The heady successes of Japan's booming industrial economy, the country's brave new world of comfortable consumerism and electronic gadgetry, and the demise of antiestablishment politics are signs of the revolutionary changes in Japanese society that have put Tadao Endo out of business.
For the past 32 years, Endo has operated Tokyo's leading antiestablishment bookstore, a scholarly enclave that has served as a clearinghouse for the provocative literature of the political left and a gathering place for the country's leftist intellectuals and political activists.
In a few weeks, however, Endo will close his doors for lack of business amid the waning appeal of socialistic slogans and leftist ideology among today's generation of more affluent and conservative Japanese youth. Gone with them are the gamut of antiestablishment causes that once added spice to life in this tradition-oriented, highly conformist nation of 117 million.
"The rightward drift in society," Endo, 57, said recently, "has thrown a cold blanket on political mass movements in Japan," something that he says has been clearly reflected in his bookstore's sinking sales.
Endo and his intellectual compatriots interpret the plummeting popularity of such causes as a sign that the country's conservative Liberal Democrats, who have ruled the country for the past 27 years, are trying to quietly foster a return to the nationalistic values of pre-World War II Japan.
Eschewing these dark prophecies, mainstream political analysts here say that the current trend toward conservative values reflects a growing concern among Japanese students with the bread-and-butter issues of career opportunities in the country's increasingly competitive job market. Observers on both sides of the ideological fence also agree that the Japanese left has lost much of its punch.
During the high tide of revolutionary rhetoric and campus unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Endo's narrow, two-story bookshop in the Kanda district of Tokyo did a brisk trade in more than 2,000 underground pamphlets, magazines and monographs under such titles as "Advance" and "Liberation." The narrow aisles were packed with youthful radicals and police undercover agents trying to keep tabs on their whereabouts.
Today, Endo's yearly sales of $250,000 are less than half that of the late 1960s and the number of radical underground publications has shrunk to only a few dozen.
Times were different when the shop, called Unita, opened in the fall of 1950. Expelled from the Japanese Communist Party in a furious dispute over doctrine, the mild-mannered Endo said, "My idea was to open a bookstore that not simply catered to Communist literature, but carried all kinds of antiestablishment books."
Japan then was struggling to rebuild its war-shattered economy, the Korean War had broken out on Japan's doorstep and American occupation authorities were cracking down on what, according to Endo, was a flourishing leftist labor movement. A series of bloody confrontation between protesters and police led to the country's adoption of laws banning what authorities viewed as subversive, procommunist political activity. Copies of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital" and the "Communist Manifesto" in Japanese translation, Endo recalled, sold like hotcakes.
Apparently uncertain about the outcome of the Korean War, Japanese business tycoons flocked to his shop to search out copies of basic books on Marxist-Leninist thought while their chauffeurs waited outside, Endo said.
In June 1960, thousands of Japanese students and workers took to Tokyo's streets to protest renegotiation of the Japan-U.S. security pact that allowed the United States to station troops in Japan. Weeks of violent demonstrations led by snake-dancing protesters resulted in an assault on the Japanese Diet, or parliament, building in central Tokyo. Michiko Kamba, a young female college student, was killed in the tumult and her death, Endo said, triggered another buying spree of leftist books.
Endo's business got its next shot in the arm with the emergence of the Japanese New Left in the late 1960's. Disenchanted with what they interpreted as the Communist Party's growing conservatism, the New Left's supporters rallied to decry the Vietnam War, press for the reversion to Japanese rule of Okinawa, then under American control, and chart a fresh course toward "socialist revolution."
The gradual winding down of the Vietnam War and the return of Okinawa to the Japanese in the early 1970s robbed the radicals of a cause and plunged them into violent internecine disputes that often ended in bloody skirmishes on Tokyo streets between masked, pipe-wielding members of rival factions. A string of politically inspired bombings and arson attacks on industrial facilities and police stations increased public outrage against terrorist activities.
The focus of the antiestablishment movement shifted uncertainly to thwarting government plans for a new international airport under construction at Narita, 45 miles northeast of Tokyo. Periodic protests kept the new airport closed for seven years before it was opened in May 1978 amid an unprecedented display of Japanese police security.
The outbreak of international conflicts in 1979 involving socialist countries--the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the Chinese-Vietnamese border war, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan--also lessened the popularity of leftist ideas in Japan.
Generally, however, it was explosive growth of the Japanese economy, and the rapidly rising levels of prosperity and affluence it brought along, that, in Endo's view, caused the "movement" to fizzle and sent his business into a deep trough.
"I'm not saying that the movement won't go on to greater heights in the future," Endo explained, "it's just that my bookstore won't be around to see it." When Endo closes Unita in September, a fast-food noodle franchise is scheduled to take its place.
Endo wistfully recalled the day in 1974 when his shop was raided by Japanese police on suspicion that he was selling manuals on bomb-making. He said he was unaware that recipes for homemade bombs were tucked away among the pages of one radical leaflet, "but anyway, by the time the police got here the edition was completely sold out."