Okamoto Kozo sat alone in his room at the Hotel Papillon in Beirut. It was early March of 1972, and at only 24 years old, the young man had never before been abroad.
Okamoto found himself overwhelmed by homesickness and apprehension. His orders to leave Japan for the foreign shores of Lebanon had come in quite suddenly, but he had jumped at the opportunity to get out of the stifling political atmosphere of his own country and to finally start making a difference. Now, though, the confines of his room and the unfamiliar noises of the foreign city outside his window only filled him with a sense of pained solitude.
Okamoto was jostled from his lonely reverie as his ears were greeted with the snatches of some familiar tune filtering in through his door. Enticed, Okamoto stepped into the hallway, where he could now clearly make out the sounds of Japanese vocals. He followed the trailing music to the door from which it emanated. After a moment’s hesitation, Okamoto knocked on the door.
A friendly Japanese face appeared in the entryway. It was a man who looked to be in his late thirties or early forties. Okamato told the stranger that the Japanese music had brought him over, and asked if he could join the man for some time to listen to the music and placate his loneliness. The man assented.
Inside, Okamoto sat cross-legged on the hotel room floor while the two engaged in pleasant conversation. His new host explained that he was a photographer who had spent some time in Lebanon and other Arab countries. Okamoto was interested to hear about this, and happily offered some information about himself in return. Okamoto’s interloper listened to his tale, the man’s reactions shifting from bemusement to worry as the story continued.
Okamoto told the man about himself: how he was studying agriculture at Kumamoto University, but that he had been called to the Middle East to “to do something big.”Just what this could be, Okamoto could not say, but it would all be for the purpose of world revolution and the defeat of the global imperialists. He hoped to etch his name in the annals of the heroic Japanese, and was expecting to soon be “called to the front.”
The photographer had become quite concerned about this young man, and the two began a quiet debate over the value and efficacy of violent revolution. Despite the young man’s seeming naivete, his zeal could not be diluted by the older man’s attempts at reason. Despairing of convincing him of the danger of pushing for revolution in the Middle East by himself, the photographer gave Okamoto a book on Arab culture to at least help him better understand the land and people around him. Then the two bid each other good night. Two days later, the photographer found a note on his door from Okamoto saying that the latter had suddenly been called away, and entreating the photographer not to reveal any of what had been confided.
The photographer furrowed his brow, but decided to do as Okamoto had asked. After all, how much trouble could a young Japanese man really get up to in the complex world of the Levant?
Soon, when the world resounded with the news of the three Japanese terrorists – armed with machine guns and grenades — who had brutally murdered 26 people in cold blood and injured 80 others at a Tel Aviv airport, the photographer would come to regret his inaction. By the time he reported his interaction with Okamoto Kozo to the authorities, it was already too late to stop one of the most shocking terrorist attacks of its day.
Revolutionaries from Japan
Shigenobu Fusako arrived in Lebanon in early 1971, about a year before Okamoto Kozo. A devoted and longtime member of the notoriously violent far-left student group known as the Red Army Faction, she had come to the Middle East fleeing the stagnant atmosphere of the Japanese activist scene following intensified police surveillance meant to prevent destructive political operations – steps which the Japanese police force had taken in part as a reaction to the headline-grabbing actions of the organization to which Shigenobu belonged.