Anti-2020 Tokyo Olympics activists launch lawsuit over eviction of homeless due to New National Stadium construction

Leading figures in the anti-2020 Tokyo Olympics protest movement have launched a lawsuit seeking ¥3.5 million from the Japan Sport Council, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the state over the forced eviction of homeless people from Meiji Park in April 2016 due to the construction of the New National Stadium in Kasumigaoka.

The stadium is the most prominent and expensive architecture project related to the Summer Olympics scheduled to be open in Tokyo in July 2020. Following the demolition of the original National Stadium, the construction of Kengo Kuma’s much-trumpeted replacement has deprived the people staying in neighbouring Meiji Park as well as residents in government housing in the vicinity of their homes.

The homeless people and their supporters serving as the plaintiffs held a protest in front of Tokyo District Court and press conference on 14 March to publicise the start of their legal action. They argue that the rights of the people living in the park were not respected and that they should be compensated for the forced eviction and loss of their place of residence resulting from the closure of Meiji Park and the loan of the land by Tokyo Metropolitan Government free of charge to the JSC.

anti-2020 olympics games tokyo evictions meiji park homeless lawsuit protest

anti-2020 olympics games tokyo evictions meiji park homeless lawsuit protest

anti-2020 olympics games tokyo evictions meiji park homeless lawsuit protest

Images via @galbraithian999

The evictions in April 2016 happened the day after Tokyo District Court accepted the JSC’s request to remove people from the park and led, activists claim, to the loss of important documents and possessions when belongings were forcibly taken away. In addition to violating Article 25 of the Japanese Constitution, which guarantees the “right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living”, and that “in all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavours for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health”, the activists allege that there was wilful negligence on the part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and JSC, while the national government has also failed to take corrective measures despite acknowledging the problems.

The lawsuit is organised by key groups and individuals in the opposition to the 2020 Games, including Hangorin no Kai, Nojiren, and Supporters for the Park Residents around the National Olympic Stadium. Notwithstanding the obvious financial and logistical challenges it poses for campaigns, the litigation is a calculated choice of action, embarked upon for both its symbolic value as protest and its practical potential as well as its alignment with similar legal struggles against Olympic-related evictions overseas. The anti-2020 campaigners very much see themselves as part of the growing global NOlympics movement.

That being said, it remains difficult to inspire interest domestically. Although the activists and their legal team organised a formal press conference, the case has yet to attract mainstream media coverage. Indeed, while the major setbacks and controversies over the 2020 Olympics are widely reported — not least the ballooning budget issues, withdrawn logo and replaced costly stadium design — the evictions and effects of the Games on certain overlooked sections of society are almost entirely ignored by the local press. As such, seemingly only alternative media and sympathetic left-wing media have covered the lawsuit so far.

Here is footage of the evictions from Meiji Park in April 2016.

On 24 March, activists will formally present their case to Tokyo District Court and also plan a rally at Mitake Park, which is close to Shibuya’s Miyashita Park, another flashpoint for opponents of the gentrification and redevelopment stemming from the 2020 Olympics.


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Revival of Blind Touch, Yōji Sakate play inspired by Fumiaki and Akiko Hoshino

Yōji Sakate’s Blind Touch, the play inspired by the real-life story of Fumiaki and Akiko Hoshino, will be revived in a production directed by the author at The Suzunari, a leading fringe theatre in Shimokitazawa, from 19 March to 1 April.

Best known for such plays as The Attic and Epitaph for the Whales , Sakate first wrote Blind Touch for Theatrical Company EN in 2002. Though not a didactic dramatist, his award-winning work is nonetheless often socially and politically engaged.

blind touch hoshino play sakate yoji

Fumiaki Hoshino was a prominent Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) student activist who took part in protests in Sanrizuka against the construction of Narita Airport and in an major anti-war demonstration in November 1971 against the Vietnam War and the terms of the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty. Known as the Shibuya Riot Incident, this protest turned violent and a young police officer, Tsuneo Nakamura, was killed. Many people were arrested on charges related to the incident, including Nakamura’s murder, and Hoshino was eventually detained in 1975. He was found guilty and, after a retrial, his full-life sentence was confirmed in 1987, though the evidence for his involvement with the death is primarily confession statements by other activists that were later withdrawn.

In Japan, police interrogations are notorious for their protracted nature, in which detainees are subjected to many hours of questioning without breaks or even a lawyer (and only limited recording, introduced recently). To maintain its 99% conviction rate, only very strong cases are prosecuted and results are normally ensured by extracting confessions from suspects. Numerous miscarriages of justice have been exposed, including when “confessions” were apparently supplied. Detainees often feel pressured to make a confession as their only means of ending the interrogations, since the period suspects can be held in custody without charge is long and easily extendable by re-arrests.

Hoshino has a team of supporters, the Hoshino Defence Committee, who have continued to campaign for his retrial and demand that police release concealed evidence in the case. Hoshino would marry a supporter, Akiko, from behind bars in 1986. Akiko visits him regularly, though they are only able to make contact through a transparent plastic wall — the “blind touch” that gives Sakate’s play its title.

Sakate does not name the couple in Blind Touch; they are simply referred to as “Male” and “Female”. He also takes some dramatic licence with the Hoshinos’ actual situation. In his two-hander, the activist has left prison after many years to live with his wife, who has always believed in his innocence. Blind Touch is the story of their learning to adjust to this new life together.

Hoshino is just one of many Chūkaku-ha activists tried in connection with the Shibuya Riot Incident and Tsuneo Nakamura’s killing. Yukio Okumiyama’s trial proceedings were halted in 1981 due to mental illness, and he passed away earlier this year at the age of 68. Hiroya Arakawa served his sentence and was released in 2000, but later expelled from Chūkaku-ha after he was accused of spying for police. A final activist wanted for the murder was Masaaki Ōsaka, who was arrested in Hiroshima last year after over four decades on the run. On 23 February, the deadline for Ōsaka’s pretrial arrangement procedures for his first hearing was set by Tokyo District Court for 26 March. His legal team maintains his innocence and the 68-year-old Ōsaka — who has been officially identified by a somewhat suspect DNA test — refused to give his name or address in court at the detention reasons disclosure proceedings in June last year. Tetsuya Suzuki, an alleged covert Chūkaku-ha activist arrested with Ōsaka and accused of harbouring a fugitive from 26 February to 18 May 2017, faces a two-year sentence, but his defence lawyers say that the man he was living with in Hiroshima cannot even be confirmed to have been Masaaki Ōsaka. The Osaka District Court will hand down its verdict on 27 April.


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Tokyo District Court judges enter Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters to demand evidence in Zengakuren assault lawsuit

There has been an interesting and surprising development in the lawsuit that veteran student leftist group Zengakuren has brought against officers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

As previously reported, Zengakuren launched the lawsuit in late 2016 after activists were physically harassed and allegedly assaulted by public security bureau police officers when arriving at a rally in Tokyo in September 2016. The suit seeks ¥12 million in damages from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which oversees the TMD, and 15 individual officers.

On 23 February, judges from Tokyo District Court entered the headquarters of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in Chiyoda ward, central Tokyo, in order to secure as evidence in the case in the form of photographs and videos shot by police on the day of the incident. While the lawsuit had so far generated little press attention, this unusual news was picked up by major Japanese media outlets.

zengakuren lawsuit tokyo district court
Image via Reuters

Zengakuren is the student wing of the far-left Marxist group commonly known as Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction). Needless to say, Zengakuren has already made much of its own evidence public, strongly denouncing the brutality suffered by its activists at the hands of the police through its own videos, publications and online platforms. It has also openly named the officers it says are responsible.

zengakuren lawsuit police brutality tokyo japan

zengakuren lawsuit police brutality tokyo japan

Though requested to provide the videos and photos its officers took as evidence for the suit, the police refused on the ostensible grounds that it might infringe of the privacy of third parties included in the footage as well as expose their investigation techniques. The plaintiffs then formally requested the court seize the evidence in September last year. And so it came to pass that the judges entered the police HQ to demand the evidence in case it is conveniently “lost” or altered. Zengakuren’s legal team was also able to join the “raid” on the headquarters but said that police once again refused to supply the materials to judges. A police spokesperson then declined to comment in response to press enquiries.

The rather exceptional nature of this development has finally raised considerable awareness of the lawsuit and the way police officers treat young left-wing activists, in stark contrast to their tolerance of a liberal student group like SEALDs, which always strove to maintain good relations with police and authorities when organising demonstrations. This meant it enjoyed much mainstream media attention but was also criticised by more radical groups.

Faced with the full might of the nation’s apparatus that is generally determined to curb their activities, New Left groups frequently pursue costly lawsuits against the state and police as a means of protest — using the legal system, which is not ordinarily tilted in their favour, to achieve small, symbolic victories — or as a means of attaining practical improvements for a cause, particularly conditions for imprisoned activists. While Zengakuren’s suit falls largely into the first category, there is a real chance that the group might win and score an embarrassing point against the TMD. And the actions of the Tokyo District Court judges this week also proves that even the police are answerable to the courts. The fifth oral pleadings session in Zengakuren’s lawsuit will take place at Tokyo District Court on 22 March.

Incidentally, the support group for Chūkaku-ha activist Fumiaki Hoshino, who is possibly one of the longest-serving political prisoner in the world, have also filed similar civil suits in order to achieve better conditions for Hoshino, whose letters have been punitively censored and cell is unheated, and also to obtain evidence that, supporters claim, may be significant in proving Hoshino’s innocence. The police has continued to withhold certain items of evidence and then apparently claimed footage was lost.


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Kyoto University students protest closure of Yoshida Dormitory and restrictions on campus signboards

When Kyoto University announced on 19 December 2017 that the famously ramshackle Yoshida Dormitory could no longer accept tenants and that current occupants must vacate the facility by the end of September 2018, it raised many eyebrows among nostalgists who like to gush about its tumbledown charms. This is not just a question of Kyoto esoterica or sentimentality over a beloved facility, however, since the closure of Yoshida Dormitory means the loss of another centre for the Japanese student movement as well as, on a practical side, a resolutely cheap lodging for impoverished young scholars facing rising tuition fees and living costs, and stagnant part-time job wages in the harsh neoliberal landscape.

yoshida dormitory kyoto university

The run-down charms of Yoshida Dormitory at Kyoto University

“It is decrepit,” was one foreign observer’s verdict for Travel CNN in 2010, “but this building is no ruin. It’s the Yoshida-ryō dormitory — a bewildering anachronism in a city based on the idea of living history.” A stay at the dilapidated Yoshida Dormitory costs a mere ¥2,500 a month, part of which is paid to the independent students’ council that runs it and handles tenant applications. The new building was opened in 2015 but the older, wooden one dates back to 1913, and is certainly showing its age. Needless to say, the accommodation is frugal and hardly the cleanest, and rooms are shared. Hens roam freely around the garden and items of junk and litter copiously spill out all over the grounds.

Dormitories have traditionally been a student fiefdom in Japan, allowed to run themselves in the same way as the general student councils (jichikai) were granted significant autonomy in their activities (be they sports, clubs, politics, and so on). Control of the dormitories was quite a flashpoint for student groups back in the day. Times change, and so do universities. Private universities have always more strictly managed their dormitories, but public colleges are also today not necessarily the student “liberated zones” of lore. Administrators are no longer as tolerant of oddball dormitories that condone on-site behaviour likely to bring their institutions into disrepute. The Yoshida Dormitory Students Council was not consulted regarding the university’s announcement in December and has been excluded from the process to decide its future.

It is no coincidence that this move to close Yoshida Dormitory comes at a time of conflict with the student body over campus festivals, pranks and politically motivated stunts such as strikes. The Yoshida Dormitory strife also appears while another on-going controversy at Kyoto University rages over the signboards which students have long erected on campus to advertise clubs, events and various issues.

Such tatekanban were once common sights at Japanese universities and something of a symbol of the student movement, in addition to the more belligerent images of helmets, staves and towels covering faces. While they have not disappeared completely, their usage is reduced and for the most part less political in nature. Nonetheless, for some observers they are an eyesore, obstruction or even provocation, depending on the content. As previously noted, Kyoto University is pressuring students to remove signboards, in part due to complaints from local residents and a warning from the municipal authorities. This is not a sudden development per se and friction over the signboards has been brewing for some time, just as the discussion over closing Yoshida Dormitory is a long-standing one.

New university rules since 19 December define tighter conditions for signboards on campus. They include stipulations that only groups officially recognised by the university can erect a board and locations are limited to places designated by the administration. Signboards must be no larger than 200 x 200 cm, and removed within 30 days. Moreover, signboards can only be erected for the purposes of advertising to freshmen students between 20 February and 20 April, or for purposes related to November university festivals between 15 October and the end of the festivals.

The bureaucracy is sounding the death knells loud and clear, but the students are also not going quietly into the night. A new website has been launched celebrating the vibrant history of signboards at Kyoto University through photographs from across the decades. Here are some examples of signboards created by different clubs and groups over the years, neatly illustrating the verve and diversity encapsulated in tatekanban culture.

kyoto university student politics activism signboards tatekanban

A large signboard in the centre of the campus in 1992, in front of the iconic Kyoto University Clock Tower Centennial Hall

kyoto university student politics activism signboards tatekanban

A gay theme evident in this colourful signboard from 1994, advertising events including one with renowned critic and Kyoto University professor Akira Asada

kyoto university student politics activism signboards tatekanban

A signboard of unknown date advertising a screening of the documentary YAMA — Attack to Attack, about the slum district of Sanya, superbly imitating the most famous image from the film

kyoto university student politics activism signboards tatekanban

Different inspirations on display in these signboards from 2013

kyoto university student politics activism signboards tatekanban

An anti-war signboard from 2015

kyoto university student politics activism signboards tatekanban

Lively signboards in various shapes and sizes from 2017

The signboards archive is actually just one part of the website, which is conceived as a platform for disseminating information about the dormitory issue and what activists see as a crackdown on student freedom. These efforts are offline, too. On 13 February, a related symposium was held in Kyoto that attracted 450 attendees and press coverage from the Mainichi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun newspapers.

In addition to submitting formal objections to the university’s plans, the Yoshida Dormitory Students Council also launched an online petition, which has attracted nearly 2,000 signatories to date, making the following three main demands (official English translation slightly adapted):

1. Withdraw the Basic Policy to Ensure the Safety of Yoshida Dormitory Resident Students, which was announced on 19 December 2017.
2. Continue the promise to the Yoshida Dormitory Students Committee (a written agreement maintained by successive vice presidents, which prescribes the university to have a dialogue with residents before it makes a decision on the dormitory) and consent to an open meeting with students.
3. Make a decision in regards to repairs to the old Yoshida Dormitory building in consultation with the Yoshida Dormitory Students Council.

The dormitory is, activists assert, a “safety net for students with financial difficulties” and “a cultural institution where a huge range of activities has taken place for over 100 years”. They urge the university to commit to renovations and repairs of the present structure rather than push ahead with the eviction and demolition plans, which will undoubtedly result in a very different kind of facility and, as a matter of course, the loss of the students’ right to run the dormitory themselves.

Kyoto University’s political heritage is strong, including an incident in the 1950s when students protested the visit of Emperor Hirohito. The institution was a fulcrum for the student movement in the late 1960s, hosting a much-chronicled strike and giving birth to such influential factions as the Kyoto Partisans and Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction). Today, the university is engaged in a protracted dispute with students at the Kumano Dormitory, which is home to certain activists associated with a branch of the Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren student league. Since 2014, the tension has intensified due to the arrests of young activists in Tokyo and Kyoto, who are then invariably released without charge. These arrests then form pretexts for raids and phalanxes of riot police officers marching into Kumano Dormitory have become a familiar vista. An undercover police officer was rumbled on campus and Zengakuren activists held a mini anti-war strike, for which students were arrested and permanently suspended. The most recent case involves a fourth-year student, who has been permanently suspended as of 13 February for allegedly assaulting a security guard attempting to stop people not enrolled as students at the university from handing out leaflets near the gate on an open campus day in August last year.

Not to be deterred, each arrest or punishment only emboldens the left-wing students (and ex-students) further. Zengakuren is building a modest yet robust student movement, particularly at such universities as Hōsei, Kyoto, Tōhoku and Okinawa. It organises frequent marches and demonstrations in response to the efforts of police and administrators to hold its swell in check, while also honing its presentation from a “dangerous” and “militant” group into a self-parodic and humorous yet still ideologically serious association.

We should resist the temptation to consider this simply as a local issue. What is taking place at Kyoto University is indicative of a broader trend in Japanese higher education to “cleanse” campuses, especially at private colleges, where it is now much harder if not nigh impossible for political groups to maintain officially recognised student clubs. Universities such as Hōsei, Waseda and Meiji have made it their missions in the Heisei period to expunge the far-left factions that once recruited so successfully from student bodies. By removing their physical bases, expelling politicised students and banning their affiliated student councils, it prevents such groups from developing a new generation of activists and also cuts off a source of income. Public universities have been more restricted in what they can do in terms of curbing student autonomy and working with the police, but such inhibitions are evidently fading in the case of Kyoto, where police officers have now become fixtures around campuses and at Kumano Dormitory.


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Republican activists launch petition opposed to regnal year and emperor era system

Activists opposed to the emperor system in Japan have launched a petition calling for the abolition of regnal years (in Japanese, gengō or nengō).

Japan uses two systems to indicate the year: the Gregorian calendar and an era name system counted by the number of years since an emperor accession without a year zero (the current era is Heisei and 2018 is Heisei 30). Today the era system is fully regnal but historically one emperor’s reign might divide into multiple eras.

Arguing that the era name system is obsolete and quoting a 2017 NHK poll that notes the majority of people in Japan do not use it, the petition is organised by Hantenren (Han-Tennōsei Undō Renraku Kai, or Anti-Emperor Activities Network), Hi no Maru Kimigayo no Hōseika to Kyōsei ni Hantai suru Kanangawa no Kai (Kanagawa Group Opposed to the Legislation and Enforcement of the Japanese National Flag and Anthem), Yasukuni Tennōsei Mondai Jōhō Sentā (Yasukuni Emperor System Problem Information Centre), and Tennōsei Iranai Demo Jikkō Iinkai (officially in English, the Executive Committee of Demonstration for No More Emperor System), which has mobilised several prominent marches recently. Organisers have announced that their goal is a modest 5,000 signatories by 30 April, exactly one year before the end of the emperor’s reign. The petition is addressed to the prime minister and, due to petition law in Japan, must be accepted when presented.

japanese anti emperor year system petition

Petition by republican activists opposing the new era name that will begin on 1 May 2019.

The incumbent sovereign, Akihito, is set to abdicate and hand over the throne of the world’s oldest continuous monarchy to his son, Naruhito, marking the start of a new, as yet unnamed era from 1 May 2019. The Heisei period, with all its hobgoblins of economic uncertainty, will come to an end. The petition specifically opposes this transition in era name, which is a process obscured in mystery in terms of the selection, and somewhat complex and expensive in the changes it necessitates to legal and business documents. When Akihito himself succeeded Hirohito in 1989, the enthronement was also accompanied by a wave of small yet feisty protests. Naruhito’s reign, as constitutionally powerless as it can only be, will undoubtedly begin the same way, though police will keep a tight grip on the demonstrations and prevent them from spoiling the festivities.

As previously discussed, the announcement in August 2016 by Akihito of his wish to abdicate has galvanised the anti-emperor movement in Japan, prompting protests, books and a film festival. A rally and march organised by Hantenren and others was held in central Tokyo on 11 February, an annual event opposing the date that is now National Foundation Day but has its roots in Kigensetsu, a holiday inaugurated during the Meiji Emperor’s reign celebrating the sovereign as part of a sacred line stretching back to the legendary Jimmu’s accession. As always, the march had a significant police escort.

Republicanism in various forms has long existed in Japan but is scattered across various areas, such as the parliamentary (the Japanese Communist Party), the remaining fragments of the formerly militant New Left in Japan, and smaller single-issue groups such as Hantenren committed to campaigning against the emperor system. These latter groups have commonly held demonstrations and marches on significant days, such as 15 August, which marks Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War, a conflict in which the previous emperor, Hirohito, is frequently held partially responsible by the left.

It should be noted that anti-emperor activism is a genuinely dangerous enterprise. The Chrysanthemum taboo still holds sway, meaning that the mainstream media holds back on discussing anything sensitive about the Imperial Family, much less criticism. In the past, ultra-nationalists have attacked and even murdered people they believed had slandered the emperor and what he represents.

While this goes some way to explaining why anti-emperor activism attracts so little press attention, and what it does is usually not sympathetic, there is another, simpler cause: the republican movement runs counter to the majority of public opinion. Akihito and the system in general is popular, and polls suggest that most citizens supported his intention to abdicate after decades of service for the nation. Even the JCP has softened its stance in recent years, though stopping short of actually accepting the emperor as head of state in official policy. To be against the emperor system, then, is almost about as unorthodox, provocative and countercultural as it is possible to be in Japan.


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