Japanese dissidence during the Shōwa period

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Emperor Hirohito at his coronation in 1928

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


Daisuke Namba, executed for the 1923 attempted assassination of then Prince regent Hirohito

Dissent was active in 20th century Imperial Japan before Hirohito's reign. 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 concluded with the words "Hey you, miserable Mutsuhito. Bombs are all around you, about to explode. Farewell to you." The incident changed the attitude towards leftist movements.[1] The Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu (Special Higher Police) was established in 1911 in response to the High Treason Incident, a conspiracy to assassinate Emperor Meiji.[2]

Hirohito regency[edit]

When the Taisho Emperor became ill, his son Hirohito served as Prince regent from 1921 to 1926. Hirohito's new title made him ruler of the monarchy without being the monarch.[3]

During his regency, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) was founded in 1922.[4] Following the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, Japanese leftists, and ethnic minorities were massacred by the Japanese.[5] The Military police, fearing that anarchists would take advantage of the disaster to overthrow the government, killed anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, Noe Itō, and his six-year-old nephew.[6]

Hirohito was a target of assassination by Japanese dissidents. Daisuke Namba attempted to assassinate Hirohito in response to the atrocities committed against Koreans, and leftists during the Great Kantō earthquake. Namba was executed following the assassination's failure.[7] Anarchist Fumiko Kaneko, a sympathizer of Korean nationalists, was involved with a plot to assassinate Hirohito. She was sentenced to death, but her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. She tore up the commutation order, and committed suicide.[8]

Katō Takaaki enacted the Peace Preservation Law on May 12, 1925, which forbade opposition to the Kokutai.[9] Nearly 70,000 people were subsequently arrested under the Peace Preservation Law.[10] Japan's student movement was one of the earliest victims of the Peace Preservation Law.[11]

Shōwa period[edit]

Hirohito became emperor of Japan on December 25, 1926, following the death of his father. His reign was designated Shōwa (“Bright Peace,” or “Enlightened Harmony”).[12] His reign oversaw a wave of government repression in Imperial Japan.

Suspected communists throughout Japan were arrested in what is known as the March 15 incident on March 15, 1928. That same year, the home ministry disbanded the Hyōgikai, and Labour-Farmer Party.[13] On December 8, 1935, hundreds of police vandalized the Oomoto religious sect's headquarters, and arrested nearly a thousand sect members. The sect was condemned for revering deities other than the Sun Goddess Ameratsu.[14] 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.[15] In 1940, independent labor unions were completely abolished by the Konoe Fumimaro administration.[16]

Communists, and suspected communists were subjected to brutal torture at the hands of authorities. Takiji Kobayashi, a Japanese proletarian writer, was allegedly tortured to death by the authorities in 1933.[17] By the 1930s, the Special Higher Police had begun targeting people with no ties to communist organizations.[18]

Following the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937–45), persecution was increasingly subjected to dissent.[clarification needed][19] Some 400 activists between December 1937 and February 1938 were arrested in what became known as the Popular Front Incident.[20]

Types of resistance[edit]

Communist International[edit]

The Communist International (Comintern) was an organization founded in Moscow on 1919. Its stated goal was the promotion of world revolution.[21] The Comintern had been in contact with the Japanese in the 1920s.[22] Sen Katayama, a Japanese Communist, was an official of the Comintern.[23] Communist leader Sanzo Nosaka was a Comintern agent, having done espionage work against Imperial Japan prior to his arrival in China.[24] In 1936, Imperial Japan would sign the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany.[25]

Sorge ring[edit]

Richard Sorge was a Soviet spy who operated in Imperial Japan. He recruited Hotsumi Ozaki, a Japanese journalist who had met Sorge, as well as Agnes Smedley, in Shanghai.[26] On 1941, Ozaki was arrested along with other members of Sorge's ring. Him, along with Sorge, were hanged in 1944.[27] After World War II, Ozaki became viewed as an anti-militarist martyr.[28]

Nosaka Sanzo, who joined the Chinese communists


A number of Japanese dissidents joined the Chinese during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Sanzo Nosaka joined the Chinese Communists. Wataru Kaji fled Japan to China on January 1936 to escape political persecution. He joined the Republic of China in the early years of the war. Both Kaji, and Nosaka indoctrinated Japanese POWs to defect from the Imperial Japanese Military. There were Japanese POWs who defected, and engaged in propaganda work against Imperial Japan.[29] Kaji's work with the POWs was discontinued by the government due to fears he was indoctrinating the POWs in communist ideology. He would continue working with the Chinese in the war.[30] Teru Hasegawa made broadcasts for the Chinese during the war.[31]

United States[edit]

Taro Yashima and his wife, Mitsu Yashima, had been imprisoned in Japan along with their fellow activists for their protests against the Japanese government.[32] During the war, Mitsu made broadcasts aimed at Japan,[33] and Taro worked as an illustrator for the United States. The New Sun by Taro Yashima was published in 1943. It was an autobiographical picture book for adults about life in pre-war militarist Japan.[34] Ayako Ishigaki protested against the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. She joined the Office of War Information (OWI) along with her husband, issei painter Eitaro Ishigaki.[35]

Post-war period[edit]

Release of Japanese Communists following the end of World War II

The Occupation of Japan began following the end of World War II. Emperor Hirohito denied his divinity to the Japanese population in his Humanity Declaration. He was spared from being tried as a war criminal, escaping the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

Political repression in wartime Japan did not reach to the extent of Nazi Germany. Despite the brutality of the authorities, there were no concentration camps or mass executions in wartime Japan. By the end of the war, fewer than 2,500 political prisoners remained behind bars. "Rehabilitation" was the preferred method for dealing with dissidents.[36] There was no need for the most extreme forms of repression due in part to the Japanese populous being reduced to conformity.[37]

The leftists, who were a part of the resistance, at first welcomed the US occupation forces as a liberation army, however the US' relationship with Japanese leftists soured due to Cold War politics and the war against communism. The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) purged communists, and suppressed labor movements during the Occupation.[38] The Central Intelligence Agency funded the conservative Liberal Democratic Party of Japan in order to undermine the Japanese left, and make Japan a bulwark against communism.[39]

Resistance figure Wataru Kaji was allegedly tortured by the CIA who suspected him of being a Soviet spy.[40] Communist resistance leader Sanzo Nosaka organized student riots against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.[41] Activists Taro Yashima and Mitsu Yashima became children's book authors in America. Their son, Mako Iwamatsu, grew up to be a prolific Hollywood actor.[42]

Academic research[edit]

Japanese dissidence has been the subject of academic research. History books such as The Pacific War by Saburo Ienaga, and Dilemma in Japan by Andrew Roth discuss the subject of Japanese dissidence.

Works depicting Japanese dissidence[edit]

List of dissident organizations during the Shōwa period[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Japanese Conspiracy: The Oahu Sugar Strike of 1920 By Masayo Umezawa Duus Page 22-23
  2. ^ A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower By Kenneth Henshall Page 98
  3. ^ "Hirohito (emperor of Japan) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  4. ^ "Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (political party, Japan) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  5. ^ Brief History: Brief History of KoreaBy Mark Peterson Page 165
  6. ^ The Revolutionist and the Reactionary A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in DisasterBy Rebecca Solnit
  7. ^ Minichiello, Sharon (1998). Japan's Competing Modernities: Issues in Culture and Democracy, 1900-1930. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824820800. [page needed]
  8. ^ Huffman, James L. (1997). Modern Japan: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Nationalism. Routledge. p. 110. ISBN 978-0815325253. 
  9. ^ Itoh, Mayumi (2003). The Hatoyama Dynasty: Japanese Political Leadership Through the Generations. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 58. ISBN 9781403981523. 
  10. ^ Hanneman, Mary L. (2013). Japan Faces the World, 1925-1952. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 9781317878964. 
  11. ^ Huffman, James L. (1997). Modern Japan: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Nationalism. Routledge. p. 67. ISBN 978-0815325253. 
  12. ^ "Hirohito (emperor of Japan) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  13. ^ Garon, Sheldon M. (1987). The State and Labor in Modern Japan. University of California Press. p. 150. ISBN 9780520909809. 
  14. ^ McClain, James L. (2002). Japan, a Modern History. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 469. ISBN 9780393041569. 
  15. ^ Ives, Christopher (2009). Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen's Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824833312. 
  16. ^ Flath, David (2014). The Japanese Economy. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 9780191006784. 
  17. ^ Mitchell, Richard H. (1992). Janus-Faced Justice: Political Criminals in Imperial Japan. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 67–84. ISBN 9780824814106. 
  18. ^ Mazower, Mark (1997). The Policing of Politics in the Twentieth Century: Historical Perspectives. Berghahn Books. pp. 222–223. ISBN 9781571818737. 
  19. ^ "Pacific: An Encyclopedia", edited by Stanley Sandler, Page 406
  20. ^ "Academic Freedom and the Japanese Imperial University 1868-1939", Byron K. Marshall, Page 205
  21. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/290606/Third-International
  22. ^ The Japanese Communist Party 1922-1945 By George M. Beckmann, Genji Okubo Page 30-33
  23. ^ Communism in History and Theory: Asia, Africa, and the Americas By Donald F. Busky Page 48
  24. ^ "Letters shed new light on Nosaka's espionage acts". The Japan Times. 2000-10-22. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  25. ^ "Anti-Comintern Pact - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. 2013-09-29. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  26. ^ "An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring", Chalmers A. Johnson, Pages 9-10
  27. ^ Lawrence Rogers (2010-02-22). "Sorge's Spy is Brought in From the Cold: A Soviet-Okinawan Connection". JapanFocus. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  28. ^ "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II", John W. Dower, Pages 194-195
  29. ^ https://archive.org/stream/dilemmainjapan035095mbp#page/n163/mode/2up "Dilemma in Japan" by Andrew Roth Schools for Anti-Fascists II. Susumu Okano, Page 162-185
  30. ^ "The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda", Barak Kushner, Pages 142-143
  31. ^ "Verda Majo – A Sincere Friend Dedicated to China". China.org.cn. 2005-11-18.
  32. ^ "Taro Yashima: Artist for Peace". Librarypoint. Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  33. ^ Judy Stone (2007-03-18). "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  34. ^ "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. 
  35. ^ "The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century", Michael Denning, Page 145
  36. ^ "World War II in the Pacific: An Encyclopedia", edited by Stanley Sandler, Page 406
  37. ^ "A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and ...", Martin Kitchen, Page 321
  38. ^ "Imperial Eclipse: Japan's Strategic Thinking about Continental Asia before ...", Yukiko Koshiro, Page 277
  39. ^ By Tim Weiner (1994-10-09). "C.I.A. Spent Millions to Support Japanese Right in 50's and 60's - New York Times". Japan: Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  40. ^ "Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld", David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro, Page 45-47
  41. ^ James Kirkup (1993-11-16). "Obituary: Sanzo Nosaka - People - News". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  42. ^ san pebbles