Background Info

After World War II, in September 1945, Japan suffered major loss to the country’s economy and population including nearly 3 million war dead and the loss of a quarter of the national wealth. It was a miracle that Japan was able to rapidly stabilize financially to the point where they became the second wealthiest economy after the United States in the 1990s. Post-war Japanese economic boom was due to a variety of different factors that had to do with America’s contribution such as the international market, social mobilization, existent industrial capacities and experience and government policies and expertise. After gaining substantial support from the United States and achieving domestic economic reform, Japan’s economy especially boomed from the 1950s to the 1970s, they experienced significant increase. Japan’s economy had a scheduled 9% annual growth rate however labour intensive jobs were in decline such as the agriculture, textiles and coal industries experienced serious decline and bankruptcies.

The Japanese Red army was a terrorist organization that emerged from radical student politics in Tokyo. It was founded by Fusako Shigenobu who was a member of the Marxist–Leninist-Maoist United Red Army Faction.

The United Red Army faction searched for survival as the police pressure made it more and more difficult for them to operate in Japan. Overtime, they separated into 3 groups; the Yodo group which is relocated in North Korea, the Japanese Red Army in Lebanon and the United Red army which stayed in Japan.

Expressed through terrorism, the Japanese Red Army attempted to support a Marxist Leninist ideology. They had long identified themselves as part of the radical Palestinian movement and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), (although they were based in the Middle east).

The Japanese red army had goals to unite leftist anarchist organisations, end the U.S. supported imperial system and establish a People’s republic and eventually, world revolution. It basically wanted to overthrow the Japanese government and monarchy and create a communist economy. Ultimately, bring Japan back to as it was prior to WW11 and empower workers in traditional industries.

Why did the movement begin at this time? What circumstances made it easier to do so/encouraged the movement? Made possible the challenge then? (why at this time)

Education for the new generation brought about more freedom while MacArthur encouraged students to express their ideas. To the young people of Japan at the time of MacArthur’s control, the new universities not only offered education but also a new sense of excitement. For many, attending university would be their first time living away from their parents, being exposed to new ideas and perspectives. He increased the required number of years Japanese children should go to school, from 6 to 9 years and also established a university system like the US’s. Higher education was now open to more people where it was once only available to the wealthy and privileged. The schools also cultivated in students with a strong sense of national pride and superiority. Japan also had a western style legal system that tolerated protest.

MacArthur tried to grow enthusiasm in the students, he encouraged them to challenge the old ways of thinking, hoping that this free exchange of ideas would cultivate a democratic tradition in Japan.

The students responded with more energy than MacArthur imaged, debate turned into protest as students challenged what they felt were conservative teachers that represented Japanese imperialism. Students also demanded some control over their education. Thus, more students became more expressive in their views and wanted to voice their opinions more. It was of this generation that the JRA came about.

The ideas that influenced the challenge and brought about the change?

What were the ideas

Generally, the Japanese Red army hated the idea of imperialism and capitalism, they sought to end modern imperialism, between Japan and the US. General Douglas MacArthur was put in charge of the US occupying forces which meant he was in charge of Japan. He brought about a new capitalist and imperialist system to make them a more friendly, democratic and free country. The members of the Japanese red army felt as though imperialism made the rich richer and the poor poorer. Thus, the group adopted a communist philosophy devoted to social and economic equality for everyone around the world.

MacArthur signing the Japanese surrender documents in 1945 after Emperor Hirohito accepted his responsibilities for the war and offered to abdicate.

How important were they to the people affected?

These new policies from Douglas MacArthur bringing more advanced education to the Japanese allowed them to grow a wider perspective and have deeper understandings in topics. MacArthur also encouraged people to talk about their opinions more, this was very important for the members of the JRA because they were more encouraged and now had the courage and knowledge to voice their opinions about imperialism.

The methods employed by groups and individuals to implement change and express views. Comprehensive evaluation of the significance of ideas and events that contributed to the movement.

Describe the methods used-what did they do? Did they E.g. Use violence as a weapon, or passive resistance, art, music film etc.

Japanese Zen Rock Garden

The Japanese Red Amy were among the most dreaded terrorist organizations. Through contact with the “Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine”, which was committing regular terrorist attacks at the time, the Japanese Red Army believed in the use of violence towards achieving their objects. Some of their most famous attacks included:

3 of its members randomly fired automatic rifles at the Tel Aviv Lod (Gurion International) airport in Israel on May 30th, 1972, killing 24 and leaving 76 others with major and minor injuries. 1 of 3 attacks then committed suicide with a grenade and the other was shot in the crossfire. The only surviving member was Kozo Okamoto.

This random attack now known as the “Tel Aviv Lod Airport Massacre” shocked the world and was said to serve as a forerunner for their following suicide bombings, the Japanese Red army continued to commit a series of brutal crimes around the world including seizing foreign embassies, high jacking aircrafts and robbing banks.

The “Kuala Lumpur Incident” in August 1975, which was when the US embassy and other facilities in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia were occupied by the JRA members, forced the Government to release the imprisoned or detained JRA members, as well as the “Dacca Incident” in September 1977 in which they high jacked a Japan Airlines aircraft leaving Paris for Tokyo.

They attacked the French embassy in The Hague, Netherlands in 1974. 3 members stormed in the embassy demanding the release of their member Yatsuka Furuya. An ambassador and 10 others were taken hostage, the siege lasted 5 days until Furuya was released.

What sort of wider community support did they get and from whom?

When Fusako Shigenobu flew to the Middle East to train with the PFLP, she joined the PFLP community since they shared the same Marxist-Leninist ideology and she had helped them perform terrorist attacks including the Lod Airport massacre in 1972. Most of her support came from within this group in Libya, they had also helped her when she formed the JRA group. Fusako Shigenobu had little support coming from Japan.

After the demise of communism and the loss of relevance of the PFLP to the Palestine Resistance movement, and the Libya’s withdrawal of support caused the JRA to gradually become less and less relevant which then led to the group eventually dying out.

What role did the media play in their cause

After each terrorist attack performed by the Japanese Red Army that had severe consequences such as death and destruction, these attacks would be posted all over newspapers nationally and internationally, bringing fear across the world and adding to their reupation as the one of the most feared guerrilla groups in the late 1970s.

Did they get attention and support from other people and places?

Current information from the US embassy in Tokyo identify that the Japanese Red Army had little support or connections with other terrorist organisations within Japan, they had no ties with the USSR, China and had little appeal to most leftist Japanese Youth. Most of their support came from their connection with the PFLP in Libya. However, between 1971-1991, they drew a lot of international media attention from their dangerous and scary terrorist attacks. The most infamous of them was the murder of 26 people at the Lod Airport in Israel, 1972.

Key individuals and/or groups involved in the movement for change. comprehensive evaluation of the significance of individuals

Why did they get involved?

Shigenobu was born in Tokyo 1945, she grew up with her mother, father, 2 brothers and a sister in poverty. They struggled to survive post-war Japan. Her father was a teacher at a temple school or the poor until the outbreak of war and then entered the military and fought with the feared Kempeitai secret police wing of the Imperial Japanese Army.

By the 1960’s Japan’s economy and education system had recovered. Fusako Shigenobu was just 26 when she established the movement, she had just completed her studies at Meiji University where she joined various student movements including one that protested against increasing tuition fees. Student movements were incredibly big at this time, many students joined protest campaigns to fight for their beliefs. Her humble origins informed her outlook on life, as she believes that the privileged upbringings of many leaders in the Liberal Democratic part makes them ill-equipped to lead the country.

This led her to contribution in the general leftist student movement in the 1960, and she rose up the ranks to become one of the leaders, she joined the United Red army and when they could no longer survive due to police pressure, they split into 3 separate groups, one of them, the Japanese Red Army, which she led.

What did they do?

In February 1971, Fusako Shigenobu left Japan to go to train with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was committing frequent terrorist attacks at the time, after breaking away from Japanese Communist League red army faction. She as well as other leading members of the Japanese Red army established their activity base in the middle east on July 15th, 1971 and she became a role model for Japanese extremists. The Japanese Red Army, with Shigenobu leading them, grew out of radical student movement in the 1960s ad became one of the world’s most feared guerrilla groups.

Japanese Invasion of Malaya & Singapore: History and Significance

How did established political and social orders respond?

Who opposed the movement and why? What did they do? Were they successful? Short or long term?

During the Japanese Red Army there were no movements that tried to counteract the JRA besides the general police force, thus, the JRA continued with their attacks through to their disbandment.

However, since the disbandment of the JRA, the National Police Agency (NPA) in Japan established the “Emergency Plan for Security” in August 2003 aiming for a safer society where citizens can live freely. The NPA recognises that the threat of terrorism against Japan is growing rapidly, because of this, they established the “Action Plan on Counter Terrorism” in August 2004 in order to deal with terrorism.

However, this emergency plan came after the Japanese Red Army disbanded, therefore, it did not affect the Japanese Red Army’s activities.

To what extent were goals achieved and change brought about, both short and long term?

Did people’s lives change?

The Japanese Red Army did not really have a big impact on people’s daily lives and it didn’t really change people’s lives. In Japan, they were not a big issue as well as in international countries, although their attacks featured on newspapers. The Japanese Red Army were only a danger when it came to their attacks such as the Lod Airport Massacre that killed 26 people. As well, the ideology of the Japanese Red Army did not really appeal to anyone outside their circle and had little appeal to most leftist Japanese Youth.

Their attacks were mainly at airports, embassies and even within their own group. They gained worldwide notoriety in February 1972 during a nationally televised gunfight with the police in a mountain villa. After that incident in the same month, the police found shallow graves containing 14 United Red Army bodies, men and women who had been tortured as a result of ideological deviation.

Did/do somethings remain the same?

Since the arrest of Fusako Shigenobu in Osaka, 2000, the Japanese Red Army was left without a leader, and so from behind bars, Shigenobu disbanded the team and it was confirmed in the May 30 Declaration (a statement that the JRA issues every year around May 30 in commemoration of the Lod Airport Massacre). The Japanese Red Army is no longer active and they no longer perform terrorist attacks.

What does it reveal about the period?

The Japanese Red Army reveals the extremities the student protests of the 1960s had and the extent that MacArthur’s encouragement of voicing opinions brought although these extremities were not his intentions. It reveals that too much encouragement and forcing a more democratic world in a country that only knew monarchy and dictatorship throughout its long history could actually bring conflict of ideas, leading to extreme protests about different ideologies and opinions.

How long lasting were the consequences?

The Japanese Red Army often committed destructive and bloody international incidents, one of them was an airplane hijacking, imperilled more than 151 passengers and crews. Their Tel Aviv Airport massacre in 1972 included a grenade and machine gun, killing 24 and wounding 76. These attacks surely destroyed the lives of the innocents being held hostage at the time as well as their families. Although the group was active for 30 years, their actions did not have much of an impact and they did not really achieve what they wanted, which was a world revolution.

The consequences of the Japanese Red Army were only felt during the time they were active and especially after their attacks, they were considered one of the most feared terrorist groups of the 1970s. They would have brought fear into many people’s lives, other than that, they did not have much effect on most people or the community.

Can the consequences still be felt today?

The Japanese Red Army does not have much impact on lives nowadays as it has already disbanded and they didn’t achieve what they hoped for. Even though the leader, Fusako Shigenobu is still alive and currently in jail, she remains optimistic that public protest can check government moves to alter the pacifist constitution.

What is its legacy?

The Japanese Red Army will now be a part of past history as one of the world’s most feared guerrilla groups in the 1970s that grew out of Japan’s radical student movements. The group will now be remembered for its dangerous terrorist attacks.

For Shigenobu on the other hand, she is was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2006, Shigenobu admits that her most cherished goal in life of world revolution is unlikely to happen.

“The world is becoming more and more homogeneous,” she said. “You could say that the world is ripe for revolution, in material terms. As long as humanity continues to be denied, the global humanist revolution will surely take place in a future generation. I’ll toast to it in the afterlife.”


Gallagher. A, 2003, The Japanese Red Army, The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, New York

Central Intelligence Agency, 1997, Emergence of the Japanese Red Army,

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STEINHOFF.G, 1999, Social Science Japan, Newsletter of the institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo, 15th March, p. 3-4

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Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 1990, Taylor and Francis, vol. 3, pp. 73

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