15,059 votes.)

Elaborate performance artist or quasi-demagogue? Sincere foe of the establishment or attention-seeking pranksters? The jury is permanently out on that one, though Tokyoites may have observed his vehicle once again traversing the city recently. Toyama is not himself standing in the current Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 2nd, but he is using the occasion to campaign in his sound truck.

Jester or radical, figures like Toyama serve a function in the civil society. They break taboos and stir up trouble. Kenzō Okuzaki, who was made famous in the documentary The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, was another such character, driving around Japan in his van decorated with slogans denouncing the emperor. Okuzaki, though, had a personal vendetta to assuage. What is Toyama’s motivation?

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Kōichi Toyama’s protest sound truck in Shinjuku. Photo: William Andrews

kochi toyama-sound truck political anarchist japanese

The sign on the top of the van literally says “Government of Japan, give in to terrorism”. Toyama is driving the car himself and talking into a microphone. Photo: William Andrews

Is it easier, then, to think of Toyama’s agitation more as satire than activism? He is parodying the democratic election system and its vacuous, cookie-cutter candidates in the same way that Minoru Torihada mimics and lampoons Japan’s ultra-rightists. That being said, Toyama is genuinely provocative. On his current campaign he is flagrantly calling himself a “terrorist”. With the anti-conspiracy law now passed and on the verge of enactment, there are potentially serious implications for the likes of Toyama, caricature or not.

Besides driving his somewhat battered white sound truck adorned with its bold statements (“Government of Japan, give in to terrorism!”), Toyama’s other favourite tactic is homegoroshi. Literally meaning “kill with praise”, it’s a common way for rightists to smear candidates with attacks on their reputation using innuendo. It’s basically sarcastic trolling, typically with sound trucks. His present reclamation of the label “terrorist” is surely an example of this, challenging the police to make good on the ostensible rationale for the new anti-conspiracy legislation by arresting him.

However, Toyama shrewdly operates within certain loopholes. As he hasn’t registered Ware-ware-dan as a political organisation, he isn’t breaking any laws against political campaigning. In a sense, he is just like those raucous advertising trucks that roam the streets of Tokyo with billboards. He is also careful not to claim he will actually carry out terrorist activities (which would surely bring down the swift arm of the law) and even driving around while talking into a microphone does not breach any regulations per se (unlike, say, driving while using a phone). After all, the most effective form of protest, even if wholly performative, is a smart one that can be sustained.


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