Nissan Seminar: Japan’s 1968 on Trial

Convenor(s): Professor Roger Goodman and Dr Giulio Pugliese

Speaker(s): Dr. Chris Perkins (University of Edinburgh)

Japan’s 1968 on Trial


After the fall of Yasuda Auditorium in January 1969 around 600 student activists were arrested. Of this number, 178 students opted to be tried in small groups and their cases were resolved quickly. The remaining 428 students, however, held out for a unified trial.

Against the students’ wishes small group hearings started in late May. Chaos ensued. Defendants failed to appear, observers interrupted by chanting slogans, and the defence team repeatedly walked out of the building. In the end, the judges took the unprecedented decision to invoke Article 286 section 2 of the Criminal Procedure Code to try and sentence the students in absentia. What made the trial so divisive? What was at stake for the students, the state, and the legal profession? And what can the trial tell us about the complex politics of 1968 in Japan as they spilled out of the campus and into the courts? To answer these questions, this talk will explore the history that led to the trial, the events of the trial as they unfolded, and offer a glimpse -- via letters from students -- of what it was like to be an imprisoned activist in the wake of '68.

Chris Perkins is Senior Lecturer in Japanese at the University of Edinburgh. He works on post-war Japanese politics and media, with a specific focus on the impact and memory of student politics in Japan.