Posted: October 27th, 2022

Long response questions


  • In Scream from the Shadows, Setsu Shigematsu writes of the philosophies and solidarity practices of the ribu movement: “By recognizing the subject’s constitution in a system of historical and structural violence, such a feminist ethics would recognize that the eruption of counterviolence becomes recognizable only through its break with the normalized (and often nonvisible) conditions of state violence” (170). According to your reading and understanding of the violence of the URA/JRA uprisings and ūman ribu, what are the conditions that Shigematsu is describing? Describe why “critical solidarity,” which often meant being in solidarity with violence, was crucial to their goals.

Chapter Title: Ribu’s Response to the United Red Army Feminist Ethics and the Politics
of Violence

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Book Title: Scream from the Shadows

Book Subtitle: The Women’s Liberation Movement in Japan

Book Author(s): Setsu Shigematsu

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

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Ribu’s Response to the
United Red Army
Feminist Ethics and the Politics of Violence

Political violence remains as an aporetic condition.1 It is an ineluctable prob-
lematic bound to politics, ethics, sovereignty, and power. The definition of
political violence is debated and unsettled, involving a spectrum of violence
for political ends that can include state- sponsored violence and terrorism; mil-
itary and policing actions; incarceration and torture; and insurgent, counter-
hegemonic uses of violence and terrorism.2 As a radical feminist movement
that formed amid the turbulence of the early 1970s, ūman ribu’s approach to
political violence was both compelling and complex. This chapter examines
ribu’s relationship to the United Red Army (Rengo Sekigun; hereafter URA),
a group considered by many to have been Japan’s most violent domestic
under ground revolutionary sect.3 The following discussion of the URA dem-
onstrates that the interpretability and contestability of any action or event is
what renders its violence political, justifiable, and/or abhorrent. The events
surrounding the URA in 1972 became a turning point for Japanese leftist
radicalism because of the way political violence was deployed in the name of
revolutionary purposes. The URA’s use of violence in the name of the revolu-
tion has been regarded as a disturbing and tragic event that marked the down-
fall of the Japanese New Left. To this day, the causes, residues, and scars of
this self- destructive phenomenon have haunted many of those involved in
the political movements of that era.

Ribu’s critical feminist approach to violence was evident in how it re-
lated to the URA. While rejecting the URA’s use of violence as fundamen-
tally misguided, many ribu women collectively engaged in various supportive
actions toward the women of the URA. Ribu’s support of the women of
the URA provides a critical reframing of how the state and the mass media
constructed the female leader of the URA as a “violent threat” to national

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140 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

security. Through this analysis of ūman ribu’s approach to the political uses
and abuses of violence, I argue that their praxis of critical solidarity and
radical inclusivity offers a creative way to work through the causes and ef-
fects of different forms of violence and expresses an alternative feminist eth-
ics of violence. In the second half of the chapter, I discuss Tanaka Mitsu’s
complex approach to different manifestations of violence as one element of
her philosophy of liberation. I demonstrate how her philosophy of liberation
involves the principles of torimidashi (contradiction and disorder), contin-
gency, violence, relationality (kankeisei), and eros, which are all integral to
her existentialist approach to liberation. I conclude with Tanaka’s approach
to the URA’s female leader, Nagata Hiroko, as a powerful and symbolic distil-
lation of ribu’s crucial intervention at this pivotal moment in Japan’s political

The United Red Army

Ūman ribu emerged at a time when political violence was rampant across
the political spectrum from the far left to the far right. University campuses
were rife with battles between right- wing student groups, leftist sects, and
student activists. As the Japanese government continued its support of the
United States’ war in Vietnam, thousands of Japanese took to the streets to
battle against the riot police to express their solidarity with the Vietnamese.
As the state increased its police powers and continued its repression of pro-
tests by arresting thousands of activists, some far- left groups also increased
the intensity of their tactics against the state. The URA emerged amidst this
escalation of violent resistance.

The URA became the most infamous sect of the Japanese New Left. It
formed through a merger of two far- left sects on July 15, 1971. The merger
involved one wing of the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and the Revolutionary
Left Faction, an offshoot of the Marxist Leninist Faction (ML Ha).4 The
leader of the JRA at the time of the merger was Mori Tsuneo (1944–73), and
the leader of the Revolutionary Left Faction was a woman, Nagata Hiroko
(1944–2011). Nagata became second- in- command of the URA, after Mori.5
One of the reasons Mori merged with the Revolutionary Left Faction was
that his JRA division was unable to acquire any arms or weapons. Under
Mori’s leadership, the political aim of the URA was to escalate conflict with
the Japanese government.

The JRA, which should be distinguished from the URA, was known as
the most militant revolutionary group in Japan. Its other cells had engaged
in several successful missions, including a series of robberies and attacks
against politicians and police officials and the hijacking of an airplane to

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 141

North Korea in 1970. In 1971, some of its members left Japan and aligned
themselves with the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Led
by Shigenobu Fusako, the JRA division based in the Middle East continued
its activities for the next few decades. After November 1971, nine of the ten
most wanted “criminals” in Japan were members of the two sects that com-
prised the URA. This was indicative of the state’s efforts to prioritize the
targeting of leftist insurgents.

In the winter of 1971, the URA retreated to mountain training camps
in the Japanese Alps in Gunma- ken to undergo revolutionary training. The
URA intended to prepare for armed struggle against the state and to liberate
one of its leaders who had been incarcerated. During this revolutionary train-
ing period, under the directives of Mori and Nagata, the group engaged in a
violent and lethal internal purge. This purge began as a process of sōkatsu
(which took the form of collective and individual self- criticism) but quickly
escalated into a form of testing and measuring each member’s revolution-
ary commitment. During various training activities, Mori and Nagata ac-
cused members of not possessing or demonstrating sufficient revolutionary
consciousness. For example, when two of the members (Katō Yoshitaka and
Kojima Kazuko) were found to be engaging in romantic relations, this was
interpreted as evidence of a lack of revolutionary commitment. Within this
logic of organizational discipline, having a romantic relationship was deemed
counterrevolutionary. During the course of this internal purge, Mori and
Nagata ordered other members to punish those they deemed as lacking in
their revolutionary commitment. These forms of punishment involved beat-
ings and torture and exposure to the elements without food and shelter.6
In the course of this purge, the sect tortured and killed twelve of its mem-
bers, most of whom were in their early twenties. Between January 1 and early
February 1972, the leaders of the URA ordered the torture or execution of:

Ozaki Michio (21, male)
Shindō Ryuzaburo (21, male)
Namekata Masatoki (22, male)
Kojima Kazuko (22, female)
Toyama Mieko (25, female)
Katō Yoshitaka (22, male)
Teraoka Koichi (24, male)
Yamazaki Jun (21, male)
Ōtsuka Setsuko (23, female)
Kaneko Michiyo (23, female and eight months pregnant)
Yamada Takeshi (27, male)
Yamamoto Junichi (28, male)

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142 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

Torturing and killing one’s own comrades, who were suddenly designated
as lacking in revolutionary commitment, became a means of both proving
one’s own revolutionary commitment and ensuring one’s own survival. Two
others had previously been killed in August 1971, when they had tried to leave
the Revolutionary Left Faction: Hayaki Yasuko (21, female) was killed in
Inbanuma, and Mukaiyama Shigenori (21, male) was murdered in an apart-
ment in Kodaira.

In early February 1972, Mori and Nagata left the camp in the Gunma
mountains to go to Tokyo. After they left, members of the URA began to
escape, fearing they would be the next one singled out to be killed. By mid-
February the police began closing in on the URA. On February 19, the police
arrested Mori and Nagata.

The last five remaining members of the URA were on the run, armed
with rifles and explosives. They were hiding out in a mountain lodge in the
Japanese Alps and had taken the wife of the owner of the lodge as a hos-
tage. Between February 19 and 28, these five remaining members of URA
held off over fifteen hundred riot police at the lodge, called Asama Sansō,
near Karuizawa. This armed standoff and hostage- taking incident became an
unprecedented television spectacle. Television news coverage of the incident
began on February 19, and hundreds of media staff were on site to work
the story. The continuous live televised news coverage lasted for ten hours
and forty minutes and constituted an unprecedented broadcasting event in
Japan’s media history that has never been surpassed in terms of its duration
and ratings. At the climax of the police operation, when the “radicals were
arrested and the hostage rescued,” with almost 90 percent viewer ratings,
according to NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai), “almost the entire country was
watching the same thing on TV.”7

The orchestration of this prolonged televised broadcast recast the URA’s
form of small- scale insurgency into unprecedented national spectacle, produc-
ing the hypervisibility of the actions of a handful of militant New Leftists. In
the month following this standoff, as the police interrogated the incarcerated
members of the URA about the whereabouts of the remaining sect members,
the details of the internal purge were gradually divulged. The police immedi-
ately released these details to the mass media, which promptly disseminated
stories about the killings across the nation. Revelations about the URA’s mur-
ders and the exhumation of corpses made the front pages of major news-
papers and top stories of television news during the first half of March 1972.

The collaboration between the police and the mass media rendered the
killing of these twelve Japanese as an exceptionally heinous spectacle of vio-
lence. In the wake of the Asama Sansō incident, the reportage about the URA

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The grave of two victims of the United Red Army lynching incident. Asahi Shinbun,
March 10, 1972.

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144 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

tied the image of armed resistance to the murder of one’s comrades. This
misuse of counterviolence served to delegitimize militant leftist struggles, as
these young leftist revolutionaries were portrayed as ruthless extremists. The
URA incidents thus became an ideal opportunity to hegemonize the state’s
monopoly on political violence. In Patricia Steinhoff’s words, “As the gory
details emerged, the entire nation recoiled in shock, and the New Left was

The unprecedented hypervisibility of this (ab)use of revolutionary vio-
lence, as an effective discursive tactic, eclipsed the incommensurate magni-
tude of mass militarized massacre being perpetrated against the Vietnamese.
This incident deeply disturbed the Left and New Left. Immediately follow-
ing the revelation, established leftist organizations such as Zengakuren (All-
Japan Students Association) publicly stated their unequivocal condemnation
of these violent actions. The chairman of Zengakuren, the largest communist
(anti–Japanese Communist Party) student organization, stated to the news
media on March 15, 1972, that the URA and other militant groups, such
as Kakumaru (Revolutionary Marxist) and Chūkaku (Middle Core), were
“undermining democratic forces in Japan.”9 In the spring of 1972, the JRA
members based in the Middle East condemned the activities of the URA and
officially declared their disassociation from them. As a consequence of the
mass media’s coverage of the lynching incidents, Nagata became arguably
the most notorious and reviled woman of her era, if not throughout postwar
Japanese history.

Ribu’s Critical Reframing

In March 1972, just as the news of the lynchings was breaking, ribu women
from different regions of Japan confronted how the media was framing the
story. Even though the news was horrific, and all the more sensational be-
cause of the role of a woman in leadership, many ribu activists responded
in the moment to the mass media as part of a complex and multifaceted
approach to the URA. Rather than condemn or single out the URA, ūman
ribu’s response was based on a broader analysis of the interconnectedness
and gendered regulation of the political system. Through their alternative
media, ribu activists created a counterdiscourse critically reframing the com-
plex convergence represented by the URA and Nagata Hiroko.

For example, the inaugural issue of one of the long- standing ribu news-
letters, From Woman to Women (Onna kara onna- tachi e) addressed the URA
and its media coverage as an issue related to all women. This ribu newsletter

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 145

was edited by Miki Sōko and Saeki Yōko and was published from 1972 to
1982. Writing in a regular column under the pen name “witch,” or majo,
Miki Sōko critiques the coverage of the URA. She analyzes the March 11
and 12, 1972, editions of the Asahi Shinbun and argues that this kind of cov-
erage by sexist male reporters “disseminates discrimination throughout the
nation” and thereby “oppresses women.”10 The morning edition on March
12, for example, ran headlines such as “The Onna Called Nagata Hiroko”
and “Cruelty That Even the Men Feared,” along with commentary such as
“You can hardly say Nagata was a beauty.”11 Miki also critiqued the publi-
cation of a roundtable composed exclusively of men, who comment on the
high number of women in the URA and how they were stronger [than the
men in the group].12 One of the commentators repeatedly remarks on how
the URA members were very “feminine” (joseiteki) and how what transpired
was due to “extreme emotions” within the group.13 Another commentator
suggests that perhaps it was not Mori, but Nagata, who was at the center of
the events. Another states, “Women’s participation in the movements is not
only a problem for the URA, but a new problem today.”14 Because of this
kind of coverage, ribu activists took to task the skewed and sexist editori-
als that suggested such violence was to be blamed on women’s involvement
and the feminine characteristics of the group. By responding to the gendered
representations of the URA, ribu activists offered a critique of the gendered
economies deployed to render aberrant particular expressions of violence,
especially when they were framed as emanating from a “feminine source.”

Nagata as Female Terror

Ribu activists addressed how Nagata was displayed as a spectacle and an
object of loathing for the entire nation.15 They thoroughly objected to how
the media declared that Nagata was “inhuman,” “a murdering devil,” and a
“witch.”16 In the newspaper and magazine photos selected to represent the
story, Nagata was often portrayed with her face down, tied up with a rope
around her waist like an animal as she is being escorted by the police.17

Even though Mori was captured at the same time, similar pictures of the
male leader, being tied with a rope and escorted by the police, rarely appear
alongside Nagata’s. Compared with the more neutral facial photos of Mori,
the photos of Nagata tied up with a downcast face indicate how the media
chose to portray her in such a way that her very image was meant to be seen
as an object of shame. Indeed, one of the first lines of the story about her
confession published by Asahi Shinbun on March 14, 1972, begins, “Even her

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Nagata Hiroko. Photograph from Asahi Shinbun, March 14, 1972.

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Mori Tsuneo. Photograph from Asahi Shinbun, May 11, 1972.

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148 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

own comrades called her an ‘old hag’ (onibabā) behind her back.”18 This
kind of news reporting unabashedly emphasized Nagata’s sexual difference,
as a female leader, mediating how she would be viewed by multiple publics.

Patricia Steinhoff, who has conducted extensive research on the history
of the URA, also underscores the disparity in how the two URA leaders
were treated: “Both the court and the public have treated Mori as a politi-
cal leader whose plans went astray, they have treated Nagata as a menacing
crazy- woman motivated by spite and jealousy.”19 Steinhoff further notes that
the judge had a “misogynous opinion” of Nagata, describing her as possess-
ing an “emotional and aggressive personality, she is suspicious and jealous,
and to these are added the female characteristics of obstinacy, spitefulness,
and cruel sadism.”20 That such a gendered discourse was used to condemn
Nagata highlights the degree to which her actions were being interpreted
through a debased view of her sex. The ribu women clearly understood that
treating and blaming Nagata as the source of the problem was a means to
attack women more generally. These examples of the sexist discourse used to
condemn Nagata contextualize the significance of ribu’s intervention.

The ribu movement was forming in the midst of the breakdown of the
New Left. The planning for the first major ribu conference was ongoing just
as the March news of URA incidents was revealed. In the newsletters leading
up to the May 1972 Ribu Conference, many women took up the thematic of
the URA right alongside issues such as unmarried mothers, abortion, women
who kill their children (kogoroshi no onna), contraception, and child raising.
They considered the problem of women engaging in different forms of vio-
lence as connected with other political problems.

It is important to consider the various problems of daily life, seeing the
problems of sexual discrimination, the problem of how to organize the
movement and what form the struggle against authority should take,
and the pain that Nagata Hiroko experiences as an onna alongside each

Rather than seeing Nagata as an aberration, ribu understood her as caught
within a matrix of interconnected political issues, a symptom of how state
violence and leftist political violence, sexual discrimination, and movement
organizing had collided in a self- destructive cycle. Alongside a much needed
critique of the sexist and misogynist discourse of the mass media, ūman
ribu forwarded a timely and trenchant critique of the URA tragedy as a cata-
strophic outcome of the masculinism of the New Left and the state.22 As dis-
cussed throughout chapter 2, the ribu women questioned and critiqued the

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 149

masculinist culture of the New Left and how revolutionary action was con-
flated with one’s willingness to engage in violent action against symbols of
the state (such as politicians and police).23 Ribu women drew the connections
and parallels between the masculinist values of the power structure, the New
Left, and the mass media.24 A ribu activist named Kazu states that both the
New Left and the state are engaged in a power struggle “based on the same
set of values which is a fight between men to seize power and authority.”25
Therefore, any woman who tries to continue working within this thoroughly
masculinist structure would eventually be found to be “counterrevolutionary.”

Along with their criticism of the New Left, ribu women recognized their
relative proximity and relationality with them, as their progenitors. In this
connection, another ribu pamphlet states:

There is no way that it should be said that ribu has no relationship to the
New Left. Surely, the first thing that can be said that it [the New Left] was
the parent that spawned and gave birth to ribu, and the fact that it has
manifested such an aspect and broke down, with other parts in shock and
struggling to survive, is a serious situation for ribu as well.26

Thus, rather than conceiving of themselves as somehow outside of or un-
tainted by its politics, along with its strident critique of the New Left, ribu
activists recognized their own political genealogy and formation in relation
to the New Left.

In addition to their critique of the media’s sexist representations of
Nagata and the masculinist culture of the New Left, ribu activists had to
respond to the many ways the mass media linked the URA with ūman ribu.
Nagata’s leading role provided a facile means to sensationalize the event, and
her role as a female leader became a convenient way to connect and conflate
ūman ribu with the URA. Miki Sōko also points out that the evening edition
of the Asahi Shinbun (March 11, 1972) reported that one of the members of
the JRA was also a member of the Group of Fighting Women, ribu’s most
well- known group.27 Although this information was not accurate, in this way,
the mass media linked the URA and ūman ribu in multiple ways.28 Linking
ribu to the URA was a way to prevent some women from joining the move-
ment, by casting ūman ribu as a “dangerous” affiliate of the URA. The ribu
women recognized that this was an attempt to cast a shadow over ūman ribu
and malign the image of women’s participation in revolutionary politics.
The conflation of ūman ribu’s politics with the URA suggested that horrible
things happened when women become too strong and too powerful, deflect-
ing a broader critique of the masculinism of the New Left and the state.

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150 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

Critical Solidarity

Even as they maintained their critique of the masculinism of the New Left
and URA’s militaristic tactics, many ribu activists supported the women of the
URA, understanding the significance of this juncture and what was at stake.
Based on their critical analysis of the URA, as symptomatic of the masculin-
ism of the New Left and the state, and their supportive actions for the women
involved, I describe this distinctive relationality as a feminist praxis of critical
solidarity and radical inclusivity. The key words used in ribu’s discourse and
alternative media to describe their relation to the women of the URA were
shien, meaning support or backup, and kyūen, generally referring to rescue
and relief work, in contrast to the term for solidarity (rentai).29Although the
ribu women were critical of the philosophy and practices of the URA, they
still engaged in a wide range of supportive political action for the women
of the URA that not only constituted rescue and relief work but, I would
argue, went beyond merely rescuing those in critical condition as the con-
demned and rendered socially dead through their criminalization. Through
their political actions, they produced a new form of relationality with these
criminalized subjects.

Ribu’s collective actions to support the women of the URA can be theo-
rized as a radical feminist practice of solidarity based on how ribu activists
sought to identify as onna with the other onna of the URA. Ribu activists
readily understood that Nagata’s treatment and condemnation was insepa-
rable from her identity as an onna,30 which was in turn linked to the general-
ity of onna.31 Reflecting on their actions toward the URA, in the mid- 1990s,
Mori Setsuko stated, “We wanted to point out that these women [of the
URA] were being criminalized for being onna. . . . We were not supporting
the philosophy of URA. We were supporting the onna that was already being
condemned as onna.”32 Nagata was being condemned not simply because
of her actions but because she was an onna who had stepped far beyond the
acceptable boundaries for women to act. In the context of the 1970s, based
on her position of power over men in a paramilitary organization, Nagata
embodied a subversion, if not what some might consider a perversion, of
gender roles. Even in the context of revolutionary praxis, she was a gender-
nonconforming anomaly.

Even as they completely rejected the use of violence against one’s own
comrades, ribu activists stridently objected to the ways in which the state
and the male- dominated media attempted to dehumanize the members of the
URA and cast Nagata as some kind of female monster or witch. In her expla-
nation as to why they organized in support of the URA, activist Namahara

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 151

Reiko (“Nora”) emphasizes, “These people were not considered human.”33
Ribu activists were concerned with how other middle- class Japanese women
were abjected and dehumanized through this process of criminalization. The
fact that Nagata engaged in this form of political violence was an opportu-
nity to amplify the criminalization of violent women as particularly heinous,
rendering her status as a woman at once both questionable and yet the basis
of her condemnation. Rather than disavowing or disassociating from her,
Nagata was treated as an onna who had committed a fatal and tragic series
of mistakes and as an important opportunity to question the conditions that
could compel any woman to act as Nagata did.34

Ribu activists were motivated by a radical feminist logic that sought to
affirm their own sex and revolutionize their immediate surroundings; they
identified with other Japanese women who could be interpreted as rebel
women committing mutiny against the dominant system. In doing so, they
articulated a bold new approach to violence expressed by women. Akin to
how the ribu women declared solidarity (rentai) with women who killed their
children— while they in no way advocated killing children— ribu women
understood the larger political discursive structure that had to be rejected and
intervened upon. As seen through ribu’s solidarity with women who killed
their children (discussed in chapter 1), ribu refused the complete repression
and disavowal of women’s inherent capacity for violence, which then neces-
sitated their pathologization, rendering violent women aberrant. By sup-
porting the women of the URA and declaring solidarity with mothers who
killed their children, ribu activists engaged in a form of feminist support
and solidarity that was nevertheless critical of the context and effects of in-
terpersonal and structural violence. Even though ribu activists did not agree
with these women’s actions, they chose to support these women on the basis
of their broader feminist concerns regarding the conditions that led these
women to express their violent potential. Ribu’s form of feminist identifica-
tion included active support of violent women and violent mothers who were
criminalized and condemned by dominant society. Insofar as violence was
thoroughly regulated through gendered economies, ribu women interpreted
the expression of violence by women as necessarily political.

This praxis of critical support and solidarity is based on a broader analy-
sis of the interconnectedness of the political system that illuminated the con-
nections between the gendering of state power and authority, as maintained
through violent domination, and how this gendering infected the culture of
the Japanese New Left. Ribu took issue with this ideological gendering of
domination that made violent physical domination of bodies a normalized

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152 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

form of expression for men in power but rendered it aberrant for women.
They sought to expose how both the men who govern the nation and certain
members of the New Left were upholding the same form of armed, lethal
military power as the chosen and most valued tactic. Ribu intellectuals Saeki,
Miki, and Mizoguchi summarize the URA as a militant group that empha-
sized that “it is the gun that creates the party” and sought to “battle to the
death with guns.”35 Such a reductive and destructive approach to revolution-
ary change was antithetical to ribu’s all- encompassing approach to social
transformation and desire to prioritize human relationality. Their use of the
terms shien (support) and kyūen (rescue and relief), instead of rentai, mark
this political distinction in their approach to revolution as a representational
strategy that signified a constitutive distinction.36

Radical Inclusivity

Ribu’s feminist approach self- reflexively embraced the problem of the URA
as its own. In so doing, ribu engaged in a challenging form of critical soli-
darity, a praxis I call radical inclusivity. In March 1972, Mori Setsuko, a core
ribu activist, stated, “I think that the essence exposed by the URA is actu-
ally within each one of us, and within me.”37 In making such a statement,
Mori approaches the violence expressed by URA and the complicity of the
other URA women in that violence as a means to examine the self and locate
the other within the self, enacting a self- reflexive form of radical inclusivity
that enables solidarity and a complex political identification with these other
women. Rather than disidentify or disassociate from the women of the URA,
this was seen as an important opportunity to question the conditions that
had compelled them to act as they did. Similarly, veteran ribu activist Yonezu
Tomoko states why she went to the URA hearings:

We wanted them to have a proper trial, because if it was rushed, there
would be no chance for the causes of what happened to be made clear.
When I went to the public hearings, I thought about . . . what was the
difference between me and those women standing there as defendants,
not only just Nagata Hiroko, but also some younger women who did not
have much of a leadership role in the group. . . . Fortunately, I was in a
university where the New Left guys were more flexible . . . so we were able
to make a women’s- only group. But what would have happened if I were in
a university where there were only people who were more like Nagata and
her people? My reality was that I did not go in that direction, but there
was a possibility that I could have walked down that path. . . . I could
sense how awful it was for those defendants standing there, and wondered

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how they would be able to go on with their lives, and so I could not allow
myself to avert my eyes from them.38

In this case, Yonezu’s gaze is not one that objectifies but that seeks ways to
connect with these women. Both Mori’s and Yonezu’s explanations highlight
how ribu’s discourse and actions sought to interrogate and emphasize the
potential commonality, as well as differences, they had with the women of
the URA. They recognized that they too could have become entangled in
such misguided violence had they not been fortunate enough to start a life-
affirming movement like ribu that valued relationality with other onna. They
therefore related to the women of the URA not as abjected others but sought
to understand and imagine what they experienced, and they reflected deeply
about the root causes of such violence. Ribu’s approach to violence was thus
highly self- reflexive (and self- critical), for they did not simply reject and dis-
avow the potentiality of such violence within themselves. Critical solidarity
involves a praxis of political identification based on a philosophy of existence
that emphasizes the contingency of one’s life and destiny and the realiza-
tion of one’s potential commonality with the other, including the potential
expression of violence.

Ribu did not have the luxury to philosophize about the URA from a safe
distance. Because of the tactics deployed by the mass media, the battle over
the representation of the URA became the terrain of ribu’s own struggle.
Not only was ribu falsely connected by the media to the URA, but a few ribu
women had various kinds of connections with the URA. As addressed later,
Nagata Hiroko had solicited Tanaka to work with them prior to the lynch-
ing incidents.39 Ribu’s response to the URA was thus infused with multiple
agendas and dangers.

In the wake of the May 1972 Ribu Conference, women from five ribu
groups together established the Ribu Shinjuku Center in September 1972.40
Alongside their activism on a myriad of interrelated issues, ribu women contin-
ued their support for the women of the URA. One woman, who is described in
the Ribu News as a member of the Group of Fighting Women, had a previous
connection with members of the URA.41 Her movement name was Kunihisa
Kazuko. She was arrested on July 18, 1972, under the suspicion of aiding and
concealing Nagata Hiroko and Sakaguchi Hiroshi. Sakaguchi was another
leader of the URA, who was married to Nagata and involved in the lynching
incidents. Rather than trying to disassociate from or disown Kunihisa, the
ribu women organized to support her case.42 Even though Kunihisa was ac-
cused of concealing Nagata and Sakaguchi in April 1971, more than half a
year before the internal purge, the media coverage of her arrest deliberately

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154 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

overlapped the story with the lynching incidents. In this manner, the media
linked ūman ribu with the URA, casting ribu in the shadows of the URA.
The ribu women recognized that such reportage was an attempt to use the
violence of URA as an opportunity to destroy their own movement by “blur-
ring the distinction between the existing struggles and ribu.”43

The inaugural edition of the Ribu News, published in September 1972
from the Shinjuku Center, ran a full- page article by Kunihisa called “The
Gap between the Popular Image and Reality.” Kunihisa describes her expe-
rience— as a mother of two— of being arrested on July 18, while her child
was at home with her.44 The article discusses in detail how she was detained,
interrogated, and indicted by the police and her emotional state throughout
this process until she was released on bail on August 16, 1972. The largest-
circulating newspaper of the ribu movement (with a circulation of several
thousand copies) thus publicized ribu’s support of and relationship with
Kunihisa and, in doing so, reframed and shed light on her (contingent) re-
lationship with the leaders of the URA. Kunihisa’s voice and perspective,
articulated through the Ribu News, enabled the reader to connect with her
experience as an “ordinary woman and mother.” Kunihisa speaks of her
struggle between her conflicting desires to keep her political integrity on the
one hand (by not giving the police any information) and her worries about
her children, on the other hand, due to her near month- long detainment.45
The space enabled by the Ribu News forged vital connections and a means
of relating to a criminalized onna, in this case, Kunihisa, and understanding
how Kunihisa was related to Nagata and Sakaguchi. Generating Kunihisa’s
discourse enabled a recognition of how the fate of one woman and her crimi-
nalization is connected to others.

Alongside Kunihisa’s own account, Yonezu writes an article titled “From
the Side That Supports Kunihisa- san”46 in which she emphasizes a kind of
relationality that was core to the politics of ribu. This relationship recognizes
subjective agency but also emphasizes the degree to which coincidental fac-
tors beyond one’s control also determine the course of one’s life.47 Yonezu
concludes her article by saying, “We want to move forward by treating these
women’s achievements and past mistakes as the accumulated resources of
onna’s struggle.”48 In this manner, rather than repressing onna’s errors and
mistakes, Yonezu includes them and critically embraces them as lessons for
the future of the struggle. Critical solidarity thus involves a praxis of politi-
cal identification that recognizes the inevitable imperfections and mistakes
involved in any struggle.

On January 20, 1973, the Shinjuku Center organized a teach- in called On
the Support of Nagata Hiroko.49 This meeting became the starting point of a

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support group for the women of the URA composed of many of the women
of the Shinjuku Center and other non-ribu movement activists. The full name
of this group was How Much of the Essence of the Thing Can We Hone In
on by Supporting the Women Defendants of the United Red Army. The long,
circuitous name of the group reflected the group’s inquisitive and deliber-
ately measured stance toward their support activities, and it demonstrates
how critical solidarity emphasizes that the “essence of the problem” extends
beyond the individuals involved in an act of violence. Rather than individual-
izing acts of violence, this approach analyzed violence as exceeding the indi-
vidual and not being reducible to group dynamics of the militant New Left.
The group’s titling also signals a radical Marxist approach— questioning
the question— aligning this feminist politic with that of the New Left it also

This group began to print a newsletter called Ashura in February 1973,
with the contact address of the Ribu Shinjuku Center. Naming the newsletter
Ashura invoked the image of a well- known Buddhist guardian deity (deva)
with three faces and six hands, serving as a reminder of how one body can
possesses many faces.50 One of its first newsletters printed Nagata’s own ap-
peal that she wrote while in detention on February 13, 1973.51 In this appeal,
Nagata writes in bold language, expressing a determined fighting stance.52
Nagata states that she knows the trial of the URA and the special policies
the court is trying to institute to rush the process is part of a larger “counter-
revolutionary campaign” to target “extremist groups.”53 In her appeal, she
explains why she and other URA defendants are protesting the proceedings
of the court, through a hunger strike, because of how the authorities are try-
ing to hasten the duration of the trial. Nagata writes:

From within this trial which is all about an ideological struggle (shisō
tōso), I will endeavor to continue thinking about the death of my fifteen
comrades. I want to move forward in my life struggle from within this con-
text. I think that our struggle is one part of the class struggle.54

Printing Nagata’s own appeal from a newsletter emanating from the Ribu
Shinjuku Center linked the voice of the most maligned woman of the era with
one of the main centers of the women’s liberation movement. This collec-
tive thus provided support for a woman who was fighting without hesitation
or apology against the authorities even though her tactics may have been
fatally wrongheaded. The cogency and analytic urgency of Nagata’s appeal
contrasts sharply with the media representations of her as a menacing crazy
woman given to fits of hysteria.

Ashura calls for a rally with the declaration: “We Will Not Allow Them

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to Use the United Red Army Trial to Promote Fascism,” forwarding a bold
and unflinching critique of the state. But in contrast to this strident style of
political writing, what characterizes many of Ashura’s articles is the non-
jargonistic, down- to- earth style of its prose:

We started our actions, moving forward with baby steps. We take our time
to figure out what we can do. . . . What is necessary to do at this time? . . .
We attended the public hearings and visited them at the Tokyo Detention
Center. . . . Others came after school and after work, and stayed to help
make pamphlets, rubbing their sleepy eyes.55

Articles such as “Why We Bring Our Children to the United Red Army Hear-
ings” argued against the assumption that ribu women were endangering their
children by bringing them to the hearings and questioned how such a trial can
be more dangerous than living in a society where children have been known
to die from food contaminated by toxins.56 These articles thus forwarded
a logic that went against the dominant narratives that sought to set apart
and render hypervisible the URA as though they were a group of loathsome
criminals. They expressed how “ordinary,” rather than radical or extreme,
supporting the women of the Red Army should be. In an article titled “Why
We Are Supporting the Women Defendants,”57 the author expresses her sense
that “next, they are going to come after me.” Refusing to single out Nagata
or the URA as dangerous extremists, ribu’s counterdiscourse consistently di-
rects its critical lens on a system that continues to “threaten our existence,”
underscoring a political subjectivity and ontology based on a collective form
of existence.58

Ashura also served to document the various support activities this group
engaged in, which included corresponding with the defendants, responding
to relevant inquiries from other parts of the country, and collecting donations
to support their legal defense.59 In addition to visiting them at the detention
center and attending the hearings, the ribu women and other supporters went
to bear witness to all the irregularities of the proceedings and to keep a record
of them.60 Even though the hearings were formally public, the authorities
tried to control who could enter and created special kinds of restrictions that
were not part of the normal procedures. For example, the court required all
those who came as spectators to the hearings to undergo a body search.61
In these ways, the creation of such special procedures to deal with the URA
hearings signaled the way the state would continue to increase its forms of
control and policing, using the URA as an example of why the state must
take extreme and invasive measures to rid society of such left- wing threats to
national security.

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The choice and commitment by ribu activists to continue an affiliation with
this underground revolutionary sect—which was condemned by so many—
points to how their principles of collectivity went against what would typi-
cally be considered more pragmatic tactics. A more pragmatic feminist ap-
proach may have involved publicly condemning the actions of the women
of the URA as masculinist and distancing and isolating them as violent ex-
tremists. Their affiliation with the URA rendered the ribu women the objects
of police surveillance and ribu centers the target of police raids.62 By going
to the hearings and visiting them at the detention centers, the ribu women
moved their bodies into physical proximity with the women of the URA. In
doing so, they risked being identified as part of the URA networks and placed
their lives in the line of a state- orchestrated criminalizing gaze.63 Rather than
staying within the comforts of the middle- class mainstream, their relatively
privileged position as middle- class Japanese women enabled this kind of po-
litical action whereby they could choose to make themselves vulnerable to
the state.

Through a combination of coincidence and subjective will, the women
of ribu found themselves in the crossfire of a decisive struggle in Japanese
political history. Ribu’s decision to support the women of the URA was a dif-
ficult, if not precarious, action for the movement, but all the more profound
given the political climate at the time. This willingness to embrace those who
were criminalized and not considered human was ribu’s most dangerous

Tanaka Mitsu and Her Philosophy

As she watched the New Left face its demise, Tanaka Mitsu forced herself
to continue writing during the spring of 1972. Over the course of about forty
days and nights, Tanaka struggled to complete her book To Women with
Spirit: A Disorderly Theory of Women’s Liberation (Inochi no onna- tachi e:
torimidashi ūman ribu ron).64 Described as the monumental text of the ribu
movement, To Women with Spirit remains the most widely read book of the
ribu era.65 Tanaka’s philosophy of liberation is woven into this highly per-
sonalized text alongside her critique of the New Left, the URA, and Nagata

Tanaka articulated a philosophy of liberation that departed from a par-
ticular understanding of onna’s subjectivity and ontology. Tanaka’s notions
of torimidashi, contingency, violence, relationality (kankeisei), and eros are
all important principles in understanding onna’s ontology as a desiring sub-
ject. Tanaka philosophy of liberation and onna involved a complex approach

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158 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

to different manifestations of violence constituting a distinct feminist epis-
temology and ontology. Through this analysis of Tanaka’s critical approach
to different forms of violence, I argue that it serves as a point of departure to
reconceive the relationship between violence and feminist subjects.

Tanaka’s earliest manifestos spoke of a political subject who was not sin-
gular in her desires but existed in the tension of her conflicted and contradic-
tory desires. Tanaka referred to this subject as the here- existing onna (koko
ni iru onna) in contrast to the nonexistent fantasy woman (doko ni mo inai
onna). This here- existing onna sensed her miserable and wretched condition
and could no longer bear to continue to live according to a heterosexist sys-
tem that defined her as either a nurturing sacrificial wife and mother or a
toilet for male sexual desire.67 She was a split subject: split between living a lie
and sensing that lie, knowing she lived a performance and not knowing herself
as a living woman, knowing there must be something other than what she was
living but not knowing how to become that not- yet- living woman. She was
caught between sensing her oppression and knowing she participated in the
system that (re)produced her oppression, between learning to survive in the
system and finding pleasure in her unfulfilled, unfree condition. This subject
did not and could not know herself, because she had never been free to be
herself. Regarding “the here- existing onna,” who existed in her state of con-
tradiction and chaos, Tanaka writes,

Within each person, there are different intentions that contradict each
other, and because they shift back and forth, you have this essential
derangement and disorder. Therefore, from the outset it is impossible to
express one’s real intent with words. That momentary constantly shifting
real intention (honne) can only at moments be expressed as torimidashi—
chaos, derangement and disorder.68

This condition of perpetual contradiction that Tanaka describes as torimi-
dashi was the essence of what it meant to live as a human. Tanaka sensed that
the orderly and abstract theories about human liberation failed to encompass
what it meant to live as an onna in this condition of derangement. It was this
existential inquiry, a conscious turning toward the painful and contradictory
condition of one’s existence, that produced Tanaka’s conception of libera-
tion as a chaotic and disorderly process. This sense of disorder is expressed
in the subtitle of her book. Contradiction and derangement were at the core
of a subject’s ontological condition. Tanaka’s conception of subjective and
collective action for ribu was captured in her oft repeated phrase “torimidashi
tsu tsu,” which referred to this continual state of disorder and derangement.

For Tanaka, the way the Left privileged its theories of liberation over prac-

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tice and lived experience was symptomatic of a masculinist modality that
would rather exclude, repress, or deny the importance of this condition of
perpetual contradiction or the significance of the visceral differences of wom-
an’s sex. One of the reasons for Tanaka’s desire and will to assert this princi-
ple as the core of subjectivity derives from her assertion about the anarchistic
tendencies of woman’s sex. For Tanaka, this core essence of women’s sex as
anarchistic was a potential counterhegemonic force against the orderly forces
of modern capitalism and a masculinist and male- centered civil society.69

To begin to know and recover herself, the here- existing onna had to con-
front herself and the misery of her life condition. In doing so, she would
realize that her subjective condition did not originate or emanate solely from
within herself but also formed from the outside by the system that consti-
tuted her as a social being. Tanaka held that the here- existing onna must turn
away from the forces that negate her and look elsewhere for her definition
of who she is and who she will become. She needed to learn how to affirm
and live as the here- existing onna.70 She must affirm herself not as a perfect
revolutionary subject but rather, in her totality, as an imperfect, contradictory
subject, for there was no other place of departure other than the here- existing
onna. Therefore, Tanaka’s concept of the revolutionary subject was precisely
that of the imperfect subject who was necessarily constituted by contradic-
tory and even conflicting desires.

Tanaka’s theory of liberation called for an episteme of the self, an episteme
that recognized and confronted one’s own state of contradiction and rela-
tionship with violence. Tanaka’s theorization of violence provides a striking
contrast with common feminist conceptions of violence as inherently mas-
culine or as a manifestation of male dominance.71 One’s own contradictori-
ness, excess, and otherness were linked to the conception of relationality and
how one encounters the other. Tanaka rejected the dominant definitions of
the “individual” based on binary models that separated and hierarchized the
mind/body, theory/experience, rationality/sexuality. Part of Tanaka’s project
was to displace this paradigm of the individual by theorizing through and
centering the body- of- contradiction of the here- existing onna. For Tanaka, a
capitalist society that alienates, divides, and splits subjects into categories of
the “individual,” the productive and nonproductive, and cuts off relationality
(kankeisei) according to the logic of capitalist productivity, was cruel and in-
herently violent. Thus, Tanaka did not emphasize individual acts of violence
but rather the violence of the system.

Tanaka speaks of various kinds of violence that differ in each context.
In To Women with Spirit, in one passage, Tanaka writes about her desire
for vio lence as a desire to be able to express her own violence, because she

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felt that as a woman she was not able to adequately express the violence that
she knew resided within her. Tanaka’s articulation of her desire to express
her own violence suggests that she does not idealize nonviolence, but rather,
depending on the context, she sees and recognizes the efficacy of expressions
of violence, particularly in the case of self- defense. “One thing that I don’t
quite have that I want is violence (bōryokusei). Perhaps my very existence is
violent but within me what is lacking is its concrete expression that one can
understand such as the raised fist.”72 Tanaka makes this statement as she
recalls how her father would beat her and her mother. Growing up, Tanaka
lived in fear of her father’s violence until the day she fought back. Tanaka’s
experience of using counterviolence against her father’s violence protected
and validated her existence. Her own use of counter violence was, in this case,
a form of self- defense used to stop the perpetuation of domestic interper-
sonal violence against her and her mother.73 Insofar as she describes it as an
effective means to break that cycle of domestic violence, she represents this
form of counterviolence as seemingly having a desirable or positive effect.
Therefore, the use of such counterviolence must be interpreted or attributed
value according to its context. Nowhere does Tanaka advocate that such par-
ticular uses of violence are generalizable as an ultimate principle for political

In another passage in To Women with Spirit, Tanaka writes about her ex-
citement as she watches her first uchigeba (intra- /intersectarian violent con-
flict) between the men of two left sects, Kakumaru (Revolutionary Marxist)
and the JRA. Even though the young men from the JRA were well outnum-
bered, they won. At that time, Tanaka was with a Kakumaru man, watching
from a distance.74 When the fight was over, she recalls feeling repulsed by
what she realized was her disdain of her companion’s lack of virility. Her
reflections about her own desires and the lure of violence mirror her fantasies
about masculinity and how that fantasy constitutes her own sense of femi-
ninity and heterosexual desire.75 Through her inclusion of these anecdotes,
Tanaka implicates herself and attempts an articulation of her location as a
woman in the desire for violence and how it is linked to her fantasies about
masculinity and power. Thus, even though she critiques these men, she places
herself in intimate proximity and relation with those whom she criticizes.
Tanaka’s analysis of the contradictoriness and fantasy- driven dynamic of
her desire speaks to a fundamental inconsistency of desire as a force that is
always potentially dangerous.

Philosopher Ukai Satoshi states, “The fundamental task of the current
era is how to evaluate the differences among violences.”76 This task would
involve an elaboration of what Randall Williams describes as “a defense of

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the ethicality of using violence as a strategic method— and when, where and
under what conditions such strategic actions might be deemed both necessary
and morally justifiable.”77 In this connection, I would add that when a subject
is always already constituted within, by, and through a matrix of historical,
structural, and systemic violence, this underarticulated historicity of vio-
lence can serve as the ontological basis and epistemic point of departure for
a feminist ethics of violence. Therefore, in certain contexts, such as the ones
described earlier, violence can be interpreted as exerting a particular set of
effects and can be precariously open to different kinds of interpretations. In
one instance, it is deployed and narrativized as self- defense, and in another,
it serves to shore up dominant fantasies of masculinity. Tanaka’s self- reflexive
and critical discourse offers a means to consider the productivity of a feminist
ethics of violence that examines the subject’s historicity, positionality, and
desires as constituted by differentiated relations of violence and power.

Tanaka went beyond what was typical among leftist discourses at the time
by elaborating a gendered analysis of the violence of the right and the left
and the violence within and between women themselves. In her earliest mani-
festos, Tanaka pointed to the contiguity of Japanese women’s structural rela-
tionship to heinous forms of violence against other colonized Asian women,
speaking of the relationship of the “chastity of the wives of the military
nation” in direct relation to “the dirtied pussies of the comfort women.”78
Even if there is no direct physical manifestation of violence by an individual
Japanese woman against the comfort women, we should recognize histori-
cal and structural violence that produces their positionalities in a structure
of correlation. In her writings, Tanaka makes it clear that Japanese women
(notably the middle class) are also oppressors in the system, playing a dis-
tinct role in reproducing men as slave workers under capitalism. According
to Tanaka, women were not only participants who reproduced a violent so-
cial structure: beyond being subjects that reproduced violent social effects, a
potential for violence was inherent to the specificity of a woman’s body and
being, to the particularity of her sex.

As noted in chapter 1, for Tanaka, the womb was not only the symbolic
and material site of the creation of new life, it was also the origin of violence.
Tanaka conceptualized the womb as the place that carried the grudge (怨)
of women’s history, containing forces that were generative and violent. By
positing a woman’s womb as a source of potential violence, Tanaka sug-
gests the female body is no longer seen as only a victim of external violence
but bears the potential to become a force of destruction and death. Thus,
women are not separate from violence; rather, a potential for violence is lo-
cated within women. By theorizing the female body as a site and source of

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violence, Tanaka’s ontology leads to profoundly different conclusions than
feminist discourses that almost exclusively posit women as the victims of
male violence.

Tanaka saw the capacity and desire for violence and revenge in the bod-
ies of all women, and she spoke of the capacity for violence as inherent to
women’s sex, as part of her will to power and her will to survive. Therefore,
women who killed were not depraved or aberrant but were expressing a
force both within them and beyond them. Rather than trying to speak to
why women killed, Tanaka asks, What is it that keeps us from becoming

Isn’t having to exist in this society itself already agony enough? How
can we go on living without engaging in such dishonorable tactics such
as attacking men, attacking women, attacking children, and attacking

“I am not going to attack, I do not want to attack when the other/enemy is off
guard” is the title of one of the sections of Tanaka’s book on the disorderly
theory of women’s liberation. This contemplation of whether to attack the
other expresses the force and singularity of Tanaka’s philosophy of libera-
tion. Tanaka’s capacity to tarry with violence, and the desires for and against
committing violence, and the contradiction and contingency between these
desires are distinctive features of her feminist philosophy of liberation and
also relate to this radical inclusivity of contradiction and chaos within the
subject. Tanaka’s conceptualization of violence contours her texts not only
as eruptions or obstacles on the way to liberation but also as the interminable
reality of human subjectivity and power struggle and therefore not only un-
avoidable but integral to the movement of liberation.

Tanaka says that what prevents people from taking out their revenge
against others is that they have become numb to their pain and numb to
the real violence of society; they deceive themselves into thinking they are
all right, that they are living “in the light.”80 The majority of people refuse
to confront the fundamental violence of society and also refuse to confront
themselves, for doing so would bring them face to face with their own rela-
tionship to violence. A confrontation with the self requires an understanding
of who one is in society and how one is supposed to live.

The meaningful potentiality of Tanaka’s oeuvre to liberation inheres in
becoming a subject that is open to this kind of self- identification, which be-
comes a way to identify with the other. Tanaka’s theorization involved a radical
pursuit of the other within the self, which became a way to forge a radical
relationship to the other beyond the self. It is through this inward turn that

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a subject confronts one’s own violence and realizes that one could have be-
come a child killer or a “Nagata Hiroko.” It is this same inward turn that
leads to new possibilities of conceiving and embodying liberation. Because
no one was beyond or outside the violence of the system, it was crucial to
grasp one’s own relationship to violence and one’s position in a violent sys-
tem.81 Tanaka was thus open to identify with and theorize a relationship to
various expressions of violence. She therefore did not see violence as an aber-
ration, or essentially evil, nor was it something that could be totally repressed
or expunged from society. Although she recognized that violence was part
of the struggle for liberation, Tanaka also refused to idealize or advocate
violence as the ideal way to achieve liberation. Although violence was part
of the ineluctable condition of existence and struggle, Tanaka recognized
the multiple and relational consequences of violence. Tanaka’s grasp of the
subject’s relationship to violence was why violence was not idealized or rei-
fied but understood as integral to the perpetual condition of struggle and
therefore something to be understood and judged according to its context,
its relational causes and effects. As a radical feminist movement, an integral
aspect of ribu’s liberation praxis was predicated on struggling toward an
identification and relationality with the existential possibility that one could
have become that other, whether that other be a child- killing onna or an even
more notorious woman such as Nagata Hiroko.

Tanaka and Nagata

Tanaka states that she began her ribu because she was disgusted with the
kind of revolution espoused by the New Left. In her words, ribu was the
“demon child” (onigo) of the New Left— a painful birth that was well past
its due date. In her dealings with the New Left, Tanaka writes about her
observations of the JRA. Having been asked to allow members of the JRA
to stay at her apartment (as was common practice among leftist activists at
the time), she had the chance to observe the JRA up close. She writes, “Their
lines sounded great, but they did not give a damn about me even though I was
proposing to organize. What the hell kind of revolutionaries are they?!! . . . It
was from this kind of anger that I began my ribu.”82

Immediately following the first ribu camp (gasshuku), held in August
1971, Tanaka received a call from Nagata Hiroko.83 Because their sect was
already under surveillance by the police, Nagata’s group was looking for
other groups to assist them. Nagata invited Tanaka to their mountain base
to stay overnight to observe their “extralegal activities” (非合法活動).84
Tanaka states that although she had no interest in covert activities, at this

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164 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

point, she agreed to meet with them. Although she had never met Nagata
before, Tanaka states she was “curious” about this woman who symbolized a
“woman revolutionary.”85 According to Nagata’s account, from the time they
met, Tanaka expressed her criticisms of the JRA. Nagata writes in her mem-
oirs that it was clear that “Tanaka’s group would not support any kind of
armed struggle that did not have the support of the masses.”86 Tanaka states
she could not even consider merging with them because she could already see
that this group did not grasp the difference between reality and their dream
of “simultaneous world revolution.”87

Having met Nagata and other members of the JRA, Tanaka was shocked
by news of the lynchings.88 She had met many of the members face to face
when she visited the mountain camp.89 Tanaka’s trauma from these events
would haunt her for years.90 Decades later, Tanaka recounts the unforgettable
laughter and smile of Kaneko Michiyo, who was eight months pregnant.91
She began writing To Women with Spirit in the wake of these revelations
and would reiterate her explanations for years to come. In To Women with
Spirit, she begins her chapter about ribu and the New Left as if she sees the
body of twenty- three- year- old pregnant Kaneko, who was killed by Nagata
and Mori in the purge.

The tragically brutalized corpse of an eight month pregnant woman
emerged from the other side of the fluorescent light. It was frightening.
Whether it is the corporate logic of productivity or the logic of the pro-
ductivity of revolution— they equally abhor woman’s menstruation. It is
not the United Red Army that scares me. To live on in this society is for
me what is frightening.92

This quote captures the radical inclusivity of Tanaka’s style of discourse,
encompassing a critical analysis of the relationality of unnecessary death,
capitalism, revolution, menstruation, misogyny, and fear. In an article pub-
lished in 2009, thirty- seven years after the incidents, Tanaka explains, “I
loathed Nagata. But even as I was shaking from disgust and fear, as I watched
Nagata being lynched by the media, I asked myself, can I just let this go
on?”93 Tanaka describes how, because Nagata was being treated like a devil
and a witch by the media, and because the rest of the nation had fallen silent
from fear, despite her shock and horror, she could not remain silent.94 Of the
incident, Tanaka wrote,

The bizarre incident that happened in the middle of the mountains was
one of the effects of the lies of this society that insists that a woman must
exert herself “twice that of a man” in order to rise in the ranks in this male-
dominated society.95

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 165

According to Tanaka, Nagata was a woman who, like other career women,
had to outdo men in order to prove her worth. But this base competition with
men, whether it be in mainstream society or in the New Left, forced women
to become like men and to compete within masculinist economies. Within the
New Left, the women of ribu had already criticized how the very meaning
of revolution had been defined by men, and Nagata was caught in this com-
petition of proving herself within the economy of revolutionary violence.
Tanaka writes, “Nagata martyred herself to the justice of man’s revolution,
although it might be said that she was crueler than the other men, she had to
exert twice the power.”96 Nagata was caught up in performing a role defined
by a masculinist subculture and in becoming the ideal revolutionary who out-
did the men in her ranks. But even though Nagata may have been exceptional
in her accomplishments by outdoing men, Tanaka argues that the desire that
drove Nagata was symptomatic of women (and men) who seek recognition
within male- centered economies. In Nagata’s case, this economy was based
on proving and measuring one’s commitment through “revolutionary vio-
lence,” which became a self- destructive quotient.

Immediately after the incidents in 1972, in To Women with Spirit, Tanaka
wrote, “All those women who wag their tails to please men are Nagata
Hirokos.”97 This desire to flatter men by demonstrating one’s self- sacrificing
devotion was not, however, a quality that was singular to Nagata: “Insofar
as women exert themselves outdoing men in order to ‘subjectively’ carry out
the men’s theories of revolution, they are all Nagata Hirokos.”98 In forward-
ing this argument, Tanaka sought to lay bare the contagiousness of a male-
identified logic that motivates many women to act as they do to compete
for the (revolutionary) male gaze. Tanaka writes that Nagata’s determina-
tion to prove her own revolutionary intent was what compelled her to the
point of denying and disidentifying with her own sex. Nagata had become
what Tanaka theorized as the nonexisting woman (doko ni mo inai onna), a
woman who proved herself by denying the nature of her sex and the contra-
dictions of her sex to become a woman who does not exist.99

Tanaka as Nagata

In Nagata’s Sixteen Graves, her memoirs written from prison, she reflects on
her past.100 Nagata writes that she came from a background in which she was
never able to openly deal with her sex, and it became, more than anything, a
shameful thing for her. Moreover, Nagata had been unable to deal adequately
with the sexual violence she experienced in her sect at the hands of its male
leader, Kawashima Tsuyoshi. In August 1969, Nagata was working late at

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166 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

Kawashima’s home when his wife was away. That night, Kawashima raped
Nagata.101 In response to her rape, Nagata writes, “I ignored my character
(jinkaku) as a woman. . . . I could not at that time possess any demands
or realize myself as a woman.”102 Nagata’s discourse contrasts starkly with
ribu’s approach to the indivisibility of onna’s identity, her sexuality, and her

According to Patricia Steinhoff, Nagata’s sect took the position that
“women’s liberation required women to be revolutionaries first and women
second.”103 But it was precisely this kind of separation or bifurcation that
Tanaka and the ribu women rejected in terms of the essential indivisibil-
ity of being an onna and what it meant to be a revolutionary. They felt it
was a grave mistake to base one’s politics on the notion that one’s iden-
tity as a woman should or could be repressed so that one could be a “pure
revolutionary”— a doko ni mo inai onna— a non existing onna. Tanaka sensed
that Nagata failed to recognize how she was connected to the other women in
her sect and refused to recognize her own contradictions, which could have
prevented her from killing her comrades.

Tanaka writes that Nagata could probably sense that she had the here-
existing onna (koko ni iru onna) within herself and was torn between the
“nonexisting woman” and the “here- existing onna.”104 Tanaka argues that
if Nagata had been able to confront her own sex, and the meaning of that
sex, she would have realized the contradictoriness and excessive condition of
the subject. Instead, in order to prove her pure revolutionary intent, she did
not allow for the here- existing onna to exist within herself or outside herself.
Rather than recognize the here- existing onna, Nagata killed the women who
reminded her of the here- existing onna.105 When the other men and women
of the sect displayed their sexual desires, or when other women acted too
feminine, Nagata determined that these actions were counterrevolutionary.
Tanaka writes that Nagata felt she had to kill the woman who was eight
months pregnant who had “too much of an attachment to her accessories.”106
In so doing, Tanaka writes that Nagata was the one who killed and the one
who was killed.107

In the Ribu News, Tanaka writes, “I desire to meet those members of the
United Red Army, those who are dead and those who are alive.”108 By speaking
of her desires to meet both the living and dead members of the URA, Tanaka’s
discourse was both poetic and spiritual, gesturing toward desires that could
not be categorized as purely political or rational. Thus, her desires to meet the
dead members of the URA, as well as her vision of Kaneko’s corpse heavy
with an unborn child, are suggestive of how some have commented that she
seemed like a miko (shaman) or medium for the movement.109 Her affective

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 167

response to those killed in the URA’s lynchings was thus not simply about em-
pathy for those wrongly killed. It emanated from her own precarious relation-
ality with those who killed in the name of a misconceived revolu tionary ideal.

Even though Tanaka critiques Nagata as the embodiment of a woman
symptomatic of the masculinist and self- destructive economies of the left,
Tanaka also expressed her will to protect Nagata and support her. In spite of
her own sense of revulsion— in her own condition of torimidashi— Tanaka
cast her being toward Nagata, grasping the gravity of this historical moment.

Tanaka states, looking back on her actions at this time, “In a sense, in
order to protect her whole body, I used my entire being to shield her.”110 On
June 1, 1972, in Nihon Dokusho Shinbun, she wrote, “First we must be
clear about who the self is. I am Nagata Hiroko” (Atashi wa Nagata Hiroko
desu).111 Given the context in which Nagata was displayed, as a national ob-
ject of shame and abjection, Tanaka intervened by declaring that she was
Nagata Hiroko. It goes without saying that Tanaka did not attempt to make
sense of Nagata within a commonsensical schema of identity. In this state-
ment, Tanaka opened up a different possibility of political identification and
relationality. Tanaka’s statement forwards a philosophical assertion that re-
configures the relationship of the self to the other. This statement involved
the articulation of an imaginative possibility, of a consciousness that moved
beyond the borders of what is said to constitute the self and the “I.” Tanaka’s
use of the I in her statement “I am Nagata Hiroko” brings together her I and
Nagata Hiroko and at once recasts the meaning of Nagata Hiroko and the
I through a new episteme. When she speaks of the “Nagata Hiroko who is
named Tanaka Mitsu,”112 Tanaka’s understanding of Nagata Hiroko is not
as an individual or singular subject; rather, she grasps her as a convergence
and culmination of animate and violent historical forces that Tanaka was
open to identifying with and a part of. The mass media’s misogynist repre-
sentation of Nagata had rendered her inhuman, but Tanaka’s reclamation of
Nagata entailed a double movement that simultaneously deindividuated and
humanized her. For Tanaka, Nagata was more than human, but she was not
just an individual. Tanaka rather understood Nagata as the embodiment of
a set of thematics and ontological principles, a woman who embodied the
crises and contradiction of sacrificing onna’s sex for the revolution.

In the years following the incident, Tanaka continued to generate a dis-
course that inspired affection and eros between onna. In 1973, for example,
Tanaka wrote a pamphlet titled “Your Short Cut Suits You, Nagata!”113 This
affectionate expression and compliment of Nagata’s appearance, which had
been continually trashed by the mass media, was Tanaka’s way of reaching
out with warmth toward a woman who was reviled by so many. In light

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168 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

of what happened, Tanaka carefully expresses her potential admiration for

If she hadn’t been arrested as the ringleader in the lynching incident, she
would have continued to be someone who I looked up to. The encounter
is always an accident, contingent, and sometimes it is irony that is the
primary factor that mediates the encounter. I have no doubt whatsoever
that she is a “kind woman,” I have this image that we overlap in ways, as
ordinary women (atarimae no onna).114

In this passage from the Ribu News, Tanaka again publicly declared her po-
tential admiration for Nagata as a woman who was both ordinary and a
product of her times. Rather than basing her support on a “rational” politi-
cal choice, Tanaka’s relationship with Nagata and the URA was based on a
series of chance encounters, a constellation of affinities and (un)fortunate

Throughout To Women with Spirit, Tanaka refers to the facticity of con-
tingency as the foundational condition of being in the world. She elaborates
a concrete example of this “chance,” which she attributes to the contingent
factor (tama tama) of the diseases each of them had contracted as young
women. Tanaka, who had contracted syphilis in her early twenties, says that
her disease, precisely because it was a sexual disease, did not allow her to
deny her sex. “Without a doubt, the kind of sickness that I had made me
conscious of a woman’s sex.”115 By contrast, Nagata’s illness, Graves dis-
ease, allowed her to deny her sex. Thus, when one attempted to relate to or
identify with the other, it was important to understand that one’s differences
were often related to such contingent conditions.116 When a subject realized
that her position in the world was ultimately contingent, this understanding
could potentially work to mitigate the tendencies toward fundamentalism,
fascism, nationalism, and absolute notions of what constitutes good and evil.
Such contingent conditions, which permeate and extend beyond the subject,
largely determine one’s life and death. On February 5, 2011, Nagata died of
brain cancer in a Tokyo prison. She had been living on death row for almost
thirty years.117


Tanaka was critical of any reductive prescription about revolution that neces-
sitates violent action. Instead, she reconceived of revolution through a notion
of relationality as figured in conditions of perpetual struggle and tension. She
recognized that violence, contingency, contradiction, and relationality are all

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R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y 169

conditions of being in the world; therefore, she rejected any idealization of
violence because of its interconnected, potentially irreversible, uncontrol-
lable effects. Her ontological principles of contradiction and derangement
(torimidashi), violence and contingency, relationality and eros, are all to be
held in tension such that one should not be idealized over the other, and she
did not advocate that nonviolence must be the basis of political struggle.

Tanaka’s analysis of the historical significance of Nagata and her capacity
to articulate her relationship with her exemplified ribu’s creation of a differ-
ent logic of relationality. Rather than turning against the other of the self,
Tanaka could see the other within the self. She was a messenger of the force
of ribu, which moved, articulated, and enacted a different logic of libera-
tion and relationality that emanated from a place permeated with eros and
violence. Tanaka’s discourse about Nagata expresses ribu’s praxis of radical
inclusivity and critical solidarity as the symbolic condensation of ribu’s al-
ternative relationality.

Tanaka’s analysis of Nagata constituted a complex modality of politi-
cal and ethical identification that is philosophical and affective, political and
spiritual. Within this form of identification lies the potential for a kind of
liberatory relationality, which can form the basis of a different kind of femi-
nist ethics of violence. These epistemological and ontological principles defy
the ideology of individualism, liberalism, and by extension, liberal feminism.
This relationality was deeply political insofar as it gestured toward the po-
tentiality of more liberatory human relations. It required a different economy
of identification that was not to be understood within the existing terms of
identity and individuality.

In this dark hour of Japanese history that marked the demise of the New
Left, through their collective actions and words, ribu women reflected the
light in the shadows and created a space to support the lives of those who
were condemned. Most immediately, ribu activists had to respond to a gro-
tesque spectacle that would summon a nation to render militant leftist groups
as the chosen objects to fear and to loathe, to be complicit with the state’s
will to criminalize and punish insurgent subjects. Ribu’s praxis of critical
solidarity inhered in the tension between the collective and subjective, femi-
nism and the New Left, in the attempt to build a collective approach to how
individualized subjects become the agents and targets of different forms of
violence within hegemonic gendered economies of power. Ribu’s relation-
ality with these criminalized and insurgent women enabled ribu women to
confront and work through the contingencies conditioning the potential ef-
fects of various forms of hegemonic and counterhegemonic violence. Ribu’s
alternative modes of epistemology and ontology could constitute the basis

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170 R I B U ’S R ES P O N S E TO T H E U N I T E D R E D A R M Y

for a feminist ethics of violence that refuses to idealize either nonviolence or
revolutionary violence. By recognizing the subject’s constitution in a system
of historical and structural violence, such a feminist ethics would recognize
that the eruption of counterviolence becomes recognizable only through its
break with the normalized (and often nonvisible) conditions of state vio-
lence. Thus, violence itself is not a break or exception but rather largely un-
recognized due to the banality of its most pervasive forms. Insofar as the
URA came to symbolize an extremist group that posed a mortal threat to
an “innocent nation,” ribu’s approach to political violence and its praxis of
critical solidarity remains trenchantly relevant today in a world where the
discourses of terror and terrorism have all but foreclosed on the possibility
of a sober and critical engagement with the vexed and vexing questions of
political violence.

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