Rediscovering Mitsutoshi Hanaga, photographer of Japanese post-war counterculture, the avant-garde and protest movements

The recent deaths of Genpei Akasegawa, Takuma Nakahira, Seijun Suzuki and Toshio Matsumoto were reminders that the generation who crafted so much of the visuals of the post-war era in Japan are slipping away. And with this reminder comes another: the importance of documentation.

Fortunately we continue to rediscover incredible examples of it. The Mitsutoshi Hanaga Archives Project is an ongoing endeavour to catalogue and share the remarkable collection of images left behind by the prolific yet little-known photographer, covering fascinating aspects of the post-war counterculture scene.

The late Hanaga’s archive of some 30,000 negatives — much of it unpublished before — is being faithfully sorted by his son in association with Aoyama/Meguro in Tokyo and Gallery Kochūten in Nagoya. This resulted first in an exhibition at Art Fair Tokyo in 2014 as well as two past shows at Aoyama/Meguro in the summers of 2015 and 2016. This year the archive was again exhibited at March’s Art Fair Tokyo and now at NADiff a/p/a/r/t in Ebisu until May 28th. These latest events are commemorating the publication of the current culmination of the project: a bilingual book in the 1,000 Bunko series showcasing some of the best photographs in the collection, complete with an essay by the researcher and curator KuroDalaiJee.

mitsutoshi hanaga photography book

Hanaga’s lens captured much of the anti-art, angura (underground) theatre and dance scenes, especially the burgeoning Butoh movement and such troupes as Tenjō Sajiki. Indeed, surveying his vast archive is like browsing a Who’s Who of 1960s and 1970s Japanese counterculture and experimental art: Hi-Red Center, Zero Dimension, Yutaka Matsuzawa, Tatsumi Hijikata, Jūrō Kara, Shō Kazakura, Genpei Akasegawa, Shōmei Tomatsu, Kenji Kanesaka, Arata Isozaki, Masunobu Yoshimura, Shūji Terayama, Dadakan and so much more. There are candid shots from parties and events, carefully posed shots, documentation of happenings and performances, and photojournalism of the protests.

One of the ways I try to dissect and unravel counterculture is to think of it in terms of social and artistic strains, which may well frequently overlap. The “social” side to the counterculture has a lot of competition: there is a mountain of photographic documentation of the street protests and campus movements of 1968-69, so this may seem standard territory to many. The “artistic” side is invaluable here because Hanaga covered the milieu as well as happenings and performances, for which there is often very little documentation since the artworks were ephemeral.

mitsutoshi hanaga zero dimension

These avant-garde figures are familiar now but it is only recently that many have become popularly known. The Provoke photographers, for example, and aspects like Butoh were long renowned, but various others have been rediscovered just in the past couple of decades. For an extended time, the discourse ignored many sections of the scene. In Japan, it is scholars like KuroDalaiJee who have pioneered the recognition of some of this movement, and overseas it was the diligence of William Marotti and Reiko Tomii and others.

Hanaga, who became a freelance photographer in 1962 and passed away in 1999, wasn’t content just to rub shoulders in the comfortable demimonde of the artists and performers. He also went to the campuses to see the barricades and covered the rallies by New Left groups, which is why his collection is so special: there are, after all, plenty of photographers who documented the protests and more than a few who documented the artistic counterculture — but photographers who did both so vividly are rare.

Similarly to Minoru Hirata, Hanaga documented a lot of overlooked movements in addition to the bigger names. As such, his archive yields shots of lesser-known groups such as Jusatsu Kitōkai Sōdan (the monks who protested environmental pollution in the 1970s and whose activities are continued today by an anti-government group called JSK47) and the commune movement Yamagishi-kai. The viewer can also gain a sense of the wider counterculture and atmosphere on the streets of Tokyo: there are young people inhaling paint thinner or there’s Hare Krishna and the New Age movement, as well as shots of legendary sites like Fūgetsudō and Sōgetsu Kaikan. Much of the extolling of post-war counterculture is Tokyo-centric (or even Shinjuku-centric) and it is refreshing to view the photos Hanaga took elsewhere around the country, where much was taking place that has now been virtually lost.

In fact, its comprehensiveness and sheer scale may be one reason the Hanaga archive was not exploited for so long, despite it being a veritable Aladdin’s Cave, as well as the fact that its greatest strength is also a weakness of sorts: Hanaga couldn’t be pinned down easily and sold as “the street riots photographer” or “the performance art photographer” or “the dance scene photographer”, because he was looking at it all through his viewfinder.

Somewhat making up for lost time, Hanaga’s work has been exhibited in Japan and overseas several times since the archive project started in 2014. We are still riding the wave of a surge of interest in this field of late. It started around 10 years ago, when a spate of books, films, exhibitions and events emerged, fuelled by nostalgia, the onset of ageing of the participants and perhaps the post-2008 economic malaise reawakening many to what had come before.

As noted above, the pioneer in Japan was probably KuroDalaiJee, who focussed on body art and performance art for which documentation like Hanaga’s is essential. His 2010 veritable doorstopper of a book, Anarchy of the Body: Undercurrents of Performance Art in 1960s Japan, is indispensable reading for anyone interested in this topic. The “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde” exhibition at MoMA in 2012 also came with its own formidable catalogue and a second book of translated resources. By now we were indisputably in the midst of a boom. There quickly followed the “1968 Japanese Photography” show at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 2013. That year also saw the release of William Marotti’s Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan, which centres on the work of Akasegawa. Aside from his notorious court case for his fake money art, Akasegawa is most famous for his participation in Hi-Red Center, whose work was the subject of a major retrospective in 2014.

Mori Art Museum’s MAM Research series of mini exhibitions recently showcased the activities of the collective Video Hiroba, which included Toshio Matsumoto, and there was also “Great Crescent, Art and Agitation in the 1960s — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan” in 2015, which attempted to look at parallel events across East Asia in the context of counterculture in the 1960s. The archival exhibition was ultimately something of a failure because it did not allot the required space for the mammoth theme, though one day a more suitable opportunity will surely arise.

The achievements of the Provoke collective, which included Nakahira, were investigated in an exhibition, “Provoke: Between Protest and Performance: Photography in Japan 1960-1975”, which ran in Vienna, Paris and Chicago in 2016, and was accompanied by a weighty catalogue. The gallery Zen Foto has also published photo-books of the work of individual photographers who documented the New Left protests movements, including Hiromi Watanabe and Takashi Hamaguchi.

Reiko Tomii’s Radicalism in the Wilderness: International Contemporaneity and 1960s Art in Japan came out in 2016, examining the relatively obscure work of Matsuzawa, The Play and GUN. (The cover of the book features a photo by Hanaga, while Tomii also did the translations for the Hanaga book.) Matsuzawa’s unique conceptual interventions were stimulatingly presented at Ota Fine Arts in an exhibition this spring, “From Nirvana to Catastrophe: Matsuzawa Yutaka and his Commune in Imaginary Space”, which also included a bilingual catalogue, Strange Illuminations: Matsuzawa Yutaka from Civilizational Synthesis to Anticivilization Uprising, with a contribution by Marotti.

Last year also gave us Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body During and After the Cold War by Adam Broinowski. There are also various other monographs out there, sitting in university libraries for the assiduous graduate student to find them, not least Miryam Sas’s Experimental Arts in Postwar Japan: Moments of Encounter, Engagement, and Imagined Return (2011) and Thomas R H Havens’s Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-Garde Rejection of Modernism (2006).

Of course, in all this there are under-appreciated figures. The cinematographer and photographer Yasuhiro Yoshioka also captured much of the experimental arts scene and his early photo-book Avant-Garde ’60s (1999) is a gem. Likewise, the MoMA show didn’t come out of nowhere. Alexandra Munroe was responsible for an exhibition called “Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky” at the Yokohama Museum of Art, Guggenheim in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Art in the mid-1990s. Similarly, there was also “Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950-1970” at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles in 2007. The catalogues for both exhibitions remain useful resources for researchers.

But to return to the new Hanaga book, there is a curious irony in its publication in that it was subsidised by Arts Council Tokyo in spite of the original controversy of the counterculture it disseminates. Should we be surprised? After all, Tadanori Yokoo, Birdie Hilltop the Shinjuku thief himself, was given his own museum by Hyōgo Prefecture and his merchandise is sold at Beams, while Aomori is delighted with the clinking tourist yen brought in by Shūji Terayama’s museum. It seems that with age, counterculture not only mellows, it institutionalises. But perhaps Patrick Henry said it best: If this be treason, make the most of it.


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East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front bomber Masashi Daidōji dies in prison, aged 68

The East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front bomber Masashi Daidōji has died in prison, Japanese media reported today.

Daidōji was the effective leader in the founding cell of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front, which was a military organisation opposed to Japanese imperialism and the emperor system that carried out a series of bombings in the 1970s. He died of multiple myeloma at the age of 68 at Tokyo Detention House in the morning of May 24th.

The initial cell in the front carried out its first bombings in 1971 and 1972 against sites associated with Japanese colonialism, before extending its campaign to major corporations in 1974 and 1975. The most notorious of the bombings was the attack on the headquarters of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, then in Marunouchi, which killed eight and injured nearly 400. Almost all of the members of the three cells were arrested in May 1975.

masashi daidoji east asia anti-japan armed front

Daidōji was sentenced to death in 1987 for murder, though he argued at his trial that the cells had not intended to kill people in the bombings (only the Mitsubishi one resulted in fatalities). Several Japanese militants were given death sentences for their activities in the 1970s but none have ever been executed so far. During his time in prison Daidōji campaigned for a retrial and published collections of his award-winning poetry.

His death comes just weeks after the release of Yukiko Ekita, who was also a member of the front in a different cell. Daidōji’s wife, Ayako, was released from prison extralegally along with Ekita and several others through a hijacking carried out by the Japanese Red Army in 1977. She remains at large, presumably abroad, while Ekita was recaptured in the 1990s and returned to Japan to finish her sentence.

Following the apprehension earlier this month of a man presumed to be the long-time Chūkaku-ha fugitive Masaaki Osaka, more of the ghosts of 1970s Japanese radicalism are finally being laid to rest.


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Japanese police report possible arrest of Masaaki Ōsaka, wanted for 1971 Shibuya riot death

Japanese media is reporting that police may have arrested one of the most wanted fugitives in Japan, the Chūkaku-ha activist Masaaki Ōsaka.

Now in his late sixties, Ōsaka has been on the run since the 1970s in connection with the death of a police officer in the Shibuya Riot Incident in November 1971. Officers from the Ōsaka Police Public Security Bureau arrested two men in Hiroshima City during a search of a site allegedly associated with the far-left radical group Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), which is said to have supported Ōsaka during his life underground. According to media reports late last night (May 22nd), Kansai police announced that one of the pair was arrested on suspicion of obstructing police in the performance of public duties (in other words, not co-operating with the search and trying to get away) and, based on his physical appearance, seems to be the fugitive.

The raid was carried out on May 18th after police had watched the apartment in Hiroshima, waiting for when they could identity and catch the occupants. The ostensibly excuse for the raid was that the other man arrested had stayed at a hotel under a different name, which is a minor charge often used to detain activists. The pair, including the man suspected of being Ōsaka, is refusing to speak to police — the favoured tactic of arrested radicals in Japan, known as kanzen mokuhi or kanmoku — so police will attempt to use DNA testing to confirm his identity. While police do not have records of Ōsaka’s fingerprints or DNA, they may be able to use a family member’s DNA to help determine the suspect.

masaaki osaka wanted fugitive japan chukaku-ha

No mention of the arrests appears in the most recent edition of the Chūkaku-ha organ, Zenshin, which was published on May 22nd. The official Chūkaku-ha blog, though, posted a brief text on May 22nd denouncing the arrests of “two comrades” as “oppression” and a “frame-up”. A fuller response can be expected in the next issue of Zenshin.

The culmination of several large-scale violent disturbances from 1967 onwards, the riot in Shibuya on November 14th, 1971 was part of a protest over the terms of the reversion of Okinawa, which recently marked 45 years since its return to Japanese sovereignty. A group of some 400 Chūkaku-ha activists attacked police, resulting in several injuries and the death of Tsuneo Nakamura, a 21-year-old riot police officer, when he was beaten and set on fire. Many activists were arrested over the riot, including Fumiaki Hoshino, who remains in prison on a full-life sentence for the death of the officer despite his conviction resting almost solely on confessions that were later withdrawn.

Named as a suspect and wanted by police since 1972, Ōsaka’s 23-year-old face has been a permanent fixture on group and individual wanted posters at police substations and train stations for decades. With the 45th anniversary of the riot last year, police renewed the campaign yet again with new posters and announced an award for information leading to the arrest of Ōsaka. (It is unclear if a tip led to the search in Hiroshima and thus whether a reward will be paid out.)

If the detained activist is indeed Ōsaka, it would be the most sensational arrest of its kind for years. It would also be a victory for the police tactics of raiding bases associated with radical or formerly militant groups on various pretences in the hope of accumulating other pieces of evidence or arresting activists there by chance. In this way, Tokyo Metropolitan Police announced in January that such a search had apparently allowed them finally to identity the head of Kakumaru-ha (Revolutionary Marxist Faction), who has been living underground for years under assumed names.

Police would regularly release such developments in regards to Ōsaka, such as the search of a ajito (secret base) in January last year that revealed clues about the fugitive’s previous whereabouts. As reported here in April, Ōsaka was placed on the public wanted list in 1984 but police would receive only an average of ten tips per year. The renewal of the campaign last November added 50,000 new posters nationwide and generated plenty of press coverage, leading to 27 tips in a single month.

shibuya riot incident chukakuha 1971

Shibuya Riot Incident
November 14th, 1971

The arrest is also fortuitous timing for the government as it is set to pass its controversial conspiracy bill in the face of widespread public distrust and street protests. Presented as a necessary step for battling terrorism, the potential arrest of a famous fugitive like this may convince some voters that law and order needs to be protected whatever the perceived cost to civil liberties.

That being said, the arrest of Ōsaka throws up legal questions. Can someone be reliably charged with a crime that happened over 45 years ago, when evidence and witness testimony is now so dated? And, as in the case with the dubious evidence against Hoshino, how can you ever accurately identify specific individuals to blame for a death that took place during a riot?

The statute of limitations for murder was removed in 2010. Ōsaka is still wanted on a number of charges related to the 1971 riot and police would certainly be able to bring the harshest possible indictment, given the significant symbolism of closing this long-running case. Another activist, Yukio Okumiyama, whose trial for involvement in the death of Nakamura was stopped in 1981 due to mental illness, passed away earlier this year at the age of 68.


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Recently released former militant Yukiko Ekita publishes children’s book

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).

yukiko ekita childrens book

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.


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Photographers on contemporary protest and social movements in Japan

In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads — as an anthology of images.

Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977)

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the idiom goes, and perhaps one major flaw in my endeavour to monitor radical social movements in Japan on this online platform is the failure to provide a visual record of them. For images, though, I defer to my betters — and there are many of them.

There are various photographers, both Japanese and non-Japanese, documenting contemporary protest and social movements in Japan. In the hope of providing a photographic resource for the kinds of movements discussed on this website, the following is a basic round-up of some prominent examples currently based in Japan.

The photographers and videographers are listed alphabetically and without bias in terms of career level (professional or amateur). It is by no means a definitive inventory, nor are these photographers working in this field exclusively per se.

Rio Akiyama
A videographer who covers many social movements, but has made a mark particularly with hate speech counter protests.

Guillaume Bression
Work was conspicuous during the height of the SEALDs protests and the group’s exposure in the overseas press. He has also taken a strong interest in the effects of the Fukushima disaster.

Damon Coulter
British photojournalist who covers a broad range of subjects, including far-left rallies and marches that rarely receive attention today. He also follows the far Right and events at Yasukuni Shrine, among many other things.

Nicolas Datiche
French photojournalist with an impressive catalogue of images of recent protests in Japan. He has also covered protests and other developments in Taiwan.

Pierre Emmanuel Delétrée
Another French photojournalist with a wide portfolio, including a strong collection of protest images.

Kjeld Duits
Dutch photojournalist and videographer whose work was salient, for example, among press coverage of the 2015 security bill protests at the National Diet in Tokyo. He also extensively covers street fashion.

Richard Atrero de Guzman
Filipino photographer and film-maker with a wide purview, though his passion is for social issues. Also known as Bahag Bahagski.

Incidentally, Delétrée, Coulter, de Guzman and Datiche share their work on the platform Japan Street Lens.

anti-emperor republican demonstration protest group japan kichijoji tokyo ultra-nationalist

Natsuki Kimura
Covers a lot of protests happening at the Diet area and around Tokyo, including SEALDs and anti-nuclear power protests. He has particularly contributed to documenting hate speech counter-protests.

Mitsutaka Konoura
Seems to attend an almost unhealthy number of leftist protests and other street events. His Twitter updates, in particular, provide a regular chronicle of many movements.

Takashi Makabe
Uploads frequent videos to YouTube covering anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-war rallies at the Diet and precariat protests.

Bruce Meyer-Kenny
New Zealander who has followed many protest movements, including anti-nuclear power and and pro-Constitution ones, as well as Yasukuni Shrine and social issues such as the Fukushima disaster.

Michael Penn
Videographer who runs an independent news agency with a distinctly left-wing bent.

Rody Shimazaki
Has built up a large catalogue of images from antifa counter-protests as well as protests in Okinawa and at the Diet.

Shinta Yabe
Relative newcomer who has documented an impressive array of hate speech counter-protests, protests at the Diet by the likes of Public for the Future and the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, and other street events. His Tumblr account is a valuable resource.


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