Street protests and publications form growing anti-Olympic movement in Tokyo

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On the afternoon of January 22nd, a small protest of some 80 people set off from Harajuku in central Tokyo. The marchers were demonstrating against the upcoming Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo in 2020. Shortly after departing, a protester allegedly got into a scuffle with one of the police officers regulating the march (protests in Japan are often heavily policed) and was arrested for obstructing the performance of official duties. Though the activist was released without charge two days later, it was reported by the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun newspaper as an “assault on a police officer” while campaigners called the arrest “unjust.”

Rio is over and the Tokyo Games are fast approaching. However, the initial fanfare in Japan has been far from positive and the preparations criticised by many sections of society. Part of this has been spearheaded by a growing anti-Olympic movement in Tokyo, best represented by the publication last year of a Japanese book, The Anti-Olympic Manifesto, which quickly sold out its first print runs.

Troubled Preparations, Troubling Nationalism

There is a curiously wistful wind surrounding the upcoming Olympics. The movers and shakers of the 2020 Games are baby boomers nostalgic for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which heralded Japan’s emergence from postwar hardship and helped usher in the start of a period of high economic growth. The slogan for the upcoming Olympiad is “Discover Tomorrow” but perhaps it should be “Remember Yesterday.” Those halcyon days are long gone and will never be reclaimed, given the demographic reality of Japan and the world economy. But that does little to deter the dogged seniors, who are determined to hijack the event for nationalist agendas.

Almost every major corporation or public project now name-checks “2020” while the government simultaneously pursues a big push to increase inbound tourist numbers, all shrouded in the mantra of “omotenashi.” Essentially meaning “hospitality,” this word was used effectively in Tokyo’s final bid presentation for the 2020 Olympics and has since become the go-to phrase for tourist services against a backdrop of heightened nationalism in television broadcasting and a government intent on railroading right-wing bills through parliament. In addition, areas of Tokyo are currently undergoing massive levels of redevelopment, especially Shinjuku, Shibuya and Marunouchi, with the result that every few months witnesses the opening of yet another large commercial complex or glass tower.

This buoyancy is at odds with much of the concrete build-up for the Olympics, which has been tainted by scandals and setbacks. In May 2016, The Guardian published allegations of bribery during the bid process. The original logo was withdrawn when the designer was accused of plagiarism. The new national stadium proposal by the late Zaha Hadid was scrapped after an outcry over budget overruns. And the plan to relocate the world-famous Tsukiji Market to Toyosu on the other side of Tokyo Bay, in part to make way for Olympic facilities, but this immensely expensive project is currently on hold due to contamination at the new site. This threatens not only the reputation of the world’s largest wholesale fish market but also the entire construction countdown until the opening.

And then there is the problematic promise by Prime Minister Shinzō Abe that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is “under control,” made during the omotenashi-painted presentation in Buenos Aires in 2013. For many anti-nuclear power campaigners, this is not the case at all and holding the celebratory Games in the capital is anathema when so much of the northeast of the country remains in need of reconstruction and assistance after the 2011 tsunami.

In addition to the albatross that is Fukushima, the main complaints against the 2020 Games centre on the spiralling costs and waste of funds. The constantly ballooning budget for the Games was recently projected to be 3 trillion yen ($29 billion), which is more than four times the original estimate provided when Tokyo was awarded the Olympics. The controversy has prompted organisers to relocate events out of Tokyo — even Fukushima is being considered as a host for some. Campaigners are also angry that construction firms are being handed big contracts while the homeless and poor are “cleansed” from certain areas.

That said, the Rio Games were a great boost for the Olympic team’s morale. Japan’s record medal haul has helped shift public opinion. According to press reports, some 800,000 people attended a homecoming parade in central Tokyo for the athletes on October 7th, 2016, which, if accurate, would be dwarf any street protest in Japanese history. (The media also said 500,000 attended the 2012 parade.) The handover ceremony, featuring the prime minister dressed as Mario, was generally well received.

anti olympic games tokyo 2020 book

The Anti-Olympic Manifesto

The Anti-Olympic Manifesto is a 269-page paperback back that joins a growing body of texts about anti-Olympic movements, including Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games, Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London and Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics by Jules Boykoff, Five Ring Circus: Money, Power and Politics at the Olympic Games, edited by Alan Tomlinson and Garry Whannel, and Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games by Christopher A Shaw. It is also possible to find examples of discourse in Japanese going back to 1980s due to the bid for Nagoya to host 1988 Summer Games, not least a similarly titled “anti-Olympic manifesto” published in 1981.

Edited by Hiroki Ogasawara and Atsuhisa Yamamoto, several of the essays in the book are translations of articles by the likes of Terje Haakonsen (the snowboarder who boycotted the Nagano Olympics in 1998) and the prolific Boykoff. Likewise many of the case studies are drawn from international examples. This gives the book not only an overtly ideological tone against neoliberal gentrification in general but also puts the discourse against the Tokyo Olympics in a global context. The publication is significant for documenting aspects of the arguments against the 2020 Games and its side effects on overlooked elements of society, but also showing how the movement against 2020 fits into a history of similar campaigns. That being said, much of the content is quite dense and academic, which may well limit its readership.

It may well find itself running against the zeitgeist. The publisher was actually unable to advertise the release of The Anti-Olympic Manifesto properly at some universities, even though many of the contributors are academics.

Opposition to the Tokyo Olympics and Redevelopment

So far the street-level movement has centred on the homeless and the impact of preparations for them, though there is a disconnect between this and the parliamentary discourse. The large opposition parties like the JCP are not very vocal except on issues such as the rising costs and Toyosu problems, while far-left groups have focused on how these cost overruns expose the iniquity of capitalism and the health risks to workers posed by the Toyosu relocation. They say that Governor Yuriko Koike is trying to force the blame onto other bureaucrats while pursuing her own agenda of privatisation and union-busting.

The 2020 bid actually highlighted how these would be a “green” and compact Games with little need for construction or development, since 1964 Games facilities and other infrastructure could be utilised. In reality, the bay area has seen massive redevelopment, in part commercial land that real estate companies hope will sell as condo units for greatly inflated prices with the prestige and better transport links brought to the area by the Games.

Other development focuses on the Meiji Park and Sendagaya area, where there are several public sports facilities. The old National Stadium has now been knocked down and the new one (sans the Zaha Hadid design) is being built, and the development work has subsumed neighbouring Meiji Park. This affected the dozens of homeless who lived in the park (in Japan, homeless people frequently live in self-made shacks in public parks), and long-term residents in a government housing project, Kasumigaoka Apartments, who were mostly elderly and did not want to leave.

Emerging from protest groups opposed to the (failed) 2016 and (successful) 2020 Olympic bids, there are now two main groups in the anti-Olympic campaign that are interconnected: Hangorin no Kai (literally, Anti-Olympic Group) and Supporters for the Park Residents around the National Olympic Stadium.

Hangorin was formed in January 2013. Temporary evictions and expulsions of the homeless from Meiji Park started in 2013 during the IOC inspection tour. Tokyo government employees reportedly came to tell some of the homeless mere days after Tokyo won the bid that construction would start in late 2013 and that they should leave as soon as possible.

Japan Sport Council, borrowing land from the city at no cost, began intensifying the eviction process along with Tokyo Metropolitan Government from January 2016, when around 200 JSC employees, police and security personnel descended on the park to forcibly remove the homeless. In March, Japan Sport Council put up cameras and one person was arrested. In April, more evictions led to another arrest.

For now, a handful of homeless remain in tents in a patch of grass opposite the development site. Though divided by a road, this is technically part of Meiji Park and the land is earmarked for a hall. Signs and rope around the entrance warn that entry is forbidden, but people were free to walk in when this writer visited in late 2016. Nearby, the fabulously dilapidated Kasumigaoka Apartments — government housing that dates back the 1960s — are being torn down and all residents evicted. According to an NHK report in 2015, there were 200 residents in the apartments. It is a somewhat sad irony that some of the people living there had actually moved into the area after their original homes were knocked down to make way for construction during the preparations for the 1964 Games in Tokyo.

By July 2016, Hangorin had already organised seven protests in Shinjuku and Shibuya. They have few allies in mainstream media or politics, with the notable exception of anti-nuclear power lawmaker Tarō Yamamoto. They have been attempting to learn from the anti-Games movement in Rio and one campaigner went to observe the protests first-hand.

Opposition to Gentrification

These activities overlap with the general anti-homeless, anti-gentrification movement in Tokyo. The government has already been trying to cut down the numbers of homeless for some time with a new housing scheme. One of the most despised endeavours in recent times was the Miyashita Park project in 2008, when Shibuya ward attempted to privatise a public park and sell its naming rights to Nike. The small park borders the main shopping and commercial area in Shibuya, and as such there was a conscious decision to shut out the unsightly homeless residents spoiling the atmosphere of the district.

Though the fight against the renaming won, the park was nonetheless turned into a sports facility, and the Shibuya ward government continues to shut the park at night in order to keep out the homeless. The fencing around Miyashita Park is often “artjacked” with posters, leaflets and pictures protesting the Olympics and the treatment of local homeless community.

Significantly, Shibuya is run by a former ad man who is determined to brand the ward in a certain way. Part of this was the decision by the ward to give tacit legal recognition to same-sex couples, which was rightly applauded and attracted much positive press. However, the voices of less appealing marginalised groups such as the homeless are ignored. There are even new plans for Miyashita Park as part of a massive redevelopment scheme for Shibuya unfolding over several years. It will soon be overshadowed by the opening of a complex called Shibuya Cast.

Looking Back to 1964

As we can see from turning back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, massive development projects and attempts to “clean” the city are perhaps shared elements of any Games.

The Shinkansen bullet train link between Tokyo and Osaka was rushed through to be ready in time for the opening, so much so that the project ended up costing twice its original proposal. The botched planning of a monorail line led to the loss of fishing jobs, as Robert Whiting, who lived in Tokyo at the time, recalled in The Japan Times in October 2014. He also noted the use of cheap foreign labor, the bid-rigging and corruption as well as the environmental damage when rivers were concreted over. The city attempted to mobilise the population in the grandiose project, to some success: 1.6 million residents helped clean streets in January 1964. The avant-garde art unit Hi-Red Center, though, organised a stunt where they dressed up in white lab coats and cleaned the streets of Ginza, central Tokyo, to mock these attempts by the capital to spruce up its image for the world. The acclaimed Kon Ichikawa documentary film about the Games, Tokyo Olympiad, starts ominously with buildings being pulled down. This was somewhat subversive since it was actually the official film, and as such was disliked by the organisers.

Similarly, the 1970 World Expo in Osaka was the trigger for a mammoth infrastructure development program. A protest event called the Hanpaku (Anti-Expo) was held in Osaka Castle Park. However, little is remembered of opposition to the 1972 and 1998 Winter Olympics held in, respectively, Sapporo and Nagano.

hi red center cleaning streets ginza 1964

2020: A Call to Arms

Given the example of Hi-Red Center, the arts may provide fertile examples of interesting dissent against the upcoming Games. So far, however, there have been almost no major interventions. The playwright and director Hideki Noda’s Egg (2012) was a prescient satire on “mega-events,” though it was ironically produced at the Tokyo-funded public theatre he runs and also with an extremely commercial cast. It was then revived in Paris in 2015. However, before Noda can be categorised as a genuine critic of the state and Olympics, we should keep in mind that he is ostensibly supervising the anodyne “preview” event of the Cultural Olympiad planned by Arts Council Tokyo. We can hope for some kind of robust response from the arts regarding the Olympics and its attendant issues, though many in the industry are likely first waiting to see what lucrative opportunities may arise to participate in the Cultural Olympiad.

So rather than the arts, we would be wise to focus on the Thin Blue Line: what will the police do, and whom will they be watching? Authorities have already beefed up security and surveillance measures at the Tokyo Marathon, including use of facial recognition technology, police runners with cameras and drones in the air. Such tactics will be honed and expanded for 2020. As we saw in the run-up to the G7 summit in 2016, we can expect a crackdown on far-left groups prior to the Games, though it is doubtful that these veteran radicals would mount an attack like they have at previous international summits in Tokyo (e.g. 1979, 1986) since the Olympics are not a political enough an event in and of themselves, notwithstanding the arrival of a few heads of state. In addition, police and the state will certainly want to enhance the surveillance of the population and various dissenting elements as well as the Muslim community, which is already under significant scrutiny. Quite how seriously it takes Hangorin and its ilk is yet to be seen. Already legal changes are quietly taking effect that greatly increase powers for wiretapping, not to mention the implications of the proposed conspiracy bill that will arguably give the state carte blanche to arrest people suspected planning certain crimes. And most importantly, we should not expect these surveillance or judicial measures to recede once the sporting events are done and dusted. It is very likely that the systems and tools will stay in place.

Up to this point, the presence on the streets has been relatively tame but actions are likely to escalate as we draw closer to 2020. (The next Hangorin no Kai protest is scheduled to take place in Shinjuku on February 24th.) We will also surely witness counter-spaces in areas like Shinjuku and Kōenji thrive as citizens dissenting from the collective boondoggle come together for events. You can even now get an anti-Olympic tote bag and such items will certainly multiply, providing a fitting antithesis to the coming flood of official merchandise.

anti-olympics tokyo tote bag

There is also speculative talk of an “alternative Olympics”, as discussed in a book in 2015. The Olympics are, after all, a festival and like all festivals manifest a period of liminality, a time when social norms are upturned and citizens can reassert their right to the city. As such, the Games represent a golden opportunity for a 2020 Anti-Olympics event, a Hangorin — featuring, say, unconventional sports, music, dance and discourse — held in glorious disorder somewhere like Kōenji, which could come alive with Situationalist-inspired détournement of street theatre, dérive and pranks, while the rest of the city and the nation (and the world) consumes the spectacle of the authorised games through television. The event would be overlooked, naturally, but it would fulfil a function that all healthy cities should allow: a space for ludic subversion from within.

The Olympics are an insurmountable behemoth, and one that cannot be stopped barring a major catastrophe, which protestors naturally do not desire. One thing is certain, though: not everyone in Tokyo will be celebrating when the Games open in July 2020. And they are sounding a clarion for dissent.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

Further Reading in Japanese (Selective List)

反東京オリンピック宣言 (2016)
小笠原 博毅 (著, 編集), 山本 敦久 (著, 編集)

東京オリンピック「問題」の核心は何か (2016)
小川 勝 (著)

東京2025 ポスト五輪の都市戦略 (2015)
市川 宏雄 (著)

PLANETS vol.9 東京2020 オルタナティブ・オリンピック・プロジェクト (2015)
宇野 常寛 (著, 編集)

東京五輪で日本はどこまで復活するのか (2013)
市川 宏雄 (著)

オリンピックと商業主義 (2012)
小川 勝 (著)

反オリンピック宣言―その神話と犯罪性をつく (1981)
影山 健 (著)

Groups and Organisations

反五輪の会
Hangorin no Kai (literally, Anti-Olympic Group)
http://hangorin.tumblr.com/

国立競技場周辺で暮らす野宿生活者を応援する有志
Supporters for the Park Residents around the National Olympic Stadium
http://noolympicevict.wixsite.com/index/blog

Planetary No Olympics Network
http://tokyo2020-rio2016.tumblr.com/

Irregular Rhythm Asylum
http://ira.tokyo/

Café Lavandería
http://cafelavanderia.blogspot.jp/

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Police arrest two members of far-left Kakurōkyō faction suspected of involvement in mortar attacks

While the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department may seem to have something of an obsession with veteran far-left group Chūkaku-ha and arresting its members, from the young to the old, on trivial charges, that is not to suggest it is only interested in the one faction alone.

Despite the cynical neoliberal circumstances of the present, or perhaps precisely because of them, Chūkaku-ha remains quite buoyant and proactively involved with a wide range of political and labour campaigns to which it devotes a lot of energy in terms of street protests, small strikes, petitions, disseminating information online and in print, and launching legal challenges. The other major far-left groups are comparatively less in the public eye, but that doesn’t mean the police are willing to let them be. As we saw from the recent Kakumaru-ha searches, they still carry out regular raids and arrests of the rapidly ageing membership of these groups.

The third main far-left group is Kakurōkyō (originally Kaihō-ha) and its twin factions: the “non-mainstream faction”, also known as the Kimoto-ha, Yamashige-ha or Sekisaisha-ha; and the “mainstream faction”, or Hazama-ha or Gendaisha-ha.

kakurokyo rally far left group japan

Official image of Kakurōkyō (Sekigaisha/Kimoto-ha) Central Politics Rally, February 2011

The latter attracted fresh police attention in 2015 during the height of the protests against the security bills. But it is the Kimoto-ha faction that is seen as the genuinely dangerous of the two today, since it is essentially the only far-left organisation of its kind in Japan that remains militant. While Chūkaku-ha has officially given up militant tactics, the non-mainstream faction of Kakurōkyō has continued throughout the Heisei period to launch attacks, sporadic and ineffective as they are, against government and US military targets.

In 2015 it allegedly launched a mortar attack against Camp Zama, a US army base in Kanagawa Prefecture. It is suspected of a similar incident in 2014 aimed at a construction contractor involved in the controversial relocation of Futenma Base to Henoko.

Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by a cell calling itself the Revolutionary Army, though police believe this is simply an unofficial paramilitary wing of Kimoto-ha (indeed, the group openly published the Revolutionary Army’s communiques). Police have naturally been trying to thwart this pesky reminder of the nation’s radical not-so-distant past. On January 24th, Tokyo police arrested two male construction workers on suspicion of counterfeiting documents, though this will likely only be the initial charge while they gather evidence for more serious indictments. Kinsaku Mutō and Toyotsuna Numata — both aged 65 and residing in, respectively, Saitama Prefecture and Chiba City — are alleged by the Public Security Bureau of making contracts with a construction company under false names between 2012 and 2013. They had been wanted by police after raids on supposed covert bases in February 2016.

Police believe the pair were involved in making the mortar-launched projectiles that were used in recent “guerrilla” attacks, such as the 2013 Yokota Air Base incident that resulted in six arrests a year ago. (Four were later released without charge and the other two charged with counterfeiting documents — a typical minor offence that can be deployed against far-left radicals, who often live under various aliases.) According to the public security police, the sites raided in 2016 turned up evidence of Mutō and Numata’s involvement, such as a video taken by Numata of the area around JGSDF Camp Asaka (the target of an abortive mortar attack in 2016) and notes on water-soluble paper showing where Mutō had concealed six explosives.

Kakurōkyō actually has its main annual rally planned for February 26th in Tokyo, where we can expect the police presence to be significant.

Ideologically, the Kimoto-ha faction of Kakurōkyō is roughly aligned with the likes of Chūkaku-ha — they even appear at the same rallies sometimes, such as ones related to opposition to Narita Airport — and campaigns against the US-Japan alliance, the Abe government and its perceived militarisation, and the emperor system. It calls for a national class-based revolutionary movement that can initiate general strikes as well as a communist workers’ party and the destruction of its rival, Kakumaru-ha, who is also an old enemy of Chūkaku-ha. It has a Zengakuren student wing, though this is less prominent than Chūkaku-ha’s.

The state is anxious to clamp down on these senior radicals as Tokyo draws closer to the 2020 Olympics. As unlikely as their tactics are to cause actual fatalities or even serious injuries, any breach of security during the Games or in the changeover of emperor, which is likely to happen between now and 2020, would be humiliating. The G7 summit in Tokyo in 1986 was affected by several embarrassing guerrilla incidents, while the period marking the changeover to the current emperor nearly 30 years ago also saw a spike in small bombings and other incidents carried out by far-left radicals.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

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Zengakuren activist arrested for kicking court official, police raid Kyoto University dormitory

On January 29th Kyoto police arrested a member of the Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren student group on suspicion of interfering with the duties of a public official. The 25-year-old Hiroaki Aono from Tōhoku University, a stronghold of the far-left faction, is accused of kicking a 40-year-old court security guard at a courthouse in Kyoto on March 14th, 2016, when the guard was attempting to make the activist leave the court on the orders of the judge.

Such arrests for minor offences many months prior are typical tactics employed by Japanese police with political activists. This may be because activists lead underground lives and only show up in public occasionally, or because police keep a “hoard” of old offences which they can draw on to arrest activists at various times in an attempt to break them during the protracted periods of detention police are entitled to hold people without charge in Japan. These arrests also almost always allow police to gain search warrants for raiding facilities associated with radical groups, which might turn up evidence in connection to long-standing and more serious crimes.

chukakuha zengakuren kumano dormitory kyoto university raid police

chukakuha zengakuren kumano dormitory kyoto university raid police

And as if following a script, that is precisely what happened this time. On January 31st scores of police in riot gear raided Kyoto University’s Kumano Dormitory, which is seen as a bastion for Chūkaku-ha student activism and where Aono is alleged to be based. Zenshin-sha, the Chūkaku-ha headquarters located in east Tokyo, was also inevitably raided by police. All this show of force was ostensibly in relation to the kicking incident, though quite what officers hoped to find to help them indict Aono is highly debatable.

Aono will probably be held for the full period of detention (23 days), during which he almost certainly say nothing to police as per the standard far-left modus operandi when arrested. After this, he may be re-arrested on a different charge or released. An indictment over such a minor incident is unlikely.

This is just the latest in a series of recent examples of increasing police pressure on Chūkaku-ha and its feisty, though small, student group, which is primarily based at Hōsei and Kyoto universities.

Though its roots go back much further, the current campaign has intensified since around 2014. A police officer attempted to infiltrate the campus of Kyoto University in late 2014 following three arrests in central Tokyo during a protest march, only to be rumbled and briefly held by students.

In 2015 student activists were arrested (but not charged) not on suspicion of confining a fellow activist, whom they had exposed as an alleged police spy. A “strike” that same year at Kyoto University resulted in six arrests (but again, not indictments) and suspensions. (It was at the court proceedings for disclosing the grounds for detaining these six activists that Aono allegedly kicked the security guard. Aono had been ordered to leave the courtroom for disrupting proceedings by shouting out.)

In almost all these cases, the arrests sparked follow-up actions: police raids on Zenshin-sha and dormitories such as Kumano, which has acquired something of an anti-establishment reputation regardless of its Chūkaku-ha connections.

Zengakuren has launched a law suit against the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department after its officers allegedly assaulted activists arriving for a rally last year. This latest “crackdown” may even be a kind of revenge for this legal action, though the excessive methods of the police here are not necessarily anything unusual.

In fact, police attention on Chūkaku-ha is a given due to its extensive record for protests against the state that in the past included violence. Just last month, three members of a Chūkaku-ha affiliate group were arrested, as always on trivial charges that can never realistically be pursued (in this case, hiring a car and splitting the costs).

As the 2020 Olympics draw closer, we can expect police to amplify its oppressive tactics on all domestic far-left groups, much as it did in the lead-up to the G7 summit last year. Alongside Chūkaku-ha, one of the largest remaining far-left factions is Kakumaru-ha, which police also perennially harass, as we saw recently with fresh raids on the radical group’s sites that apparently revealed the real name of its leader.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

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Police arrest anti-nuclear power activists for hiring vehicle, Kasumigaseki arson

Three Japanese anti-nuclear power activists have been arrested for transporting people in a station wagon or minivan-style vehicle to a protest in Fukushima. On January 18th, the trio — aged from their fifties to seventies — were arrested by Saitama Prefecture police on suspicion of violating the Road Transportation Law. Prefectural police also claim the three are members of the far-left group Chūkaku-ha.

The allegations relate to a trip the activists organised on September 5th, 2015, when they drove passengers from Saitama City to Naraha in Fukushima. They collected around ¥4,000 per person to cover transport costs. The trip was timed to protest the lifting of the evacuation order in Naraha that day. However, this kind of “service” would officially count as a commercial “tour” and require a licence. Police say the organisers recruited passengers online and may have run similar “tours” since the Fukushima disaster.

The announcement by police that the three are Chūkaku-ha activists is intended to shame them publicly, especially as one of the activists is employed by Kazo City as a civil servant. Media reports note that colleagues are “shocked” how their “hard-working” co-worker could belong to such an organisation. (No media reports seem, though, to comment on the triviality of the charges or their implications for any group of peers travelling in hired transportation.)

No mention of the arrests is made in the latest issue (January 19th) of the Chūkaku-ha organ, Zenshin, though it may been going to press as the arrests transpired. Usually the newspaper will comment when activists are arrested. The edition does, however, talk about an upcoming protest in February against the restart of Takahama Nuclear Power Plant.

The Zenshin blog posted a short message on January 19th denouncing the arrests as a “frame-up” and identifying the three as members of Nazen Saitama. This is a tacit acknowledgement of their association with Chūkaku-ha, since Nazen is its (ostensibly youth-oriented) anti-nuclear group. The post also clarifies that the “tour” had been a trip to observe the situation at Naraha and that the money had simply been collected to share the costs of hiring the car.

It is very unlikely that police will actually charge the three, given the precedent it would set for people hiring vehicles. Police frequently detain activists over minor infractions in order to diminish the ability of radical groups to mobilise and also in the hope that arrested activists may break during the long periods of detention. Despite the ageing of its membership, Chūkaku-ha remains a particular target not least due to its recent inroads in the student movement, especially in Kyoto, and for long-running cases such as the fugitive Masaaki Ōsaka.

We have seen similar kinds of arrests before. In 2015 three activists in Kansai were taken into custody for collecting fees for running a coach service to a protest against the deployment of a missile defence early-warning radar at a US military facility.

Chūkaku-ha has engaged proactively with the nuclear power issue since 2011, not only protesting the restarting of power plants but also the re-opening of a train line running through Fukushima Prefecture.

meti arson fire nuclear protestor kasumigaseki

These three new arrests come just a day after another detention in the anti-nuclear power movement. Taichi Masakiyo, a veteran of the protests and associated with the recently removed protest tents, was arrested in the early hours of January 17th for an apparent arson stunt that slightly damaged a government building. On the afternoon of January 16th, Masakiyo allegedly set fire to a small section of shrubbery outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Kasumigaseki. The 78-year-old Masakiyo, who heads the citizens’ group that organised the anti-nuclear protest tents, admits the allegation but has since remained silent. Supporters are demanding his release and claim the arrest is another frame-up.

The site of the alleged arson was by the entrance to METI, a stone’s throw from where the tents had been erected until last year. The location has become a key gathering place for anti-nuclear demonstrations and continues to attract activists even after the removal of the tents. A few weeks ago, the Buddhist monk protest group JKS47 held a clamorous event in front of the ministry (bonus picture below).

JKS47 anti nuclear buddhist monks japan

WILLIAM ANDREWS

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Identity of head of Kakumaru-ha (Revolutionary Marxist Faction) discovered by police

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and Kanagawa police have apparently discovered the real name and registered address of the head of far-left political group Kakumaru-ha (Revolutionary Marxist Faction).

If true, it would be the first time that the actual identity of Hiroshi Nitta (70) has been revealed. He assumed the leadership of Kakumaru-ha in 1996 after founder Kanichi Kuroda stepped down, though for around 20 years he has used the nom de guerre of Takuma Ueda and almost never shown his face in public.

Police from Tokyo and Kanagawa raided apartments in Kanagawa and Tokyo on January 10th on suspicion of uttering of counterfeit private documents. The allegation is that a man in his sixties used a different name to renew the lease on another apartment in Arakawa ward in east Tokyo, which was being used as a secret base (ajito) for the faction, in March 2012. Such minor infractions are often used as pretexts to raid facilities or properties associated with far-left activists in the hope of finding new information on past cases.

Police announced today that the Kanagawa apartment was registered by Ueda under what they believe to be his real name, Hiroshi Nitta.

kakumaruha raid far-left political radical group search police takuma ueda hiroshi nitta

It is very common for far-left activists to assume false names and live “underground” for years at a time. One of the longest-running fugitive cases in Japan is Masaaki Ōsaka, who has been on the lam for decades while probably supported by a network of activists.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, Kakumaru-ha has accused the search of being unjust and denied that Nitta is Ueda’s name. “A risible, reckless statement,” is said with its usual panache for language. The revelation is essentially academic, since a name alone will not lead to his arrest, even assuming the police have grounds for taking him into custody.

Though its period of violent inter-factional conflict was largely behind it, Ueda/Nitta took command of Kakumaru-ha at a time when the group was under intense police pressure. Though it has not engaged in direct attacks against the state in the same ways as the likes of Sekigun-ha, Chūkaku-ha or Kakurōkyō, Kakumaru-ha has been a police target, in particular since the 1990s when it was involved in various bugging cases. The group also faces straitened circumstances. It long relied on its key base of Waseda University to provide it with funds but the private college, like many others in Japan, has worked to expel the radical group from campus. Kakumaru-ha is also allegedly connected to the Japan Confederation of Railway Workers’ Unions and East Japan Railway Workers’ Union. Its public headquarters, Kaihō-sha, is a condominium building near Waseda, tucked away in a residential street.

This was raided by police in July last year after men believed to be Kakumaru-ha activists were arrested for allegedly trespassing in a hotel in Kobe. Four men aged in their sixties and seventies apparently entered the hotel without permission in June 2016 to distribute leaflets about labour issues and nuclear power.

Police and media reports regularly estimate that Kakumaru-ha currently has some 3,000 members, making it the largest far-left organisation in Japan or at least on par with its arch-rival, Chūkaku-ha, which is nonetheless more active in terms of street protests. Veteran far-left groups are facing terminal decline as their members age — the majority will surely be over 50 or 60 years old by now — and finances dwindle, notwithstanding a recent boost for Chūkaku-ha and its Zengakuren student wing at bases such as Kyoto University.

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