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.


Prime Minister Katō Takaaki

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]

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 were tortured by the authorities, and subjected to Tenkō ideological re-education.[12]

Dissent during World War II[edit]

A number of Japanese dissidents continued to operate during World War II.

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] Dissidents Taro Yashima and his wife, Mitsu Yashima, who were in the United States during the outbreak of the Pacific War, worked for the U.S government.[15][16]

In 1943 Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, and Jōsei Toda, founders of the Sōka Gakkai, were imprisoned for advising their followers not to buy amulets from the Grand Shrine of Ise. Makiguchi died in prison.[17] Toda was released in July 1945 and rebuilt the Sokka Gakkai.[18]

The only Japanese to be hanged for treason during the war was Hotsumi Ozaki, who spied for Soviet spy Richard Sorge.[19]

Dissidents under the occupation of Japan[edit]

Release of Japanese Communists following the end of World War II

The Occupation of Japan (1945–52) by the Allied powers began following Japan's defeat in World War II. During the Occupation, Japan went through various reforms.[20]

The GHQ (General Headquarters, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) issued the "Removal of Restrictions on Political, Civil, and Religious Liberties" (SCAPIN-93) directive on 4 October 1945, which stipulated the repealing of certain laws, and the release of political prisoners.[21] The National Diet Library estimated that 3,000 political prisoners were released after the war.[22]

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. ^ 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. ^ Richard H. Mitchell (1992). Janus-Faced Justice: Political Criminals in Imperial Japan. University of Hawaii Press. 
  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. ^ Judy Stone (2007-03-18). "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  16. ^ "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. 
  17. ^ Bibliography of Japanese New Religious Movements By Peter B Clarke Page 235
  18. ^ Global Institutions of Religion: Ancient Movers, Modern Shakers By Katherine Marshall Page 107
  19. ^ Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. p. 192. 
  20. ^ "occupation (of Japan) - Japanese history [1945-1952]". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  21. ^ "5-3 The Occupation and the Beginning of Reform - Modern Japan in archives". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  22. ^ "Glossary - Birth of the Constitution of Japan". Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  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]