RIGHT VERSUS LEFT IN JAPAN
League of Blood IncidentThe post-war period—particularly during the Cold war years—was characterized by a bitter ideological battle between the left and right that shaped the political climate and had a tremendous impact on the press. The left remained relevant as political force until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Japan became a key ally in the United States’s campaign against Communism. It was as close to the Soviet Union as Cuba was to the United States. The Soviet Union lobbied hard and put a lot of diplomatic pressure on the United States and Japan to keep the United States from bring nuclear weapons into Japan.
In Japanese education, pre-war hypernationalism was replaced by post-war communism, with students often taking the lead. Describing this period, the American diplomat Edward Seidensticker wrote in his memoir, “The world was divided between good guys and bad guys. The former were called peaceful and socialist, and their headquarters were in Moscow. This was before the break between China and the Soviet Union. The latter were the capitalist warmongers, and their headquarters was in Washington D.C.”
Japanese Post War Politics
Assassination of Inejiro AsanumaThe post-war Japanese political scene was characterized by a domination of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), fights and shoving matches in the Diet (the Japanese parliament), and a debate between left-wingers proud of Japan's pacifist status and right-wingers who wanted Japan to be an economic superpower and regain its military strength. The conservatives also pressured the government not to fully apologize to other nations in Asia about atrocities committed in World War II.
The United States supported the LDP if for no other reason than to prevent leftists from coming to power. Japan supported the United States in all of its conflicts against communism. The arrangement suited Japan. While the U.S. took care Japan’s security needs the Japanese could devote their attention to creating industrial wealth and getting rich.
The LDP thrived under protection of the United States, and pushed its agenda ‘for “growth, growth, growth” and stamped out opposition. Buruma argued that dependency on the United States for defense “kept right-wing reactionism alive and polarized political opinion on the one thing where there should have been consensus: the Constitution itself.”
The LDP ruled all but 10 months between 1955 and 2000 either with an outright majority or with coalition partners. The fractious politics of the LDP hindered consensus in the Diet in the late 1970s. The sudden death of Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi just before the June 1980 elections, however, brought out a sympathy vote for the party and gave the new prime minister, Suzuki Zenko, a working majority. Suzuki was soon swept up in a controversy over the publication of a textbook that appeared to many of Japan's former enemies as a whitewash of Japanese aggression in World War II. This incident, and serious fiscal problems, caused the Suzuki cabinet, composed of numerous LDP factions, to fall.
Left Wing Activism in Japan and Anti-American Demonstrations
Japanese terrorists hold
the French embassy
in The Hague hostageIn the 1960s and 70s, there were anti-American demonstrations led by students who opposed to Japan's security arrangement with the United States and the use of American bases in Japan for the war in Vietnam.
In 1968, protests were held at 150 universities and violence spilled into the streets. The University of Tokyo was shut down for almost a year and didn't reopen until 8,500 club-wielding police burst into a university building and arrested 256 activists.
In the 1960s and 70s there were bomb attacks on industrial targets by left-wing groups. In 1974, left-wing radicals bombed a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries building, killing eight people and injuring 380 others.
Unrest and activism in the 1960s and 70s was a “broad-based swing to the left.” But in the end it was given a bad name by terrorist acts and was so “obliterated by the government and conservatism” that political activism never reared its head again after that.
Yukio Mishima's Suicide
One of biggest events in the 1960s period was the shocking 1970 ritual suicide of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), a flamboyant and controversial writer, who was nominated twice for the Nobel prize, and launched a nationalist, homo-erotic, military cult.
Mishima On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four followers from his campy, private "army" of ultra-nationalist young men burst into the army headquarters in central Tokyo in an almost comical attempt at a coup d’etat. Dressed in a military-style tunic and rising sun headband, the 45-year-old writer stepped out onto balcony in the headquarters and gave a speech condemning Japan's pacifist constitution and told Japanese military personnel the time had come rise up and rebel and restore the honor of the Emperor. Most of those who heard him booed and shouted insults.
Mishima then barricaded himself in the commanding general's office, bound the general to a chair, and with the general looking on and shouting at him not to do it, Mishima plunged a 12-inch samurai dagger into his abdomen and disemboweled himself. One of his disciples drew an antique sword and, after failing twice, loped off his head in true samurai style and then took his own life. Everything except for failed attempt to remove his head on the first try had gone according to a meticulous plan and has been described as “one of the most sensational feats of exhibitionism of our age.”
Japan was left in a state of shock by the incident and the rest the world was not sure quite what to think. When Prime Minister Eisaju Sato was informed of Mishima’s suicide he called Mishima “insane.” Thousands attended Mishima’s funeral but soon after his death his army disbanded and several of his followers were imprisoned. "He became taboo in his own country," Donald Richie, a cultural critic and Mishima friend, told AP. "The accepted wisdom in Japan became that he was a minor figure, but that's not true. I think he's a strong influence, and a troubling one. He's like a bad conscience." In the 1990s, people once again began reading and discussing his work more openly.
See Arts and Culture, Literature
Japanese Red Army
scene from the film United Red Army In the 1970s, the Japanese Red Army (JRA) was one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups. Initially a splinter group of the extreme left-wing United Red Army, the group was founded by Fusako Shigenobu in 1969 and was made up of radicals from student groups who protested the presence of U.S. military based in Japan. The goal of the group was to overthrow the Japanese government, eliminate the monarchy and foment world revolution.
In the early 1970s, the Red Army broke into factions. Shigenobu moved her faction to war-torn Lebanon and set up a commune, which allied itself with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and for fun held nightly self-criticism sessions. Pursued by Israeli agents they were constantly on the run. Even so Shigenobu had a daughter, with a Palestinian terrorist, who she raised with the help of other Red Army members and Arab supporters.
Japanese Red Army Activities and North Korea
In 1970, nine Japanese Red Army member hijacked a Japan Airlines domestic flight, with 138 people on board, to North Korea. During this hijacking the plane landed at Seoul, where a North Korean flag was raised in attempt to trick the hijackers into thinking the plane had landed in Pyongyang. The trick didn't work. The hijackers became suspicious after U.S. airliners were spotted at the airport. The 129 passengers and cabin crew on board were released in Seoul. The plane continued on to Pyongyang, where the nine defected.
The Yodo-go incident was the first hijacking in Japan. One of the Red Army Faction members, Yasuhiro Shibata, was only 16. The plane was on a domestic flight from Tokyo to Fukuoka on March 31, 1970. Yodo-go was the name of the airplane.
The hijackers were granted political asylum. They were welcomed by Kim Il Sung as heroes and initially were feted to privileges like housing in a special revolution village and chauffeured Mercedes-Benz cars.. The hijackers married Japanese women secretly brought into the country. Over time their privileges were taken away and they lived under strict rules imposed by North Korea. Many become idle and bored.
Four of the Yodo hijackers remain in North Korea and will probably stay there. The Japanese government wants to talk to them because they could help answer some unanswered question about the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea. Of the 20 children born to Yodo hijackers all are living in Japan. All the hijacker wives live in Japan with the exception of two that remain in North Korea.
Japanese Red Army Activities in Japan
The Red Army executed 14 people in Japan between August 1971 and February 1972 and had shootouts with Japanese police. There were also believed to have had a hand in a 1974 bombing of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the central Tokyo business district that killed eight people and injured nearly 400 (this was last major terrorist incident in Japan before the Aum Shinrokyo poison gas subway attack in 1995).
Hiroko Nagata was a United Red Army member who was involved in the mass murder of her comrades in the early 1970s. According to court findings, Nagata conspired with other members of the radical group in the August 1971 murders of two members who tried to leave. She was also involved in the mass killing of 12 more members in a mountainous area of Gunma prefecture between December 1971 and February 1972 over ideological differences.
The Asama Sanso incident was the name given to 10-day stand-off in March 1972 between five Red Army members and police at the Asama Sanso mountain resort in Karuizawamachi, Nagano Prefecture. After Nagata’s arrest in February 1972, five members of the group, including Hiroshi Sakaguchi, 64, barricaded themselves into the Asama Lodge in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, taking the wife of the lodge manager hostage. The ensuing gun battles with police, in which three officers were killed, were played out in front of television cameras over the following 10 days.
The incident began when the Red Army members quietly entered the lodge and took the wife of the lodgekeeper hostage. Police tracked the terrorists to the lodge following their footprints in the snow. A shoot-out took place when the terrorists were cornered by police. During the standoff 1,000 police took up positions around the lodge and sprayed the lodge with water cannons to to keep the terrorists from firing. The incident ended when the police stormed the lodge and rescued the hostage after smashing the walls with a wrecking ball. Two police and one member of the public died. .
Japanese Red Army Activities in Europe and the Middle East
scene from the film
United Red Army
by Koji Wakamatsu On May 30, 1972, three members of the JRA grabbed two suitcases from a conveyor belt in the passenger lounge of the Tel Aviv airport, pulled out submachine guns and grenades and opened fire into a crowd, killing 24 civilians, including 16 Puerto Ricans on a religious pilgrimage, and wounded 76. All of the terrorist were killed except for one, Kozo Okamoto, who was captured and imprisoned by Israeli authorities (See Below).
The Red Army was also involved in seizures at the French embassy in the Hague in 1974 and the Swedish and U.S. embassies in Kuala Lumpur in 1975 as part of efforts to win the release of jailed members.
The greatest hijacking ransom ($6 million) was paid by the Japanese government to the hijackers of a JAL flight with 38 hostages at Dacca Airport in Bangladesh in October 1977. The Red Army hijacked Paris-bound Japan Airlines over India. The government gave into the demands of the hijackers to win the release of the 156 passengers and get back the plane. The Prime Minister said, “Human life is weightier than the earth.” Six Red Army members were released. In 1973, JAL flight was redirected to Libya and the plane was blown up after the passengers were freed.
The Red Army is believed to have worked with other international revolutionary groups such as the Red Brigade in Italy and the Baade-Meinhof Gang in Germany. In April 1988, the Red Army detonated a bomb in Naples as part of an anti-American campaign but was pretty quiet after that. Since the end of the Cold War the group has had difficulty securing funds.
Arrest of Japanese Red Army Terrorists
scene from the film
United Red Army
by Koji Wakamatsu Even though the Red Army had all but disappeared as a terrorist group Japanese law enforcement officials continued to hunt down the members that remained at large. In the early 1990s, three were apprehended in Romania, Peru and Nepal and another member was arrested in Bolivia.
Yoshima Tanaka, the man who hijacked the Japan Airlines flight in 1970, was arrested at the border of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1996 while traveling with a North Korean passport and was arrested for carrying large amounts of counterfeit $100 bills. He was deported to Thailand and then Japan. Another member died in Pyongyang and another was arrested in in 1988 after secretly trying to enter to Japan, where he was given a five-year prison sentence.
Red Army members Masai Adachi, Haruo Wako, Kazuo Tohira and Mariko Yamamoto were sent to Japan from Lebanon via Jordan in May 2000 as part of deal worked out between the Japanese, Jordanian and Lebanese governments. A fifth member Kozo Okamoto, who was involved in the Tel Aviv airport massacre, was given asylum in Lebanon as a reward for his anti-Israeli activities. He spent 13 years in Israeli prisons, where he was reportedly tortured. He was released in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
The Japanese Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu was arrested in Osaka in November 2000. She was found with several fake passports that indicated she had been traveling regularly between Japan, China and the Middle East. Shigenobu was charged with terrorist crimes associated with the seizure of the French Embassy in the Hague and the use of false passports. She pleaded innocent to the charges of terrorism and said she was not involved in the embassy seizure. Many believe Shigenobu was the mastermind of the Tel Aviv attack.
In February 2006, Shigenobu was given a 20 year prison sentence for her role in the seizure of the French Embassy in the Hague in 1974 and other incidents. Her daughter now lives in Osaka and visits her mother in prison regularly.
The death sentence on Sakaguchi was finalized in 1993, while Tsuneo Mori, who led the group, committed suicide at the Tokyo Detention House in 1973 at the age of 28.
A few Red Army members are still at large and believed to be living in North Korea or somewhere in the Middle East.
Deaths of Elderly Red Army Members
Hiroko Nagata was arrested in February 1972, and was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District and High courts. The lower court sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1993. In February 2011, Nagata died at the Tokyo Detention House, still on death row, at the age of 65 following a long battle with brain cancer Nagata underwent surgery on a brain tumor in 1984. In 2006, she collapsed at the detention facility, suffering from brain atrophy and impaired consciousness, and was transferred to a medical prison in Tokyo’s Hachioji Ward.
In June 2011, Kyodo reported, Yasuhiro Shibata, the youngest Red Army Faction member involved in the so-called Yodo-go incident involving the hijacking of a plane to North Korea in 1970, was found dead at an apartment house in Osaka. He was 58. After receiving notification from an acquaintance who called at the apartment house on Thursday, police rushed to the scene and confirmed Shibata was dead in his room, the sources said, adding there was no sign of foul play. [Source: Kyodo, June 25, 2010]
Shibata had returned home in secret and was arrested by Hyogo prefectural police on charges of violating the passport law in May 1988. He was subsequently given a five-year prison term for burglary and other crimes, finalized in 1993, but was released the following year. Shibata and a Japanese woman had two daughters in North Korea and the three women also returned to Japan. The woman had admitted her involvement in the abduction of Japanese Keiko Arimoto, then 23, to North Korea. Shibata had been in poor health in recent years and was alienated from other Red Army Faction members remaining in North Korea, the sources said.
Red Army member Osamu Maruoka was involved in a series of hijackings. He conspired with Palestinian guerrillas in hijacking a Japan Airlines plane over Amsterdam in 1973. He also hijacked a JAL jumbo jet over India with four accomplices and forced it to land at Dhaka airport in Bangladesh in 1977. He was arrested in Tokyo in 1987 when he entered the country on a forged passport, put on trial and given a life sentence, which was finalized by the Supreme Court in 2000. Maruoka, died at a prison hospital in May 2011 at the age of 60.
Image Sources: 1) Sony 2) Toyota 3) 4) 5) 11) Kantei, office of Japanese Prime Minister 6) Japan Olympic Committte 7) 8) 9) 10) the film United Red Army by Koji Wakamatsu 12) Japan 101 13) Honda
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2011