Yodogō hijackers launch website to publicise campaign to return from North Korea to Japan

The Yodogō Group of former Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction) hijackers has launched a new website to publicise its campaign to return home to Japan.

The group famously committed Japan’s first airliner hijacking in early 1970, taking over Japan Airlines Flight 351 (nicknamed Yodogō) and flying it to North Korea, where they have been stuck ever since. The remaining members of the group (hijackers and spouses) live in relative comfort at the Revolution Village complex in North Korea, where they occasionally entertain visitors.

Long accused of involvement with abductions of Japanese citizens to North Korea, the Yodogō Group has attempted to present its version of events through publications in Japan and even brought litigation against the government in 2013. It also started using Twitter in late 2014. Users can ask questions via social media and the emailed responses are collected by supporters in Japan, who then post them online at regular intervals.

Arrest warrants have been issued for one of the hijackers and two spouses related to abductions, which they refute and maintain is part of the political game of diplomatic chess played out between Japan and North Korea. While some original members of the group have died, one was apprehended abroad and extradited to Japan in 2000, and another was caught after sneaking back into the country in the 1980s. Most of the hijackers’ wives (as well as their children) returned in the 2000s, facing prosecution and imprisonment for various charges. The children have passports and are able to go back to visit their fathers, but the wives who returned are denied passports and cannot travel.

yodogo group hijackers north korea

The new website, Yodogō Nihonjinmura (Yodogō Japanese Village), is a clean and accessible media platform. Its homepage has an image of the six remaining members (Shirō Akagi, Moriaki Wakabayashi, Kimihiro Uomoto/Abe, Sakiko Wakabayashi/Kuroda, Takahiro Konishi and Yoriko Mori) posing casually on the lawn of their complex, satellite dishes in the background and a slogan saying “Welcome to the Yodogō Japanese Village” splashed over the image in red. The content has many large and warm photographs showing the “terrorists” in their domestic surroundings. Their profiles feature little details about hobbies, favourite TV shows and interests alongside the starker facts of their political backgrounds.

The way it is written and laid out, including a Q&A and chronology sections, is clearly aimed at people with little or no prior information about the group, with the intention of forming a consistent and reliable resource to challenge Wikipedia and the mainstream media accounts of the group, which generally follow the government line.

There are also video interviews, shot earlier this year by a young film-maker currently working on a detailed documentary about Sekigun.

With President Trump’s bullish stance on the Japanese abductees issue and the current tensions in East Asia over Pyongyang’s missile tests, the timing of this latest chapter in the Yodogō Group saga is, depending on one’s perspective, either apt or provocative.

In addition, Kōji Takazawa’s award-winning book, which made the abduction claims well known in the 1990s, was translated into English and published this year. Another recent book, The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project by Robert S. Boynton, also covers some of the allegations. It was published in early 2016 and a Japanese translation came out this past August.

The Yodogō Group was already in the headlines again this year. The famous physician Shigeaki Hinohara, who was one of the hostages on JAL Flight 351, died in July at the age of 105. His erstwhile hijackers had sent him North Korean gifts for his 100th birthday and their condolence message was quoted in the media. Takaya Shiomi, the original founder and leader of Sekigun-ha, also passed away in November. Though they are safe from extradition, in another sense time is running out for the Yodogō Group.


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Emperor Akihito’s abdication date confirmed amid growing anti-emperor protests and republican discourse in Japan

Finally ending months of speculation and anticipation, it was confirmed on 1 December that Emperor Akihito would formally abdicate on 30 April 2019. His son, Naruhito, will then ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the Heisei era will end and a new age begin. What none of the media reports seem to mention, however, is that the abdication issue has reanimated the anti-emperor movement, a long-running if peripheral cause in Japan.

On 26 November a rally was held in central Tokyo calling for the abolition of the world’s oldest monarchy, followed by a street march that passed through Harajuku and Shibuya, two of the busiest shopping districts in the city. The small demonstration was practically engulfed by a massive police entourage in full riot gear, forming a human shield around the attendees from the many ultra-nationalist counter-protestors who also turned up to voice their fury.

Though the organisers are not using the name publicly, the current wave of protests are associated with Hantenren (Han-Tennōsei Undō Renraku Kai, or Anti-Emperor Activities Network), a veteran republican group. The march came just days after one of its associates Tachikawa Self-Defence Forces Monitoring Tent Village, an anti-war watchdog group, was attacked by far-right activists. A vehicle used by the group was badly damaged on 23 November when members turned up to demonstrate against an event held at JGSDF Camp Tachikawa in west Tokyo. Photographs published online by activists show a smashed windscreen, wing mirror and more. They accuse the police of standing by and letting the rightists attack the vehicle, though three were arrested.

While the police are ostensibly present in large numbers to protect the protestors’ right to march, the relationship is not viewed favourably by Hantenren. Indeed, the police and media both seem to employ tactics designed to devalue the anti-emperor protests. In advance of the 26 November event, police released a warning that there may be trouble along the route, which was dutifully published in various media outlets. This compounds the image that the anti-emperor protests are a public nuisance and provocative, inviting right-wing responses. The press coverage of the protest was typical of others, giving a cursory summary of the event but then focusing the “story” on the spectacle of the scrum between police, protestors and ultra-nationalists, supplemented by quotes from pedestrians complaining about the inconvenience of such a march.

anti-emperor protest japan akihito hantenren

Flyer for the anti-emperor rally and march on 26 November 2017

The first chapter of the Constitution of Japan eals with the role of the emperor. “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power,” it begins. In those eight articles, the emperor’s function is protected but carefully defined as a constitutional monarchy. The emperor is intrinsic to the parliamentary procedures of the land, yet is solely performative in his duties. This allowed the nation to shed itself of the issue of Hirohito’s potential guilt over World War II but retain the dynasty that stretches back continuously to Jimmu in 660 BC. For the establishment and voters, with the exception of the radical left, who wanted the whole system abolished, or the radical right, who wanted it bolstered, the reform neatly sidestepped the core dilemma but simultaneously expedited the task of bringing closure to the past so that the country could set about rebuilding its economy. However, it has kept things in limbo: the taboo over debating the necessity of the Imperial Family remains very strong, and, for the ultra-nationalists, the sacredness of the emperor — the vessel more than the person — has been little affected by the decades that have passed.

The emperor system is popular in Japan — that is, Akihito is a cherished figure. When he made the unprecedented step in July 2016 of announcing his intention to abdicate, the public was largely sympathetic to the plight of a man in his eighties still carrying out official duties daily. He has carved out a reputation as a figurehead for pacifism, touring Asia to make gestures of reconciliation to the victims of Japanese imperialist aggression. His support rose also after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, when he visited evacuees in the northeast of the country and made another rare video address.

The Imperial Household has experienced a further boost courtesy of its youngest generation, who are now mostly in their twenties. Next year Princess Mako of Akishino will marry someone she met at university. The dwindling numbers of people in the dynasty has ignited a debate about why the female members must lose their status when they marry. Given the government’s inertia on reforms within the imperial family — as seen in its relatively slow response to the ageing emperor’s perfectly reasonable appeal to be allowed to retire — this discussion will likely not come to anything, in the same way that the lack of a male heir for many years still did not produce any legislative progress on the custom of primogeniture. In the end, Prince Hisahito was born and all was well, making the young boy next in line to the throne after his uncle, Naruhito. That being said, it is his older sister, Kako, who is the current media darling for the obvious reason that she is undeniably the most photogenic royal.

The emperor system is a key target for the vestiges of Japan’s New Left as well as parts of the left in general. It represents not only the legacy of the war and imperialism that Japan never settled fully, but also ingrained residues of patriarchy and privilege. For a long time, abolishing the system was a fundamental policy of the Japanese Communist Party, though it has softened its outward stance in recent years. Anti-Japaneseism, which emerged in the 1970s as a militant wing of the New Left, was opposed to the emperor system and one group even attempted to assassinate Hirohito. For Okinawans, who were treated as second-class, expendable citizens by the mainland Japanese during the war and suffered immeasurably, the emperor was a symbol of this discrimination. When Akihito visited the southern prefecture as crown prince in 1975, projectiles were thrown at his passing motorcade and, more seriously, he was attacked at the Himeyuri no Tō (Tower of the Lilies) memorial site by leftist protestors armed with a Molotov cocktail and a firecracker. But these are the radicals. Republicanism is a much stronger position to take in Japan than elsewhere, even on the left. While, say, The Guardian is openly opposed to the UK’s monarchy, one would not read an op-ed in a liberal Japanese newspaper like the Asahi Shimbun directly criticising the emperor system.

Hantenren was established in the 1984 and has been a small yet consistent force in the movement ever since. When Hirohito died in 1989, a wave of feisty protests was held during the course of the ascension ceremonies of Akihito. The right-wing rituals on 15 August, marking the day that Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, are usually countered by a march by Hantenren. The movement remains fringe and the media attention it receives is more curiosity than debate. In fact, the Japanese media adopts kid gloves to any discussion of the emperor, since the slightest linguistic faux pas or perceived act of lèse-majesté may spark a violent reprisal from ultra-nationalists. (In this respect, it is refreshing yet shocking to read the literature produced by Hantenren or Han-sen Han-tennōsei Rōdōsha Nettowāku [Anti-War Anti-Emperor System Workers’ Network], an Osaka-based anti-emperor group, and see the emperor simply referred to as “Akihito” or “Emperor Akihito” as opposed to the standard, more respectful “Tennō-heika” that the mainstream media uses.)

The protest movement is currently organising a major street protest in Tokyo approximately every six months, each time attended by 100-200 people and also accompanied by heavy police presence and uyoku dantai far-right groups that transform the event into a frenzied scrum. At a march in Kichijōji in November 2016, one of the demonstrators’ vehicles was damaged by the counter-protestors (incidentally, it was the same van that was vandalised at the recent Tachikawa Self-Defence Forces Monitoring Tent Village protest). The follow-up rally and march in the same area in June this year had an even stronger police escort to keep the ultra-nationalists further away.

Zengakuren also recently released a video noting the position of far-left Marxist group Chūkaku-ha. The activists note that the timing of the abdication is deliberate, as it will overshadow the May Day labour protests and help the prime minister sneak through his agenda of Constitutional reform. They end by stating Chūkaku-ha’s aim to “smash” the abdication and era change.

Besides these street protests and ideological pronouncements, we can find other developments related to the emperor system. Students from Nihon University are co-organising “Film and the Emperor”, a film festival this month at Eurospace, a trendy cinema in Shibuya, showcasing films that deal with the emperor system.

Several new books have also been published this year about the emperor system, abdication and abolition. This certainly does not suggest that republicanism is around the corner for Japan, but it indicates that a discourse is building beyond the usual pamphlets and newsletters put out by Hantenren and others, circulating only among supporters or at mini-komi clearinghouses.

japan republicanism book anti-emperor protest system

One of several books about the emperor system published in 2017. This one explicitly deals with the abolition of the system and calls for Japan to become a republic.

The most notable artistic response has been the aforementioned film, Today My Empire Sings, by Meirō Koizumi, which was exhibited in Harajuku in May this year. While artists, like journalists, are inevitably reluctant to tackle the sensitive topic, the present discourse will surely continue to unfold in fits and starts until April 2019 and beyond.


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Battle for the Campus: Kyoto University’s war against student activism, pranks and signboards

The activist group Dōgakukai, a branch organisation of the Zengakuren league of student groups, joined other students on 1 December in briefly occupying the roof of the clock tower building at the main Yoshida campus of Kyoto University, which resulted in police being called.

The sustained tension at Kyoto University between elements of its student population and the university administration continued to unfold as students, including some wearing helmets and masks, climbed to the roof of the building amid protests against a ban on handing out flyers as well as the expulsion of certain students. Though photographs shared online by eye witnesses suggest minor scuffles with university staff, no arrests were reported.

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via @884_kattun

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via Matomame.jp

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via Matomame.jp

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via @_SE0

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via @_SE0

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via @obascz

kyoto university yoshida campus clock tower occupation kumano students festival left wing politics

Image via Matomame.jp

Kids just wanna play. A tradition has developed at the annual Kumano Dormitory Festival, which is organised independently by the dormitory and an assertion of its autonomy, of occupying the clock tower in a nod to the past radicalism of Japanese campuses. Though done in jest, more as “Zenkyōtō cosplay” than genuine sabotage, the administration attempts to prevent the prank from happening, ostensibly due to the dangers involved. This was the chaotic scene on 29 November when students tried to use ladders to scale the tower.

After having been thwarted that time, the festival’s activities on 1 December were advertised as a “revenge” event where free oden would be available for spectators who wanted to watch the antics. Given what happened, presumably none of them were left disappointed.

Ahead of the Kumano Dormitory Festival, a storm brewed over freedom of expression in the form of signboards (tatekanban) made by students. This is a not a new controversy per se: they have previously been viewed as problematic by Kyoto University due to their political themes otherwise deemed unbecoming of the campus, resulting in some boards being removed or even destroyed.

Widely regarded a part of the culture of the university, along with other colleges throughout the land, recent complaints from local residents, as noted in an Asahi Shimbun article on 25 November, have culminated in the university itself receiving notification from the city in mid-November that the signboards are in potential violation of regulations protecting the cityscape. The college was reported in the article to be considering restricting the locations where signboards can be placed. Currently they can be seen by passersby and motorists even if exhibited well within the confines of the campus, meaning they would fall into the category of an “outdoors advertisement”, which requires permission from the mayor.

kyotouniversity yoshida campus student signboards politics tatekanban

Image via Matomame.jp

The signboards are as vibrant in their content as much as their messages, generally advertising the activities of a specific “circle” (club) or an event. They touch on such issues as LGBT rights, the university’s role in military research or very individual gripes. Being the “old capital” and priding itself on its beautification policies, Kyoto is unlikely to look kindly on such discourse regardless of which side of the political spectrum it leans. As such, the university has already started to take action and censor certain signboards. Late last month, those that did not meet with approval were affixed with notices saying they would be “removed and stored” unless they were taken away by the students by 30 November. Students were quick to note, however, the obvious discrimination at work here in the choice of which signboards were designated as a “nuisance”.

politics kyoto university yoshida campus student signboards tatekanban

Signboard at Kyoto University with a removal notice from the administrators. The signboard is denouncing the university for “abusing” the cityscape ordinance to ban signboards on campus. Image via @wideexit

politics kyoto university yoshida campus student signboards tatekanban

Students respond with a message of protest to the removal notice. Image via @wideexit

This is all just the latest chapter in the ongoing conflict at Kyoto University between radical left-wing students linked to Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) and the administration. Along the way, an undercover police officer was rumbled on campus and briefly held by students, Zengakuren staged a mini strike with a barricade, and several student activities — both from Kyoto University and not so — have been arrested, including just a few weeks ago. By and large, the activists have been released without charge after a period of detention lasting several days, though the university has punished political students through suspension.

Much of the struggle centres on the Kumano dormitory, which has been the site of frequent police raids. The visually startling scenes of dozens of officers in full riot gear marching into an unsuspecting student dorm in Kyoto is a reminder that the authorities take the threat seriously of embryonic student radicalism: they would prefer to overreact than allow the seeds of militant activism to grow again like they did so violently in the 1960s and 1970s. The Zengakuren activists have responded with zest and élan, staging regular protests at the campus entrance with costumes and parodic props to mock those who would keep them down. Typically all around stand dozens of police officers, like redundant parental minders at a strange party.

What is happening at Kyoto University is effectively a repetition of what started at Hōsei University in Tokyo in 2007, when a conflict over the control of student signboards sparked a years-long struggle and dozens of arrests. It has been led by Bunka Renmei (Culture League), an unofficial student club that is a de facto branch of Zengakuren, though the core participants are no longer enrolled at the university and thus unable to enter the campus proper, heavily restricting their activism and dissemination.

Hōsei was a Chūkaku-ha bastion for decades and, as such, had maintained a political identity better than elsewhere, especially compared to other private colleges. Nonetheless, there was a shift in the 2000s, which ushered in a familiar cycle of arrests (often followed by a release without charge), fines, suspensions and expulsions, the college working assiduously with its own security personnel and the police to stamp out the “foreign” invasion of its campus. While the history of far-left groups weighs heavily against them in terms of their public reputation, which is further compounded by their treatment by the state and mass media, it should be remembered that Chūkaku-ha today is primarily engaged in labor issues and has renounced its past militant tactics.


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Activists call on artists to join protests against 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

The idea of the Olympics as a sporting event complemented by culture goes back to Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games. The Olympic Charter also states that the Olympic Movement is composed of sport, culture and education. These elements were often blended, as in the prewar Games that included such events as poetry and painting. From 1912 to 1948, arts competitions were held in parallel with the sporting events, though growing discontent meant this curiously hybrid system was jettisoned in favour of separate arts and cultural festivals held alongside the sports. From Barcelona in 1992, the idea of a Cultural Olympiad took hold, whereby a series of arts and cultural events would be organised during the four-year Olympiad period to culminate with the Games, though this had already happened de facto at past Games.

Now the leading figures in the protest movement against the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have called for an anti-Cultural Olympiad. In the recently published Anti-Olympics Arts Council Statement of Purpose, activists point to the destruction of public housing and eviction of homeless people as part of the preparations for the Olympics in Tokyo. The statement ends with a call to action:

For residents of urban areas, and especially the poor, the Olympic/Paralympic Games are nothing but a huge catastrophe. We, the Anti-Olympic Arts Council, call for you to resist and protest against these mega events. We call on artists, performers, poets, and all that use the arts as their medium—oppose the Olympic Games.

It is often said that artists in Japan have avoided direct political engagement in past decades, preferring more oblique modes of socially engaged practice, though the post-Fukushima zeitgeist has certainly produced some prominent examples of overtly proliticised art. The prospect of the Olympics and Cultural Olympiad in 2020, given the geopolitical situation in the region as well as such ongoing major socio-cultural questions as Fukushima, Constitutional change and Japan’s demographic time bomb, necessarily conjure up a dilemma for the arts. How will the arts respond? Will artists protest, ignore, borrow or participate?

tokyo 2020 olympics games protest movement art culture

The most notable and lasting case of an artistic response to the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics is surely Kon Ichikawa’s nearly three-hour documentary film Tokyo Olympiad (1965). Arguably, the Olympics “propaganda” film subverts the brief, focusing on many of the small moments and the ordinary people among the spectators. It starts with the rising sun and then a wrecking ball while the narration enumerates the iterations of the modern Games and their host cities. The Olympics have noble aspirations, as Ichikawa acknowledges from the opening epigraph, but the reality, at least initially, is demolition. It ultimately segues into a somewhat more predictable, yet staggeringly meticulous, hymn to the facilities created for the 1964 sporting events, the participating athletes and the competitions themselves, but the underlying social commentary is more subtle.

The 1964 Olympics were more conspicuously satirised by the art collective Hi-Red Center when its members set about cleaning the streets of Ginza in white lab coats, a stunt intended to mock the city’s attempts to spruce up its appearance ahead of the Games. Recent moves in Japan to expunge pornographic magazines from retail outlets is an indication of the “cleaning” likely to take place prior to 2020.

One of the early projects of Akira Takayama’s theatre collective Port B examined both the famous 1964 Games but also Japan’s “phantom Olympics”, the 1940 Games that were cancelled due to World War Two. Tokyo/Olympic (2007) was a tour several hours long around the city on a chartered Hato Bus that took in the sites of the 1964 Games, but finished rather unexpectedly at a rather desolate location in Tokyo Bay. Participants could look across the bay to see the artifical island of Yumenoshima (literally, “island of hope”), which was made from the city’s trash, and a projected venue for the abandoned 1940 Games. (See Peter Eckersall, “Memory and City: Port B and the Tokyo Olympics” in Performativity and Event in 1960s Japan: City, Body, Memory, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.) The bay area will play host to many of the venues for the 2020 Games at a time when the government, say its critics, is attempting to steer the nation back towards its prewar past.

The upcoming Olympics in Tokyo have already succeeded in co-opting many artists for its pageantry. One of them is the singer Ringo Sheena, though she recently got flamed by liberals for her nationalist comments in a July interview with the Asahi Shimbun in which she declared that “the whole population is the organising committee” for the Games. “In that sense, it’s very Japanese in its respect for harmony.” No individual opinions are anticipated.

More specifically, the direction and content of the actual 2020 Games’ cultural programme is the source of much anxiety in the arts world in Japan, since so little is known. Certain commercially driven artists have been announced as part of the Cultural Olympiad, but firm details are still under wraps. So far what we have been shown has largely consisted of the “Tokyo Caravan” performances, overseen by Hideki Noda, beginning in 2015 and then continuing at Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo’s Roppongi Art Night in 2016. Ostensibly this would qualify the programme as an “Olympiad”, even if the events are apparently mere previews without a genuine feeling of sequence or overall curation. Alongside the Roppongi Art Night performance, an event in autumn 2016 “fusing traditional arts and the latest technologies for which Japan is famous”, officially launched the Olympiad as an “ambitious programme of cultural activities”. The veracity of that boast remains to be seen.

It is certainly the case that various celebrities and artists will benefit financially from the Olympics and Cultural Olympic. One of the reasons that Expo ’70 in Osaka was also such an iconic event was the participation of major figures from the arts, though this was not without intense controversy at the time — so much so that an “anti-expo” was held. Now that there is an Anti-Olympics Art Council, perhaps we can expect such a counter-event, an Anti-Cultural Olympiad, in 2020.


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Veteran leftist newspaper Jimmin Shimbun raided by police, publisher arrested for alleged links to fugitive Japanese Red Army member Kōzō Okamoto

Hyōgo police raided the offices of veteran leftist publication Jimmin Shimbun (People’s News) on November 21st, also arresting the head of the publisher on suspicion of fraud.

Yōichi Yamada (60) is alleged to have opened a bank account under his own name for a third party. Yamada is connected with the support network for Kōzō Okamoto, the 69-year-old former Japanese Red Army member currently living in asylum in Lebanon. The allegation is that the approximately ¥10 million put in Yamada’s bank account was actually used almost entirely by people looking after Okamoto in Beirut.

Police claim that Yamada opened the account in around February 2012 under his name, receiving two bank cards for it. Until September this year, money totalling some ¥10 million was then transferred into the account from another account with his name or one in the name of a support group. A card for the account was apparently used at ATMs in Lebanon to withdraw the money for Okamoto.

On the morning of November 21st, officers raided Yamada’s home, the offices of Jimmin Shinbum in Ibaraki City, Osaka, and other locations, ostensibly to search for information on where the card was sent (in other words, Okamoto’s whereabouts in Beirut). Not surprisingly, Jimmin Shinbum responded vociferously to the raids and arrest, denouncing them as an attack on press freedom. In an official statement published on its website, the newspaper said that the raid involved over 20 officers, who refused to show a warrant and questioned residents of the same building as the newspaper’s office. They say that all its computers were seized, along with other documents, and, given that two sites even in Tokyo were also raided, note the implications of the newly passed conspiracy law on the civil society in Japan.

According to media reports, Yamada is maintaining silence in detention (kanmoku), as is typical for arrested left-wing activists in Japan.

jimmin shimbun newspaper raid police japan

Photograph of the raid via Jimmin Shimbun Twitter account

Okamoto is the sole surviving operative of the Lod Airport attack in 1972. Following his capture by the Israelis, he was held in solitary confinement for several years and suffered permanent mental trauma. He was arrested in Beirut in 1997 with several other JRA associates. Put on trial and convicted of visa violations, he was allowed to stay in Lebanon after finishing his sentence due to his status as a hero for the Palestinians liberation movement. The others, including the film-maker Masao Adachi, were deported back to Japan and arrested again on new charges.

Today he lives under the protection of the PFLP, and is unable to earn a living for himself. As such, his supporters in Japan do fundraising and send him money on a regular basis. Along with the other main members of the now disbanded JRA, however, Okamoto is still wanted by Japanese police and his face is included in wanted posters at police stations around the country. Consorting with him or any other fugitive abroad is thus a potential criminal offence, or otherwise the police may seize upon an alternative minor infraction as a means to apprehend supporters and raid sites in their search for information. (Wiring money overseas in Japan is a complicated process that invariably involves the sender declaring the purpose of the money. This is a measure put in place by banks and the government to combat the financing of the North Korean regime by sympathisers in Japan, but also leads to workarounds like Okamoto’s supporters seem to have used.)

The raids and arrest on November 21st indicate that Japan remains committed to tying up the loose ends of its New Left past. Police continue to monitor the activities of former JRA members and their supporters in the hope of catching the final fugitives. In late 2016, JRA associate Tsutomu Shirosaki was given a 12-year sentence for his alleged part in an embassy attack in the 1980s, following his deportation from the United States. As such, a crackdown on an alleged supporter of the JRA is nothing surprising, but the use of this as a pretext to raid an established publication, remove its equipment and effectively prevent it from disseminating information is far more serious.

jimmin shimbun newspaper raid police japan

Founded in Osaka in 1968, Jimmin Shimbun was formerly known as Shinsayoku (The New Left) until 1976, indicating its close links with the height of leftist social movements in Japan. Though nominally independent, it had a reputation for publishing many announcements and statements from the early Japanese Red Army, and also released an anthology of the JRA’s propaganda in 1979. It continues to publish three times a month.

There were once many such publications and small publishers in Japan, though the overall decline of the New Left has resulted in only a limited number of hard-core examples today. One of the most reliably interesting is Jōkyō. These magazines and journals, along with newsletters and party organs, can be found at Mosakusha, a counterculture book shop and clearinghouse in Shinjuku.


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