Hitoshi Motoshima

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Hitoshi Motoshima
本島 等
Mayor of Nagasaki
In office
2 May 1979 – 1 May 1995
Preceded by Yoshitake Morotani
Succeeded by Iccho Itoh
Representative for Nagasaki Prefectural Legislature
In office
Personal details
Born (1922-02-20)February 20, 1922
Shin-Kamigotō, Nagasaki, Japan
Died October 31, 2014(2014-10-31) (aged 92)
Nagasaki, Japan
Political party Liberal Democratic Party of Japan
Alma mater Kyoto University
Occupation Teacher
Motoshima survived an assassination attempt while serving as mayor of Nagasaki in 1990. His mayoral successor, Iccho Itoh, was killed in an unrelated assassination in 2007.

Hitoshi Motoshima (本島 等?, Motoshima Hitoshi, February 20, 1922 – October 31, 2014) was a Japanese politician. He served four terms as mayor of Nagasaki from 1979 to 1995. He publicly made controversial statements about the responsibility of Japan and its then-reigning Emperor for World War II and survived a retaliatory assassination attempt in 1990.[1]


Early life[edit]

Motoshima was born on February 20, 1922 in Shinkamigotō, Nagasaki. During World War II the Japanese authorities suspected Motoshima of espionage because he was a descendant of Kakure Kirishitans and born out of wedlock. When he was twenty-one he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army and became an artillery officer; he was stationed near Kumamoto and did not see combat before the war ended. Motoshima witnessed the aftermath of the atomic bombing of his hometown when he returned to Nagasaki about six weeks after it was bombed.[2]

He was admitted to the Kyoto University Engineering Department, but due to World War II did not graduate until he was twenty-seven years old. Motoshima worked as a teacher before entering politics.

Political career[edit]

Motoshima served as a Nagasaki Prefectural Legislature representative for five terms (twenty years) before being elected mayor of Nagasaki. While mayor he worked as chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party Nagasaki Prefecture Committee.

Following the mayor's controversial remarks and an attempt on his life, in the 1991 mayoral election the Communist Party did not run their own candidate and essentially supported Motoshima, who won re-election to a fourth term with additional cooperation from other progressive forces. However, facing much criticism, Motoshima lost the 1995 election to Liberal Democratic Party-endorsed opponent, Iccho Itoh, and retired from politics.

Controversy and assassination attempt[edit]

In late 1988 during his third mayoral term, news that the Shōwa Emperor was gravely ill and not expected to live long had put Japan into a somber mood. On December 7 Motoshima was asked in a city council meeting by a council member from the Communist Party his opinion of the Emperor's responsibility for World War II. He answered:

Forty-three years have passed since the end of the war, and I think we have had enough chance to reflect on the nature of the war. From reading various accounts from abroad and having been a soldier myself, involved in military education, I do believe that the emperor bore responsibility for the war...

— (Buruma 1994:249)

The Liberal Democratic Party Prefectural Committee immediately demanded that he retract the statement, but Motoshima rejected the demand, saying he could not betray his conscience. In response, the Party Prefectural Committee removed him from the post of committee advisor, and many conservative organizations vilified the mayor. Furthermore, many extreme right-wing groups converged on Nagasaki and demonstrated in the streets with more than eighty speaker trucks calling out for divine retribution upon the mayor.

On January 18, 1990, when police had relaxed their guard on the mayor, a member of the right-wing group Seikijuku shot Motoshima in the back, but he survived the assassination attempt.


In 1998 Motoshima again attracted controversy by making statements such as, "It was a matter of course for atomic bombs to have been dropped on Japan, which had launched a war of aggression. Japan does not have the right to criticize the atomic bomb." for Kyodo News's interview. He is also quoted as saying, conversely, that the bombing was "one of the two great crimes against humanity in the 20th Century, along with the Holocaust[3]"

In 2002 Motoshima was awarded both the first Korea/Japan Peace and Fellowship Prize and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. On October 31, 2014, he died at the age of 92.[4]



External links[edit]