Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents


Civil Disturbances

The public and the government appear to tolerate certain forms of public disorder as inherent to a properly functioning democracy. Demonstrations usually follow established forms. Groups receive legal permits and keep to assigned routes and areas. Placards and bullhorns are used to express positions. Traffic is sometimes disrupted, and occasional shoving battles between police and protesters result. But arrests are rare and generally are made only in cases involving violence.

Political extremists have not hesitated to use violence and are held responsible for bombings in connection with popular causes. In January 1990, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot by a member of the right-wing Seikijuku (Sane Thinkers School), presumably for a statement he had made that was perceived as critical of the late Emperor Hirohito. That attack came two days after the left-wing Chukakuha (Middle Core Faction), opposed to the imperial system, claimed responsibility for firing a rocket onto the grounds of the residence of the late emperor's brother and a day before the government announced the events leading to the enthronement of Emperor Akihito in November 1990. The enthronement ceremonies were considered likely targets for extremist groups on the left and the right who saw the mysticism surrounding the emperor as being overemphasized or excessively reduced respectively, but no serious incidents took place. Although membership in these groups represent only a minute portion of the population and present no serious threat to the government, authorities are concerned about the example set by the groups' violence, as well as by the particular violent events. Violent protest by radicals also occur in the name of causes apparently isolated from public sentiments. Occasional clashes between leftist factions and between leftists and rightists have injured both participants and bystanders. Security remains heavy at New Tokyo International Airport at Narita-Sanrizuka in Chiba Prefecture, the scene of violent protests in the 1970s by radical groups supporting local farmers opposed to expropriation of their land.

The most notorious extremists were the Japanese Red Army, a Marxist terrorist group (see Political Extremists , ch. 6). This group was responsible for an attack on Lod International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, in support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1972. It participated in an attack on a Shell Oil refinery in Singapore in 1974 and seized the French embassy in The Hague that same year and the United States and Swedish embassies in Kuala Lumpur in 1975. In 1977 the Japanese Red Army hijacked a Japan Airlines jet over India in a successful demand for a US$6 million ransom and the release of six inmates in Japanese prisons. Following heavy criticism at home and abroad for the government's "caving in" to terrorists' demands, the authorities announced their intention to recall and reissue approximately 5.6 million valid Japanese passports to make hijacking more difficult. A special police unit was formed to keep track of the terrorist group, and tight airport security measures were instigated. Despite issuing regular threats, the Japanese Red Army was relatively inactive in the 1980s. In 1990 its members were reported to be in North Korea and Lebanon undergoing further training and were available as mercenaries to promote various political causes.

Data as of January 1994