Ahead of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony on 22 October, Japanese police have raided sites connected with two major left-wing groups and made arrests.
On 2 October, Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Saitama Prefectural Police carried out a raid on Zenshinsha, the headquarters in east Tokyo of Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), or Kakukyōdō (Revolutionary Communist League), on suspicion of a violation of the Explosives Control Act. The search was ostensibly prompted by the discovery of eight mortar shells similar to ones allegedly employed by Chūkaku-ha in incidents 30 years prior, though media reports overtly quoted police sources as saying the raid was a security measure in the run-up to the enthronement ceremony and parade.
As is standard practice at these raids, large numbers of police officers gathered outside the Zenshinsha doors and then spent some 40 minutes using a heavy-duty metal cutting saw to gain entry. According to press articles, the mortar shells were found at the warehouse of a house in Kazo, Saitama. Measuring 61 centimetres and weighing 6.2 kilograms, the metal shells are designed to be propelled as far as a kilometre and blow up on impact with a target if loaded with explosives. Known as hakugekidan (迫撃弾) or hishōdan (飛翔弾) in Japanese, translating as a mortar shell or rocket/missile-like projectile, they were typical forms of homemade explosives utilised by left-wing radical groups in the past.
The person, whose identity remains anonymous, apparently went to Saitama police in mid-January, when it was determined the eight shells were probably made by Chūkaku-ha. The man claims that he was asked by an “activist acquaintance” knew to store something in his warehouse.
On 8 October, officers of the Public Security Bureau of Tokyo Metropolitan Police and colleagues from Kanagawa and Saitama prefectural police raided a putative secret base (ajito) in Yokohama of the “non-mainstream faction” of Kakurōkyō (Revolutionary Workers), arresting two activists: a 57-year-old female activist on suspicion of fraud; and a 71-year-old male, the alleged senior member of the group, on charges of counterfeiting private documents — an offence that may well involve merely putting a different address or name on paperwork, but which police frequently exploit as grounds to arrest left-wing activists. In this case, the male activist is accused of claiming a false name and address on a registration form at a dentist’s appointment in March last year, while the woman reportedly rented an apartment in April this year to hide her comrade.
Chūkaku-ha has denounced the police shakedown as oppressive and unjust. It points to the time that has elapsed since the projectiles were first shown to police, the unsubstantiated connection to Zenshinsha, which is primarily a printing facility for the organisation’s vast output of organs and materials, as well as the suspicious convenience of an unnamed “acquaintance” coming forward with such an stash. Rather, this is the latest instance of police and state oppression following the alleged assault of Zengakuren student activists and unreasonable punishment of Kyoto University students as well as the sustained campaign against the Kannama labour union, where nearly 80 have been arrested since July last year.
This is an interpretation with which I have much sympathy, though which detractors might understandably accuse of bias. The raids and arrests are nonetheless certainly a reminder of Japan’s troubled and unresolved relationship with its New Left, a movement that still continues and yet is largely ignored by mainstream society and politics, and treated as dangerous by the police in the same category that it deals with organised crime, religious cults and the Japanese Community Party.
The Japanese police has launched similar crackdowns ahead of major events, such as ahead of President Trump’s visit in 2017 and the G7 summit in 2016. It naturally does not want a repeat of the violent and sensational series of incidents by New Left groups during the previous changeover of emperor 20 years prior, and will go to lengths to ensure the ceremony this month proceeds smoothly.
Behind these pre-emptive tactics seems to lie several motivations. They are, firstly, punitive: “We can and we will punish you.” (This is ongoing and perennial. For example, former Chair of Zengakuren, Ikuma Saitō, was released in late September after nearly five months in uncharged detention for going on to a university campus the previous summer to distribute flyers. Another young Chūkaku-ha activist was arrested in Hokkaidō on 11 September for trespassing after entering a high school in May to give out flyers for a local exhibition of the late Fumiaki Hoshino’s art, only to be released without charge on 2 October. The arrest allowed police to raid five locations, including a labour union site in Sapporo and the activist’s home, and seize over 160 items related to the exhibition and the Hoshino support campaign.) Secondly, it serves as a deterrent and warning: “Don’t even think about trying anything.” It is also pragmatic: the searches may turn up resources and information about other cases and investigations. And finally, it is a media spectacle, orchestrated for the benefit of the news cameras in order to tell the public: “Look, we are doing something about these scary left-wing radicals.”
During the 1980s and 1990s, New Left groups were behind an array of violent attacks on locations linked to Narita Airport, the LDP, police, state and emperor system. Perhaps most notorious among them was the attack on the LDP headquarters with a homemade flamethrower and the abortive mortar attack on Akasaka Palace in 1986, which was hosting a ceremony for the G7 summit that year in Tokyo. In police and mass media parlance, these are often called “guerrilla” incidents. During the imperial transition culminating with Emperor Akihito’s enthronement, there were also numerous other militant incidents, commonly involving small timed bombs or mortars intended to cause damage and disruption rather than loss of life.
Chūkaku-ha gave up such militant tactics many years ago — the last such instance was allegedly an attack on a house in Chiba in 2003 misidentified as the home of a senior prefectural police official — and is today focused on labour activism, international solidarity and fighting neoliberalism. Kakurōkyō, on the other hand, has not formally renounced violence.
Originally known as Shaseidō Kaihō-ha (Socialist Youth Union Liberation Faction) and previously based at Meiji University among other places, Kakurōkyō is the third main New Left group in Japan (after Chūkaku-ha and Kakumaru-ha). It is similarly a Marxist group committed to the struggle against capitalism and the US-Japan security alliance, and has been an instrumental part of the Sanrizuka struggle and Buraku activism for many decades. Aside from another group, the Rōtai-ha or Takiguchi-ha, that broke away in the early 1980s, Kakurōkyō now comprises two factions: the “non-mainstream faction” known as Kimoto-ha, Yamashige-ha or Sekisaisha-ha; and the “mainstream faction” of Hazama-ha or Gendaisha-ha. Whereas the better-known period of uchi-geba intra-factional violence peaked in the mid-1970s, the highly acrimonious Kakurōkyō split led to in-fighting between members until relatively recently. In part as a result of this, activists were eventually expelled from the Meiji campus as part of a wave of “cleansing” campaigns in the 1990s and 2000s at private universities.
In the past few years, the Kimoto-ha was allegedly responsible for attacks on Yokota Air Base (in 2009 and 2013) and Camp Zama (in 2015) as well as (in 2014) a subcontractor connected to the Henoko base relocation in Okinawa. This has provoked police pressure regularly on both factions in the form of raids and arrests. In summer 2017, a member of a Kakurōkyō faction was arrested for the 2013 Yokota attack.
The surviving New Left groups are united in their committed anti-emperor stance. The JCP, on the other hand, has softened its opposition in the last few years. That being said, the most prominent protests and activities have come from the marginal pro-republican section of the civil society that is specifically focused on abolishing the Imperial Household. Since Akihito’s abdication was announced, campaigners have mobilised in a vibrant series of rallies, street demonstrations and petition. As the formal process of the imperial transition now draws to a close, the next major intervention is on 22 October, the day of the enthronement ceremony, when activists will march in Shimbashi, central Tokyo. While the general public may well express indifference or even shock at such a protest, the participants will undoubtedly attract a very strong police presence and aggressive counter-protest from ultra-nationalists.
Update (27 October 2019): Arrests and Protests
The police campaign against Kakurōkyō — this time, the Hazama-ha/Gendaisha-ha “mainstream” faction — continued with another set of raids on five locations in Fukuoka and Tokyo on the morning of 18 October, arresting a 69-year-old man on suspicion of running a loan business without a licence. According to police, the man, who is reported to be the former head of a union for day labourers in Fukuoka, had loaned a total of ¥12,000 to a local acquaintance over four separate occasions between May and August 2019.
Needless to say, this is a negligible sum and should hardly constitute any sort of real crime: the accusation genuinely is that the man added an extra ¥1,000 to a ¥3,000 loan. In which case, the police would be potentially locking up thousands more people across the land who have ever loaned a few notes to a friend. However, this time it gave the police the pretext to raid Gendaisha, the far-left faction’s base in Tokyo’s Suginami ward. The police claim the loan was actually related to securing local support for the faction and are apparently looking to corroborate this from the items seized in the raids.
On the day of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement on 22 October, it rained for much of the day. Since the parade was postponed, the inclement weather had little effect on the formalities, which took place indoors for the cameras and hundreds of dignitaries. It was a less commodious experience for those protesting the enthronement outside — for reasons of not only the wet weather but also the police.
A Zengakuren march in Shimbashi, comprising younger activists, went off without incident, though the march by the Owaten Netto, a network of established anti-emperor activists that has been central to the recent wave of protests, saw three of the roughly 500 attendees arrested by police after jostling with officers during the protest. Another was briefly held but soon released, according to a report from the scene. The three activists, nominally arrested for obstructing public officials in carrying out their duty (in this case, tightly policing the march), were sent for detention at different police stations, where fellow activists and supporters soon gathered to demonstrate. One was released without charge on 25 October, while the other two remain in custody at the time of writing. They will probably stay there until at least 2 November after prosecutors sought and received a ten-day detention from Tokyo District Court on 25 October.
There also other similar rallies on 22 October elsewhere in Tokyo and in places like Osaka and Kyoto.