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.


Posted in News | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.


Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment

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?

kochi toyama-sound truck political anarchist japanese

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.


Posted in News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Zengakuren student activists continue fight against anti-conspiracy law ahead of expected crackdown

The buzz in 2015 about SEALDs missed an important point about the student movement in Japan: you can praise its “revival” all you want — and there is a revival, as witnessed in post-SEALDs groups like T-nsSOWL, Aequitas, Public for the Future, and the Constitution Youth Projects — but it remains nigh impossible to politick seriously on campuses at public or private universities in Japan.

During the peak of the protests against the security bills in autumn 2015, Zengakuren staged a brief strike at Kyoto University, barricading part of the campus. For their efforts, activists were arrested (though not indicted) and several students suspended. On the one hand, Clean, metropolitan students at the National Diet in nice apparel and spouting liberal values are venerated in the mass media. But on the other, young activists promulgating Marxist ideas and engaging in (non-violent) direct action is taboo. Before any well-meaning journo writes another piece about the “renaissance” of the student movement and politically engaged youth in Japan, they should take a trip down to the Ichigaya campus of Hōsei University, where students are locked in a battle with the college that predates SEALDs by many years. Along the way, dozens have been arrested and tried for various crimes, and yet it shows no signs of abating. Zengakuren continues its regular, declamatory protests at the entrance, always filmed and scrutinised by nervous university employees.

While the “Zengakuren” name has been claimed by many, the only functional Zengakuren group today is the one under the wing of Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction). Both Zengakuren and Chūkaku-ha may become immediate targets for the newly passed anti-conspiracy law. Though touted primarily as a necessary measure against the threat of terrorism, the ambit of the anti-conspiracy law is so wide that it potentially means citizens can no longer protest construction projects by holding sit-in demonstrations. This may have a profound effect on the Diet protests, where occupying the land has been a key element of the activities, as well as protests in Okinawa against US bases.

Not surprisingly, some o of the most vehement opposition to the bill came from Chūkaku-ha, which frequently finds its members arrested for minor infractions and knows the dangers of such easily malleable legislation. Condemned nationally and internationally as a “terrorist group”, Chūkaku-ha is undoubtedly going to face more intimidation in the run-up to the Olympics in 2020.

Three Chūkaku-ha unionists in Kansai were arrested in May for trespassing, even though they were essentially just giving out leaflets. Incredibly, they were charged and the bail set at 3 million yen each. Another activist was arrested on June 12th by Shizuoka police on allegations of fraud related to welfare benefits, only to be released without charged on June 16th.

These incremental examples of state pressure on the group have passed under the radar of the mainstream media, though the same cannot be said about the sensational response to the police announcement in May of the arrest of a man believed to be Masaaki Ōsaka, the Chūkaku-ha activist on the run since 1972. Earlier this month, the suspect was officially confirmed as Ōsaka and re-arrested on a murder charge.

The media storm sparked by Ōsaka’s apprehension, including a surprising level of overseas interest, has ensured that Chūkaku-ha has stayed in the news headlines more than any time in recent memory, certainly in the years I have been monitoring the New Left in Japan and its legacy.

Police are now reported to be close to indicting their suspect, though the DNA “proof” that he is who they say he is may not actually stand up in court. (Update: Ōsaka was charged with murder on June 28th.) It is also only a matter of time before police raid Zenshinsha, the Chūkaku-ha headquarters, and start arresting activists they accuse of assisting Ōsaka during his long time on the lam.

Chūkaku-ha is often described as dating back to 1963, though this is only as far as the current faction’s birth. The complex lineage of the group, formally Kakukyōdō (Japan Revolutionary Communist League), has a pre-history that is older and connects to the origin of the New Left in Japan in the post-war years.

Generally considered notorious for its confrontations with the apparatus of the state and with another faction called Kakumaru-ha (Revolutionary Marxist Faction), Chūkaku-ha was one of the most prominent participants in the New Left and a leader of the student movement in the 1960s and 1970s. It advocated a mass movement towards a proletariat revolution, opposing Anpo (the US-Japan Security Treaty), the occupation of Okinawa and then the terms of its reversion, Japanese and American involvement in Vietnam, the construction of Narita Airport, and then neoliberal reforms and privatisation, especially of the railways.

Official police estimates of its membership vary, but sometimes are placed as high as 4,700, which would make it the largest far-left group in Japan. It is still treated as violent and dangerous by police, though today engages fundamentally in rank-and-file unionism and anti-war campaigning.

Since the new police crackdown started a few years ago due to increased student activism at Kyoto University and Hōsei as well as Chūkaku-ha involvement in the anti-nuclear power movement and on-the-ground activism in Fukushima, the group has reacted with efforts to present a more positive image to the media.

The charm offensive has recently unfolded online in the form of a better web presence, at least for Zengakuren, and even a series of YouTube videos, notably putting a female member, Tomoko Horaguchi, front and centre. Easy on the eye and a good public face for Zengakuren and Chūkaku-ha, Horaguchi is so popular she once even had her own fan site. It’s tempting to pinpoint this as the indirect influence of media-savvy SEALDs, which also positioned female members at the fore, but it is hard to say categorically.

tomoko horaguchi zengakuren activist student japan

Tomoko Horaguchi (left) being interviewed

Recently the Zengakuren activists at Kyoto University continued their opposition to the college and their efforts to reinvigorate one of the bastions of the student movement in Japan by holding a quasi-election on campus, collecting students’ votes to win legitimacy for a student council (that does not exist officially). Such self-governing student bodies were central to mobilising the student movement during the post-war years and were mostly controlled by various far-left factions. The past two decades and more have seen them dismantled by both public and private universities, furthering the decline of the student movement.

Zengakuren and Chūkaku-ha is also supporting the current election campaign of Kunihiko Kitajima in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly poll on July 2nd, though the news has been all about Governor Koike’s new party and predictions of a significant defeat for the LDP. Campaigning on a platform virulently opposed to the 2020 Olympics and the relocation of Tsukiji Market to Toyosu, Kitajima is standing for a seat as a representative of Suginami ward, an area with Chukaku-ha roots and where candidates have stood before (Kitajima was also once a member for the Suginami Assembly and Chukaku-ha has campaigned against the local closure of children’s centres). He and his supporters — including many Zengakuren activists — have been on the streets electioneering for some days now, dressed in a somewhat incongruously cute pink shirts as they give out leaflets and make speeches.

kitajima kunihiko election suginami chukakuha

Election campaigning by Kunihiko Kitajima and Zengakuren supporters in Suginami

Mainstream media outlets have also been quite regularly allowed inside Zenshinsha to film and interview activists. A report broadcast on the online TV channel Abema TV on June 13th is the latest example. Abema TV previously did a show about the Asama-sansō incident and had two former members of SEALDs as commentators.

[The video is only online until July 13th.]

The piece is relatively neutral, zipping through the famous “terrorist” incidents (the attack on the LDP headquarters, the Skyliner train incident, the G7 summit attack, and so on) but devoting most of its length to material shot inside Zenshinsha. The Zengakuren activists interviewed reveal that the residents range in age from their twenties to their seventies. Of the inhabitants in their twenties, there are currently about ten, who form the core Zengakuren members (and several of whom I have met).

Outside Zenshinsha, a police camping van is shown always monitoring who goes in and out. Horaguchi puts on a mask before approaching. Even though they know who she is, and she knows that they know, she still does this as a small symbolic protest. Inside, there is heavy security with cameras watching for police or rightists as well as a double door system at the entrance. The corridors are also lined with photographs of suspected plain clothes police officers, so activists can know if they are being followed.

The maze-like base is filled with all manner of stuff, from giant printers to flyers, clothes and slightly ramshackle-looking electronics. But don’t let the veneer of dilapidation fool you: it’s no fluke that this group has been in operation since 1963. The activists know how to look after themselves and use their tools. The walls of the building are reinforced and repaired by activists to be earthquake-proof. There is even a bathhouse, which is open 24 hours a day to cater to activists always busy and working strange shifts.

The camera captures the head of Zengakuren, Ikuma Saitō, and another activist enjoyed a few drinks and relaxing. The interviewer tries to coax them to open up and talk about girls amid much laughter. But when the conversation is steered towards the anti-conspiracy law, the smiles stop and Saitō is adamant that they will continue to fight against state oppression.

Horaguchi, who is 28, wanted to be a nursery teacher or do something with kids, but the political bug came a-biting. It wasn’t a complete bolt out of the blue, though, since she actually comes from a family with links to Chūkaku-ha. She speaks with authority and prudence, yet also seems “normal”. What better spokesperson for Zengakuren to help shed its “extremist” image?

In the studio, commentators included a lawyer who has represented Chūkaku-ha and a former police officer as well as Nayuka Mine, a one-time porn star turned manga-ka. The ex-cop said that he thought there are far fewer than the estimated 4,700 members quoted in the report. He also compared the group to a cult or religion. This is all familiar mud that is so often thrown at far-left groups in Japan and elsewhere. The debate then grows more interesting when the subject turns to the nature of “violent revolution”: does it mean using violent means to achieve revolution, or does it mean that as you work towards revolution, inevitably violence occurs when you run up against the state?

The report ends with a viewer’s comments: “It’s a strange group. It’s like they are trapped in the last century.” Given the numerous comparisons that have been made between the new anti-conspiracy law and Japan’s pre-war draconian state, perhaps the previous century has returned.


Posted in News | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Emperor Akihito’s abdication reanimates anti-emperor protest movement in Japan

Emperor Akihito’s unprecedented video address in August 2016, when he hinted at his wish to abdicate due to the strain of his official role at his advanced age, prompted an avalanche of discussion about Japan’s monarchy: the rumoured troubles between the family and the Imperial Household Agency; the efforts of the current emperor to meet ordinary people and atone for the war; the succession crisis and lack of a male heir after the Crown Prince until the birth of Hisahito in 2006.

The flow of news has continued with the almost begrudging legislation revising the Imperial Household Law to allow Akihito to abdicate as a one-off, which was passed by an upper house committee earlier this month, ahead of an actual abdication probably in late 2018. The recent announcement that Princess Mako plans to get formally engaged and thus, being a women, leave the Imperial Family, also re-ignited the debate about primogeniture in the emperor system.

But the media coverage, both domestic and foreign, has seemed completely to ignore the small but long-standing anti-emperor movement in Japan, which was reanimated by Akihito’s announcement last summer.

Far-left Marxist groups like Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction, formally known as the Revolutionary Communist League – National Committee) are opposed to the emperor system and have voiced this prolifically in publications. The famously republican Japanese Communist Party is now a thoroughly mainstream party and continues with attempts to dilute the impression its name conveys to many. This includes its stance towards the emperor and the party has now compromised on this issue, effectively recognising the monarchy’s role in Japan.

There are also smaller groups dedicated solely to protesting the emperor system, most notably Hantenren (Han-Tennōsei Undō Renraku Kai, or Anti-Emperor Activities Network). These are made up of leftists and various activists, but generally of a different ilk to the New Left groups like Chūkaku-ha. Founded in 1984, Hantenren organises an annual protest on August 15th, the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, which is always vehemently opposed by ultra-nationalists. The mayhem of the yearly march was documented by the video artist Meirō Koizumi in his film Today My Empire Sings, which was exhibited in Harajuku in May.

The anti-emperor ideology of groups like Hantenren is not like the republicanism of other countries, such as the UK. It is much more emotional and based on the complex legacy of the wartime period and Japanese imperialism in Asia, which was done in the name of Emperor Hirohito, who was then revered as a living god. In this respect, the anti-emperor movement is divorced from the actual circumstances surrounding Akihito, who has actually dedicated himself to honouring everyday people and traveling around Asia showing contrition for the war. Hantenren’s activism, then, arguably had more poignancy in the Shōwa era, when Hirohito was still on the Chrysanthemum Throne. Due to the time that has elapsed and Akihito’s very human approach, the vast majority of Japanese do not associate the current emperor or emperor system with wartime imperialism.

That being said, the newly emboldened movement is not obsessed with the person of the emperor per se, and protests other related issues: the use of taxes to pay for the Imperial Family; the use of honorific language to address members of the Imperial Family; the enthronement rituals, which will likely see again in 2019, that still use old customs based on when the emperor was regarded as divine; and the sexism of the system, which does not allow women to succeed to the throne (Hisahito has two much older sisters and the Crown Prince has a daughter).

The new wave of anti-emperor protests are expected to peak in 2019, when the Crown Prince will most likely be installed as the new sovereign (and the era will change from Heisei to something new). As such, activists are closely watched by Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Security Bureau, though the heavy police presence at rallies and marches is as much to protect the participants from ultra-nationalist counter-protests.

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

This was apparent at last November’s march in Kichijōji, which resulted in damage to the demonstrators’ vehicle and other property when rightists obstructed and attacked the march in full view of the public and police, though no one was physically harmed. The MPD is now pursuing prosecutions of 11 members of seven far-right groups, it was announced on May 31st. The men, aged in their twenties to fifties, have admitted the charge of destruction of property.

The Kichijōji rally was organised by a group calling itself, in English, the Executive Committee of Demonstration for No More Emperor System [sic], which has been identified by the media as Hantenren in another guise, though this is not officially acknowledged. The same protestors organised a second rally on June 3rd, once again in the same park in Kichijōji and once again followed by a march around the station area.

Not surprisingly, many police officers were positioned inside the train station as well as along the streets and in the park. This time round the rally location was totally blocked off to members of the public and officers refused to let me through until I said I was a participant, which was not strictly true (I am not personally opposed to the emperor system, though I believe it needs reform). This forced participants and observers alike to declare themselves to the guards and then pass through ranks of dozens of officers in riot gear, who called out to each other: “Participant coming through!”. This was an unnerving experience that made it hard for a first-time participant to join in.

There were more people at the eclectic rally than before, around 220 according to the activists’ count. Attendees skewered older but there were also a fair few people under 40, plus at least one university student (who made a speech) and a family with a young child. I appeared to be the only non-Japanese and certainly the sole white foreigner.

The tension was palpable in the increased presence of riot police officers and public security police: something like at least three times the number of protestors. Unlike the November event, though, no ultra-nationalists were inside or around the park. Due to the violence last time, they were kept far away, waiting along the route. When the march started and the protest left the park, they became more visible. However, no doubt due to the prosecutions and police warnings, there were fewer than before. There were, inevitably, scuffles around the main streets, though the police managed to prevent the nationalists from making physical contact with the marchers or their vehicle. The uyoku counter-protestors were mostly middle-aged men but there were some exceptions, including women.

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

One aspect about the ultra-nationalists that is easy to overlook amidst the chaos is the performative nature of their sound and fury: they make a big show of rushing at the marchers and being held back by police — only to break character and apologise to the officers for pulling on their uniform, crack a chuckle and small, and then immediately dash again at the marchers. They are usually careful not even to touch, let alone assault, their “enemies”. It is more like WWF Superstars than genuine thuggery, though nonetheless still frightening to be caught up in the melee.

The rally itself was relatively tame and ordered, but when the march started, with its attendant legions of riot police and scattering of boisterous right-wing radicals, the event felt like an invasion of the well-to-do Kichijōji area, which is typically a place for weekend dates and family outings.

The protestors’ rhetoric was not fanatical, largely focused on their opposition to the emperor system, the police oppression and the rightists. Their slogans included “We don’t need the emperor system”, “The emperor system is a symbol of discrimination” and the catchy “Abolition, not abdication”. The marchers also protested the new abdication law and criticised the emperor system as traditionally discriminatory against the Buraku caste, women and Okinawans. They also asserted their opposition to the conspiracy bill, which may have a direct impact on these kinds of movements in the near future.

But to the casual observer everything sounded like a litany of negatives, all “hantai this, hantai that”. More importantly, dissent in almost any form is so alien to Kichijōji, it surely renders the protest ineffective — but perhaps this is the point of any protest movement: to introduce new ideas into the calm and easy everyday mix. As Francis Fox Piven argued, the efficacy of social movements led by those with few resources hinge on their ability to cause disruption.

Compounded by the unlikely bourgeois location, the whole carnival of the protest cannot help but come across as extremism due to how the rally entails shutting down the entire station area on a busy Saturday for almost an hour. Shoppers and pedestrians were reduced to unwitting spectators, watching in disbelief or curiosity as the marchers plodded by surrounded by hundreds of police officers and handfuls of angry rightists. It added up to a cacophony: the screeches of the uyoku; the protestors’ slogans through the microphones; and the police announcements, also through speakers. No one could move. People watching asked each other what the demonstration was about, since no one could hear anything. In the end, it was all, for locals, simply meiwaku (a nuisance).

Vice News sent someone with a camera and there was at least one or two other media outlets with reporters on the scene. The protest generated negative coverage in the conservative-leaning Sankei Shimbun, which named the organisers as Hantenren and quoted a couple of bystanders. “I think there should be freedom of speech,” said a 48-year-old woman from Tokyo, “but I cannot agree with what they are protesting.” “They held a big protest the other day,” carped a 41-year-old local man with his family, “and it caused an uproar in the area. Honestly, I want them to stop doing this in Kichijōji.”

anti-emperor japan protest movement kichijoji hantenren tokyo march rightists ultranationalist

While they will always be a fringe movement, more anti-emperor protests can be expected over the next two years as the next emperor is enthroned. They cannot be banned outright but the police may restrict marches and rallies in terms of where and when they can be happen. And we can also expect the movement to be largely ignored by the media, since the Chrysanthemum taboo still holds sway.


Posted in News | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment