Two prominent English-language blogs about Japan recently picked up on an unusual activist group called Kakuhidō. Despite being ostensibly focused on design and Japanese tabloids respectively, both Spoon Tamago and Tokyo Reporter ran near identical stories about Kakumeiteki Himote Dōmei, shorted to Kakuhidō. The group’s name literally means “Revolutionary League of Men Unpopular with Women” and it is holding a demo-performance this afternoon to mark Valentine’s Day, which they call a “blood-soaked conspiracy… driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists”. Can these self-proclaim “losers” save their fellow “unloved comrades”?
The blog coverage led to some larger news media outlets running the same content repackaged: “Japanese misanthropes march against ‘passion capitalism’ of Valentine’s Day” (The Guardian), “Japanese revolutionaries plot to ‘crush St Valentine’s Day'” (The Telegraph), “Lonely Japanese men protest the ‘blood-soaked conspiracy’ of Valentine’s Day” (The Washington Post) and “These Miserable Guys Say Valentine’s Day Is a Ploy By ‘Oppressive Chocolate Capitalists’” (Time). Some people have been quick to tie the fringe group arbitrarily to large concerns about Japan’s “romantic crisis” and “sexless society”. While there has been some lazy amusement (and bemusement) about the group of (in the words of some media) “ugly men” and their aims, this is more just a wacky misogynist crusade by men hopeless at romance. (I am hesitant to apply the label “parody” willy-nilly, since who knows how sincere the campaign is. Certainly the group’s website is quite organised and detailed.)
As pictures of Kakuhidō’s previous activities show, the participants in their events/demos are entirely male and the leaders often wear face towels and helmets. Others are also dressed as characters suggestive of otaku subculture. Its demo in Akihabara in 2007 saw the group team up with others like the Revolutionary Otaku-ism League and Revolution Moe-ism League, with results that were predictably carnivalesque. Leaving aside the issue of costume and performance, since a whole Ph.D. dissertation waits to be written on the link between cosplay and radical politics on the Left and Right in Japan, the very existence of this kind of tongue-in-cheek “demo” shows how times have changed.
In the past Kakuhidō has “demonstrated against” Valentine’s Day and other festivities like Christmas. Apparently it all started when the founder was dumped by a girl and then he started reading Marx. It advertises the address of its ajito (in Japanese New Left parlance, a secret base for agitation), which surely contradicts the function on one in the first place.
Kakuhidō appointed MarkWater [sic] as head in 2013. Water claims in his Twitter account to be an Irish anti-government activist living in Japan and “secret agent” attached to the “IRA Japan Army”. He is apparently a “Satanist” and “very famous” for his poetry collection Sex is useless no matter how much you do it.
From its slogans (lots of use of aggressive words like funsai, meaning to “smash”) to its paraphernalia (sunglasses and towels covering the face) and use of a shortened name, Kakuhidō is overtly mimicking the genuinely revolutionary New Left factions. Of course, this is far from the first time that people have casually adopted the wardrobe of radical student politics for something far more playful or innocuous, as I reported before — and Kakuhidō itself has actually been around since at least 2006. However, it is also significant that many post-Shōwa activists have deliberately sought out new forms of presentation for their campaigns through floats, music and dance. Rather than helmets and confrontational slogans, you get sound cars and fun.
The very fact that we have a group, albeit a very minor one, not shying away from the tools and trappings of previous Japanese New Left activism — far from it, embracing them — suggests how far we have moved beyond the days when law and order was “threatened” by rioting Marxists in central Tokyo. A bunch of guys put on the same guise decades later and march around Shibuya, and it’s a joke for participants, observers and the press alike. Notably, even at demos for remaining New Left factions today, it is quite rare to see protestors or activists in the full gear of yesteryear (helmets, towels). Ironically, whether they are communist-inspired or not, Kakuhidō is more visually “New Left” than many genuine activists.