Japanese dissidence during the Shōwa period

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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 populace.


Emergence of dissent in Imperial Japan[edit]

Dissent amongst the Japanese populace had existed in Imperial Japan since before the Shōwa period. The Freedom and People's Rights Movement began in 1874 during the Meiji era (1868-1912).[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 anarchism while living in the U.S, and became an early Japanese anarchist. 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]

Dissidents were tortured by the authorities, and subjected to Tenkō ideological re-education.[10]

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.[11]

In 1940, independent labor unions were completely abolished by the Konoe Fumimaro administration.[12]

The war years (1937-1945)[edit]

Japanese Expatriates[edit]

Sanzo Nosaka, who joined the Chinese communists

Some Japanese left their homeland, and joined Imperial Japan's enemies during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

Dissident Wataru Kaji joined the Republic of China, and Communist leader Sanzo Nosaka, AKA Susumu Okano, joined the Chinese communists. 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. Nosaka became head of the Japanese Peasants' and Workers' School, which indoctrinated Japanese POWs.[13][14]

Painter Taro Yashima and his wife, Mitsu Yashima were jailed in Imperial Japan for their protests against the Japanese government.[15] They were in the United States when the Pacific War broke out. During the war, they worked for the U.S government.[16][17]

Sorge spy ring[edit]

During the 1930s, Soviet Red Army intelligence agent Richard Sorge set up a spy ring in Imperial Japan. He recruited Hotsumi Ozaki, a Japanese journalist, as a spy.[18][19] In October 1941, Ozaki was arrested by the Japanese. He was hanged in November 1944, becoming the only Japanese to be hanged for treason during the war.[20]

Sōka Gakkai[edit]

The Sōka Gakkai was a lay Nichiren Buddhist movement founded in 1930 by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi.[21]In 1943, Makiguchi, and Josei Toda, a Sōka Gakkai follower, were imprisoned for advising their followers not to buy amulets from the Grand Shrine of Ise. Makiguchi died in prison. Toda was released in 1945.[22]

Occupation of Japan[edit]

Release of Japanese Communists following the end of World War II

The Occupation of Japan began following the Surrender of Japan in September 2, 1945. On 4 October 1945, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) ordered the release of political prisoners, who were released on 10 October 1945.[23]

List of notable dissidents[edit]

Japanese Communist Party[edit]




Dissident organizations[edit]

Dissident media[edit]

Notable events[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Narrating the Self: Fictions of Japanese Modernity By Tomi Suzuki Page 26-28
  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. ^ Richard H. Mitchell (1992). Janus-Faced Justice: Political Criminals in Imperial Japan. University of Hawaii Press. 
  11. ^ Ives, Christopher (2009). Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen's Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824833312. 
  12. ^ Flath, David (2014). The Japanese Economy. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 9780191006784. 
  13. ^ https://archive.org/stream/dilemmainjapan035095mbp#page/n163/mode/2up "Dilemma in Japan" by Andrew Roth Page 162-185
  14. ^ Kushner, Barak. The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda. p. 134–143. 
  15. ^ "Taro Yashima: Artist for Peace". Librarypoint. Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  16. ^ Judy Stone (2007-03-18). "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  17. ^ "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. 
  18. ^ "An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring", Chalmers A. Johnson, Pages 1-17
  19. ^ Lawrence Rogers (2010-02-22). "Sorge's Spy is Brought in From the Cold: A Soviet-Okinawan Connection". JapanFocus. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  20. ^ Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. p. 192. 
  21. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/552747/Soka-gakkai
  22. ^ Bibliography of Japanese New Religious Movements By Peter B Clarke Page 235
  23. ^ Henry Oinas-Kukkonen (2003). Tolerance, Suspicion, and Hostility: Changing U.S. Attitudes toward the Japanese Communist Movement, 1944-1947. Greenwood Press. p. 13-16. 
  24. ^ "Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (political party, Japan) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Britannica.com. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 
  25. ^ Modern Japanese Religions: With Special Emphasis Upon Their Doctrines of HealingBy Clark B. Offner, Henricus Johannes Josephus Maria Straelen Page 70

Further reading[edit]