Right-Wingers in Kudanshita

The Right-Wing Series > Kudanshita > Spotter's Sheet > Yuko Tojo

TOKYO-With his broad shoulders rippling beneath his dark blue jumpsuit, Shinichi Kamijo slowly strides up to the front of Yasukuni Shrine. As he faces the memorial's imposing façade, a hinomaru stitched upon his upper back side is clearly visible.

Beads of sweat pour down from his shaven skinhead on this mercilessly muggy August 15, the anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, as he performs a few bows, tosses some coins, and clasps of his hands in remembrance of Japan's fallen soldiers.

Behind him, veterans sporting camouflage military uniforms and tourists, cameras in hand, emptying from tour buses can be seen congregating atop the baking concrete within the compound, centrally located in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.

The burly Kamijo then makes his way back to rows of shaded tables filled with his cohorts - fellow members of various uyoku dantai (right-wing groups). "China and South Korea educate their children to hate Japan," the 38-year-old Kamijo says of his reasoning for starting his group, Gishin Gokoku-kai, at the age of 26. "They don't want the younger generation to stop being angry so that they can continue to get money from the Japanese government. I am tired of their complaints in spite of still receiving money. They do not appreciate our efforts."

Such thoughts are not unusual at Yasukuni, where controversy surrounds its enshrinement of fourteen Class-A war criminals, including wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo. Not only does this contribute to it being perhaps Japan's most notorious rallying point for nationalist sentiment, the shrine on this day is also the beginning of arduous few hours for any Japanese right-winger worth his salt.  

The morning began with a surprise visit to the grounds by former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who made a point of paying his respects each year that he held office (2001-2006).

Absent from the gathered thousands, however, is current prime minister Shinzo Abe. News outlets speculated that (in spite of Abe's prior visits as chief cabinet secretary) the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's severe trouncing in the recent upper house election would keep the prime minister away. "Though I understand Abe's reasoning for not coming to Yasukuni," Kamijo says, "I respect Koizumi because he visited this morning."

For Kamijo, who admits that he is not in top form since having dropped 11 kilograms following a recent bout with a sickness, there is little doubt that he means business. The back of his neck is tattooed with the English letters "DEATH" - as a warning to foreigners - and the numeral 4, whose Chinese character (pronounced "shi") has the same morbid meaning. Appearing on his meishi (business card) are the lyrics to "Kimigayo," Japan's national anthem.

A carpenter by trade, Kamijo explains that his history of brawling with mobsters and foreigners in Roppongi while a member of a bosozoku (motorbike gang) is so extensive that he suggests a separate meeting be held for all the gory details to be conveyed.

These days, he is concerned with counteracting the problems he sees in modern Japan's passivity. "Japanese have been way too quiet," he says. "And since we don't have a nuclear weapon, they (China and South Korea) can be aggressive."

Outside, on Yasukuni-dori, dozens of large buses and trucks belonging to various uyoku dantai fill the curbs. By midday, most of the crews will complete their duties inside and board these fortress-like vehicles, boasting protective grills and mounted speakers, for the move down towards Kudanshita, where the groups will brawl with a sayoku (left-wing) group set on marching to Yasukuni to protest the shrine's existence.

By 2 p.m., the Anti-War Joint Action Committee, an organization of approximately 150, has assembled at Nishi Kanda Park, a small concrete and gravel square that is about 1 kilometer from the shrine. Before the protest begins, the leader of the committee announces that the group's battles with the uyoku are a usual occurrence. "But we are doing this for the people of Japan," he says.

Kamijo, meanwhile, whose group does not have a truck, has taken a position directly opposite a Mizuho Bank branch not far from Kudanshita subway station - about half way between Nishi Kanda Park and Yasukuni. Given that he is about ready to engage in battle, he is surprisingly calm, even leisurely taking sips on a bottled tea. "We must stop them from advancing to the shrine," he implores.

As he waits, convoys of trucks descend upon Kudanshita, their presence made obvious by the waving hinomaru flags, the painted chrysanthemum crests, and of course the unmistakable military jingles blaring from the sound systems.

Lines of hundreds of riot police officers soon after materialize throughout Kudanshita's streets. Each trooper is outfitted with a shield, heavy black boots, shin guards, and a helmet - the required equipment needed to face the throng of gathered rightists now stationed on the pavement.

"I want to continue to show the strength of the rightist power," Kamijo says, readying his position in front, "but we are under the control of the police."

Carrying large red balloons, colorful flags, and painted banners, the sayoku group approaches and makes the turn toward Kamijo's corner. Their chants are loud and clear: "We are completely against all the people who go to Yasukuni!"

As if rushing a quarterback, Kamijo tries to wedge his massive frame between a pair of shields to get at his protesting enemy. When rebuffed by the officers, he stabs his right index finger to the sky and screams.

Unbowed, he quickly follows the crowd down the street with one of his cohorts. Together they leap over a planter yet find themselves pushed back by a flurry of shields and forearms. Amid the chaos, Kamijo winds up getting flipped onto his back, flower pots are dumped and their contents spilled, and shop advertising flags fall to the sidewalk.

Though reports of uyoku-sayoku clashes commonly claim that the police firmly side with the right, on this day the sayoku are being protected. Further, given the clear planning on the part of the police as far as positioning, it is clear that the protest route, start time, and participants have been coordinated well in advance.

As the procession moves, right-wingers with portable loudspeakers blast their message of hate as their bolder brothers continue to make attempts at breaking the police lines. Every time, however, each is tackled, dragged off, or pushed away.

Confused onlookers stand by as the sidewalks and the center of the street become a swirling display of swaying protest flags, mashing bodies, and deafening noise.

In spite of Kamijo's claims of wanting to display the spirit of the uyoku, much of the violent activity appears staged. Though visually surreal, the feigned punches and clenched fists merely come across as elaborate street theater.

Even with the opposition showing relentless zeal, the chants from the marchers do not stop: "We are not going to forgive the government at all! No more war! No more Yasukuni!"

In the surrounding area, right-wing groups have parked their trucks at police barricades established at many of the large intersections. The police hold their ground as the members stand by and scowl outside their vehicles, whose sound systems are still pumping out the tunes at ear-splitting volume levels.

By the time the mob approaches Yasukuni, a sense of hatred has infiltrated the entire scene. Standing outside of shops and offices, a few typical salarymen and office ladies have decided to join in, verbally condemning the lefties for their presence.

Instead of continuing onwards, the march turns back towards the park, which most certainly was the plan all along. As the protestors file in, many right-wingers surround the area and continue their screaming and pushing routines.

Around the park and down narrow side streets, a few overly aggressive rightists can be seen getting hauled away by small groups of police. It is now clear that the ranks are thinning, and when a caravan of right-wing trucks breaches a police blockade and makes a final sonic blitz around the park it almost signals a last gasp.

In the end, however, Kamijo is no where to be found.

A phone call placed to the right-wing leader not long thereafter revealed that he had made it out intact following the "anti-Emperor demo," as he referred to the events on that day.

"I was not arrested," Kamijo said as a train announcement echoed loudly in the background. "There were no problems."

He then excused himself as he had to hang up and deal with a situation involving North Korea that was unfolding on the east side of Tokyo.

The Right-Wing Series > Kudanshita > Spotter's Sheet > Yuko Tojo

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