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


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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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SEALDs becomes pastiche in “Food Party” TV commercial for Sapporo beer

You know you’ve genuinely cemented a place in popular culture when you spawn a TV parody, though perhaps there can be no cheaper a spoof than one mustered up by the folk behind the ubiquitous commercials in Japan’s competitive beer industry.

The latest television advertisement for Sapporo+ is inspired by the campaigning style of disbanded student activist group SEALDs, which was the one of the most prominent elements of the 2015 mass protests against the controversial state security bills that permitted Japan to send combat troops overseas.

Themed around a fictional Gohan-tō (Food Party), the commercial shows “activists” dressed in SEALDs-esque t-shirts and chanting à la the rapping call-and-response manner the students made famous in those heady days 18 months ago.

sapporo beer sealds parody pastiche

In mock protest-speak, the campaign is called “Tsudoe! Gohan-tō.” (literally, “Assemble! Food Party”). It portrays a regular salaryman sitting down after work with a bowl of salad. On his television a reporter introduces the eponymous “much talked-about” party, who are demonstrating on the street. Just like SEALDs’ overtly cosmopolitan use of English, their t-shirts feature images of food with Japanese names written in Roman alphabet while they hold signs printed in pop colours with a mix of English and Japanese phrases. Not only the design of their clothes and placards, the appearance of the activists also imitates SEALDs, fronted by metropolitan, stylish youth and even at least one seemingly mixed-race member.

The salaryman is bemused by the news report, only to look up and find his home suddenly filled with the very same activists in front of him, microphone and placards at the ready. The main activist — a stand-in for de facto SEALDs leader Aki Okuda — starts calling out slogans into a microphone, which are met with responses and applause from his fellow demonstrators. He asks the salaryman, who has only a meagre salad in front of him for his dinner, if he is abstaining from eating a full meal.

sapporo beer sealds parody pastiche

sapporo beer sealds parody pastiche

A street-party-cum-protest then breaks out, with a DJ playing music and the protestors dancing as they chant. Others bring in rice cookers and hold up cans of the new Sapporo+. The salaryman is presented with a generous, glistening bowl of katsudon. Since the beer is healthy (no sugar, alcohol or calories), the campaign is telling people they can still eat fully balanced meals rather than worrying about getting fat. It launched on January 1st, since New Year in Japan is a period during which people often worry about eating too much and make resolutions to go on diets.

In the same way that AKB48 bizarrely appropriated Zenkyōtō and post-war Japanese student activism for a music video last spring, this somewhat belated parodic treatment of SEALDs for a TV commercial would seem to represent the further passage of the student group from a functioning movement into the domain of popular memory, where it is fair game.

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Zengakuren launches lawsuit against Metropolitan Police Department for alleged assault

The student activist group Zengakuren has launched a lawsuit against 15 members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department after public security officers jostled activists at a two-day rally in early September.

Officers from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Security Bureau (effectively, the TMP version of “special branch”) harassed young activists, attempting to identify them by tearing off their hats and masks. In the process, activists allege several of them were injured.

security police japan assault harass zengakuren chukaku-ha student activists

Regardless of your political leanings (Zengakuren is affiliated with the far-left Chūkaku-ha), it is hard to deny that Zengakuren’s video shows a degree of assault or police brutality. Though it is commonplace for public security police to surround the entrance to any such political meeting, photographing and making notes of everyone who enters, it is unusually provocative of officers to physically touch activists in this way.

It would seem to indicate an increase in tension and frustration over the recent surge in Zengakuren activities, notably at Kyoto University.

The Chūkaku-ha twice-weekly organ, Zenshin, called the events on September 1st and September 2nd a “heinous terrorist attack”, and named each of the police officers with an individual photograph. It reports that 31 lawyers are representing Zengakuren in the suit, which was filed on November 29th. There are five complainants and plaintiffs named in the suit, including Yōhei Sakube (Chair of Dōgakukai, the de facto Kyoto University branch of Zengakuren) and Ikuma Saitō (Chair of Zengakuren). Lawyers are seeking ¥2 million in compensation for each of the plaintiffs.

The suit alleges that the actions of the police officers amounts to violating the constitutional right to free assembly. It accuses the police of several specific crimes: abuse of power resulting in death or injury; assault by special public officials; and complicity in crime.

Interest in the case is apparently high: 10 newspapers attended a press conference on November 30th. (The activities of Zengakuren, like other far-left groups in Japan, are essentially ignored by the mainstream media unless a crime is committed.)

“Since the March 11th disaster and Fukushima nuclear accident,” Saitō told journalists, “many people have been rising up, against which state power is increasing surveillance and oppression of the people. We decided to launch this lawsuit because we wanted to expose an incident of assault by the public security police for the whole of society to see, and to show that you can win if you fight.”

Zengakuren itself has a significant militant history going back to the immediate post-war period. The Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren has not engaged in direct violent tactics for a long time, though its activists have nonetheless been arrested on many occasions over the past two decades, especially during the protracted campus struggle at Hōsei University and, earlier this year, due to protest actions at Kyoto University.

On December 12th, a Dōgakukai rally will be held at Kyoto University on several issues: opposing constitutional revision and the Abe government; calling for solidarity with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and for strikes to prevent a “Korean war of aggression”; and for the suspension penalties against four students who organised a small strike last year to be reversed. Due to the lawsuit, the protestors can surely expect a heavy escort and hostile reception from police.


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Kumano Dormitory students occupy Kyoto University clock tower hall roof

Life spent monitoring Japanese radicalism and counterculture would be dull if there weren’t high jinks at Kyōdai. And here they are again: students at Kyoto University yesterday occupied the Kyoto University Clock Tower Centennial Hall.

On November 25th, students from Kumano Dormitory, which is home to activists associated with Dōgakukai, a branch of the Chūkaku-ha faction of Zengakuren, used ladders to ascend to the roof of the hall. There they unfurled banners and waved flags in scenes reminiscent of the events of 1968. Some of the students really got into the nostalgia of the stunt and even wore helmets.

kyoto university occupation clock tower student movement activism kumano dormitory

Image via @tokou207

The clock tower, built in 1925, is a symbol of the university and the centrepiece of the main Yoshida campus. Behind it is the former site of Classroom No.1 in the Faculty of Law and Economics, the largest in the university, where mass negotiations took place during the height of the student movement and also connected to the Takigawa Incident (1932-33), when the university was accused of suppressing free thinking.

The university placed signs around the campus warning that climbing the tower was not permitted, and staff apparently also took measures to prevent some students from climbing. This prank has become an annual occurrence as part of the Kumano Dormitory Festival since at least late November 2014, when the trouble centring on the dormitory started. After the Dōrō-Chiba international solidarity union rally that takes place every November in Hibiya Park, three student activists were arrested during the march through Ginza. An undercover officer from the public security police was then rumbled on the campus of Kyoto University without permission. The officer was held for a while but then released by activists. The police took revenge with their favourite tactic: overreacting. They raided multiple sites linked to Chūkaku-ha and its small yet feisty student movement. The vista of squads of riot officers entering Kumano Dormitory shocked many students and created an online storm.

During the subsequent Kumano Dormitory Festival, a large number of students then occupied the clock tower at the end of that November. They did the same thing in November 2015, shortly after Zengakuren/Dōgakukai staged an anti-war campus strike at Kyoto University. The barricade was only up for a brief time but inevitably it led to further repercussions: police raided more sites in February and March this year, arresting six students, and the university permanently suspended four of the students involved in the strike.

Throughout the year left-wing student activists at Kyoto have organised many demonstrations and protest actions, including against the G7 summit. Dōgakukai has also launched a petition campaign to challenge the suspensions. Things are escalating: none of the Kumano Dormitory or Dōgakukai activists have been charged with criminal offences, as far as I am aware, though the police apparently take the students so seriously that they practically assaulted several in broad daylight in September. So much for SEALDs making student activism cool and accessible.

All this means that Kyoto University is currently a very interesting place for the student movement in Japan.

The Yoshida campus has come alive with so-called tachikanban, or standing signboards, carrying political or provocative slogans and images. (Such signs used to be common sights at campuses in Japan and the removal of them at Hōsei led to the prolonged problems there.) Some of these signs have been created by the Kumano and Dōgakukai activists but a particularly conspicuous one was created by a mystery group called Gorilla & Schola (a nod to Jūichi Yamagiwa, the university president, whose background is as an ape and gorilla researcher), who are apparently sympathetic to the Zengakuren-affiliated students. This sign was temporarily destroyed, seemingly on orders from the university’s powers that be.

The university authorities are in a tight spot. Unlike a private college such as Hōsei, they are more restricted in terms of calling in police. Moreover, suppressing the far-left students on campus is tantamount to suppressing freedom of speech, notwithstanding the fact that the university’s motto is “Freedom of academic culture”.

It also cannot have escaped many administrators that the university has an ingrained history of activism and politics, not least having hosted the Kyoto Partisans and Osamu Takita (Nobuhiro Takemoto) as well as several members of Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction). However, this reputation as a breeding ground for extremism may very well be the key reason the university is keen to nip the new students in the bud.

The university’s legacy of activism can actually be traced back earlier to 1951, when students erected signs and placards telling the visiting Emperor Hirohito that he was not welcome at the Yoshida campus. A prominent Zenkyōtō campus movement was also formed at Kyoto during the height of the strikes around the country in the late 1960s.

The Kyoto University clock tower was more aggressively occupied by masked and helmeted student activists from Chūkaku-ha in November 1990 to protest the changeover in emperor. Indeed, Kyoto University’s political pedigree includes many developments in the Heisei period, as covered extensively by the scholar Carl Cassegård. Back in the 1990s, Kinji House was an example of large-scale squatting. Ishigaki Café appeared from January to August 2005, a counter-space for events, music and more. Union Extasy was a union for the university’s part-time employees, founded in 2007. It organised colourful actions to protest the treatment of staff by the institution, and also created Kubikubi Café as a two-year space to discuss the plight of precarity and disseminate information. In fact, there were also various parallel developments elsewhere in Kyoto, such as at Ritsumeikan and Kyoto Seika, all forming streams in the currents of the burgeoning freeter movement.

Dōgakukai’s name is a reference to the student council of the same name that existed for many years. The group was resurrected in 2012 by a popular vote from the student body. Unsurprisingly, though, Dōgakukai is not recognised by Kyoto University as an official student council or club. Like in so many universities in Japan, the former student councils or self-governing associations (jichikai) that were under the umbrella of Zengakuren have long been extinct or repackaged by the universities, in part to phase out the influence of the far-left political factions and change the university into a service-provider fit for the neoliberal age. Likewise, student dormitories were previously powerful and independent places that cultivated activism and clubs. Needless to say, the universities had mixed feelings about this situation that sanctioned political hotbeds on campus. A law went into effect in 2004, turning national universities into corporations, though the movements that transpired at Kyoto University and also earlier at Hōsei under Hajime Matsumoto (later of Shirōto no Ran fame) fought against this gentrification of campuses.

All this should tell us that the Kumano and Dōgakukai activities are part of a lineage that is well and truly established. One interesting element is how playful much of it is: despite the ostensible involvement of far-left activists, who are known for their dogma and seriousness, there is a sense of zest and fun to a lot of these actions. No one, for example, should claim that Friday’s “occupation” of the hall roof was an ideological protest, but rather an assertion of student autonomy and energy. The tongue is often firmly in the proverbial cheek: this sign warning people not to litter at the notoriously dilapidated Yoshida Dormitory overtly flirts with the university’s radical past.

This casual and jesting style further indicates, as I have previously suggested, the continued cutification and feminisation of even far-left activism or its perception in Japan.

The example of the long-running dispute between the Bunka Renmei students and Hōsei University in central Tokyo shows that attempting to prevent activists from politicking on campus only aggravates and makes them more likely to fight harder. Crackdowns are not the answer.

dogakukai dougakukai kyoto university student movement activism protest group

For now, the university has largely made do with suspending the four students and sending out employees to hold up signs during protests saying that unofficial organisations or unenrolled students are not allowed on the campus. Dōgakukai next plans a demonstration at Kyoto University on December 12th, once again superimposing the local issues (the suspended students) with wider ones (the Abe government, constitutional change, the protests in South Korea). Keep your eyes on the old capital, folks.


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