When Yukiko Ekita, a former member of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front and Japanese Red Army, was released from prison in March this year, it was the most prominent example of a far-left radical walking free in Japan for many years, if not decades.
Her rehabilitation into society followed an initial incarceration from 1975 to 1976, when she was released by the Japanese government in response to Japanese Red Army hijackers’ demands, and then a further 20 years behind bars after her recapture in the 1990s. This alone was newsworthy but it was made doubly so by the almost immediate release of a children’s book, Mako no takaramono (Mako’s Treasure), written by Ekita (also frequently spelt Ekida).
Last month, the weekly magazine Shūkan Shinchō published an article about a backlash against Ekita’s post-prison career. It ignores Ekita’s time spent with the Japanese Red Army abroad and instead focuses exclusively on the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front. This is a choice determined by timing, no doubt. The end of August marked the 43 years since the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries bombing, which is the most infamous incident among the various bombings in the campaign waged by the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front. It was not, however carried out by the Ekita’s cell, which only joined the front afterwards. The bombing killed eight people when explosives ripped through the ground floor of the corporation’s headquarters in Marunouchi, but it was planned and executed by the main cell, led by Masahi Daidōji, who died in May in prison. A series of smaller, non-fatal bombings followed, targeting other corporations, until almost all the cells’ members were arrested in May 1975.
Various convicted criminals and prisoners have written books both while serving their sentences and after their releases. The spree killer Norio Nagayama found acclaim as a novelist behind bars and Tatsuya Ichihashi, who murdered the English teacher Lindsay Hawker, also published a memoir. Likewise, many far-left radicals have published accounts of their activities and other books, typically released through small and sympathetic presses. Ekita’s one-time colleague Fusako Shigenobu has published two major books since her arrest and there are numerous other examples. What is perhaps unusual about Ekita’s case is that she hasn’t written the standard memoir but rather a book for children that does not touch directly on her past at all.
The Shūkan Shinchō article picks up on this absence as well as the anti-war message of the story, which is written in the dialect of Ekita’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi.
It then quotes the 70-year-old brother of one of the victims of the Mitsubishi attack. “We never had any contact from Ekita after the incident. Of course, anyone is allowed to write a book, but this is lacking in common sense. This leaves me appalled. My younger sister was 23 years old at the time and I was 27. Our mother died in 1989 but grieved for her only daughter right until the end. I also pray to the Buddhist altar in our house every day. I cannot forget my sister. What would the children who read this book think if they knew that the author was a criminal who committed indiscriminate terrorist incidents?”
Technically speaking, Ekita was not an accomplice in the Mitsubishi attack — something that the article seemingly fails to iterate. It does, however, interview a man, now aged 68, who was injured in the Taisei Corporation headquarters bombing of December 1974, which was carried out by Ekita’s cell, Daichi no Kiba (Fangs of the Earth). The attack injured nine people.
“I have nothing to say, but I think she should have written at least some kind of apology in the book. Even today I still think of her in fear. How can someone like that write a book for children? She should have just become a Buddhist nun and lived out her days quietly.”
The magazine claimed that it attempted to contact Ekita but her publisher, Gendai Kikakushitsu, said she is not doing press interviews at this time. (Most far-left radicals have avoided the media spotlight after their release, though some do appear at public talks and events from time to time.)
The article then concludes on a strangely phrased critical note. “Unless [Ekita] sincerely faces up to the families of the victims, no matter how much she tries to portray life, she will never be able to weave words that resonate in the souls of children”.
The problem of what former radicals do upon release from prison is something of a parlour game. Many quickly disappear into the ether, going off to live with families or get by while supported by a network of ageing activists. A few cases are well known, such as that of Takaya Shiomi, who led Sekigun-ha (the Red Army Faction) until his apprehension shortly before the Yodogō hijacking in 1970, worked at a car parking lot and wrote about his experience. He recently attempted without success to make a move into mainstream politics by standing for election.