Interview: Dr. Patricia Steinhoff 3

Yodo-go Hijacking
Dr. Patricia Steinhoff is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This is the third installment of our interview with Dr. Steinhoff about the Japanese New Left in the 1960s and 1970s.

PART 3 – THE MOVEMENT GOES UNDERGROUND

Red Army Background: The “Red Army” (赤軍) usually refers to three related, but distinct Japanese revolutionary leftist organizations. In 1969, radical members of the Japanese student movement formed the Red Army Faction of the Communist League (共産主義者同盟赤軍派) — an underground paramilitary unit aiming to actively foment socialist revolution in Japan. This new group quickly became the target of serious police suppression, but managed to execute numerous robberies and other small-scale attacks. The Red Army Faction reached a new level of infamy, however, after their dramatic hijacking of the JAL flight 351 “Yodo-go” from Tokyo to Fukuoka on March 31, 1970. The nine hijackers forced the plane to fly to North Korea, where they received exile but spent the next decade in re-education camps and out of contact with the rest of the world. See video of the Yodo.

In 1969, the SDS in the U.S. breaks down and the super-radical Weathermen are formed. Same thing happens with the Red Army Faction coming out of Bund. These transformations from student groups to underground terrorist cells seem very parallel. Did the Red Army look at the Weathermen and say, hey, we need to make the same shift?

Actually, the Japanese movement was ahead of the American movement, so the Red Army Faction was certainly not “copying” the Weathermen. But there was a certain amount of mutual awareness and interaction. There were conferences in Japan in 1968 and 1969, and they invited a lot of people from the U.S. — the Black Panthers and SDS, etc. They were very aware of the American movement. Shiomi Takaya (the intellectual leader of the Red Army Faction) himself was meeting with these people, and one of their early actions was timed to coincide with the Chicago Days of Rage. So they saw themselves as part of an international student movement. They also identified with the student movements in Europe at the same time and with revolutionary movements all over the world — the Cuban revolution, etc.

Who was Shiomi Takaya and where did he come from?

The original Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction) was a faction of Kyōsanshugisha Dōmei or Bund. Shiomi Takaya went to Kyōdai (Kyoto University) and was a little bit older, but he was working in the Bund office in Tokyo as a full-time activist during the late ’60s. The movement was hitting a stone wall, the state began cracking down on violent protest in the streets, and the Kansai Bund people wanted to move into an underground army and more violence. So he became the central figure of that group, and he was the wordsmith. He was the guy who would come up with these incomprehensible but charismatic phrases for what they wanted to do. Tamiya was the person who would organize their activities, but Shiomi was the intellectual leader. In the summer of 1969 Bund threw out the Red Army Faction, which had operated as an internal faction for at least half a year before that, and the Red Army became independent at that point.

Shiomi was arrested two weeks before the hijacking of the Yodo-go in March 1970 on an arrest warrant for having planned some earlier actions. By that time, the Red Army was under tremendous pressure and many people were already in hiding. Shiomi had the record for a while for being held incommunicado after his arrest for a year and a half — now that’s nothing, everyone is held incommunicado for a year and a half. But at the time, it was the record. He had a long trial and all these appeals and served his sentence until about 1990.

How many people did the Red Army Faction have at first?

The Red Army had a lot of people until they started doing violent actions and the police started cracking down. In the Fall of ’69, they announced themselves publicly — “We are going to have an underground army, and we are looking for weapons.” They were making “Peace can bombs.” I don’t know if they still have them, but Peace cigarettes used to come in these little blue cans, so you could take the can and load it with pachinko balls and an explosive. They also experimented with pipe bombs. They were making homemade explosives.

Tamiya had devised an elaborate plan. Prime Minister Sato was supposed to travel to the U.S. to discuss Japan’s cooperation in the Vietnam War. This was to be a big, high-profile protest event with street demonstrations. But Sekigun had this elaborate plot that they were going to surround the Prime Minister’s residence the day before and lock him up so he couldn’t go. They couldn’t stop him forever, but they could obstruct his trip. That was going to be their sensational thing.

To prepare for it, they had gone to a mountain area fairly near Tokyo called Daibosatsu Tōge (大菩薩峠). They had rented rooms in an inn, and they were doing training on how to throw pipe bombs so they wouldn’t blow up in your face. So they were doing that, but they were so semi-open about everything they were doing and a lot of the people were already being followed on a 24-hour basis. So the police knew they were there. They sneaked up on them, and early in the morning when they were all still asleep, they surrounded the place and arrested 53 people. That was a big chunk of the membership.

What was the total membership at that point?

It’s hard to say. Much more than that, because you have to remember at that time because of the Zenkyōtō (全共闘, All-Campus Joint Struggle Committee) movement, whole universities were shut down. They inherited a lot of Bund units on campuses that were connected to the Kansai side. Whole student organizations on campuses went with the Red Army. And they also had a lot of campuses that were closed, so they could basically have people living on these campuses — all these guerrilla units scattered around, at Doshisha University, etc. So there were a lot of people.

It’s hard to get any kind of real number. It was certainly more than 53. That was just the people in the gun (軍, army) who were sent to get that training. Some of the top leaders were there, but others were not, so they didn’t get arrested. When those people at Daibosatsu Tōge got arrested, the police realized that it was a plan involving the prime minister’s residence, so that kicked up the stakes and there were big trials. After that, the leaders had to go underground. There was tremendous police pressure and lots of people were being followed constantly by plainclothes police. That was the beginning of what came to be known as sekigun-zai (赤軍罪) — Red Army Crime — if you belonged to the Red Army, they would find some way to prosecute you.

Why did they decide to go to North Korea?

What had happened was that Shiomi had invented this ideology of a Red Army, meaning a guerrilla army that would fight with weapons, but the pressure was so severe within Japan that they were saying, okay, we can’t do guerrilla training in Japan. We need to go outside the country, create some bases, get some training and then come back. That was the notion. And then they went to North Korea because they couldn’t hijack a plane that could go any farther. They wanted the North Koreans to send them on to Cuba, but of course, the North Koreans had their own ideas, so quickly these people were stuck in that country.

Was there any communication from them back to Japan?

Not initially. Later there was some communication when there were people in the Middle East and they could go through the same kind of Eastern European route to get to North Korea.

The Yodo-go group in North Korea was subjected to “re-education” and brainwashing, so nobody heard anything for a while. A couple of years later, they announced publicly that they had coverted to the North Korean Juche ideology, which is an odd blend of prewar Imperial Japanese ideas and Stalinism with its own flavor.

And they were helping the North Koreans kidnap Japanese people from Europe and Japan?

Yes. And some other stuff, but they were basically operatives of the North Korean government. The NK line was, sure, we’ll help you make your revolution, and the way to make your revolution is to first help us make ours. First we get South Korea, and then we’ll get around to Japan, because we’re going to do it.

Back in Japan, no one heard anything from them for a very long time. Sometimes journalists went and were able to bring back reports, but not much was heard from them until the 1980s.

United Red Army Background: After the Yodo-go hijacking and the subsequent police crackdown, the remaining members of the Red Army merged with another leftist unit — Keihin-Ampo Kyōtō (京浜安保共闘) — to form the United Red Army.

In February of 1972, the URA made national news as members holed up in a Karuizawa resort lodge with a hostage while the police attempted a siege. After the standoff ended with the arrest of the URA members, word came out that the group had lynched 12 of its own members in violent ideological purification exercises.

Can you explain why the United Red Army imploded into lynchings as it did?

I have published a book chapter about this, and it also figures heavily in my Japanese book. First of all, you have to realize that they were pretty much cornered. They had gone off to the mountains, and they were in this little hotbed. That kind of thing didn’t happen in the U.S. First of all, we have the F.B.I., and they were following a lot of people and trying to infiltrate but it wasn’t the same kind of thing where they were closing in on a group that was then closing in on itself. That dynamic isn’t quite the same. There were lots of groups in the U.S. that did go underground and those processes are very similar.

[In a paper I wrote with Gilda Zwerman] we said that going underground is mostly a second generation phenomenon. College generations are short. But you get the first generation that is elite and takes the broader view, and they lead a movement which has certain public support. Then things get nastier. And those leaders start getting arrested, and they’re either going underground or getting arrested. Younger people who grew up seeing the wildness of it come in and say, wow, we’re ready to go. They didn’t have the same kind of slow movement to that point. They’re in there, ready to go and they often come from different places and they don’t have the same kind of intellectual perspective on it. And they get much more radical and do crazy stuff. That’s part of what was happening.

The URA killed twelve of its own members. Nobody really seemed to have stopped the leaders while their comrades were dying to say, hey, wait a minute here.

The not being able to stop it was partly Japaneseness, and that is part of my analysis of what happened. There aren’t good ways to say, wait a minute, in a Japanese group — at least at that time. That’s part of it. Americans would have said, no way, I’m getting out of here. So that is a difference. There were people who were coming in and out of the URA, being sent out on errands, but they came back! They felt obligated to complete whatever they were supposed to do, but they couldn’t oppose what was going on. In part it was because there was a leader who was out of control — Mori Tsuneo. Nagata Hiroko was there as a sub-leader, but it was really Mori’s show and nobody could stand up to him. Interestingly, at a symbolic level, the whole time they were there, he was sitting in front of their pile of guns — they never used the guns on their own members, whom they hit and stabbed and tied up and tortured in a crazy attempt to get them to become stronger revolutionaries.

There is a later image that Nagata was this evil, demonic woman…

She’s not. She was an enthusiastic cheerleader, but initially, her style was a bit more supportive, trying to get people to rethink things. Mori was doing all this stuff — really pushing it, incorporating violence to speed things up and forcing people to participate in the violence so they would not be thought of as weak themselves and become victims. He was constructing ideology to rationalize what they were doing and not realizing what the consequences were of what he was doing. He created a massive structure of blaming the victims for their weakness and used ideology to screen the members from what they were actually doing. Nearly a year later he finally realized what he had done, and he hung himself in prison.

How did the cops catch on to them?

Both groups had people who were already on the wanted list. So the police were looking for them but they couldn’t find them. They didn’t know where to look, and then they started getting clues. The police knew there had been this merger (between the Red Army Faction and the Keihin-Ampo Kyōtō). They thought that only one of the groups was there. They didn’t realize that both groups were in the same place and that they were all mixed up together. But they were closing in more and more as things went on. They finally caught up with them, arresting Mori and Nagata when they had just returned from Tokyo to a site the others had already left, and then they caught up with the others in Karuizawa, where the final group of five took over a mountain lodge called Asama Sansō and held out for nine days against a huge riot police force because they had a hostage.

When did the cops realize members had died from lynching?

They arrested several people in Karuizawa at the train station and some of them started to talk. The first person to talk was this poor old 16-year old boy who had been taken out there with his older brother. He started talking about how they had killed his eldest brother and the brother’s wife, and the police thought, oh, he’s hallucinating. It didn’t really happen. You’ve been disturbed by this event. Then they started finding where the group had been and started digging up bodies.

Tomorrow: Part 4 – The Japanese Red Army

W. David MARX
September 12, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

14 Responses

  1. alin Says:

    >Did the Red Army look at the Weathermen and say, hey, we need to make the same shift?

    i’m (not) struck in the first question by marxy automatically assuming the whole thing to be a pakuri. (hope we’re all learning something from this)

    the peace cans/pachinko balls bombs are incredibly poetic.

    >The not being able to stop it was partly Japaneseness, and that is part of my analysis of what happened. There aren’t good ways to say, wait a minute, in a Japanese group — at least at that time.

    I’m personally glad she’s mentioning this because this was the beginning of the mutual grudge(?) between me and marxy. it started by me pointing out a movie that i believe depicts better than anything the conflict between this ‘japaneseness’ and revolutionary activity. marxy only saw cheap schlock horror in it giving an undeserved patronising reply. consequently i thought ‘this guy’s a dickhead’ trying to understand japan yet dismissing or not being able to understand any efforts to do the same comming from within japan, dismissing japan on every level. i could easily have left then but it was interest in the content that has kept me here.

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    Re: Pakuri

    Give me a break. I’m trying to avoid these pit-traps of bickering and you’re trying to start it back up again.

    Re: “Mutual Grudge”

    Alin refers to a film called Kichiku Daienkai (Banquet of the Beasts) 『鬼畜大宴会』 that takes the basics of the URA story and turns it into a gross-out horror movie. If you like blood-squirting brain scenes, this is your film.

    I have a personal, subjective opinion on this film: I think it’s not very good at saying anything about the URA because it’s too busy grossing us out. (It remains the only film my wife has ever walked out of, although she doesn’t speak for everyone.) You, alin, need to get over the idea that there’s some kind of chauvinism in me not liking the film. I think it’s a bad, exploitative movie. I think it fails as art. If it has deeper themes, I was too distracted by the shotgun-to-the-womb scene to pick them up. There are at least 2 or 3 other movies about the URA, and I will defer to those for an “internal” opinion on the URA. This does not mean I have dismissed or cannot comprehend “any efforts to do the same coming from within japan.”

    End of bickering on this topic, forever.

  3. alin Says:

    fair enough

    >End of bickering on this topic, forever.

    ok

  4. alin Says:

    sorry, just one more thing, i promise. (having just read through the reviews on the amazon japan page you linked). while i respect your personal opinion, i don’t think you can say something that brings such divided opinions (even more so in the supposed land of the concensus) – it’s basically all 1 or 5 stars – has failed as art. (that’s going by the idea that art is meant to ask questions rather than please). sorry again.

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    If there are divided opinions on a Weird Al album, does that mean it therefore succeeds as art?

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    Funny that the second reviewer (1 star) basically has the same opinion as me.

    Also, how great are the reviews on Amazon Japan! Power to the people!

  7. alin Says:

    ok you found this one too gross, fair enough, i did too (it was as disgusting as it was brilliant i thought). the point is rather that there’s a similar dismissal of manga (too nerdy? too japanese?), japanese academics/critics (unless extreme enough to be ridiculed by default), tv, cinema in general (unless it’s star wars), popular music fashion etc etc etc, you get my point, what we’re left talking about is basically a hollywood-friendly japan

    mou ii yo..

  8. neogeisha Says:

    comrades, please! there is enough truly fascinating detail in this article to fuel hundreds of comments. must we get into a hairsplitting/ nitpicking quagmire? if this baseness of tone continues, i’m going to introduce the idea of alin being purged and sent for re-education.

  9. alin Says:

    (an apology to everyone for taking too much space and making too much noise here. it’s weird because i basically don’t see myself in opposition to marxy nor do i think we form a ‘binary’ like marxy and momus might have in the past. at best i hoped i could put something on the side that might add to the whole thing, thappy to have it ignored, but through a series of recursive reactions things turn silly every time.)

    marxy, if you really believe that 2nd reviewer (same person as the first) has the same opinion as you you’re either fooling yourself badly or you are actually an a*hole (sorry i can’t think of a better word). that person, or i’d say just about any japanese person who was grossed out by the movie, was so because it directly scratched a particular open nerve while you’re here talking about explotation, horror and basic political correctness. it’s offensive and again i see GW Bush’s smile. there’s a gap there and i don’t like to see you play the authority ignoring this gap – even in your turf and even if i get punched in the face by trevor.

    btw. i think amazon japan reviews are as good as any.

    neogeisha, i’m with you on that one. i am trying not to comment anymore but it might be safer for trevor to block my address. (can’t really trust my latino temper)

  10. alin Says:

    sorry mate, i got it wrong i was actually looking at the 2nd review on the 2nd page which would make it 12 and 13. but what i said still stands.

    if you’d have only taken my point or at least not reacted to my first comment we could have avoided all this.

  11. Adamu Says:

    Amazon reviews: They have been great for years but I worry that the talent that went into them is now focusing on editing Wikipedia (I know one person who’s made the switch at least). Wikipedia’s good too but one hopes people will still want to rant against shitty books.

    Again this interview is the sort of informative, digestable introduction to the topic that makes all the tangential stuff I have encountered over the years make so much more sense (so much stuff written in Japanese assumes the reader has a certain level of background and that goes for many topics not just this one). Thanks!

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    sorry mate, i got it wrong i was actually looking at the 2nd review on the 2nd page which would make it 12 and 13.

    Oops! I fear you mistake this place for Neomarxisme. Let me know when you are ready to talk without calling me names.

    Here was the entirety of the objectionable review, everyone, that Alin can see the “GW Bush’s smile” in me agreeing with:

    「ただのグロさを追求しただけの映画として観るならいいが内容を求めてはいけない。テーマを連合赤軍らしい物にしたのが間違いである。総括というものをまったく理解せずに、ただの狂気として片付けてしまったところが、この作品の内容のなさを決定づけている。もし連合赤軍関連の映画を観たいなら光の雨を観てほしい。 」

    “If you want to watch this film as a mere pursuit of the grotesque, that’s fine, but you can’t ask much from the content. It was a mistake for them to have made the theme something similar to the United Red Army. They have no understanding of the big picture, and the fact that they’ve explained everything away as simple insanity proves the emptiness of the content. If you want to see a film about the United Red Army, I’d rather you watch 『光の雨』 instead.”

  13. riyota kasamatsu Says:

    Great work. I have been following Patricias work for some time, but I really enjoy reading this interview. I have also been studying postwar radicalism in Sweden, and Japan, and was planing to write a comparison on Swedish, Japanese and Finnish post war left wing radicalism. Both Nordic countries never developed the underground movement of Japan US Germany Italy etc… But in Sweden there was one group of Maoists, whom where called the Rebells, that came near to going underground but fell apart in an incident that nearly got several people killed, in self critisism lynchings. Interestingly there are similarities between Swedish group dynamics and Japanese group dynamics. Even for the saying 出る釘は打たれる there is a paralell saying in Swedish. Hammer down the nail that sticks out.

  14. Mr. Suzuki, you are a delicious looking cake. :: Chomsky in Okayama :: October :: 2008 Says:

    […] Japanese New Left, see this multipart interview with Patricia Steinhoff:  1, 2, 3 (language), 4, 5, 6, 7 […]