Blood on the Snow: The Horrifying Implosion of Japan’s United Red Army

Blood on the Snow: The Horrifying Implosion of Japan’s United Red Army

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Japanese Red Army header image
Picture: Shutterstock
Pushed underground by vigilant police surveillance, Japan's militant far left went down a dark path that would tarnish its name in infamy for decades to come.

The police had already been tracking the revolutionaries for some time. After the radical leftist group now known as the United Red Army had hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 351 and with an important government hostage in stow had managed to divert the plane to North Korea, they had emerged as Japan’s public enemy number 1. Internationally embarrassed by their inability to stop the hijacking, the national police had redoubled their focus on the underground group.

Months of hard work had finally led the police here, deep into the snowy mountains of Gunma Prefecture. Days spent trudging through the snowdrifts after rumor and speculation had proved fruitful; they’d managed to discover the URA’s remote and recently abandoned hideouts. All clues indicated some 30 people had lived here very recently.

But they also pointed to something far darker.

As other police continued tracking the fleeing revolutionaries – eventually catching up with them in the mountains near Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, for what would become one of Japan’s most shocking hostage situations – the detectives examining the scene at the abandoned inn began to recognize the telltale signs of acts of violence. They found shreds of clothing that had been cut off of various people – a common method for removing the garb of those for whom rigor mortis has set in, making the usual removal of clothing nearly impossible. Staining on the ripped garments also demonstrated that these garments had likely been worn in the last moments of their wearers’ lives. Lastly, a large quantity of personal items and baggage mysteriously remained, including the sorts of hiking backpacks that those fleeing the inn would have likely taken with them.

To the detectives, it seemed more than clear. Murder had taken place amongst the revolutionaries of the United Red Army. And yet, where were the bodies?

It all came to light in the days that followed, as the police ensnared and captured the various fleeing URA soldiers. While the leadership remained tight-lipped, some of the rank-and-file among the arrested began to tell of the horrors that had occurred at that inn – horrors that they themselves had participated in. The location of the 12 bodies, the former comrades and now victims of the surviving URA members, was revealed.

Police and news crews amassed on the sites of the various cold, shallow graves spread across the foothills near that cabin in Gunma. Images of the beaten and mutilated dead proliferated throughout a Japan already shocked by the ten-day-long standoff with the police just recently engaged in by five of the members of the URA. These pictures would disturb the Japanese public as few murder cases have.


They would also spell the end for public support in Japan for the once-inspirational mass student movements of the 1950s and ‘60’s.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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