Last weekend a bold, 2-page spread appeared in the Asahi Newspaper, a politically leftist publication and second largest behind the more conservative Yomiuri. Amongst a typographic sea of colorful words rose the letters – all in black – korosuna (殺すな, do not kill). The letters themselves, revealed by a closer look, are comprised of the names of everyone supporting the message. It was a stunning ad, albeit rather audacious, and, unsurprisingly, seemed to offend many of Japan’s netizens. It was as if a rock had been thrown at their window, shattering glass into their peaceful world.
The ad had been paid for by two organizations, both run by anti-war activists, and timed to run on Constitution Day. On the left in bold reads “Our responsibility for the future. Maintain Article 9.” On the opposite side: “The right to collective self-defense is the path to war.” It was in protest of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe being increasingly bent on altering the pacifist Constitution.
However, to trace it back to its origins we have to travel back almost 50 years to the lobby of the Tokyu Hotel in Ginza where, on a cold winter night in January of 1967, a group of people sat around a table discussing a potential ad that would run in the Washington Post. Amongst the group was the historian and philosopher Shunsuke Tsurumi, the composer Rokusuke Ei and artist Taro Okamoto, all members of Beheiren. Despite the target audience being predominantly English speakers, it was Tsurumi who came up with the idea of having Okamoto draw korosuna in Japanese characters as an attention-grabber. Okamoto immediately agreed and quickly drafted up a design. Three months later the conspicuous full-page ad ran in the Washington Post.
But the ad was not new. It was originally designed by artist Taro Okamoto and used back in 1967 to protest the Vietnam war, then again in 2003 to protest Japan’s involvement in the Iraq war. Yes, it’s a heavy-handed and somewhat alarming message. But I think if people looked back at the history of the ad, and understood the violence it denounces, they would gain valuable insight into where Japan is headed.
It took another 6 years for the Vietnam War to come to an end and, with it, the disbandment of Beheiren. But it’s fascinating to me that a word, and it’s powerful message, has lived on. For those willing to see the word korosuna (殺すな, do not kill) for what it is, accepting the violence it denounces, will gain a deep understanding of Japan’s history.
(all quotes translated from Japanese to English by the author)