1968: A Time Filled with Countless Questions
Period Wednesday,October 11 –Sunday, December 10, 2017
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries A&B, National Museum of Japanese History

Adults: ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students: ¥450 (¥250)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
* Admission to permanent exhibitions included
* Free admission for elementary & junior high school students
* Free admission for senior high school students every Saturday

Hours 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. (entrance closed at 4:00 p.m.)
* Open hours and days are subject to change.
Closed Mondays (When Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is closed the following Tuesday.)

Exhibition Highlights

The exhibition casts light on the various social movements that took place in Japan in the late 1960s. It was the time of public protests such as demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the Sanrizuka Struggle and the Minamata disease protests, as well as nationwide student movement. These movements were regarded as questions directed at the following: peace and democracy in postwar; the way in which development and planning put rapid economic growth and public spiritedness above all; in a broader sense, the postwar political and economic framework of Japan. The questions that arose during this period remain valid even today.

The late 1960s was also a time when social movements in Japan began to change from the earlier organized approach for identifying and solving issues to an approach with greater emphasis on the agency of the individual. Voices protesting against various problems or calling for reform were heard in many different ways from where they stand. Such new approach of social movements had a major impact on later periods.

The year 1968 was the year of the campus struggle at the University of Tokyo and Nihon University, the most well-known of all events of the period. Around the same time, various citizen actions went on in regions and communities. The exhibition displays approximately 500 items that symbolize this period, providing a comprehensive introduction to the various movements of the time with a focus on “1968,” to explore the significance of these movements.

What Makes the Year 1968 Symbolic?

The year 1968 in global perspective was the year that protests against the Vietnam War spread across the world; the year that civil-rights movement gained momentum in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King in the United States; the year that the student protests and general labor strikes in France known as the May Events; and the student protests demonstrating against the decline in democracy and the rise of authoritarianism in West Germany. In the socialist bloc, it also marked the year of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, and the military intervention by Warsaw Pact forces to quell it; and the year that the New Left students worldwide changed their model of socialism from the Soviet style to the Cultural Revolution of China. Thus, 1968 is a symbolic year of this period of history when the social demonstrations of youth around the world, especially in the West, reached their peak, while creating a counterculture as they did.

Part 1 Questions Concerning “Peace and Democracy” and Economic Growth

Chapter 1. The Development of Peace Movements: Vietnam War protests and the Beheiren Movement

The Vietnam War was called a “media war,” with raw images of the battlefields broadcast around the world. In particular, the commencement of bombing of North Vietnam by the United States in February 1965 sent shock waves around the world, lighting the fuse for global antiwar demonstrations. These shock waves reached Japan as well. The Citizen's League for Peace in Vietnam (“Beheiren”), a civil protest against the Vietnam War, used unique, unprecedented methods such as bringing individual protests together to create a coalition and holding assemblies consisting of teach-ins. It widened the scope of citizen participation, while actively promoting international cooperation. The integral role of U.S. military bases in Japan in the Vietnam War raised strong awareness of the issues surrounding victims and victimizers in wartime, leading antiwar movements in Japan, which until then were mainly based on the victims’ standpoint, towards a new stage.

Chapter 2. Questioning Postwar Society from Provincial Cities: The View from Kobe

Kobe was noted for diversity of residents, including Chinese migrants, resident Korean communities and a large urban lower class, as well as for a strong sense of empowerment. In addition, Kobe Port functioned as a rear base for the U.S. military. Thus, at that time in Kobe, there was an extremely diverse range of social movements interacting such as student protests, antiwar movements, and anti-discrimination movements. Focusing on this provincial city, Kobe, the chapter highlights the relationships among the various social movements there and the diversity they dealt with.

Chapter 3. Questioning Democracy and Agricultural Policy in Postwar: The Sanrizuka Struggle

The Sanrizuka Struggle were protests by local residents and others opposed to the construction of the New Tokyo International Airport (now called Narita International Airport), which was initially planned in the early 1960s. The protests continued for many years in Sanrizuka, a rural village in Narita City, Chiba Prefecture where the airport was to be built, and the surrounding areas. The chapter describes these protests in light of farmers’ struggles.

Chapter 4. Questioning Economic Growth and Wealth: The Kumamoto Minamata Disease Protests

The Minamata disease protests have been going on for years since the public announcement in Minamata City of Kumamoto Prefecture in 1956. This chapter focuses on the formation of resident councils and the activities of awareness-raising associations in reaction to the case of pollution disease that arose from Japan’s rapid economic growth.

Chapter 5. Residents’ Questions and Protests: Against the Yokohama New Freight Line

This chapter takes a closer look into the protests against the Yokohama New Freight Line, which is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of the many citizen actions. These protests were against Japan National Railway (JNR)’s 1966 plan to construct a 13.7 km-freight line from Tsurumi to Totsuka that would cut across residential areas. Residents got together in 1967 to form the Yokohama New Freight Line Opposition Alliance Union Association, made up of 8,700 households, to oppose JNR’s plan that was decided without any consultation with locals. The sustained, core question of what “public” meant in this opposition had a great influence on citizen actions and local riots at the time.

Part 2. Questions of and from Universities: The Growth of the All-Campus Joint Struggle League (Zenkyoto)

Chapter 1. Universities in the 1960s

For universities, 1965 was an epoch-making year, the first in which the number of university students topped one million (72% of whom were at private universities). In the 1960s, the country’s university policies started showing major changes. At the demand of industry, higher education focused more on classification, reinforcing university management and operation, establishing more science and engineering departments and increasing the numbers of students there, and reforming the education system (moving from the Faculty of Liberal Arts to the Faculty of Education). It was also the time when the relationship between universities and the military was brought into question. Campuses were not only the stages for student protests but also the sites where various university clubs and groups could creatively expand in responsive concert with the cultural situation off campus. Student experiences of films, plays, comics and subscription-based magazines are on display as one aspect of the culture of the ‘60s.

Chapter 2. The Formation and Development of the All Campus Joint Struggle League

The All-Campus Joint Struggle League (Zenkyoto) was formed at Nihon University (Nichidai), where suppression of students’ democratization movements regarding the welcoming of new students in April 1968 and the issues of the university’s illicit accounting practices and tax avoidance issues were coming to light. Student movements calling for the expulsion of the university administration and criticizing the president’s stance towards university governance grew very quickly. This led to the formation of the All Campus Joint Struggle Committee and struggle committees in each faculty as Nichidai entered the Zenkyoto era.

Then, at the University of Tokyo (Todai), issues with student rights led to Faculty of Medicine students occupying the Yasuda Auditorium, which drove the university authorities to call in the riot police. This attack on the university’s autonomy led to nine of the ten faculties going on a one-day strike. It later developed into an indefinite strike, and on July 5, 1968, the Todai Zenkyoto was formed. The Zenkyoto liaised with the New Left, against the Democratic Youth League of Japan, and their protests expanded even further. The chapter discusses the formation of the Zenkyoto at Nichidai and Todai and their activities there.

Chapter 3. Nationwide Expansion of Student Movement

After the formation of the Zenkyoto at both Nichidai and Todai, student movement spread nationwide. The chapter looks into how it expanded across the country and the faculty members who listened to the voices of the students.

Chapter 4. Quelling the Movement and Its Legacy

As student movement became more intensified, the government submitted the Act on Temporary Measures Concerning University Management draft to the Diet in May 1969. The Act was designed to create measures for stopping research and education where protests were out of control. Despite the strong opposition to it, the Act was enacted on August 17th, remaining in force until 2001. Along with this Act and the breaking down of barricades at universities by the riot police, the chapter discusses how university protests evolved subsequently as well as the legacy and critiques of these protests.

1. Map of Beheiren readers

(1967) Rikkyo Research Center for Cooperative Civil Societies

2. Flag of Beheiren Kobe

(1972) Private collection

3. Sashes, headbands, and armbands used by the Sanrizuka protestors

Narita Airport and Community Historical Museum, Narita Airport
4. Flyer

5. Octopus pot of Minamata fishermen

National Museum of Japanese History

6. “Stop the Freight Line!” poster from the Yokohama New Freight Line Opposition Alliance

Rikkyo Research Center for Cooperative Civil Societies

7. Nichidai Zenkyoto helmets

National Museum of Japanese History

8. “Now is When All Todai Faculty and Students are Faced with Questions” February 1969

National Museum of Japanese History

9. The first demonstration of the Nichidai protests  May 1965

National Museum of Japanese History

10. Hakusan Liberated Zone  September 1969

National Museum of Japanese History

11. Preparing meals inside the barricades at the Nichidai protests  1968

National Museum of Japanese History