Kakuhidō declares war on Valentine’s Day in Japan (again)

As reliable as the queues eagerly lining up to buy chocolates in Tokyo’s department stores, so it comes every year: the protest march by Kakumeiteki Himote Dōmei (Revolutionary League of Men Unpopular with Women), shortened to Kakuhidō, against the tyranny of Valentine’s Day.

While Valentine’s Day in Japan this year has been unusually barbed following the decision by Godiva to put out a full-page newspaper raging against the Japanese custom of giri choco (obligatory chocolates), it’s nothing compared to the fury of Kakuhidō, which makes it a duty to declare war on all things saccharine and romantic in February.

Once again, Kakuhidō took to the streets to voice its anger against the commercialised festival of giving chocolates to members of the opposite sex (though it should be noted that in Japan, only the women give to men on February 14th, with men reciprocating exactly one month later on so-called White Day).

Kakuhidō’s 2018 rally and protest march, which referenced the much-discussed Godiva rumpus, was held on 12 February on the edge of Yoyogi Park. A small motley gang of self-professed “unpopular” (himote) guys (and apparently, two women) of varying ages got together in semi-disguise and cod far-left gear to demonstrate against the upcoming Feast of Saint Valentine. That the event took place on a public holiday marking National Foundation Day, ostensibly celebrating the accession of the very first emperor and frequently a noisy occasion for ultra-nationalist sound trucks, is possibly less incidental than it may seem, if (and it is a big if) we take the group to be some sort of embodiment of the Heisei-era Japanese male and all his discontents.

kakuhido anti-valentines day japan tokyo japanese men parody protest demonstration march

kakuhido anti-valentines day japan tokyo japanese men parody protest demonstration march

kakuhido anti-valentines day japan tokyo japanese men parody protest demonstration march

kakuhido anti-valentines day japan tokyo japanese men parody protest demonstration march

They started their rally at 1:30pm and then marched from 2pm for less than an hour through the temple of consumerism (and dating) that is Shibuya.

“Smash Valentine’s Day,” the main banner proclaimed. “Number of chocolates does not equal a person’s value” was the incisive comment of a handwritten placard.

Here is a sampling of the official pre-announced slogans for the protest with loose translations.

「バレンタインデー粉砕!」Smash Valentine’s Day!

「チョコレート資本にだまされるな!」Don’t be deceived by chocolate capitalism!

「恋愛資本主義反対!」No to romance capitalism!

「カップルは自己批判せよ!」Couples, self-criticise!

「結婚しない自由を!」Freedom not to marry!

「街中でイチャつくのはテロ行為。テロとの戦いを貫徹するぞ!」Making out in public is terrorism. We will carry out our fight against terrorism!

「非モテでも楽しめるオタク文化に反対する勢力に抵抗するぞ!」We resist opposition to otaku [geek] culture that can be enjoyed even if unpopular with girls!

「セックスの回数で人間を差別するな!」Don’t discriminate against people based on number of sexual partners!

According to the authorised history of the group, the gaggle of apparent misfits, pranksters and attention-seekers, which is not necessarily the same each year, has come together since 2006 to hold rallies against Valentine’s Day, White Day and Christmas (a romantic occasion in Japan). Despite the predictability of the output, though, every year it still attracts news cameras and column inches, especially online. As such, the rally schedule even included time for answering press interviews. There is also a lot of overseas media attention, mostly filed under the “Wacky Japan” label.

Three years ago, I detailed some of its background and, more interestingly in the context of my personal research, gestures towards Japanese New Left parody through tongue-in-cheek performativeness, from the lexicon of the slogans to the paraphernalia (helmets being most conspicuous). Quite how much the participants are merely japing quite possibly depends on each individual, but the group itself has proved its mode of parody is not wholly superficial by the very fact that has continued to hold protests for several years. If this is all just a big joke, then it is a committed one.

No, this recurring, ritualistic protest is not just for sniggering at, because something more significant is at work here. Its appropriation of past New Left tropes is liberating and inspired, and marks the group as part of a lineage that also incorporates kyōsanshumi (共産趣味) — the geeky love of all things communist, particularly the New Left, manifesting through the sharing of information and resources online, illustrations, staging recreations, survival games, and cosplay — the increasingly jocular and clownish, though nonetheless ideologically pure, Zenshin Channel series of YouTube videos by Zengakuren, and even ultra-nationalist moe. We have come so far from Asama-sansō and uchi-geba that the New Left can be commodified and refashioned without fear of repercussion or condemnation. People may well laugh at Kakuhidō for its off-kilter message and premise, but tellingly almost no one questions its legitimacy to affect the semblance of a New Left faction with helmets.

Kakuhidō’s language is certainly highfalutin and imitative of the far-left groups that once wrecked much havoc on the streets of Tokyo, but it is also carefully vague. There is nothing sexist, misogynistic or offensive in the slogans per se, and the group’s publicity warns participants against dabbling in provocations or discriminatory speech. This is partly a policy of practical self-protection, and a common caution by protest organisers in Japan, since doing so can lead to legal troubles and result in a permit to march being denied the next time round. But it also indicates that theirs is not a serious anger, but a cultivated performance accepting the role of dame otoko (no-good male) thrust upon them by the vicissitudes of the times, and determined to act it out creatively yet sustainably.

It is also worth noting that Kakuhidō specifies on its website that “participation is free” and that “no advance applications are required”. Protest, even as performative, ludic, and (arguably) inane as this, is made accessible for an age in which few protest.


Photos and videos by Rio Akiyama

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Japanese and Korean activists join together to protest the Olympics in Pyeongchang and Tokyo

Just as the Olympic Movement is an international one, so too are anti-Olympic movements transnational. While the motivations and direct arguments of activists opposing the hosting of a Games in a certain city are often local, or initially local, they connect to broader questions about global elitism, capitalism and exploitation. Groups and activists are making efforts to form an international anti-Olympic network. Such expressions of solidarity are now easier to achieve now thanks to social media, websites and other digital tools available today.

As part of my on-going research into the opposition movement to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I also follow examples of the international solidarity between activists in Japan and other countries.

Although given very little media attention in Japan, the activists associated with Hangorin no Kai (literally, Anti-Olympics Group) have continued to forge partnerships with overseas movements and research how other cities are protesting the Olympics, including a field trip to Rio during the 2016 Summer Games.

Now, as the Winter Games take place in Pyeongchang, Hangorin activists have travelled to South Korea to join local peers engaged in opposing the Olympics, which have been overshadowed by the political war of words between the United States and North Korea.

Korean activists have formed the Anti-Pyeongchang Olympics Alliance to publicise the negative aspects of the 2018 Games and their output has included information on the protest campaigns in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris. Hangorin has reciprocated by sharing information in English and Japanese.

In particular, it published a list of seven reasons for opposing PyeongChang 2018: massive environment damage, evictions of local communities, the financial burden, brutal conditions for workers, the attendant nationalism, the fraudulence of the Olympics as a promoter of world peace, and the corruption. Much of these criticisms are echoed in the arguments by campaigners against the 2020 Tokyo Games.

anti-olympics pyeongchang

Hangorin and Korean activists staged a small street protest in Seoul on February 8th, followed in the evening by the Korea-Japan Anti-Olympics Forum. On February 9th, ahead of the actual opening ceremony, activists from the two countries demonstrated in front of the gates of the venue, holding out banners that said “Olympics Kill the Poor” and “Reverse the 2020 Tokyo Olympics”.

forum pyeongchang olympics korea hangorin tokyo

Flyer for the Korea-Japan Anti-Olympics Forum

forum pyeongchang olympics korea hangorin tokyo

Korea-Japan Anti-Olympics Forum on February 8th, 2018

korea japanese pyeongchang olympics protest

Joint protest on February 9th by Korean and Japanese activists outside venue for Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony

korea japanese pyeongchang olympics protest

Joint protest on February 9th by Korean and Japanese activists outside venue for Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony

korea japanese pyeongchang olympics protest

Joint protest on February 9th by Korean and Japanese activists outside venue for Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony

As Vice President Pence and Kim Jong-un’s sister sat down to watch the ceremony while purposively ignoring each other, activists back in Tokyo provocatively wrote “NOlympics Anywhere” in English on the Miyashita Park construction site hoarding, using large make-shift cardboard letters decorated with messages in English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. (While the cardboard letters were only temporarily attached, the fencing has warnings against graffiti and the area is almost certainly patrolled by security guards.) Activists then held a mini street demonstration in front of the former park located just a stone’s throw away from the heart of the main Shibuya shopping and eating district.

miyashita park anti-olympics protest

On night of the Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony, an anti-2020 message was posted on the Miyashita Park construction hoarding in Shibuya

Long associated with Tokyo’s homeless population, protests and counterculture, especially since the controversy ten years ago when Shibuya tried to sell the naming rights to Nike, Miyashita Park is currently undergoing redevelopment as part of the revamping of Shibuya to coincide with the 2020 Olympics. Along with Meiji Park, where the New National Stadium has subsumed homeless people’s shacks, Miyashita Park has been a flashpoint for Hangorin and the anti-2020 movement’s protests.

In LA, the joint Korean-Japanese actions were answered by a statement of solidarity by NOlympics LA.

los angeles nolmypics solidarity tokyo pyeongchang

Message of solidarity from Los Angeles anti-Olympics activists to campaigners in Tokyo and Pyeongchang

Images via Hangorin no Kai Twitter (@hangorin) and Facebook, and NOlympics LA on Twitter


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The Right to the City: Solitary walking Article 9 protestor in Shinjuku challenges the pedestrian paradise

He was alone but he didn’t care: on that cold Sunday afternoon he paced steadily up and down the main boulevard in Shinjuku, along past the perfumed elegance of Isetan and the unpretentious blare of Bicqlo to the edge of the pedestrianised zone, and then back again. With neither ceremony nor clamour, he held up a medium-sized laminated placard calling for the protection of Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounces Japan’s right to war, while slowly spinning a pellet drum in his other hand.

The solitary protestor functioned almost like an outrider, scouting up and down Shinjuku-dōri while a rally at the East Gate of Shinjuku Station, protesting the US military base relocation to Henoko Bay, departed on a march around the area. He stayed mobile and silent so as not to disrupt the foot traffic or block the street. In this way, he could navigate a loophole in the laws that prevent citizens from protesting or marching without a permit. He melted seamlessly in and out of the everyday whilst simultaneously invading it with his peripatetic demonstration. He was ignored, yes, but that was to his advantage. Too much attention and he risked being shooed away by the zealous older gents who sometimes patrol the “paradise paradise” zone to ensure there are no disruptions to the cycle of consumption. Rather, this anonymous, courageous wayfarer was asserting his right to the city: the “access to the resources that the city embodies”, as David Harvey says, “a right to change and reinvent the city more after our hearts’ desire”.

protester shinjuku pedestrian paradise

protester shinjuku pedestrian paradise

In principle, the pedestrian paradise does not allow vending, performance or protest. The streets are given up to the citizens but only if you walk or shop. On a purely pragmatic basis, the pedestrianised zones that appear at the weekend in public areas like Shinjuku and Ginza are not dissimilar to the privately owned public spaces (POPS) in Tokyo that seem open to the public, but are in fact subject to rules set by the corporations, of whose very existence users may not even be aware. This is only logical, given that private sector money has produced the spaces. Invariably the regulations will forbid such activities as busking, skateboarding and unlicensed vending. Christian Dimmer calls these Tokyo POPS “uncontested” — but is it possible to contest when such rules fetter and cosset them?

I have recently been conducting fieldwork on the Shinjuku West Gate protest movement, which holds silent vigils with placards every Saturday evening from 5pm to 7pm on the street in front of Odakyu Department Store and then in the underground plaza, where the Beheiren-linked folk guerrillas held anti-war music concerts in 1969. They too walk a tightrope between what is allowed and forbidden: by not making speeches, staying out of the way of the traffic and keeping their numbers low, they escape classification as a rally or march. Like the solo walking protestor I happened to observe, they are almost entirely ignored by the flow of weekend crowds passing through the West Gate, yet they represent something more enduring than mere immediate public response. Much like the anti-war flash mobs that resulted in a legal battle with Ebina City, these movements are pushing the boundaries of what is permitted, proscribed and tacitly condoned.

shinjuku west gate plaza protest

shinjuku west gate plaza protest


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Remembering Ryan Smith, activist and observer of Japanese social movements

Ryan Smith passed away last month. The West Virginia native had lived in Japan since 2008 and, under the tongue-in-cheek moniker Jon Doe, documented various aspects of Japanese social movements through videos he posted on YouTube.

According to his Japan Times obituary, Smith left behind a wife and young daughter. The passionately political Tozen Union member described himself on Facebook as “a man trying to make it in this world without going crazy in the process”.

ryan smith japan

While we never actually met, I had seen Smith at least once at a rally, standing at the back and filming the proceedings as he provided impromptu narration. In lieu of a proper tribute, then, I wanted to draw attention to his YouTube channel, which I hope will stay online. In addition to more personal video blogs, such as his touching response to becoming a father, the channel contains a large number of useful videos that can serve as records of various protests and movements. Many aspects of social movements are not documented and survive afterwards only in the form of organisers’ flyers and handouts. As such, these kinds of videos made by a (relatively neutral) outsider or participant function as a practical archive for activists, researchers and interested citizens.

Smith left far too many videos to share them all, but here are a few highlights.

Dōrō-Chiba National Workers Rally, 1 November 2015 (Hibiya, Tokyo)

Protest Against Revision of Article 9, 18 September 2015 (Tokyo)

Article 9 March, 12 July 2015 (Hikarigaoka, Tokyo)

Counter-Protest Against Racist March, 17 May 2015 (Akihabara)

Dōrō-Chiba National Workers March 2014 (Tokyo)

No Genocide in Gaza Protest 3 August 2014 (Tokyo)

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Yodogō hijackers launch website to publicise campaign to return from North Korea to Japan

The Yodogō Group of former Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction) hijackers has launched a new website to publicise its campaign to return home to Japan.

The group famously committed Japan’s first airliner hijacking in early 1970, taking over Japan Airlines Flight 351 (nicknamed Yodogō) and flying it to North Korea, where they have been stuck ever since. The remaining members of the group (hijackers and spouses) live in relative comfort at the Revolution Village complex in North Korea, where they occasionally entertain visitors.

Long accused of involvement with abductions of Japanese citizens to North Korea, the Yodogō Group has attempted to present its version of events through publications in Japan and even brought litigation against the government in 2013. It also started using Twitter in late 2014. Users can ask questions via social media and the emailed responses are collected by supporters in Japan, who then post them online at regular intervals.

Arrest warrants have been issued for one of the hijackers and two spouses related to abductions, which they refute and maintain is part of the political game of diplomatic chess played out between Japan and North Korea. While some original members of the group have died, one was apprehended abroad and extradited to Japan in 2000, and another was caught after sneaking back into the country in the 1980s. Most of the hijackers’ wives (as well as their children) returned in the 2000s, facing prosecution and imprisonment for various charges. The children have passports and are able to go back to visit their fathers, but the wives who returned are denied passports and cannot travel.

yodogo group hijackers north korea

The new website, Yodogō Nihonjinmura (Yodogō Japanese Village), is a clean and accessible media platform. Its homepage has an image of the six remaining members (Shirō Akagi, Moriaki Wakabayashi, Kimihiro Uomoto/Abe, Sakiko Wakabayashi/Kuroda, Takahiro Konishi and Yoriko Mori) posing casually on the lawn of their complex, satellite dishes in the background and a slogan saying “Welcome to the Yodogō Japanese Village” splashed over the image in red. The content has many large and warm photographs showing the “terrorists” in their domestic surroundings. Their profiles feature little details about hobbies, favourite TV shows and interests alongside the starker facts of their political backgrounds.

The way it is written and laid out, including a Q&A and chronology sections, is clearly aimed at people with little or no prior information about the group, with the intention of forming a consistent and reliable resource to challenge Wikipedia and the mainstream media accounts of the group, which generally follow the government line.

There are also video interviews, shot earlier this year by a young film-maker currently working on a detailed documentary about Sekigun.

With President Trump’s bullish stance on the Japanese abductees issue and the current tensions in East Asia over Pyongyang’s missile tests, the timing of this latest chapter in the Yodogō Group saga is, depending on one’s perspective, either apt or provocative.

In addition, Kōji Takazawa’s award-winning book, which made the abduction claims well known in the 1990s, was translated into English and published this year. Another recent book, The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project by Robert S. Boynton, also covers some of the allegations. It was published in early 2016 and a Japanese translation came out this past August.

The Yodogō Group was already in the headlines again this year. The famous physician Shigeaki Hinohara, who was one of the hostages on JAL Flight 351, died in July at the age of 105. His erstwhile hijackers had sent him North Korean gifts for his 100th birthday and their condolence message was quoted in the media. Takaya Shiomi, the original founder and leader of Sekigun-ha, also passed away in November. Though they are safe from extradition, in another sense time is running out for the Yodogō Group.


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