East Asian Anti-japan Armed Front: a Tale for These Times

Published

In the 1970s, several armed anti-imperialist organizations emerged in Japan tracing the genealogy of contemporary violence through the history of colonialism and capitalism in East Asia. Chelsea Szendi Schieder presents here a short history of one of them: the East Asian Anti-Japan Armed Front.

It was the rise of modern human society that made wolves baddies. People in Japan had not traditionally raised sheep or goats that they needed to protect from wolves. Rather, wolves had been revered as “big-mouthed gods” that kept the threat of wild deer and boars away from the fields. The introduction of rabies in the 18th century, deforestation, and conflict with encroaching humans destroyed the Japanese wolf. By 1905, the wolves of Japan were extinct.

In 1974, a group calling itself the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front [EAAJAF] adopted the name “The Wolf Cell” as a tribute to the destroyed Honshu wolf, likening the oppressed masses with that eradicated beast. Within a year, however, the Japanese police had rooted out the Wolf Cell too. With their bombing campaigns, the Wolf Cell also became cast as the villians of postwar Japanese society. Perhaps worse, their stories are often written out of the narrative of a peaceful, affluent postwar Japanese history. Their strategies were violent, prompting condemnation, and eclipsing their aims of bringing attention to the violence of the Japanese state and capital. That historical violence remains inadequately acknowledged, and yet is foundational to contemporary Japan. The story of these “wolves,” then, is also a tale for our time.

The Wolf Cell ///

At lunchtime on August 30, 1974, the Wolf Cell of the EAAJAF bombed the headquarters of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in central Tokyo, killing eight and injuring almost 400. The images of the explosion’s aftermath are haunting. It was a rare scene of extraordinary violence in the heart of an ostensibly peaceful postwar Tokyo. The EAAJAF had meant to only interrupt business as usual and not to kill anyone, but their telephoned warning had not allowed for enough time for a full evacuation of the area, leading to unintended deaths.

These deaths and the bombing campaigns in general that were central to the strategy of EAAJAF have made many dismissive of the group as a terrorist organization.

The editors of a recently reissued edition of the documents created by the EAAJAF recently published (2019), insist upon understanding the context in which the EAAJAF turned to violence. The group operated in the 1970s, a moment in which the Vietnam War had intensified many more vague concerns about the violence of capitalism and U.S. imperialism. In some ways, that context has not necessarily changed. What has changed is that, contrary to the aims of EAAJAF and other radical groups active in the 1960s and 1970s in Japan, the violence of the Japanese state and capital are rendered less visible than ever. What, then, was EAAJAF trying to accomplish? How did they frame their protest?