How Japanese student radicals became juche believers in North Korea


Public debut of the independent Red Army Faction at the National Zenkyoto convention, Hibiya Park, September 5, 1969. Red Army Faction members (right) battled with members of Bund (left) outside Hibiya Outdoor Amphitheatre. Takazawa, Koji, author and editor, Zenkyoto? Gurafuitei. Tokyo: Shinsensha, 1984, p. 55.

Excerpted and adapted from the English translation of Destiny: the Secret Operations of the Yodog? Exiles, by Takazawa Koji, edited by Patricia G. Steinhoff.


During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japan had a New Left protest cycle that paralleled those in western Europe and the United States. The Japanese New Left was separate from the parliamentary Japan Communist Party and drew many of its ideas from Japanese translations of the latest revolutionary New Left literature including works by Regis De Bray (1967), Che Guevara (1968, 1969), Rudi Dutschke (1968), Daniel Cohn-Bendit (1968), Howard Zinn (1968), Stokely Carmichael (1968), Eldridge Cleaver (1969), Alberto Bayo (1969), and Carlos Marighella (1970). Japanese New Left groups identified with student movements in the west and protested about similar issues, including opposition to the Vietnam War and American military bases in Japan, as well as tuition increases, overcrowding, and authoritarian regulations at universities. Frustrated by the Japanese government’s intransigence in the face of huge protest demonstrations, they despaired of change through either electoral or street politics, and instead saw revolution as the only alternative. New Left street demonstrations steadily escalated into violent clashes resembling medieval battles. The students wore color-coded crash helmets emblazoned with names of their organizations, carried long fighting poles, and threw paving stones or firebombs at the police. They confronted squads of riot police wearing medieval style helmets, who battled the students with tall aluminum body shields and police batons, supported by water cannon trucks that sprayed fire hoses of water laced with tear gas at the students. At the peak of the protest cycle in 1968-69, Japanese authorities suddenly cracked down with mass arrests and prolonged incarcerations of thousands of students. This turned the tide, in part by producing splits within New Left groups.

One major national New Left protest organizations nicknamed Bund expelled its radical Red Army Faction for advocating urban guerrilla warfare with guns and improvised explosives to incite a revolution in Japan, as part of the simultaneous worldwide revolution that their leader Shiomi Takaya believed was imminent. As the newly-independent group experimented with explosives in fall 1969, heavy police pressure pushed them underground. In March 1970 nine students from the Red Army Faction hijacked a plane to North Korea. Two years later they renounced the Red Army Faction’s ideology of simultaneous world revolution and converted to Kim Il Sung’s juche ideology. Little was heard from them until they re-established contact with supporters in Japan in 1988. After one Yodogo member was arrested in Japan, his lawyer and the leader of a support organization began visiting the group in North Korea. Takazawa Koji knew the group’s leader Tamiya Takamaro from his days as a student activist, first in Bund and then on the fringes of the Red Army Faction, where he helped publish Red Army Faction publications and provided support when people were arrested. He became an editor and authority on the New left, and first visited North Korea in 1990 at the group’s invitation. In this excerpt from chapters 5 and 6 of Destiny, he uses manuscripts they gave him for publication in Japan to examine their conversion process. As he explored their experience in North Korea, he found disturbing parallels to the United Red Army Incident in Japan that happened at almost the same time.

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