Police confirm identity of suspect as wanted far-left radical Masaaki Ōsaka, re-arrest him for murder

The wanted posters at police substations and train stations around Japan will finally be coming down. Police claim to have confirmed the identity of a suspect as far-left activist Masaaki Ōsaka and re-arrested him on a murder charge.

A man believed to be Masaaki Ōsaka, a member of the far-left Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), was arrested on May 18th in Hiroshima when police carried out a raid on an alleged base of the radical group to arrest another resident on a minor charge. The tactic paid off, as they were able to nab probably the most wanted man in Japan, who is accused of playing a leading role in the Shibuya Riot Incident in which a 21-year-old police officer was killed during a protest on November 14th, 1971 against the US-Japan Security Treat and the continued occupation of Okinawa.

Last month’s arrest of the far-left radical, who has been a fugitive since 1972 on a variety of charges including murder, was sensational enough in its own right but the announcement, delayed several days after the apprehension ostensibly for obstructing police duties, was fortuitous timing for the government as it pushed through its highly contentious conspiracy bill. It served as a reminder to the public that so-called terrorism and political militants exist in Japan, and that legislation is required to give police more power to ensure citizens’ safety during the 2020 Olympics. Naturally, the media had a ball with the news and has continued to run stories every few days related to the Ōsaka case. One aspect that was ignored, however, was the May 12th arrests of three unionists in Kansai associated with Chūkaku-ha on trespassing charges: the capture of Ōsaka is actually part of a wider, ongoing crackdown on the far-left group.

masaaki osaka shibuya riot incident arrested chukaku-ha

Masaaki Ōsaka on June 7th, 2017 as police transferred him to Tokyo. Image via Japan Today

Following days of speculation about how it would be possible to verify his identity, today police announced that the suspect had been re-arrested for murder and confirmed that he is indeed Ōsaka. Cross-checking DNA with relatives, including his late mother, did not disprove a match and Ōsaka’s sister additionally identified a photograph of the suspect as her brother. This is apparently enough to verify the man in custody as the 67-year-old Ōsaka.

He was then flown from a rainy Osaka, where he had been held since his arrest, to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. During his transfer he was overtly paraded for the cameras of the media, who were eager to get a shot of the fugitive long known only by the surly 1973 black-and-white photo that adorned thousands of wanted posters across Japan. Needless to say, this is surely the most startling perp walk for a political radical since Fusako Shigenobu was taken off a Shinkansen train in 2000, and has generated blanket coverage in the media.

masaaki osaka wanted fugitive japan chukaku-ha

Masaaki Ōsaka as he appeared on his police wanted poster for 45 years

Until now Ōsaka’s last official sighting was in 1973. Police had maintained the hunt for him by constant surveillance of Chūkaku-ha events and activities as well as periodically renewing the campaign with new posters and raiding Chūkaku-ha sites for clues as to his whereabouts. He was placed on the international wanted list in 2010 and a significant award also announced last year, resulting in a major spike in leads from the public.

masaaki osaka arrested shibuya riot incident chukaku-ha

Image via Sankei Shimbun

masaaki osaka arrested shibuya riot incident chukaku-ha

Image via Sankei Shimbun

Ever since the arrest, the man identified as Ōsaka has maintained complete silence in custody, as is typical for detained leftists in Japan. Chūkaku-ha has also denied that the suspect is Ōsaka, whose innocence activists have claimed in multiple articles and videos. The group also staged a protest in the morning of June 7th in front of Tokyo District Court.

The statute of limitations was removed for murder in 2010, meaning Ōsaka can be charged with the killing of police officer Tsuneo Nakamura, who was set upon by a mob of activists armed with pipes and Molotov cocktails. One of those previously arrested and tried for the death was Fumiaki Hoshino, though campaigners have long maintained that he is falsely imprisoned. Another Chūkaku-ha activist, Yukio Okumiyama, was also tried for the killing but proceedings were halted in 1981 due to mental illness, and he passed away earlier this year at the age of 68.


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Iconic Sanrizuka protest movement “solidarity hut” removed from Narita Airport

If you are lucky, as your plane touches down you may be able to catch a glimpse from your window of a large homemade sign declaring, in Japanese, “Against Narita Airport”. Omotenashi indeed.

The protest movement against Narita Airport is almost moribund for two obvious reasons: despite fierce opposition and mammoth delays and even fatalities, the airport was eventually finished and opened, and isn’t going anywhere; and the inevitable process of mortality is setting in and the original activists and farmers are slowly disappearing.

Instead, the remains of the protest movement, which is often referred to as the Sanrizuka movement after the area where many of the affected villages were located, continues on with a primary focus on stopping further expansion of the airport in the form of the long-anticipated third runway. Much of this manifests as petitions, various suits and trials, and regular rallies and marches. In particular, the dogged struggle to prevent the seizure of farmer Takao Shitō’s land has become the current lodestone of the movement.

The protest split in the early 1980s between factions willing to co-operate to some extent with the airport authority, and only the Kitahara faction remains fully committed to in partnership with its allies like Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) and Dōrō-Chiba. Violence and small bombs were still happening until the 1990s.

The first control tower, which was famously occupied by activists in a bravado operation shortly before the airport was due to open, will be torn down in 2018. Moreover, the iconic “solidarity huts” (danketsu-goya) where activists and students lived along the disputed land, have been slowly but surely demolished after lengthy legal wrangles.

In the early hours of May 31st, the Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters hut was removed following an order from Tokyo High Court. It was built by Hantai Dōmei, the league of farmers and activists opposed to Narita Airport, in 1982 and then became a base for the so-called Atsuta faction after the main split in the movement.

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters in November 2016

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters in November 2016

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters in 1992

Activist and supporters from the Atsuta group, which is today led by farmer Hideo Yanagawa, mobilised nearby to protest, though the removal proceeded without incident and had finished by 3 a.m. The lot occupied by the roughly 50-square-meter hut will now be utilised by the airport as part of its operations. The final ruling confirming the hut removal came last July. The hut has not been in use since 1998 and the road leading to it was closed in 2007 and the hut boarded up. Images of the hut from last year indicate it was overgrown with vegetation, a strange block of no-man’s land in the middle of the airport.

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The removal of Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters on May 31st, 2017

narita airport protest solidarity sanrizuka yokobori hut

The removal of Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters on May 31st, 2017

It is the first such forced removal since February 2015 and brings the number of huts still located at various sites around the airport to six. While the days of virtual pitched battles between protestors and police are long gone, security remains high and riot police officers are often stationed along the ring road around the airport. People visiting the huts or similar areas may be followed by unmarked police vehicles.

Images via Sankei Shimbun here and here


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White “Japanese ultra-nationalist” joins anti-Korean hate march in Shinjuku

It is part of the inherent nature of being an expatriate that you reinvent yourself in your new country of residence, whether by design or by accident. Japan is a place that seems to allow this more easily than elsewhere, perhaps especially if you are Western and male. From zero to hero, as the old gaijin joke has it: back home, a nobody; in Japan, a minor TV celebrity or fashion model, and an instant success with local ladies.

If the title of this post sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. But there was indeed none other than a white man participating in a Japanese far-right protest march on May 28th in Shinjuku. The march — condemned by counter-protestors as a racist anti-Korean “hate demo” — happened on a Sunday afternoon as shoppers enjoyed the early summer weather in the heart of one of Tokyo’s main commercial districts. While the participant numbers appeared small, as is typical for these fringe groups, the march should be noteworthy in and of itself, given its repudiation of the clean image of Tokyo and Shinjuku the authorities are trying to promote in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, and that national legislation was passed intended to curb hate speech. It also comes just days after a 65-year-old man was arrested for allegedly attempting to burn down a Zainichi Korean (Japanese-born ethnic Koreans) credit union in Nagoya.

But it was the curious case of the white guy that drew much attention. Wearing sunglasses and a white t-shirt dyed with a red Rising Sun flag, the young man proudly carried a matching flag and held a placard with a hammer and sickle crossed out (presumably a reference to North Korea, though the regime actually uses a variation on this Communist symbol). His exact motivations are a mystery. Was the man an audacious prankster trolling the racists, or simply a non-Japanese resident whose views are aligned with the rest of the marchers? Or was he a comedian in the manner of Minoru Torihada, performing an elaborate stunt? Or a weeb who has taken his dream of “turning Japanese” to an extreme (and a right-wing extreme, at that)?

Organised by Shūsei Sakurada’s New Social Movement — a small but prolific ultra-nationalist group that focuses on anti-Korean issues — the march itself started in Kashiwagi Park and then headed to the west side of Shinjuku Station. Below is the “official trial” for the event.

The entire march was followed closely by a boisterous counter-protest called by Anti-Racism Project, with the harried bevy of police keeping the two sides away from each other.

counter-protest hate speech korean shinjuku tokyo japanese racist

Flyer for counter-protest against anti-Korean march in Shinjuku on May 28th, 2017

The facetious response to the aberrant marcher would be that the hate groups are now so desperate for attendance that they are even recruiting Westerners to their ranks. Truth, though, is sometimes stranger than fiction. The spectacle of the “white Japanese ultra-nationalist” could almost be a scene out of Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin is an upcoming mockumentary, centred, as discussed before, “around a Caucasian expat who believes himself to be a member of the Japanese ultra-nationalist right”.

But there are indeed gaijin uyoku: anecdotes regularly surface that the ranks of the far-right groups are actually filled with Zainichi Koreans, not least because some of the traditional rightists have links to the Yakuza, which is apparently populated with people from various social fringes. As extraordinary as it may sound, this is not even the first example of a white foreigner who has become a vocal mouthpiece for Japanese nationalist sentiments. We have already had the likes of Tony Marano, aka “Texas Daddy”, and Kent Gilbert. Is there now a new contender?

Update: More Details on the White Participant in March

A little searching of videos posted online by New Social Movement has revealed that the white participant in the march has attended several other rallies by the same and associated groups.

This video shows him attending one previous event on January 3rd when he even gave a speech in Japanese (from around 8:20). In it he introduces himself as Spanish, though wisely does not give his name. In his speech he says that foreign countries tell a lot of lies about Japan but he believes Japan to be a “good country”. He claims that Japan’s neighbours just spread false rumours about Japan, such as about the comfort women and Nanking massacre. He then turns the argument around to Western imperialism and how the real losers of the war were the colonies of the Western powers, and that these countries were grateful to Japan for “liberating” them. He also claims that “hate speech” does not actually exist.

Here are videos with more examples of his speeches at rallies this year and identifying him as “Daniel”.


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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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