This week, I honored the memory of August 1945, when the U.S. dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by writing about the resistance of the Shibokusa women for my new book on creative nonviolence. It lifted my spirits. I hope it lifts yours, too.
Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Shibokusa women of Japan used the tactic of nonviolent occupation. They refused to abandon Mount Fuji, a beloved symbol of their nation.
The land at the foot of Kita Fuji (North Fuji) had been farmed since the Edo period in the 17th century. In 1936, however, it was taken over by the Japanese Imperial Army for military exercises. Following World War II, the base was appropriated by U.S. forces, which retained special privileges even after a 1952 treaty. Little did the soldiers know that some very tough women would become their worst nightmare.
After most farm families gave up and moved to the cities, these tough, steadfastly antiwar grandmothers formed the Shibokusa Mother’s Committee in 1955, determined to fight for their land and disrupt business-as-usual on the military base. They knew that militarism meant death to people and animals and violence to the earth.
An intentionally mischievous, bothersome, embarrassing presence at the military base, they dressed in baggy trousers and wide straw hats and found countless ways to disrupt training exercises. They flew kites in flight paths, sent up smoke signals to obstruct artillery tests, lay down in the road to block trucks. They created secret paths from their cottages to the military exercise areas and jumped out of the bushes to startle the soldiers. They planted scarecrows, sat in circles to sing and clap, stood pointing and laughing at the men in their military uniforms.
Sometimes, riot police were sent to arrest the women in a futile attempt to evict them and put an end to their resistance. The elders were unfazed.
Humor was one of the hallmarks of the Shibokusa women’s resistance. In an interview with Leonie Caldecott, they explained, “[The police] hate it when we start screaming. They have realized that, though we are physically easier to arrest than men, we’re more trouble afterwards! Men put up a fight, but once it’s over they just give everything away. We never give our name, age or anything. We just say we’re so old, we can’t remember when we were born or who we are.”
In the Caldecott interview, the women said, “Don’t imagine our lives are miserable. It’s fun to make a nuisance of ourselves and embarrass those men. This work is our whole life. We enjoy every minute, but we’re not lazy about it.”
The women’s occupation at Kita Fuji lasted until 2006 when the aged leadership died off, but the stories of their resistance and courage live on.
To Go Deeper:
Caldecott, Leonie. “At the Foot of the Mountain: The Shibokusa Women of Kita Fuji” from Keeping the Peace: A Women’s Peace Handbook. Lynne Jones, ed. London: Women’s Press, 1983.
“Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki with WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), July 28, 2014 http://peaceeconomyproject.org/wordpress/?p=3273
“The Story of the Peace Crane” http://www.buddhistcouncil.org/bodhitree/Books/Story_of_the_Peace_Crane.pdf
“How to Fold an Origami Crane (for beginners)”
“Origami” by Hiroko Sakai (She is a contemporary Japanese artist who has lived in San Francisco since 1999.) http://www.redbubble.com/people/hilo/works/3420485-origami