According to the 1989 Asahi Nenkan, there were 14,400 activist members of the "new left" organized into five major "currents" (ry ) and twenty-seven or twenty-eight different factions. Total membership was about 35,000. New-left activity focused on the New Tokyo International Airport at Narita-Sanrizuka. In the early 1970s, radical groups and normally conservative farmers formed a highly unusual alliance to oppose expropriation of the latter's land for the airport's construction. Confrontations at the construction site, which pitted thousands of farmers and radicals against riot police, were violent but generally nonlethal. Although the airport was completed and began operations during the 1980s, the resistance continues, on a reduced scale. Radicals attempted to halt planned expansion of the airport by staging guerrilla attacks on those directly or indirectly involved in promoting the plan. By 1990 this activity had resulted in some deaths. There were also attacks against places associated with the emperor. In January 1990, leftists fired homemade rockets at imperial residences in Tokyo and Kyoto.
In terms of terrorist activities, the most important new-left group was the Japanese Red Army (Nihon Sekigun). Formed in 1969, it was responsible for, among other acts, the hijacking of a Japan Airlines jet to P'yongyang in 1970 and the murder of twenty-six people at Lod International Airport in Tel Aviv in 1977. Its activists developed close connections with international terrorist groups, including Palestinian extremists. The Japanese Red Army also had close ties with the Kim Il Sung regime in North Korea, where several of its hijackers resided in the early 1990s. The group was tightly organized, and one scholar has suggested that its "managerial style" resembled that of major Japanese corporations.
Right-wing extremists were diverse. In 1989 there were 800 such groups with about 120,000 members altogether. By police count, however, only about fifty groups and 23,000 individuals were considered active. Right-wing extremists indulged in a heady romanticism with strong links to the prewar period. They tended to be fascinated with the macho charisma of blood, sweat, and steel, and they promoted (like many nonradical groups) traditional samurai values as the antidote to the spiritual ills of postwar Japan. Their preference for violent direct action rather than words reflected the example of the militarist extremists of the 1930s and the heroic "men of strong will" of the late Tokugawa period of the 1850s and 1860s. The modern right-wing extremists demanded an end to the postwar "system of dependence" on the United States, restoration of the emperor to his prewar, divine status, and repudiation of Article 9. Many, if not most, right-wingers had intimate connections with Japan's gangster underground, the yakuza.
The ritual suicide of one of Japan's most prominent novelists, Mishima Yukio, following a failed attempt to initiate a rebellion among Self-Defense Forces units in November 1970, shocked and fascinated the public. Mishima and his small private army, the Shield Society (Tate no Kai), hoped that a rising of the SelfDefense Forces would inspire a nationwide affirmation of the old values and put an end to the postwar "age of languid peace."
Although rightists were also responsible for the assassination of socialist leader Asanuma Inejiro in 1960 and an attempt on the life of former prime minster Ohira Masayoshi in 1978, most of them, unlike their prewar counterparts, largely kept to noisy street demonstrations, especially harassment campaigns aimed at conventions of the leftist Japan Teachers Union. In the early 1990s, however, there was evidence that a "new right" was becoming more violent. In May 1987, a reporter working for the liberal Asahi Shimbun was killed by a gunman belonging to the Nippon Minzoku Dokuritsu Giyugun Betsudo Sekihotai (Blood Revenge Corps of the Partisan Volunteer Corps for the Independence of the Japanese Race), known as Sekihotai (Blood Revenge Corps). The Sekihotai also threatened to assassinate former Prime Minister Nakasone for giving in to foreign pressure on such issues as the revision of textbook accounts of Japan's war record. In January 1990, a member of the Seikijuku (translatable, ironically, as the Sane Thinkers School) shot and seriously wounded Nagasaki mayor Motoshima Hitoshi. The attack may have been provoked by the leftist rocket attacks on imperial residences in Tokyo and Kyoto a few days earlier as well as by the mayor's critical remarks concerning Emperor Hirohito.
In early 1994, the coalition government formed by Prime Minister Hosokawa Morohiro from small parties broken off from the LDP in league with the Komeito and socialist parties following the July 1993 House of representatives election remained in power. Although the LDP was still the strongest party, for the first time in nearly fifty years it found itself in the role of an opposition party.
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