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. 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 the 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. Whether this is the indirect influence of media-savvy SEALDs, which also position female members at the fore, is hard to say.

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 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.


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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.


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Police confirm identity of suspect as wanted far-left radical Masaaki Ōsaka, re-arrest him for murder

The wanted posters at police substations and train stations around Japan will finally be coming down. Police claim to have confirmed the identity of a suspect as far-left activist Masaaki Ōsaka and re-arrested him on a murder charge.

A man believed to be Masaaki Ōsaka, a member of the far-left Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), was arrested on May 18th in Hiroshima when police carried out a raid on an alleged base of the radical group to arrest another resident on a minor charge. The tactic paid off, as they were able to nab probably the most wanted man in Japan, who is accused of playing a leading role in the Shibuya Riot Incident in which a 21-year-old police officer was killed during a protest on November 14th, 1971 against the US-Japan Security Treat and the continued occupation of Okinawa.

Last month’s arrest of the far-left radical, who has been a fugitive since 1972 on a variety of charges including murder, was sensational enough in its own right but the announcement, delayed several days after the apprehension ostensibly for obstructing police duties, was fortuitous timing for the government as it pushed through its highly contentious conspiracy bill. It served as a reminder to the public that so-called terrorism and political militants exist in Japan, and that legislation is required to give police more power to ensure citizens’ safety during the 2020 Olympics. Naturally, the media had a ball with the news and has continued to run stories every few days related to the Ōsaka case. One aspect that was ignored, however, was the May 12th arrests of three unionists in Kansai associated with Chūkaku-ha on trespassing charges: the capture of Ōsaka is actually part of a wider, ongoing crackdown on the far-left group.

masaaki osaka shibuya riot incident arrested chukaku-ha

Masaaki Ōsaka on June 7th, 2017 as police transferred him to Tokyo. Image via Japan Today

Following days of speculation about how it would be possible to verify his identity, today police announced that the suspect had been re-arrested for murder and confirmed that he is indeed Ōsaka. Cross-checking DNA with relatives, including his late mother, did not disprove a match and Ōsaka’s sister additionally identified a photograph of the suspect as her brother. This is apparently enough to verify the man in custody as the 67-year-old Ōsaka.

He was then flown from a rainy Osaka, where he had been held since his arrest, to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. During his transfer he was overtly paraded for the cameras of the media, who were eager to get a shot of the fugitive long known only by the surly 1973 black-and-white photo that adorned thousands of wanted posters across Japan. Needless to say, this is surely the most startling perp walk for a political radical since Fusako Shigenobu was taken off a Shinkansen train in 2000, and has generated blanket coverage in the media.

masaaki osaka wanted fugitive japan chukaku-ha

Masaaki Ōsaka as he appeared on his police wanted poster for 45 years

Until now Ōsaka’s last official sighting was in 1973. Police had maintained the hunt for him by constant surveillance of Chūkaku-ha events and activities as well as periodically renewing the campaign with new posters and raiding Chūkaku-ha sites for clues as to his whereabouts. He was placed on the international wanted list in 2010 and a significant award also announced last year, resulting in a major spike in leads from the public.

masaaki osaka arrested shibuya riot incident chukaku-ha

Image via Sankei Shimbun

masaaki osaka arrested shibuya riot incident chukaku-ha

Image via Sankei Shimbun

Ever since the arrest, the man identified as Ōsaka has maintained complete silence in custody, as is typical for detained leftists in Japan. Chūkaku-ha has also denied that the suspect is Ōsaka, whose innocence activists have claimed in multiple articles and videos. The group also staged a protest in the morning of June 7th in front of Tokyo District Court.

The statute of limitations was removed for murder in 2010, meaning Ōsaka can be charged with the killing of police officer Tsuneo Nakamura, who was set upon by a mob of activists armed with pipes and Molotov cocktails. One of those previously arrested and tried for the death was Fumiaki Hoshino, though campaigners have long maintained that he is falsely imprisoned. Another Chūkaku-ha activist, Yukio Okumiyama, was also tried for the killing but proceedings were halted in 1981 due to mental illness, and he passed away earlier this year at the age of 68.


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Iconic Sanrizuka protest movement “solidarity hut” removed from Narita Airport

If you are lucky, as your plane touches down you may be able to catch a glimpse from your window of a large homemade sign declaring, in Japanese, “Against Narita Airport”. Omotenashi indeed.

The protest movement against Narita Airport is almost moribund for two obvious reasons: despite fierce opposition and mammoth delays and even fatalities, the airport was eventually finished and opened, and isn’t going anywhere; and the inevitable process of mortality is setting in and the original activists and farmers are slowly disappearing.

Instead, the remains of the protest movement, which is often referred to as the Sanrizuka movement after the area where many of the affected villages were located, continues on with a primary focus on stopping further expansion of the airport in the form of the long-anticipated third runway. Much of this manifests as petitions, various suits and trials, and regular rallies and marches. In particular, the dogged struggle to prevent the seizure of farmer Takao Shitō’s land has become the current lodestone of the movement.

The protest split in the early 1980s between factions willing to co-operate to some extent with the airport authority, and only the Kitahara faction remains fully committed to in partnership with its allies like Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) and Dōrō-Chiba. Violence and small bombs were still happening until the 1990s.

The first control tower, which was famously occupied by activists in a bravado operation shortly before the airport was due to open, will be torn down in 2018. Moreover, the iconic “solidarity huts” (danketsu-goya) where activists and students lived along the disputed land, have been slowly but surely demolished after lengthy legal wrangles.

In the early hours of May 31st, the Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters hut was removed following an order from Tokyo High Court. It was built by the Hantai Dōmei, or Farmers League Against the Narita Airport, in 1982 and then became a base for the so-called Atsuta faction after the main split in the movement.

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters in November 2016

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters in November 2016

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters in 1992

Activist and supporters from the Atsuta group, which is today led by farmer Hideo Yanagawa, mobilised nearby to protest, though the removal proceeded without incident and had finished by 3 a.m. The lot occupied by the roughly 50-square-meter hut will now be utilised by the airport as part of its operations. The final ruling confirming the hut removal came last July. The hut has not been in use since 1998 and the road leading to it was closed in 2007 and the hut boarded up. Images of the hut from last year indicate it was overgrown with vegetation, a strange block of no-man’s land in the middle of the airport.

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The removal of Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters on May 31st, 2017

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The removal of Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters on May 31st, 2017

It is the first such forced removal since February 2015 and brings the number of huts still located at various sites around the airport to six. While the days of virtual pitched battles between protestors and police are long gone, security remains high and riot police officers are often stationed along the ring road around the airport. People visiting the huts or similar areas may be followed by unmarked police vehicles.

Images via Sankei Shimbun here and here


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White “Japanese ultra-nationalist” joins anti-Korean hate march in Shinjuku

It is part of the inherent nature of being an expatriate that you reinvent yourself in your new country of residence, whether by design or by accident. Japan is a place that seems to allow this more easily than elsewhere, perhaps especially if you are Western and male. From zero to hero, as the old gaijin joke has it: back home, a nobody; in Japan, a minor TV celebrity or fashion model, and an instant success with local ladies.

If the title of this post sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. But there was indeed none other than a white man participating in a Japanese far-right protest march on May 28th in Shinjuku. The march — condemned by counter-protestors as a racist anti-Korean “hate demo” — happened on a Sunday afternoon as shoppers enjoyed the early summer weather in the heart of one of Tokyo’s main commercial districts. While the participant numbers appeared small, as is typical for these fringe groups, the march should be noteworthy in and of itself, given its repudiation of the clean image of Tokyo and Shinjuku the authorities are trying to promote in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, and that national legislation was passed intended to curb hate speech. It also comes just days after a 65-year-old man was arrested for allegedly attempting to burn down a Zainichi Korean (Japanese-born ethnic Koreans) credit union in Nagoya.

But it was the curious case of the white guy that drew much attention. Wearing sunglasses and a white t-shirt dyed with a red Rising Sun flag, the young man proudly carried a matching flag and held a placard with a hammer and sickle crossed out (presumably a reference to North Korea, though the regime actually uses a variation on this Communist symbol). His exact motivations are a mystery. Was the man an audacious prankster trolling the racists, or simply a non-Japanese resident whose views are aligned with the rest of the marchers? Or was he a comedian in the manner of Minoru Torihada, performing an elaborate stunt? Or a weeb who has taken his dream of “turning Japanese” to an extreme (and a right-wing extreme, at that)?

Organised by Shūsei Sakurada’s New Social Movement — a small but prolific ultra-nationalist group that focuses on anti-Korean issues — the march itself started in Kashiwagi Park and then headed to the west side of Shinjuku Station. Below is the “official trial” for the event.

The entire march was followed closely by a boisterous counter-protest called by Anti-Racism Project, with the harried bevy of police keeping the two sides away from each other.

counter-protest hate speech korean shinjuku tokyo japanese racist

Flyer for counter-protest against anti-Korean march in Shinjuku on May 28th, 2017

The facetious response to the aberrant marcher would be that the hate groups are now so desperate for attendance that they are even recruiting Westerners to their ranks. Truth, though, is sometimes stranger than fiction. The spectacle of the “white Japanese ultra-nationalist” could almost be a scene out of Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin is an upcoming mockumentary, centred, as discussed before, “around a Caucasian expat who believes himself to be a member of the Japanese ultra-nationalist right”.

But there are indeed gaijin uyoku: anecdotes regularly surface that the ranks of the far-right groups are actually filled with Zainichi Koreans, not least because some of the traditional rightists have links to the Yakuza, which is apparently populated with people from various social fringes. As extraordinary as it may sound, this is not even the first example of a white foreigner who has become a vocal mouthpiece for Japanese nationalist sentiments. We have already had the likes of Tony Marano, aka “Texas Daddy”, and Kent Gilbert. Is there now a new contender?

Update: More Details on the White Participant in March

A little searching of videos posted online by New Social Movement has revealed that the white participant in the march has attended several other rallies by the same and associated groups.

This video shows him attending one previous event on January 3rd when he even gave a speech in Japanese (from around 8:20). In it he introduces himself as Spanish, though wisely does not give his name. In his speech he says that foreign countries tell a lot of lies about Japan but he believes Japan to be a “good country”. He claims that Japan’s neighbours just spread false rumours about Japan, such as about the comfort women and Nanking massacre. He then turns the argument around to Western imperialism and how the real losers of the war were the colonies of the Western powers, and that these countries were grateful to Japan for “liberating” them. He also claims that “hate speech” does not actually exist.

Here are videos with more examples of his speeches at rallies this year and identifying him as “Daniel”.


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