Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Japanese Student Left in the 1960s

Introduction: this is an undergraduate paper I wrote back in May of 2000 for a survey class on Asian Politics at Calvin College. I was very interested in the Japanese student movement, but I struggled to find decent sources. There is, unfortunately, a lack of accessible English sources available on the Japanese student movement in general, and perhaps in particular at the small Christian liberal arts college library where I was studying. By going through every book the library had on Japan, I was just barely able to scrap enough information together to make a decent paper. (If you look in the bibliography at the end of this paper, you can see just how thin a lot of my sources were.)
Also back in 2000, there was very little information available on the Internet about the Japanese Student Movement. This has changed for the better, so that now a simple search can turn up any number of sources. Obviously if I had written this paper now, it would read a lot differently. Also among the books I've read in the years since, I can recommend Fire Across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan by Thomas Havens and "Blood and Rage: the story of the Japanese Red Army” by William Farrell as being useful sources of information. Anyone who knows of any other useful books or articles on this topic, please feel free to add it to the comments section.
Nevertheless, for whatever it may be worth, here is my original paper.

May 10, 2000

The 1960s were a time of student revolution and discontent all over the globe, and Japan was no exception. The New Left in Japan began to be active in 1960, and would remain so until the 1970s. To understand the Japanese New Left, it is useful to look at student protests, various results of the new left, and a brief analysis of the character of the New Left.

Student Protesters

Massive student protests began in Japan in 1960. The movement wielded together two different causes. The first was opposition to the renewal of the Security Treaty with the United States. The left feared that this would draw Japan into the foreign wars of the United States. The second reason for protesting was Nobusuke Kishi becoming prime minister in 1957. Since Kishi had been the vice minister of munitions under Tojo, the left saw both of these events as signs that Japan was giving up on its post war ideals of democracy and demilitarization.1

When Kishi left Tokyo to sign the security treaty on January 16, 1960, the airport had to be cleared of 700 students, members of the All-Japan Federation of Student Self Government Associations (or Zengakuren for short, in Japanese), who had occupied and vandalized it the night before. The same group clashed with police four times that year as they attempted to enter the Diet Compound. They also succeeded twice in entering the Prime Minister’s residence and burning police cars. When the treaty was passed, left-wing demonstrations increased. On the night of June 15, 1960, a massive demonstration occurred in which 236 students along with 570 police were injured and one female student, Michiko Kamba, was killed. Although the demonstrators were never successful in overturning the treaty, they were able to force Kishi to resign from his post as prime minister.2

After these demonstrations Japan had relative quiet until the end of the 1960s, when the whole globe erupted in student movements. However the experience of that first year in 1960 was a radicalizing one for the Japanese students involved, and it would sow the seeds for many of them to become active again later. It is also believed that these first demonstrations in Japan had an influence on American student radicals. Clark Kerr, the administrator at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, is on record as saying that given what was happening in Japan, it was inevitable student unrest would eventually spread to America.

Japanese student protest in the late 60s, as in America, were largely fueled by opposition to the Vietnam War. Because of the security treaty between Japan and America, and because of the many US military bases on Japan, the Japanese students felt that Japan bore some responsibility for the Vietnam War. Also the Japanese government officially supported US policy in Vietnam. Thus in 1967, when Prime Minister Sato attempted to visit South Vietnam, rioters blockaded the approaches to Tokyo National Airport and burned police vehicles. They were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the visit.3

Another issue of discontent in the late 1960s was the students' demand for campus reforms. In 1968 almost 100 incidents of protest occurred in Japanese Universities. At Tokyo University, medical students objected to the medical practitioners' law and began a year long strike. The police were finally called in on June 17 to evict students who were barricaded in the administration building. Students boycotted all classes in response, and ultimately the president, dean of the faculty of medicine, and the director of the university hospital were forced to resign. The following January 400 students were arrested at Tokyo University when they occupied Yasuda Hall. The police were able to clear the students out only after two days of “pitched battles.”4 In another Tokyo protest in 1968, to mark the anniversary of the death of a student protester the year before, 140 students were arrested and 110 policemen injured. Students also protested against tuition increases, and pressed the University to become more democratic, sometimes even asking for a vote in choosing the university president.

By 1969, United States occupation of Okinawa was becoming an issue in the student movement. The Vietnam War had made the United States military presence in Japan even more unpopular. 6000 people were arrested for protesting in the first half of 1969. On Okinawa Day, April 28, Students took over the trains in Tokyo and brought them to a halt. Student organizations such as the anti-war youth committee and the Peace-For-Vietnam Committee were active student groups that always had riot police surrounding their meetings. On International Antiwar Day, October 21, police arrested more than 1,400 students from these organizations.

Images of students battling riot police became increasingly common, and in some cases students even fire bombed university buildings. The government reacted to the increasing social unrest by legislating a bill to restore order. It included a greater concentration of power in the hands of the University administration, severe penalties for disruptive students, staff and faculty, and even a provision for dissolution of the universities in cases of prolonged trouble.

The Liberal Democratic Party was able to pass this bill through the Diet despite intense opposition. Once it passed, college presidents all over Japan resigned in protest. In Kyoto University, students reacted so adversely to this bill that 2,000 riot police were used to clear student barricades and arrest radical students. When classes finally began again, they did so under police guard. 5

The Results of the New Left

As in Europe, some of the more radical student groups of the 1960s turned to terrorism in Japan. The most famous of these was the Red Army Faction. The Red Army Faction was responsible for hijacking a Japan Airlines plane to North Korea in March of 1970. The Red Army also hijacked a Japan Airlines plane in Libya in 1973, and in 1974 blew up an oil storage tank in Singapore. Their most famous action was an attack on Lod Airport in Israel, in which 26 people were killed. Yet perhaps the greatest enemy the Red Army Faction ever had was itself. Factional fighting almost tore it apart, and in 1972 fourteen members of the group were killed by more radical elements. These fourteen included five women, and several of them were killed by being tied naked to trees and left to freeze to death.6

Another event at the end of the student movement was the Narita Airport incident. Although opposition to the proposed airport began as soon as it was announced in 1966, most of the fighting took place in the 1970s. The plans for the Narita Airport generated opposition from farmers who would lose their land. The student radicals were able to give ideological justification to the farmers' opposition, and at the same time enjoyed the public sympathy for the farmers. There was also fear among the left that, because of the size of the proposed airport, it could be used to land U.S. military planes. 7

Throughout the 1970s, students opposed to the airport constructed forts, towers, tunnels and underground bunkers as they battled the police. In the end two students were killed as well as four riot police. (Three of the riot police were killed by the Red Army Faction, which used Bamboo spears). The airport was completed in 1978. 8

Comments on the Students

Many of the same remarks that have been made on the 1960s movement in Europe and in the United States can also be made about Japan. There was a generation gap between the old left in Japan and the new left. The old communist left had focused on sacrifice and misery, enduring torture and imprisonment in the 1930s. The new student left focused on joy, hedonism, excitement and happiness. The old left was dogmatically Marxist, while the new left showed a high interest in Marx, but also borrowed heavily from humanist and existentialist thinkers. In fact the student protests in 1960 were significant because they were the first leftist protests in Japan not controlled by the Communist party. 10

Also similar to Europe and America, many of the student organizations resisted the urge to organize themselves into well structured hierarchies despite large public support. A minimalist approach to structure was adopted, with an egalitarian emphasis. Visible leaders were discouraged. The Peace-in-Vietnam committee is an excellent example of this. 11

However despite all the efforts of the students, the movement had little success in affecting the firmly entrenched power of the Liberal Democratic Party. The student movement died out due to the end of an American presence in Vietnam, continuing national prosperity, and a negative public reaction as the student radicals turned violent. 12


Burks, Adrath. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1969

–. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1970.

Dower, John. Peace and Democracy in Two Systems: External Policy and Internal Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993.

Hayes, Louis. Introduction to Japanese Politics. Missoula: University of Montana. 1992

Koschmann, Victor. Intellectuals and Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993.

Kublin, Hyman. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1968.

Milieu, Its and Kazuko Tsurumi. “The Japanese Student Movement.” Japan Quarterly: Oct-Dec. 1968.

Seligmann, Albert. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1968.

Tsurumi, Kazuko. Student Movements in 1960 and 1969: Continuity and Change. Tokyo: tokyo Press. 1975.

White, James. Dynamics of Political Opposition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993.

1. John Dower, Peace and Democracy in Two Systems: External Policy and Internal Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 21

2. Albert Seligmann, Japan (New York: Americana Corporation, 1968) 396

3. Hyman Kublin, Japan (New York: Americana Corporation, 1968) 378

4. Adrath Burks, Japan (New York: Americana Corporation, 1969) 384

5. Adrath Burks, Japan (Americana Corporation: New York, 1970) 389

6. Louis D. Hayes, Introduction to Japanese Politics (Missoula: University of Montana, 1992) 120

7. James White, Dynamics of Political Opposition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 440

8. Hayes 120

9. Kazuko Tsurumi, Student Movements in 1960 and 1969: Continuity and Change (Tokyo: Tokyo Press 1975) 202

10. Its Milieu and Kazuko Tsurumi, The Japanese Student Movement (Japan Quarterly: Oct-Dec 1968) 431

11. J Victor Koschmann, Intellectuals and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 414

12. Hayes 120.

Professor's Comments: Well done. A good summary and Evaluation
Grade: A-


Anonymous said...

As the author mentions, this is a rather limited summary of the Japanese Student Movements. It doesn't make mention of several important groups and movements, such as the anti-kaihatsu movements, Beheiren, and Zenkyoto. Perhaps most needed is an analysis of why these movements were unique in contrast to student movements of the same period around the world, which indeed, they were.

Anonymous said...

Also, you should put your full name here - give yourself some credit and maybe tweak the feeble consciences of the folks who come here to plagiarize your work (erm, like me ;)

Joel said...

Although I'm opposed to academic dishonesty in general, I have to say I wouldn't feel personally wronged if someone wanted to use parts of this paper for their own purposes. It's a standard under-graduate paper I did almost 10 years ago now, of questionable quality, and I hardly need say I have no rights to the information nor get any sort of benefit from the credit.

Anyone who plagerizes this paper however does so at their own risk as there are huge gaps in it. This is due mainly to the fact that, as I said in the introduction, I didn't have access then to the information that I do now.

There's a lot more information available on-line then there was 10 years ago. I know this page sometimes pops up first or second in a google search, but I would encourage people interested in the subject to search a bit deeper. (Also I apologize to any serious researches who keep bumping into this paper when using search engines).

Also in terms of books on the subject I can recommend “Fire Across the Sea: the Vietnam War and Japan” by Thomas Havens and "Blood and Rage: the story of the Japanese Red Army” by William Farrell. I had read neither of books at the time I wrote this paper, but I've come across them in the years since, and had I known about them 10 years ago this paper would read a lot differently. Hopefully any student can get a hold of these books with inter-library loan.

If anyone else knows of any other useful sources, feel free to comment. This particular page has started to get a surprising number of hits recently, so maybe we could use the comments section to start a useful bibliography.

onedot said...

I was in Japan in 1968 for four months, fleeing the insanity of America and it's war in Vietnam. I was invited to Tokyo University. When I arrived I was escorted through the maze of lockers set up at the entrance of a student occupied building and taken to the President's office which had been rearranged to accomodate students in various stages of exhaustion and activity. I marveled at their energy and ability to sleep soundly on two chairs pushed together.

I was invited back to a public conference the coming weekend. I took the train and when I arrived at an auditorium, it was packed with students crowded together on hard benches and a slippery center aisle, wet from huge blocks of ice being slid down to the stage for a tiny bit of relief from the oppressive heat. As soon as I was recognized, I was invited backstage and asked to speak about the Vietnam war and my opposition. I thought about doing it. The enthusiam was intoxicating. But this was a foreign country with different rights and laws. I politely declined and joined the audience. The students were passionate, sitting for hours in the heat. Several weeks later, I heard about the students' occupation ending in a violent battle with police.

My instinct for caution in Japan proved correct. A month later I was tardy three days in renewing my Tourist Visa. Two weeks later I was required to go to a Police Station for a lengthy interrogation conducted with no translator. I had to go two days in a row to answer copious, detailed questions about myself and my family and sign a "confession" written in tiny Kanji characters 3 pages long with 4 carbon copies. I would like to go back to Japan and find my "confession" and have someone translate what I confessed to.

They were crazy days in Japan. There were such extremes amid such controls, like the performance group that performed the jizzing contest in Hibiya Park on a Sunday creating a screaming panic exodus of families.

Joel said...

Some Addendums:

Something which I perhaps should have added to this original paper (but didn't) is the source of that Clark Kerr quote I alluded to:

As an avant-garde campus, Berkeley was going to be in trouble at some point. It didn't have to be at that time over this issue. But given the nature of San Francisco and the tradition of the Berkeley campus and what was going on around the world, in Japan in 1960 and the movement of the blacks, Berkeley was going to be in trouble at some time (Kerr in Worst, 276).

Worst, Milton. Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1979.

(I used this quote in another one of my papers: http://papersiwrote.blogspot.com/2005/12/conditions-leading-up-to-berkeley-free.html

Joel said...

Also, some further thoughts on the Japanese student movement are on my main blog: