In May and June of 1960, Japan erupted into some of the largest protests in its history. The cause was the proposed security treaty between Japan and the United States, titled the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (Sōgo Kyōryoku Oyobi Anzen Hoshō Jōyaku), and the protests would come to be known as the “Anpo” protests from the Japanese shorthand for that treaty.
Prime Minister at the time was Nobusuke Kishi, a grand old man of Japanese politics. Born into an elite samurai family, Kishi had started his career overseeing Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in North China and had been a minister in the wartime Japanese cabinets, for which he was briefly imprisoned as a Class A War Criminal after the war. Afterall, his signature was on the declaration of war against the United States on December 7, 1941. In 1960, he was on course to break with longstanding precedent that prime ministers serve no more than two consecutive terms, and put his signature on another important document as he signed the treaty in Washington D.C. with President Eisenhower. TIME called him: “134 pound body packed pride, power and passion—a perfect embodiment of his country’s amazing resurgence.”
For Kishi and the government, the treaty was a boon: it committed the United States to defend Japan in an attack and required the Japanese government’s agreement whenever the US forces stationed in Japan were to be redeployed elsewhere. However, the Japanese leftists, socialists, and communists fiercely opposed the treaty, and advocated for a more neutral course in the Cold War by getting rid of the U.S.–Japan Alliance. The opposition in the parliament used all kinds of delaying tactics, including blockading the speaker inside his office so that he could not call for a vote, but Kishi ordered the police to remove the opposition from the parliament building and ram the treaty through the legislature.
This high-handed approach would bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets day after day and ten million to sign petitions against the treaty. In June, when Eisenhower’s press secretary James Hagerty arrived in Tokyo to make advance preparations for Eisenhower’s planned visit to Japan, his car from the airport was besieged by 6,000 Japanese protesters and he and American Ambassador to Japan Douglas MacArthur II (the nephew of the general) had to be airlifted out by a US Marines military helicopter.
The incident shocked the Japanese public, perceived as a grave discourtesy to a foreign guest. Eisenhower’s visit was cancelled, for fear that his safety could not be guaranteed. Kishi resigned, but the treaty did come into effect.
Photographs of the protests became iconic images in Japan and beyond. Yung Su Kwon, working for NBC, won Robert Capa Gold Metal for the coverage of the riots. Hiroshi Hamaya, who would soon become the first Asian to join Magnum Photos and known for his photographs of rural Japan, published his acclaimed book of the protests “A Record of Rage and Grief” (Ikari to kanashimi no kiroku) in August 1960. Hamaya’s work began on May 20 and ended on June 22 and covered the height of the protests. He was present during the Hagerty affair and covered the three nationwide general strikes of June 4, June 15, and June 22. He took 2,600 photos — some of which were featured in June 25 issue of Paris Match — and 138 photos were published in the book.
(The lede photo showed the sole death during the protests — that of the communist activist Michiko Kanba who was either knocked down and trampled to death or beaten to death by police officers.)