The recently released former militant Yukiko Ekita has published a children’s book.
Ekita, a former member of the Japanese Red Army and East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front who was walked free from prison in March after serving out her 20-year term, wrote the book from behind bars. Mako no takaramono (Mako’s Treasure) came out at the end of March from Gendai Kikakushitsu. It is published under the author’s name, though written only with hiragana rather than kanji (this is not necessarily intended as a disguise; it is quite common for children’s books in general and the publisher makes no attempt to hide her history on the official profile).
Mako no takaramono is a nostalgic tale of a mountain village in the 1950s, where the elementary school student Mako lives happily. The story portrays the gentle rural world that surrounds the children in the village as they play and grow up.
Last Saturday, Ekita (also sometimes spelled “Ekida”) made her first public appearance at the fifth and final Niji no Kanata e (Over the Rainbow) event, an annual rally organised by Shienren, the support group for the imprisoned members of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front, which carried out a series of bombings in the 1970s.
At the end of the event, she addressed the audience in a tearful and emotional speech thanking her supporters. She meditated on how her militant activities had been misguided as well as the difficulties convicts face in adjusting to life after release: prison shapes them into people who cannot function in “regular” society.
Ekita remarked candidly that she never expected to live until her late sixties; she thought thirty was the oldest she would ever reach. The members of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front carried cyanide to use in case they were arrested, though ultimately only one of the radicals — Ekita’s common-law husband, Nodoka Saitō — was able to take the cyanide when the police swooped on the cells in May 1975. Ekita was initially released in 1977 after the Japanese Red Army hijacked a plane and demanded her liberty. She was then involved in the activities of the JRA overseas until her arrest in 1995 in Romania, when she was deported back to Japan and imprisoned until this year.
Several prominent leftist activists in Japan have written and published books from prison, especially memoirs, as have other convicts. Perhaps most famously, the spree killer Norio Nagayama, who shot and murdered four people in 1968, became a respected and award-winning novelist. Publishing is a way not only for a convicted radical to present their version of events but also generate some income, since they are likely to face financial hardship and difficulty finding work upon their release.
Gendai Kikakushitsu is run by the curator Fram Kitagawa, who is a significant figure in the art world and responsible for establishing two major rural arts festivals. Despite his mainstream success today, he also has a history as an activist once and alleged that his participation in protests against the expansion of a United States air base at Sunagawa in the 1960s prevented him from gaining a visa to America in 2015. (Given the length of time that has expired and the fact that was never prosecuted, let alone convicted, for any crime, Kitagawa’s assertion seems fanciful at best and the somewhat shoddy press reports about it, misreporting Kitagawa as an “artist” and Sunagawa’s location as Hokkaidō, also do not add weight to the allegation. The Japanese media seemed to ignore the story entirely.)
Gendai Kikakushitsu is also associated with Masakuni Ōta, the critic and translator with deep roots in the New Left. He is related to one of the members of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front and has played a role within Shienren.