Tokyo residents would have noticed something new in major train stations around the city: police officers standing around, not doing much except sometimes trying to look tall on a small set of portable steps. This is the decorative side of Japan’s beefed-up security ahead of the 42nd G7 Summit, which takes place from May 26th to May 27th in Mie Prefecture, though quite how prepared Japan really is for a possible Islamist terrorist attack is highly debatable. But there has been another, less overt police response, one focused on far-left political groups with complicated histories.
Leftists are the standard bogeyman as far the security police and press are concerned. When in doubt, round up the usual suspects. As such, police raided a Kakurōkyō base in February, arresting six activists of the veteran group. A faction of Kakurōkyō, Kimoto-ha (Sekisaisha-ha), is essentially the only far-left organisation of its kind in Japan that remains militant. It is accused of carrying out a mortar attack on Camp Zama in 2014 and another against a construction company linked to the Henoko transfer of the Futenma military base in Okinawa.
Last year, members of another Kakurōkyō faction, Hazama-ha (Gendaisha-ha), were also arrested as part of a wide crackdown in the wake of the protests against the state security bills.
Merrily we roll along, as Sondheim’s lyrics have it. I was recently asked by an American activist about current incidents of “police oppression” of the left, especially relating to the arrests of six student activists who organised a mini strike at Kyoto University at the end of last year, but I merely remarked that all was business as usual. These are tactics honed over decades of playing cat and mouse with the far-left groups. Both sides know the score, and the game continues.
On April 25th, police followed up its pursuit of Kakurōkyō Kimoto-ha with a raid on 12 locations in 7 prefectures, including Yokohama and Tokyo, in connection to the Camp Zama incident. They seized political publications, smartphones and external memory drives. No arrests were made on this occasion, though clearly police are putting pressure on the faction, which has announced that it wants to “smash the G7 Summit”, and the so-called Revolutionary Army believed to be part of its ranks.
The far left, much like the far right, is prone to both paranoia and aggrandising, and such bold statements are rarely backed up by resources or means. These established radical left-wing groups have gained something of a second wind in the wake of Fukushima and other movements in recent years, but their membership is still largely drawn from the Baby Boomer generation. They probably have neither the manpower or the tools to mount a serious threat today. The sporadic and ineffective attacks on the US bases show that Kakurōkyō is still interested in militant tactics, but these are primarily symbolic. Previous attacks, such as those carried out against construction companies involved with the development of Narita Airport or against the National Railways, were more successful on a practical level. They sabotaged machinery and disrupted schedules. The situation today is different, though even a mere bagatelle of an incident during the summit would be embarrassing for Japan, and the police are anxious to avoid that at all costs.
Kakurōkyō and Chūkaku-ha were allegedly involved with several “guerrilla” stunts in 1986, including one very high-profile yet ultimately abortive mortar attack on Akasaka Palace, which was hosting a ceremony for the G7 Summit that year in Tokyo. It was humiliating for the police and came at a time of renewed militant dissent in Japan as the government pushed forward with the controversial privatisation of the railways and the expansion of Narita Airport.
In 2000 there was another minor mortar incident against Yokota Air Base, timed to protest the 26th G8 Summit. (Kakurōkyō Kimoto-ha allegedly launched its mortar campaign against military bases in the 2000s, which continues to this day.) The 34th G8 Summit in Hokkaidō also attracted massive protests from a wide pantheon of groups, leading to some scuffles and arrests. It is possible there will be some sort of emblematic “attack” on the upcoming summit, perhaps by Kakurōkyō, in order to generate publicity for their opposition to the world order. Chūkaku-ha has already announced two rallies in Hiroshima to protest President Obama’s visit, though the chances of this being actually disrupted by demonstrators are slim.
The police are evidently cranking up the state machine, eager for any chance to make arrests. The latest is Terumasa Uchida, a 37-year-old activist for the Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren. Security police arrested Uchida for causing injury to a man in his sixties while anti-government leafletting in front of JR Tachikawa Station last December. The older man claimed Uchida was in his way and it led to an altercation which allegedly left him with a broken pelvis and confined to a wheelchair. Needless to say, this is significantly at odds with Chūkaku-ha’s side of the story, which has the “right-wing” man essentially attack Uchida for no apparent reason and then fall over. On May 14th, Uchida was arrested in his hometown of Naha City, Okinawa. No stranger to imprisonment, he has been brought back to Tokyo and adopted the customary far-left stance of maintaining silence in the face of police interrogation. The evidence being seemingly as slim as it is, Uchida is unlikely to be charged.
On May 16th, police raided Zenshinsha, the Chūkaku-ha base in east Tokyo, on the pretext of the Uchida arrest. This allowed them also to arrest the 48-year-old Shinji Sonobe on suspicion of counterfeiting documents, in this case using a fake name when he stayed at a hotel in Ibaraki Prefecture in January 2015. The charge is absurdly minor, though security police are keen to target Sonobe since he is suspected of being a key part of the Chūkaku-ha infrastructure for supporting activists on the lam, including Masaaki Ōsaka.
Authorities continue 24-hour surveillance of certain locations such as Zenshinsha, waiting for opportunities to arrest activists or gather evidence. As we count down the days until the summit, who will be next on the arrest warrant?
Update: May 20th
Japanese media is reporting the further arrest of three activists on May 19th, including Junichi Hattori (62), by Osaka police for fraud.
The three are members of Kyōsanshugisha Dōmei (Tōitsu Iinkai), a group formed in 2004 out of the merger of two former Bund (Kyōsandō, Communist League) factions. The charges relate to claiming a ¥6,240 discount for using a public facility for two rallies in February about protesting the deployment of an X-band radar system at Kyogamisaki Communications Site, a US military site in Kyoto, and the upcoming Ise summit. The discount is only available for meetings related to labour unions. The activists applied to use the facility using the name of an actual union but in reality are allegedly not connected to it.
All three are reported to be maintaining silence. They have apparently used meeting rooms in the same way around 50 times since May 2014.
This Osaka-based faction was previously targeted last summer, at the peak of the anti-security bills protests, for similarly minor charges. Three activists were then arrested for driving demonstrators to a rally in a coach without a proper licence allowing them to collect fees from passengers.
Update: May 28th
Kyūen Renraku Sentā (Relief Liaison Centre) reports that another activist was arrested by police in the early hours of May 24th. Officers broke a window and forced their way into his home. The charge relates to alleged trespassing on March 18th when the suspect was part of an anti-summit protest at Tsukuba International Congress Center, where an event being held was attended by G7 embassy staffers.
Police also again raided Zenshinsha on May 25th and seized various materials. Around 120 officers, accompanied by the press, broke down the door of the Chūkaku-ha headquarters and searched the premises.
All this flurry of police activity was arguably much ado about nothing as the summit and President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima both went off without hitch, and the protests in Hiroshima were heavily contained by police and accorded relatively little press coverage.