Japanese dissidence during the Shōwa period

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Emperor Hirohito at his coronation in 1928

Japanese dissidence during the Shōwa period was dissent by Japanese citizens of the Empire of Japan (1868–1947) during the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito (1926-1989).

During the Shōwa period, Imperial Japan was taken over by Japanese militarism, pursued further expansion into Asia, and engaged in conflicts with the Soviet Union during the Soviet-Japanese Border Wars (1932-1945), China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and the Allies during World War II (1939-1945). The Imperial Japanese government took steps to suppress dissent amongst the Japanese populous, which had been active in 20th century Imperial Japan since the Meiji period.


Emergence of dissent in Imperial Japan[edit]

Imperial Japan's labor movement had been in Imperial Japan since the Meiji Period.[1]

Anarchism was introduced to Japan by Shūsui Kōtoku, who traveled to the United States in 1905 following being imprisoned for violating press law. Originally a socialist, Kōtoku became influenced by anarchist thought while living in the U.S, and became an early Japanese advocate of anarchism in Japan. He was executed, along with ten others, in 1911 for his involvement with the High Treason Incident, a plot to assassinate Emperor Meiji.[2]

The Communist International (Comintern), an international Communist organization founded following the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, had contacted the Japanese in the 1920s.[3] The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) was founded in 1922, and outlawed by the Japanese government.[4]

Government repression in Imperial Japan[edit]

Prime Minister Katō Takaaki

In 1907, an open letter addressed to "Mutsuhito, Emperor of Japan from Anarchist-Terrorists" was posted at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco. Mutsuhito was the personal name of Emperor Meiji. The open letter denied the Emperor's divinity, and contained the words "Hey you, miserable Mutsuhito. Bombs are all around you, about to explode. Farewell to you." The incident changed the Japanese government's attitude towards leftist movements.[5]

The Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu (Special Higher Police) or Tokkō was established in 1911 in response to the High Treason Incident. The organization's purpose was to suppress dissent.[6] By the 1930s, the Special Higher Police were targeting people with no ties to communist organizations.[7]

Prime Minister Katō Takaaki enacted the Peace Preservation Law on May 12, 1925, which forbade opposition to the Kokutai.[8] Nearly 70,000 people were subsequently arrested under the Peace Preservation Law.[9]

The Religious Organizations Law (宗教団体法 Shūkyō Dantai Hō?) was passed by the Diet in 1939 to enable the government to control religious organizations.[10]

In 1940, independent labor unions were completely abolished by the Konoe Fumimaro administration.[11]

Dissidents in World War II[edit]

Japanese in the Chinese resistance[edit]

Sanzo Nosaka, who joined the Chinese communists

There were Japanese who joined the Chinese resistance during the Second Sino-Japanese war. Dissident Wataru Kaji joined the Republic of China, and Communist leader Sanzo Nosaka, AKA Susumu Okano, joined the Chinese communists. Nosaka became head of the Japanese Peasants' and Workers' School in World War II communist China. The school indoctrinated Japanese POWs.

Both Nosaka, and Kaji were involved with the production of propaganda, and the re-education of Japanese POWs during the war. The converted POWs became propaganda workers in the war against Imperial Japan. Kaji's POW work was discontinued by the government due to fears that he was indoctrinating the POWs in communist ideology. [12] [13]


Soviet spy Richard Sorge operated a spy ring in Imperial Japan. Before the outbreak of World War II, Sorge recruited Hotsumi Ozaki a Japanese journalist, and China expert who met Sorge, and Agnes Smedley in Shanghai. Ozaki was arrested by the Japanese in 1941, and hanged in 1944.[14][15]

Political prisoners[edit]

In Imperial Japan, dissidents were tortured by the authorities, and subjected to tenkō ideological re-education.[16] During the Occupation of Japan, 3000 political prisoners were released from prison. [17]

Communist politician Kenji Miyamoto was imprisoned until the end of World War II.[18] Painter Taro Yashima and his wife, Mitsu Yashima, were imprisoned in Japan along with their fellow activists for their protests against the Japanese government. The Yashimas later traveled to America.[19] Following the outbreak of World War II, they worked for the U.S government.[20][21]

Occupation of Japan[edit]

Release of Japanese Communists following the end of World War II

The Occupation of Japan began following the end of World War II. The Japanese leftists at first welcomed the US occupation forces as a liberation army, however the US' relationship with Japanese leftists soured due to the Cold War. During the occupation, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) suppressed leftism.[22]

Notable dissidents[edit]

Dissident organizations[edit]

Dissident media[edit]

Notable incidents[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A Companion to Japanese History edited by William M. Tsutsui Page 496-497
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy edited by Oliver Leaman Page 301-302
  3. ^ Beckmann, George M. & Okubo, Genji. The Japanese Communist Party 1922-1945. p. 30–33. 
  4. ^ "Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (political party, Japan) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  5. ^ The Japanese Conspiracy: The Oahu Sugar Strike of 1920 By Masayo Umezawa Duus Page 22-23
  6. ^ Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. p. 98. 
  7. ^ Mazower, Mark (1997). The Policing of Politics in the Twentieth Century: Historical Perspectives. Berghahn Books. pp. 222–223. ISBN 9781571818737. 
  8. ^ Itoh, Mayumi (2003). The Hatoyama Dynasty: Japanese Political Leadership Through the Generations. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 58. ISBN 9781403981523. 
  9. ^ Hanneman, Mary L. (2013). Japan Faces the World, 1925-1952. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 9781317878964. 
  10. ^ Ives, Christopher (2009). Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen's Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824833312. 
  11. ^ Flath, David (2014). The Japanese Economy. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 9780191006784. 
  12. ^ https://archive.org/stream/dilemmainjapan035095mbp#page/n163/mode/2up "Dilemma in Japan" by Andrew Roth Page 162-185
  13. ^ Kushner, Barak. The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda. p. 134–143. 
  14. ^ "An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring", Chalmers A. Johnson, Pages 1-11
  15. ^ Lawrence Rogers (2010-02-22). "Sorge's Spy is Brought in From the Cold: A Soviet-Okinawan Connection". JapanFocus. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  16. ^ Richard H. Mitchell (1992). Janus-Faced Justice: Political Criminals in Imperial Japan. University of Hawaii Press. 
  17. ^ Tolerance, Suspicion, and Hostility: Changing U.S. Attitudes toward the ...By HENRY OINAS-KUKKONEN Page 16
  18. ^ Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. p. 195. 
  19. ^ "Taro Yashima: Artist for Peace". Librarypoint. Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  20. ^ Judy Stone (2007-03-18). "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  21. ^ "Obituaries: Taro Yashima; Artist, Author Aided U.S. in World War II - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. 1994-07-06. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  22. ^ "Imperial Eclipse: Japan's Strategic Thinking about Continental Asia before ...", Yukiko Koshiro, Page 277
  23. ^ "Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (political party, Japan) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  24. ^ Modern Japanese Religions: With Special Emphasis Upon Their Doctrines of HealingBy Clark B. Offner, Henricus Johannes Josephus Maria Straelen Page 70

Further reading[edit]