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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Sunagawa Struggle: A Century of Anti-Base Protest in a Tokyo Suburb

  • Author(s): Wright, Dustin
  • Advisor(s): Christy, Alan
  • et al.

This is a dissertation about a small community of ordinary Japanese citizens who were able to overcome and defeat the base construction plans of the U.S. military at the height of the Cold War. It focuses on the history of the Sunagawa Struggle, an anti-U.S. military base protest that came to shape postwar protest culture in Japan. The Sunagawa Struggle began in May 1955, when the U.S. military announced plans to expand the runway of Tachikawa Air Base, a move that threatened a community of farmers who were already experiencing the burden of an ever-increasing Tokyo megalopolis. As more people joined the Struggle, the scope of resistance expanded to include opposition to nuclear weapons, war, and the immense nationwide presence of American bases.

In the 1950s, Sunagawa was, like much of Tokyo, undergoing a process of rapid (sub)urbanization. This project reveals the dual-nature of land dispossession—from both urbanization and militarization—with which Sunagawa locals contended. To fight against the loss of their land, locals quickly formed the Sunagawa Anti-Base Expansion Alliance, which grew to include a wide number of members from labor unions, student groups, and representatives of leftist political parties. This project will also argue that the Sunagawa Struggle became a nightmare for the U.S. military and Japanese government, particularly when, in 1959, it forced Japanese courts to address the contradictions revealed between America’s militarization of Japan’s topography and Article Nine, the “peace clause” of the Japanese constitution.

Finally, this project will explore the tension between the fact that, though the Sunagawa Struggle had an immense impact on the U.S. base complex in Japan, and on postwar Japanese social movements, it has largely been forgotten by the general public. This is due, in large part, to the wide shadow cast by the 1960 Anpo protests. Thus, this project attempts to resuscitate the Struggle in public memory and shine a spotlight on what many anti-base activists never forgot: the Sunagawa Struggle was the foundational moment for anti-base and anti-military activism in postwar Japan.

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