Shūmei Ōkawa

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Shūmei Ōkawa
大川 周明
OKAWA Shumei.jpg
Shūmei Ōkawa, c. 1936
Born(1886-12-06)6 December 1886
Died24 December 1957(1957-12-24) (aged 71)
Tokyo, Japan
EducationTokyo Imperial University, 1911, Ph.D. 1926
OccupationEducator, political philosopher, Islamic scholar, historian
Known for
  • Founder of the nationalist organisation Yūzonsha, alongside Kita Ikki
  • Founder of the nationalist magazine Nippon
  • Involvement in two failed military coups against the Japanese government (March 1931 and October 1931)
  • Prominent broadcaster of Japanese government propaganda during World War II
Criminal charges
  • Attempted coups (1932)
  • War crimes (1945)
ParentShūkei Ōkawa (d. 1914)

Shūmei Ōkawa (大川 周明, Ōkawa Shūmei, 6 December 1886 – 24 December 1957) was a Japanese nationalist and Pan-Asianist writer, known for his publications on Japanese history, philosophy of religion, Indian philosophy, and colonialism.


Ōkawa was born in Sakata, Yamagata, Japan in 1886. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1911, where he had studied Vedic literature and classical Indian philosophy. After graduation, Ōkawa worked for the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff doing translation work. He had a sound knowledge of German, French, English, Sanskrit and Pali.[3]

He briefly flirted with socialism in his college years, but in the summer of 1913 he read a copy of Sir Henry Cotton's New India, or India in transition (1886, revised 1905) which dealt with the contemporary political situation. After reading this book, Ōkawa abandoned "complete cosmopolitanism" (sekaijin) for Pan-Asianism. Later that year articles by Anagarika Dharmapala and Maulavi Barkatullah appeared in the magazine Michi, published by Dōkai, a religious organization in which Ōkawa was later to play a prominent part. While he studied, he briefly housed the Indian independence leader Rash Behari Bose.

After years of study of foreign philosophies, he became increasingly convinced that the solution to Japan's pressing social and political problems lay in an alliance with Asian independence movements, a revival of pre-modern Japanese philosophy, and a renewed emphasis on the kokutai principles.[4]

Ōkawa, age 35, as a professor at Takushoku University

In 1918, Ōkawa went to work for the South Manchurian Railway Company, under its East Asian Research Bureau. Together with Ikki Kita he founded the nationalist discussion group and political club Yūzonsha. In the 1920s, he became an instructor of history and colonial policy at Takushoku University, where he was also active in the creation of anti-capitalist and nationalist student groups.[5] Meanwhile, he introduced Rudolf Steiner's theory of social threefolding to Japan. He developed a friendship with Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba during this time period.

In 1926, Ōkawa published his most influential work: Japan and the Way of the Japanese (Nihon oyobi Nihonjin no michi), which was so popular that it was reprinted 46 times by the end of World War II. Ōkawa also became involved in a number of attempted coups d'état by the Japanese military in the early 1930s, including the March Incident, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1935.[6] Released after only two years, he briefly re-joined the South Manchurian Railway Company before accepting a post as a professor at Hosei University in 1939. He continued to publish numerous books and articles, helping popularize the idea that a "clash of civilizations" between the East and West was inevitable, and that Japan was destined to assume the mantle of liberator and protector of Asia against the United States and other Western nations.[7]

Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal[edit]

Ōkawa in court. He had just slapped Tojo's (seated in front) head and is being restrained by a guard.

After World War II, the Allies prosecuted Ōkawa as a class-A war criminal. Of the twenty-eight people indicted with this charge, he was the only one who was not a military officer or government official. The Allies described him to the press as the "Japanese Goebbels" and said that he had long agitated for a war between Japan and the West. In pre-trial hearings, Ōkawa said that he had merely translated and commented on Vladimir Solovyov's geopolitical philosophy in 1924, and that in fact Pan-Asianism did not advocate for war.[8]

During the trial, Ōkawa behaved erratically, including dressing in pajamas, sitting barefoot, and slapping the head of former prime minister Hideki Tōjō while shouting "Inder! Kommen Sie!" (Come, Indian!) in German. From the beginning of the tribunal, Ōkawa was saying that the court was a farce and not even worthy of being called a legal court.[citation needed] He was also heard to shout "This is act one of the comedy!" U.S. Army psychiatrist Daniel Jaffe examined him and reported that he was unfit to stand trial. The presiding judge Sir William Webb concluded that he was mentally ill and dropped the case against him. Some believe that he was feigning madness.[9] Of the remaining defendants, seven were hanged and the rest imprisoned.[10][9]

After the war[edit]

Ōkawa was transferred from the jail to a US Army hospital in Japan, which confirmed mental illness caused by syphilis. Later, he was transferred to Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital, a mental hospital, where he completed the third Japanese translation of the entire Quran.[11] He was released from hospital in 1948, shortly after the end of the trial. He spent the final years of his life writing a memoir, Anraku no Mon, reflecting on how he found peace in the mental hospital.

In October 1957, Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru requested an audience with him during a brief visit to Japan. The invitation was hand-delivered to Ōkawa's house by an Indian Embassy official, who found that Ōkawa was already on his deathbed and was unable to leave the house. He died on December 24, 1957.[12]

Major publications[edit]

  • Some issues in re-emerging Asia (復興亜細亜の諸問題), 1922
  • A study of the Japanese spirit (日本精神研究), 1924
  • A study of chartered colonisation companies (特許植民会社制度研究), 1927
  • National History (国史読本), 1931
  • 2600 years of the Japanese history (日本二千六百年史), 1939
  • History of Anglo-American Aggression in East Asia (米英東亜侵略史), 1941
  • Best-seller in Japan during WW2
  • Introduction to Islam (回教概論), 1942
  • Quran (Japanese translation), 1950


  1. ^ "Okawa Shumei". Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Springfield, MA: Gale. Merriam-Webster. 1995. GALE|K1681157864. Retrieved 20 January 2014. Biography in Context.
  2. ^ Yoshimi, Takeuchi, Profile of Asian Minded Man x: Okawa Shumei (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007, retrieved 20 January 2014
  3. ^ Wakabayashi, Modern Japanese Thought, p. 226
  4. ^ Samuels, Securing Japan: Tokyo's Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia, p. 18
  5. ^ Calvocoressi, The Penguin History of the Second World War p. 657
  6. ^ Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, p. 572
  7. ^ Wakabayashi, Modern Japanese Thought, pp. 226–227
  8. ^ Japan’s Pan-Asianism and the Legitimacy of Imperial World Order, 1931–1945
  9. ^ a b Halzack, Sarah (17 January 2014). "A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II". The Washington Post. p. B7. Retrieved 30 January 2014. (review of book by Eric Jaffe)
  10. ^ Maga, Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials
  11. ^ While Ōkawa made reference to the Arabic original, he made his translation from about ten language editions, including English, Chinese, German, and French, as his knowledge of Arabic was only basic. See Krämer, "Pan-Asianism's Religious Undercurrents," pp. 627–630.
  12. ^ Sekioka Hideyuki. Ōkawa Shūmei no Dai-Ajia-Shugi. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2007. p. 203.


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