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Mobsters, Motorboats and Motorcycle Gangs: Radical Youth and Rithwing Politics in Postwar Japan

Dr. Christopher Gerteis
(University of London, Great Britain)

"Mobsters, Motorboats and Motorcycle Gangs: Radical Youth and Rightwing Politics in Postwar Japan"

April 20, 2016

In the late 1960s the streets of Tokyo and Osaka seemed awash with leftist student radicals deeply invested in political and countercultural movements anathema to the status quo, yet young people interested in rightwing politics also did not have to look far to find affiliation or financial support. Organizations connected with rightwing activists and fixers Kodama Yoshio and Sasakawa Ryoichi were well financed and highly motivated to undercut leftist student activism. Indeed, Kodama shared with a CIA informant his belief in March 1969 that anti-American demonstrations were about to “bring about the downfall of the Japanese government.”

This talk examines the ways in which the state’s interest in suppressing leftist radicalism encouraged strange alliances between former war criminals, rightwing politicians, mob bosses and the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Beginning in the early 1950s, alleged war criminal and postwar political fixer Kodama Yoshio sent money and young thugs to assist in the suppression of suspected Communist insurgencies across Japan and its former empire. Various conservative politicians had quiet, private relationships with Kodama, but they threw their full public support behind Sasakawa by granting him the monopoly on a very profitable motorboat gambling syndicate, which he used to finance dozens of youth education and training programs focused on developing the political purity and traditional values of the Japanese people. Increased public scrutiny in the wake of the Asanuma assassination in 1960 pushed the Japanese rightwing to find alternative means of mobilizing support for their neo-Fascist agenda such that by 1970 Kodama and Sasakawa had become two sides of the rightwing coin — Sasakawa the gentler, softer-looking public head and Kodama the more secretive, nefarious tail.

Christopher Gerteis is Senior Lecturer in the History of Contemporary Japan at SOAS, University of London, and currently fellow at re:work, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Der Vortrag wurde gemeinsam von der Japanologie und der Graduate School of East Asian Studies angeboten.