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BOOK REVIEW | 'Destiny: The Secret Operations of the Yodogo Exiles' by Former Propagandist Koji Takazawa

While "Destiny" is a fascinating account of the "Yodogo exiles," who traveled to North Korea on a hijacked plane in 1970, it fails to condemn their violence.

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"Destiny: The Secret Operations of the Yodogo Exiles" (2017, University of Hawaii Press) by Koji Takazawa

In Destiny: The Secret Operations of the Yodogo Exiles, author Koji Takazawa papers over the criminality and violence of his generation's Japanese communist terrorists. Takazawa was a communist militant during the 1960s and 1970s. Through a series of interviews, Takazawa narrates the lives of nine men following their hijacking of a Japan Airlines aircraft to North Korea in 1970. The men were members of the Japanese terrorist group, Red Army Faction (RAF).

In the media, the hijackers came to be known as "Yodogo exiles" after the aircraft "Yodogo," which they hijacked. They spent the rest of their lives near Pyongyang in a restricted "palace-village" (p 140). 

Revered "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung called them "golden eggs" and they were supplied luxuries accessible only to the North Korean elites. By approval of the "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, and signed off on by future "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, the Yodogo exiles were even supplied Japanese wives.

It is easy to understand why North Korea gave the Yodogo exiles such preferred treatment. The RAF stated its commitment to organizing "people's military units" and provoking an "armed uprising" to destroy Japan's polity as part of a global communist revolution. In other words, the goal was to completely dismantle Japan's constitutional monarchy. The imperial family can therefore expect a grim future in the event of a communist revolution

Ultranationalist Brainwashing

Under pressure from Japanese police, the RAF sought an overseas base for guerilla training and as a launch pad for their revolution. The RAF decided on North Korea and hijacked a plane to North Korea on March 31, 1970.

However, the Kim regime had other plans for the Yodogo exiles. Readers observe how these somewhat naïve communist revolutionaries were subtly spoon-fed North Korean ultranationalist juche ideology. The North Korean communists aimed to transform them into "juche warriors." They hoped to send them back to Japan to "convert the whole of the Japanese nation to the ideology of Kim Il Sung" (p 368).

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The slow but inevitable transformation of Japanese communist revolutionaries to puppets of the Kim regime fills most of Takazawa's book. The transformation suggests both the young militants' flimsy ideological commitment to communist dogma (the oldest hijacker was 27 at the time) and the persuasive psychic power of the North Korean Workers' Party. Given this complete turning to juche and Kim worship, one senses Takazawa's unstated displeasure with his former comrades — disgust at the abandonment of their goal of communist revolution in Japan.  

Murals of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Jangdae Hill in Pyongyang on August 5, 2012. (©Nicor via Wikimedia Commons)

Japanese Women Smuggled to Pyongyang

Takazawa also points out how far the North Korean state will go to fulfill the Kims' wishes. In a bizarre twist to the wartime Korean comfort women, one reads the Kims' plan to bring Japanese women into North Korea. Wartime comfort women were recruited for a limited duration to maintain soldiers' morale. Many Korean comfort women knew what they were getting into and others were naive. In the case of these Japanese women, it is unlikely that any of them knew what they were getting into. Furthermore, while the Kims' Japanese "comfort women" were for the sake of the hijackers' morale, their main function was to tangibly bind the hijackers to both the Kims and North Korea. 

Apparently, getting marriage partners for all nine hijackers became a top Party priority. Following the first marriage of one of the hijackers, there were "several unpleasant sexual incidents" between the remaining unmarried hijackers and the female servants working at the "palace-village."

Selected Japanese women, sympathetic to North Korea and infused with juche, were secretly screened in Japan by "agents of the special section under the command of Kim Jong Il." The women flew to Europe, under cover of a vacation. There, they came in contact with North Korean agents, and were then secretly smuggled into Pyongyang.

A Lust for Violence

Takazawa was closely associated with members of the RAF. He knew Takamaro Tamiya, the lead hijacker, and Kintaro Yoshida, one of the hijackers. Both eventually died in North Korea under mysterious circumstances. Takazawa speculates that the two strayed too far from juche ideology and Kim dynasty worship. Astute readers already know that enemies of the Kim regime face sudden unexpected death for whatever reason.

In addition to knowing the hijackers, Takazawa does not condemn his former comrades' hijacking and other criminality, including a plot to kidnap then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. This acceptance of communist violence is difficult for most people to understand, but recall that Takazawa served as the terror group's minister of propaganda. Thus, readers must go elsewhere to read the truth about the RAF's sordid lust for violence, their clashes with police, and their robberies and bombing. 

The Lod Airpot Massacre

Given current events, the most interesting chapter in the book is the one that mentions the May 30, 1972 Lod Airport massacre. While serving the RAF as a minister of propaganda, Takazawa also "helped publish the materials" the Japanese Red Army (JRA) sent back to Japan. Breaking from the RAF in 1971, the JRA based itself in Lebanon and received shelter and guerilla training from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The leader of the JRA was Fusako Shigenobu, who was recently released from a Japanese prison.

Terrorist leader Fusako Shigenobu was released from prison on May 28, 2022. (©Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

In 1972, three JRA terrorists attacked Lod Airport near Tel Aviv, leaving 26 dead and 80 wounded. Two of the terrorists were killed during the attack and the third, Kozo Okamoto, was captured. Kozo is the younger brother of Takeshi Okamoto, one of the nine Yogodo exiles. Kozo Okamoto currently lives in Lebanon and is still wanted by Japanese police. He is hailed as a hero by the Arab world. Okamoto has stated that the Lod Airport attack was not terrorism. His older brother Takeshi reportedly died in North Korea. 

In his telling, Takazawa glosses over the relationship between the RAF and the JRA. Elsewhere, we learn that prior to the Yodogo hijacking, Shigenobu and the lead hijacker, Tamiya, were allegedly romantically involved. Takazawa downplays any relationship between the two terrorist leaders, so, again, readers must look elsewhere for facts. Perhaps Takazawa, ever the propagandist, is trying to distance his Yogodo comrades from the atrocious JRA.

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Shigenobu's 'Apology'

The current violence between Israel and Hamas has evoked strident invectives on all sides. What are the Yogodo exiles', as well as Shigenobu's, opinions about the current conflict? Leaving prison, Shigenobu apologized for "hurting innocent people." During the JRA's heyday, though, it is unlikely she and her comrades were thinking about "hurting innocent people" before hijacking an airliner full of "innocent people," or before they took over an embassy or machine-gunned an airport arrival area, both full of "innocent people." 

Shigenobu also "apologized for the trouble" she caused. The Asahi Shimbun parades Shigenobu's mea culpa, her apparent remorse for having inconvenienced everyone. However, Asahi and other media outlets did not ask what her victims thought of her actions or if she denounced terrorism. 

While in prison in 2021, Shigenobu stated: "Next year is also the 50th anniversary of the Lydda incident [the Lod Airport attack], which was fought under the leadership of the PFLP. Even now, from the vantage point of 50 years, I am struck anew by how admirably they fought." She is still considered by Palestinians as "a lifelong comrade of the Palestinian people and struggle."

Shigenobu, Kozo Okamoto, or any of the surviving Yodogo exiles may not have been interviewed recently on their views of this year's murderous conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. While it may not be difficult to guess what they have to say, it would be nice to know. The decades following the Yogodo hijacking have seen tremendous ideological flux. Perhaps, as a follow-up, Takazawa could make use of some technological innovations to ask his remaining comrades how they now view the world. 

About the Book:

Title: Destiny: The Secret Operations of the Yodogo Exiles

Author: Koji Takazawa

Translator and editor: Patricia G Steinfoff

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Publisher: University of Hawaii Press

Publication date: July 2017 (originally published as Shukumei: Yodogo Bomeisha no Himitsu Kosaku by Shinchosha in 1998)

ISBN-13: 9780824872786 (hardback) and 9780824872793 (paperback)

To buy the book: The book is available for sale in paperback, hardback, and ebook formats from online booksellers including Amazon and University of Hawaii Press.

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Reviewed by Aldric Hama

Find other book reviews, reports, and analyses by Dr Hama on JAPAN Forward.

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