It may well be a crime dating back 45 years, but Japanese police are doggedly determined to get their man. On October 31st, the National Police Agency announced an unprecedented reward of up to ¥3 million for any information pertaining to the whereabouts and arrest of far-left radical Masaaki Ōsaka, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a riot police officer during a November 1971 Shibuya riot.
It is probably the longest-running fugitive case in Japan. Coinciding with the approaching anniversary of the incident, the reward — roughly the equivalent of a year’s income — is available from November 1st through to October 31st next year.
Ōsaka would be 67 years old, presuming he is still alive. He was a key Chūkaku-ha activist during the early 1970s and allegedly took part in the November 14th, 1971 protest in Shibuya that degenerated into a street riot, resulting in the death of a 21-year-old riot officer called Tsuneo Nakamura. The protest was part of the campaign against the conditions for Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty that ensured the prefecture (and by extension, Japan as a whole) remained part of the United States war machine then engaged in the conflict in Vietnam.
Nakamura was beaten with pipes and set on fire with Molotov cocktails. He was taken to hospital but died the next day. 1971 was a horrific year for political violence, including three other police deaths during the Sanrizuka protests over the construction of Narita Airport and also a bomb attack on the home of the head of the Metropolitan Police Department, killing his wife.
The Nakamura murder led to many arrests, including that of Fumiaki Hoshino, who has languished in prison since 1975. The police claim that Hoshino and Ōsaka were the leaders of the rioting group and directly responsible for the death, though it goes without saying that multiple parties would have actually been involved and it is extremely difficult to prove who did exactly what in such a situation.
Hoshino is serving a full-life sentence, though he was convicted on the basis of allegedly forced confessions of other young activists, who later retracted their testimonies. A dedicated support group maintains he is a political prisoner falsely convicted and wages a tireless campaign for his retrial and acquittal.
During the regular raids and arrests as part of the constant pressure they apply to the Chūkaku-ha network, police perennially announce hints of the trail that Ōsaka apparently leaves behind. As recently as January of this year, police raided a small apartment where they believe Ōsaka has stayed during his more than four decades on the lam. Ōsaka’s poster can be seen on almost every police substation in Tokyo, though it features only a very old photograph unlikely to help identity Ōsaka.
Police also announced that an arrest warrant has been issued for Takashi Nagai (67), whom police believe to be in contact with Ōsaka and assisting his underground life.
On Sunday, the trade union Dōrō-Chiba hosts its annual international solidarity rally in Hibiya Park. Since the railway union is unofficially affiliated with Chūkaku-ha, the police presence at the event is expected to be even higher than usual.