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Sen Katayama (片山 潜 Katayama Sen, December 26, 1859 - November 5, 1933), born Yabuki Sugataro (藪木 菅太郎 Yabuki Sugatarō), was an early member of the American Communist Party and co-founder, in 1922, of the Japan Communist Party. After 1884, he spent most of his life abroad, especially in the United States and the Soviet Union, where he was very active in the international socialist community, and after 1920 the communist community. Katayama had a weak base inside Japan, and was little known there. However, in the rest of the world, he was widely hailed as a leading spokesman for the Japanese socialist and communist movements.
Early life and education
Sugataro Yabuki was the second son born to Kunizo and Kichi Yabuki in 1859 in the Hadeki district of what would later become Japan's Okayama prefecture. He was adopted by the Katayama family at nineteen and adopted the name Sen Katayama, becoming the Katayama's "first son," after his birth mother was deserted by her husband. The adoption avoided Katayama's conscription and allowed him to continue his education. In his autobiography, Jiden (自伝), Katayama admitted that he was fortunate not to have been the first born in his birth family, as it saved him from some of the responsibilities that burdened some of his acquaintances.
In 1878 Katayama travelled to Tokyo to apprentice as a printer while he studied at a small preparatory school, the Oka Juku, where he formed a friendship with Iwasaki Seikichi (岩崎清吉), nephew of one of the founders of Mitsubishi. Iwasaki's departure for Yale University inspired Katayama to work his way to the United States. Katayama attended Grinnell College, from which he graduated in 1892, proceeding to the Andover Theological Seminary and then to Yale Divinity School. During this period Katayama became a Christian and a socialist. Before attending Grinnell, Katayama attended Maryville College.
Katayama returned to Japan in 1896 and from 1897 to 1901 edited Labour World (労働世界 Rōdō Sekai), the organ of the Iron Workers' Union (鉄工組合) and Trade Unions' Federation (労働組合期成会) and Japan's first socialist party. He returned to America in 1903 at the urging of Iwasaki to look into rice-farming opportunities. During this trip he attended the Second International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam where he gained recognition for shaking hands with the Russian delegate, G.V. Plekhanov, in a gesture of amity between the Russian and Japanese peoples, despite the ongoing Russo-Japanese War. In 1904 he attended an American Socialist Party convention in Chicago. He settled in Texas and his main business became rice farming. When his rice crop failed he became employed by a Japanese restaurant owner in Houston, Tsunekichi Okasaki, who bought 10,202 acres (41.29 km2) of land in Texas with the plan that Katayama farm it. In late 1905 Okasaki and Katayama borrowed $100,000 from Iwasaki to fund the rice harvest, and together they formed a "Nippon Kono Kabushiki Kaisha" (Japan Farming Company) to develop the Texas project, and Katayama was made managing director. However, the company quickly dissolved, reputedly over Katayama's socialist leanings, and he returned to Japan in 1907, rejoined the Socialist movement, and pursued a career in journalism.
Katayama was arrested and jailed for his participation in the Tokyo Streetcar Strike of 1912, and after his release he left Japan for California. Attracted by the success of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917-18, Katayama became an active communist and an officer for Comintern. He travelled to Mexico and later to Moscow, where he was hailed as a leader of the Japanese Communist movement. He remained in the Soviet Union until his death on November 5, 1933 and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
Katayama had two children by his first wife, Fude, who died in 1903, and another daughter by his second wife, Hari Tama, whom he married in 1907.
- The Labor Movement in Japan. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1918.
- Japan and Soviet Russia, The People's Russian Information Bureau, 1919.
- James C. Doherty, Historical Dictionary of Socialism (1997) pp 140-41.
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- Kublin, Hyman; Asian Revolutionary: The Life of Sen Katayama, (Princeton University Press, 1964).
- Orii, Kazuhiko and Conroy, Hilary; "Japanese Socialist in Texas: Sen Katayama, 1904-1907," Amerasia Journal 8 (1981).
- Handbook of Texas Short Biography
- Sawada, Mitziko; Tokyo Life, New York Dreams: Urban Japanese Visions of America, 1890-1924, (University of California Press, 1996) chapter