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Tanaka Kōtarō, Guiding Spirit of the Hiraga Purge, Beset on All Sides

In which the author focuses on Tanaka Kōtarō, whom he credits as the mastermind behind the Hiraga Purge. He traces Tanaka’s stellar career—Tōdai professor of law, Minister of Education, Supreme Court justice, judge on the International Court of Justice. Tanaka, a Catholic, specialized in international law, a fact that set him on collision course with the right-wingers around Minoda Muneki. The national-essence people equated Japan’s war in Asia with their domestic agenda to “clarify the kokutai,” and Tanaka opposed both. The chapter concludes with an account of Tanaka’s battering during the purge at the hands of his colleagues.

Tanaka’s Glittering Career

Tanaka Kōtarō, Dean of the Faculty of Law, enticed Hiraga into being university president and generated the grand design of the Hiraga Purge. Moreover, at the time of the Purge, Tanaka was sitting at Hiraga’s right hand, supporting him all the way. In this sense, Tanaka may have been the true protagonist of the Hiraga Purge. So let’s say something more about Tanaka.

Today what ordinary people remember about Tanaka is solely his postwar career. It was so glittering that merely writing a bit about it shocks people. First, in the immediate postwar period Minister of Education Maeda Tamon asked Tanaka to become Chief of the Bureau of Education while he was still a Tōdai professor (at the time it was possible for a professor to be simultaneously a Ministry official). Chief of the Bureau of Education was a post newly established in a Ministry of Education that sought a fundamental rethinking of education, and it oversaw the whole range of educational administration: from primary and elementary schools to universities and specialist and technical schools. For a while after graduating, Tanaka had worked in the Home Ministry, and in those years Maeda had been Tanaka’s superior; they had a relationship of deep trust. Tanaka burned with zeal for educational reform and thought that with Maeda as his boss he could accomplish whatever he wanted, and there were conditions within the university that made the university inhospitable, so he transferred from the university to the Ministry of Education. It’s a bit of an aside, but the conditions that made it inhospitable contribute to an understanding of Tanaka’s character, so let me touch on them.

At the end of 1945, the last year of the war, an issue arose regarding the promotion of Assistant Professor Yasui Kaoru, who taught international law at the Faculty of Law. This was the same Yasui Kaoru who after the war became secretary-general of Gensuikyō and was spectacularly active. Tanaka opposed his promotion fiercely. Not only Tanaka but also Yokota Kisaburō, the chief professor of international law (and later a third-generation justice on the Supreme Court). The reason for their opposition was the same: they didn’t trust Yasui. In Nambara Shigeru Remembered,[1] there’s this passage:

Nambara: …The first reason was Yasui’s opportunism. There was no coherence about him; his ideas had no internal consistency. Sometimes he was neo-Kantian, and just when you thought that he was enamored of the Soviet Union, he’d praise the Nazis. At that time his legal position was quite national-essentialist or Greater East Asian… The criticism was that you couldn’t get away with that.

And then another reason: since the essay that earned him promotion to assistant professor, he’d produced almost no scholarly writing…. Moreover—it’s strange to call it extra-university work, but—that’s all he was doing….

Tsuji: At that time “extra-university” meant military, didn’t it? … I heard the rumor that he had connections to the military, to the young officers; how true was that?

Nambara: Yes, that was certainly one reason for opposing him.

Maruyama: …He was also involved in Konoe’s New Order. So when it came to promoting Yasui, both Yokota and Tanaka thought that the forces of the times were very strongly at work in the background, that the Ministry of Education and the military were pushing strongly.

Postwar people have virtually only the image of Yasui Kaoru as leader of the peace movement and secretary-general of Gensuikyō, but earlier there was another Yasui Kaoru. In fact, when the war ended, Yasui was investigated for his words and deeds and barred from public office.

Tanaka and Yokota said that if Yasui was promoted to professor, they’d resign, and they went around persuading other members of the Faculty Meeting to vote no. In response to their lobbying, some professors said, “To promote Yasui and make Tanaka and Yokota resign would be like exchanging lead for silver.” But many professors considered their methods threatening and highhanded and reacted negatively. Faculty Meeting approved Yasui’s promotion. At that time in the Faculty of Law, there were few who like Tanaka and Yokota were finicky about those who truckled to the wartime order (since its founding the Faculty of Law had traditionally been close to power), so it may be only natural that many professors curried favor with the establishment.

Tanaka and Yokota had been absolutely sure they couldn’t lose, so they had announced that they’d resign if Yasui was promoted; but when in fact Yasui was promoted, they were really in a fix. Some people (virtually all the assistant professors) smoothed things over, and both Tanaka and Yokota stayed on, but the situation wasn’t a comfortable one.

Hawkish Postwar Supreme Court Justice

To return to my tale, Tanaka became Chief of the Education Bureau and exerted all his energies on education reform. According to Tanaka’s My Resumé,[2] the cause most on Tanaka’s mind at this time in regard to education was to take education out of the hands of the Ministry officials and restore it to educators, people with actual experience educating and studying about education. And he had the following aspirations: “In addition to purging militarism and extreme nationalism from education ideals, my chief aspirations were for education to be independent, that is, liberated from the control of central and regional educational bureaucrats, for basic reform of teacher training, which had suffered, and for better treatment of educators.” In Tanaka’s time as bureau chief and then as Minister of Education, postwar Japan’s new educational structure basically had its path mapped out.

In 1946, when the first Yoshida cabinet was formed, Tanaka (he was then fifty-five) became Minister of Education at the personal request of Yoshida. Tanaka thought that primary school had killed the army (by turning it into a organization in which one obeyed only when watched and resisted passively otherwise) and that in the same way teacher-training schools were the root of evil in Japan’s education. Pouring his energy into abolishing them and establishing the 6:3 system, he created the basic educational law, the schools’ education law, and so on.

In April of the following year, 1947, the first election to the House of Peers under the new constitution was held, and Tanaka ran, unattached, in the nation-wide division. His supporters were many and varied, and he received much volunteer support from Catholics and students of Sophia University and Chūō University, and even though he spent far less than the legal limit, he was elected easily. (He came in sixth in the nation-wide division. He won the most votes of any Tokyo candidate.)

Once elected, he assembled Diet representatives who did not belong to any political party, formed the Fresh Breeze Association, and wrote its charter. Pursuing middle-of-the-road politics and leaning neither left nor right, the Fresh Breeze Association became the largest faction in the House of Peers. In the Upper House he served as chair of the Education Committee (and later as chair of the Education and Culture Committee). Halfway through his term in office, in 1950 (he was 59), he was appointed to the Supreme Court and served over ten years as Chief Justice. During that time, he participated in the Court’s verdicts in many famous cases…. Some of his judgments were majority, some minority; but he was a classic justice of the hawkish wing. Since he continued to make bold and honest statements, he was subjected to sharp criticism from the reform camp. Although hawkish, he was a person of deep conviction, and at the core of his convictions was a firm Catholic faith. Since before the war, he had been strongly anti-communist, but at the same time he reacted with unusual force against the right wing national-essence believers, too. During the pre-war and war years, Tanaka fought them most fiercely. The Hiraga Purge was part of that fight.

The Soul-Searching Behind Educational Reform

Why did Tanaka throw himself into the world of educational administration and, rising to become Minister of Education, exert all his energies on educational reform? Because he had thought long and hard during the war about why Japan had gone wrong and felt that the heaviest onus of all lay on education. Right after the war, shortly before becoming Minister of Education, he wrote “Education and Worldview,”[3] and his feelings are exhibited clearly in a passage at the beginning of it: “People generally are beginning to realize that everything stems from mistakes in education. The nation hoped for what it should not have hoped for…began a war it should not have begun, ruled the peoples of the colonial territories by methods that should not have been permitted, and fought until just before final catastrophe a war it should have brought to an end. Fortunately, people of good will have begun to reflect that these crimes and misdeeds have their origin, ultimately, in years of misguided education.”

In the period right after the war, there was continuous and vociferous argument over the true cause of the defeat: the technological gap, the lack of national power (economic power), an unfavorable international environment, the poverty of our politics… But for Tanaka these arguments were all unimportant details. He wrote: “The true cause of the defeat lies in the fact that we started a war that basically should never have been started, a war impermissible from an ethical standpoint. That is, the true cause of the defeat lies squarely in the ethical shortcomings of the people. The issue is of a moral character.”

From this point of view, the “search for the cause of the defeat” was misguided. Why? To the extent that one thought in terms of searching for the cause of the defeat, it meant that had we won the war, there would have been no soul-searching. But even had we won the war, the very act of having gone to war was the mistake: “It’s not the case that we are bad because we lost the war. If a war lacks justice, even victory is a disgrace. Win or lose, we fought when we should not have fought, so we acted unjustly and must be ashamed. We are ashamed before the Allies and before all humanity, but we must also be ashamed before truth and before God. At this time we must remember in particular the words Fiat justitia pereat mundus (Let justice be done even if the world perish).[4] Up till now, our education—the education of the past fifteen years, of course, but farther back, education since Meiji—did not permit that way of looking at things.” From its very beginnings when Japan set out as a modern state, Japan’s education was able to nurture only people who could not think about things from this point of view, only people unable to speak out.

With the string of incidents that arose in the years after the Emperor-Organ Incident of 1935, Japan began to rush headlong toward a war order: the February 26 Incident, the start of war with China (that period coincided precisely with the Hiraga Purge). And because Japan’s educational system produced only such people, it became impossible for anyone to say a word against the forces—the alliance of the military and the right-wing national-essence people—driving us to war. In that period Tanaka Kōtarō came under the heaviest attack from Minoda Muneki and the right wing national-essence people: that’s a topic for later.

Let’s return to Tanaka’s sterling postwar career. In 1960 Tanaka retired from the Supreme Court at the mandatory age, and immediately on retiring, as if it had been waiting for him to retire, he was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit.[5] The citation for the award read: “His contribution to the progress of commercial law. His establishment of an original philosophy of law grounded in natural law. His contribution to the development of modern legal studies with books such as The Theory of International Law.” Soon thereafter Tanaka was elected Japan’s first judge of the International Court of Justice, was sent to the Hague in Holland, and served for nine years. Four years after returning to Japan, he died at the age of eighty-three. At the funeral at the National Academy, Nambara Shigeru (first post-war president of Tōdai; at the time president of the Academy) said in his eulogy: “In your lifetime you climbed, one after the other, the highest peaks of life.” What a career!

“World Law” vs. “Clarification of the Kokutai

At the time of the Hiraga Purge, this glittering resumé came within a whisker of crashing to earth. My Resumé contains the following passage about the day Ōuchi Hyōe was arrested in the Faculty Group Incident: “As soon as I heard from reliable sources that Ōuchi’s arrest was imminent, I went with Takagi Yasaka to the private mansion of his friend, Minister of Education Kido Kōichi and requested that Kido do everything possible. … While we were talking, a phone call came from Ōuchi. It was word that the police were making their raid. We returned to the university thinking there was nothing we could do now.” The problem was something that happened on this same day, after they returned to the university: “While we were eating, reporters arrived. I thought they were there about Ōuchi, but it was about me. It was the news that my Law and Religion and Social Life[6] and Theory of World Law had been attacked by rightwing members at a plenary session of the House of Peers.” On the morning of the day Ōuchi was arrested, Baron Mimurodo Takamitsu, member of the House of Peers (earlier he had attacked Minobe on the emperor-organ issue), attacked Tanaka, dean of the Faculty of Law, by name, asking whether he understood the kokutai. Mimurodo addressed himself to Minister of Education Kido: “There’s a man named Tanaka, dean of the Faculty of Law, who does not understand the kokutai.”

In what context did this question arise? When you read the transcript a bit before Mimurodo’s question, it’s clear that there’s a direct connection with the emperor-organ issue. “Recently, under the positive influence of the times, bad ideas are gradually being eradicated, and it’s certain we are moving gradually in a good direction under spiritual mobilization, even on the clarification of the kokutai that we—with what slight influence we possess—have been calling for. However, it is only moving in the right direction, isn’t complete yet, and to be specific, bad still lingers in places, a school of thought that comes from the emperor-organ theory.” In short, he attacked Tanaka as a university professor who had drunk from the Minobe stream and gone against the kokutai. “What is it that he says? His book is titled Law and Religion and Social Life; on page 132, he writes, ‘It is wrong to cause the entire nation to worship at shrines.’ He is a professor at an imperial university. He is dean of the Faculty of Law. On page 130 of his book: ‘It is wrong to cause the entire nation to worship at shrines.’ And on the next page he writes, ‘It is not right that the state gives shrines special benefits different from other religions.’ With what frame of mind does he write these things? … Again on page 145 he writes, ‘In short, the best policy is to abolish the custom of having primary schools pay group visits to shrines. To decide that shrines are the state religion and compel obedience is to make the nation servile, to prevent the healthy development of the nation’s spiritual life.’ And so on. This is the kind of thing he writes. I say again, the writer is Tanaka, dean of the Faculty of Law at Tokyo Imperial University, established by the state.”

To go back a bit: three years earlier, in 1935, Minoda Muneki joined hands with Mimurodo and a bunch of members of the House of Peers to denounce Minobe’s emperor-organ theory. The emperor-organ issue gradually developed into the movement to clarify the kokutai, and “clarify the kokutai” became a slogan that swept the field. After the February 26 Incident, the right wing and the military lined up the attack phrases for people they didn’t like—“anti-kokutai,” “counter to the kokutai”—and hinted at the use of force, and they were able to stifle most speech.

The basic thinking of Minoda and the Genri Nihon group was that law faculties of the imperial universities (including both Tokyo and Kyoto) were the source of the evils ruining contemporary Japan, leading society in an anti-kokutai direction; unless these were crushed, Japan wouldn’t recover. Having tasted victory in the Takigawa Incident and the emperor-organ issue, Minoda then attacked professors of the Tōdai Faculty of Law, one after the other.

If we sample Genri Nihon, headlines such as these appeared in virtually every issue of this period:







In addition, Professors Yabe, Miyazawa, Rōyama and Kyōto University Professors Tanabe, Sasaki, and others came under occasional attack. Among the Tōdai professors, Tanaka came in for especially fierce attack.

It began about 1928, soon after Law and Religion and Social Life was published in 1927, and the denunciation by Baron Mimurodo in the House of Peers that I cited earlier was a virtual replay of the attack on Tanaka that Minoda reiterated from then on. As had been the case in the emperor-organ issue, when Genri Nihon and the House of Peers members joined hands, what resulted, fundamentally, was a play written and staged by Minoda Muneki.

After the publication of Theory of World Law in 1934, the attack on Tanaka became qualitatively fiercer. The very advocacy of something like world law, they thought, was anti-kokutai. Published by Iwanami in three volumes between 1932 and 1934, Theory of World Law was Tanaka’s magnum opus. As soon as it appeared, it received high praise in the field; in 1935 it won the Asahi Prize. It was reported to be the provisional winner also of that year’s Emperor’s Award of the Japan Academy, but then the fierce attack of the Genri Nihon group began, with waves of protest falling on the Asahi, so talk of the Emperor’s Award died out.

This was a most ambitious book. It examined the concept of world law—at the time, still not established internationally—thoroughly and from many angles. Why did Tanaka set his hand to this field? Basically his field was commercial law. Commercial law included one sector that developed in order to facilitate commercial transactions among different countries, ethnicities, cultural blocs. That sector was quite close to world law. In the field of international private law that is part of commercial law, world law (maritime law, air law, sea trade law) was already germinating to allow international trade and international markets to function smoothly. (In the world of bank bill law, here and there a movement was beginning toward establishing unified world law.)

Moreover, at this time various international laws arose to smooth relations among states, and a legal world of international public law was coming into existence. So analyze and organize the important basic legal concepts making up the world of international private law and international public law and extract the universal human legal concepts common to all state law: do that, and reorganize the whole, setting everything in its proper place. Might one be able to construct along these lines a world of world law that would make it possible to turn universal human society into a single legal community? This world of world law transcended states and nations. On the one hand, looked at realistically, all existing law presupposed and made use of actually existing laws and states and nations. But it was foreseen that henceforward the interdependence of human societies, their solidarity, would grow deeper and deeper, and that an age would surely come that called for all human societies to be brought under one universal legal structure (unified world law). This book considered the possibility of such world law, what sort of thing it would be, and examined where its limits were likely to be. Also, it argued in detail such things as how to reconcile statism and internationalism, nationalism and international humanitarianism. It was a pioneering work with no parallel worldwide.

Hearing such ideas today, most people will respond quickly, “Of course. Makes sense.” But at the time confrontations between countries were severe, and wars had already broken out; it seemed that in the future, too, the fires of war would spread. Many people dismissed world law as an illusion that ignored the forces of the age. And from another direction entirely, the national-essence people like Minoda criticized it sharply, calling it nonsense.

The issue was the source of law (the basis, the origin that makes law law). World law must be law that applies universally to human society, so it’s only natural that its source, too, must be universal to human society. Thus, the sole conceivable source of law is the concept of ‘natural law’—the legal principles that all human beings, transcending race and culture, can be convinced are essential and the workings of reason. If you seek the source of law in God or the like, it is the reality of the world that peoples worship different gods; so unified world law can’t emerge. In Theory of World Law, too, much space was devoted to examining natural law as foundational.

But for the national-essence folks, this is nonsense. Why? Because in Japan the source of law can only be the emperor. Of course, the emperor is the source of law in the case of imperial decrees, which are the emperor’s orders. In the case of positive law that the Diet creates, the emperor exercises the actual lawmaking as part of his sovereignty, and the Diet merely cooperates (Article 4 of the Meiji Constitution). Laws become laws only with the emperor’s sanction, and both their promulgation and their carrying out are done on the emperor’s orders (Article 6). In short, the source of all law in Japan can only be the emperor. That is what the constitution established. And if you ask where the constitution comes from, it was an authorized constitution created by the emperor and granted to his subjects. Here too the emperor is the source of law. And where did the emperor get the constitution? In the Meiji Constitution, the words “imperial proclamation” echo like an incantation, and they indicate its origin; thereby it becomes something granted by “the sacred spirits of the imperial ancestors.” In short, the source of law in Japan can only be the emperor and his ancestors (their spirits).

But in Theory of World Law Tanaka states clearly that in the age of world law that will someday arrive, “one must think of the world as the standard for the human legal order,” so when that day dawns, the old theory of law based on states and peoples “must be overturned.”

More “Treasonous” than the Emperor-Organ Theory

This is what Minoda pounced on. In “State and University,”[7] an essay critiquing Tanaka Kōtarō, he attacked: “He infringes the emperor’s august will that is sovereign over the state and that establishes law, and he does not recognize the basic spirit of Japanese constitutional law, which must follow the august imperial will. He announces his lawless and treasonous intent to ‘upend’ and ‘destroy’ our kokutai, constitution, and law from the foundation up. Because it takes as the origin and source ‘worldism, universalism,’ which fundamentally does not recognize sovereignty and racial spirit, Tanaka’s theory should be treated as more anti-state, more anarchist than the emperor-organ theory. Even though that theory considers the emperor to be an organ, it still recognizes sovereignty, national sovereignty.” Tanaka’s Theory of World Law is lawless, treasonous theory incomparably worse than Minobe’s emperor-organ theory. This attack on Tanaka is the same in tone as the attack on Minobe’s emperor-organ theory, and because it started in unison in both Diet and right-wing media, too (Minoda also ran the Imperial News, and there were other similar right-wing media), the Emperor’s Award of the Japan Academy became unthinkable.

Not only that. Tanaka came close to being murdered by extremist right-wing military people stirred up by Minoda’s fierce attack. In 1941, just before the outbreak of the Pacific War, talk arose of exchanging professors with French Indochina (which Japan had occupied) as cultural interchange between Japanese and French Indochinese universities. Tanaka would go from Japan, and a French archeologist would come from French Indochina to Japan. According to My Resumé, this was the story:

Having inquired about the experiences of a professor the previous year, I prepared several draft lectures in French and made plane reservations. One week before I was to depart, the bureau chief of the Information Agency said he wanted me to cancel the flight. I had become one of the Army’s marked men. Reports came in that the army on the spot was angry that I was coming and would not guarantee my safety. The then-commander in French Indochina was Chō Isamu, a daredevil officer who later died in battle in Okinawa.[8] This fellow, it was said, had “rubbed people out,” so I had a close shave.

I was a believer in world law and a Catholic, so I was on the military’s blacklist, and police spies did tail me. I sometime imagine that had the war lasted another three or four months, I’d not be alive.

Things had come to such a pass that after Minoda’s attacks began, Theory of World Law, newly out, was treated just as if it had been banned and didn’t appear in stores. It was only when it was reissued after the war (1947) that everyone could read Theory of World Law. In the preface to that printing, Tanaka writes as follows:

Fifteen years have passed since I published the three volumes of this book. Volume I appeared in 1932, the year after the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident. It stirred up the statist-nationalist camp—at that time they had begun to poke their heads up—and became the object of attack from that quarter. In the spring of 1935, when this work was awarded the Asahi Prize, this attack became all the more intense, and the ramifications affected the Asahi; moreover, it caused problems for senior colleagues who had shown support for this work.[9] Since then and down to the present day, in disregard of the progress of the times and despite the fact that the hopes and resonance of the scholarly and public worlds for this work had been demonstrated, it has been as good as out of print.

Crazed howls that I was unpatriotic were heard even in academic circles. But otherwise, as soon as it was published, there were more than a few friendly critiques by scholars in the field…. Amid all this, the China Incident broke out and developed into the Pacific War, and given the torrent of divinely-inspired statism, this work seemed on the surface of things to disappear from the scholarly world.

Embarked on and continued in disregard of the demands of reason, the war met its providential end, and the political and intellectual worlds did an about-face. Like the public, this work enjoyed freedom and daylight for the first time. Today we can discuss world law and a world state without fear. A state of affairs we could only dream of ten years ago—no, three years ago—is now reality.

In this preface to the re-issue, Tanaka clearly takes honest joy in living in an age in which world law and a world state can be discussed freely. In Theory of World Law he foresaw that a “court to handle world law independent of state sovereignty” would someday appear. And that court had in fact appeared: the International Court of Justice (institutionally speaking, it was born in 1945, at the same time as the United Nations; Japan became a member in 1953). He surely never dreamed that twelve years after this work’s reappearance, he himself would head to Holland to serve as judge on that court.

Tanaka’s Critique of Minoda

Let’s return to our story of the age in which advocating world law meant being virtually a traitor. In 1937 two essays were published in quick succession in Genri Nihon: “Tanaka Kōtarō’s Crafty Anti-Kokutai Thought and Intent” and “Tanaka Kōtarō’s Fundamentally Anti-Japan, Resist-Japan Thought.”[10] The sudden increase in the ferocity of the attack on Tanaka was because that year he became dean of the Faculty of Law: for the right-wing national-essence folks, Tanaka’s name recognition increased, and he became a great target.

Shortly before, Tanaka had written in an essay in Shisō: “I don’t think there’s a particular shortage of the kokutai concept in the contemporary world of ideas.” Since the emperor-organ issue, no one had tried to attack the actions of Minoda and his friends—let sleeping dogs lie; but Tanaka criticized them head-on. In his essay Tanaka had also written: “The communist phenomenon has waned for a while; at such a time, as if taking on the entire nation, clarification of the kokutai is raised as a political slogan and asserted as concrete state policy. But it’s inconceivable that the kokutai has become so unclear that its influence has to be spread to the educational system. Nevertheless, one group of politicians and people with a finger in politics takes for granted that the kokutai is not clear or at least is so unclear that it’s necessary to start a clarification movement.” (These italics were added by Minoda when he quoted it.)

The right-wing national essence-people of the time were running around saying, “Clarify the kokutai!” In response, Tanaka spoke heresy. Or rather than heresy, he tried to bring the argument back to the factual level: did such a degree of non-clarity about the kokutai exist? Unable to respond effectively, Minoda wrote this essay, menacing words without meaning–“[Such an objection] is truly treacherous and lawless.” In short, from beginning to end this essay displays Minoda’s usual forte of fault-finding, barking and biting, stringing insults together and heaping abuse. Like Minoda’s other essays, it does not withstand close reading.

In reading Genri Nihon of this period, I noticed that the September 1937 issue that carried “Tanaka Kōtarō’s Fundamentally Anti-Japan, Resist-Japan Thought” ran a declaration by Genri Nihon with the title:



This was the first issue to appear after the Incident at the Marco Polo Bridge, and this proclamation shows clearly how Minoda and his ilk saw the China Incident, how they characterized this war. Reading it, you understand the fundamental mode of thinking of the right-wing national-essence people of the time, and you understand the extremes of meaning of the “clarification of the kokutai” they were advocating at the time. I’ll analyze it later, but first let me quote the text:

It’s a well-known fact that the cause of the China Incident is China’s Guomindang government, the Soviet Union’s international Communist Party, and the anti-Japan will and propaganda linked to them. Anti-Japan means resist-Japan, and Japan means not only territory but Japan’s kokutai tradition and spiritual culture. So “Japan” is the “Japanese kokutai,” and “anti-Japan” is “resist the Japanese kokutai.”

For this reason, the object of the Imperial army’s chastisement is this will to resist Japan’s kokutai. The “righteous” war of the Imperial army is a war “to clarify the kokutai.” …

The “Imperial ancestors” that defend Japan, land of the gods, represent the “will to clarify the kokutai,” and for subjects, the “way of the gods” that follows the will of the gods is “the way of the loyal subject.” The kokutai is that all Japanese are subjects, except for—let it be said with due reverence—his majesty the emperor. Hence, the Japanese ethic is “the way of the loyal subject.” Moreover, democratic government with sovereignty in the people and Marxist communism, its offshoot, are the objects of the Imperial army’s chastisement; in reality, the “China Incident” is a “war to clarify the kokutai” and crush the resist-Japan will that is incompatible with this kokutai.

It’s a passage that’s quite impenetrable, and the meaning is hard to grasp; but in short, the China-Japan War is a war for the clarification of the kokutai. The China-Japan War is military action undertaken to crush the will to resist Japan that is spreading throughout China. “Japan” equals “Japanese kokutai,” so “resist-Japan” is “the will the resist the Japanese kokutai.” The goal of the military action of the Japanese Army (the emperor’s army) is to crush this will to resist the Japanese kokutai, so it’s a war to “clarify the kokutai.” The war to clarify the kokutai—up till then it had spread within Japan—had been extended abroad: this is what the China-Japan War was. The domestic enemies of the war to clarify the kokutai were the “democratic concept that sovereignty resides in the people” and “Marxist communism.” In the foreign war to clarify the kokutai, the enemy was China’s resist-Japan movement.

The Greater East Asian War Is “War to Clarify the Kokutai

In terms of the flow of history, Japan spread war to all Asia, an extension of the China-Japan War, and fought “the Greater East Asian War.” According to the previous logic, this means that war to clarify the kokutai spread to all Asia. The “Greater East Asian War” was war to clarify the kokutai beyond the national borders. As is well known, the slogan of the Greater East Asian War was “eight corners under one roof.” Eight corners under one roof meant to place all (the eight corners) of the earth under one roof; these words express founding emperor Jimmu’s aggressive will to advance eastward and bring all of Japan under his control. By advancing eastward, Emperor Jimmu made all of Japan one communal society; that these precise words were used as the slogan for the “Greater East Asian War” expressed the aggressive intent that in the same fashion the Greater East Asian War would make all of Asia (and someday the whole world) one communal society. And the communal society it aimed for was a family community that looked up to the Japanese emperor at its apex. It was the aim eventually to make all Asia, the whole world, into a single emperor-system communal society. In that future world emperor-system community, not only would the reigning emperor be worshipped, but the imperial ancestors since the first emperor’s descent from heaven must be worshipped; so it followed that in every area shrines to worship Amaterasu Ōmikami had to be established.

This is why in various places in the countries Japan occupied by war (including Manchuria), shrines to Amaterasu Ōmikami were set up and the godhead of the Ise Shrine divided: nowadays, few people know this. These shrines were especially numerous in Manchuria—in all, more than five hundred of them. The gods they worshipped varied, but Amaterasu Ōmikami was by far the god most worshipped. Katō Kanji, known as the “father of colonial development,” set up shrines in all corners of Manchuria. Katō was leader of the Mongolia-Manchuria Development Board and head of the Young Men’s Patriotic Training Institutions in Manchuria and Mongolia; he was a follower of Kakehi Katsuhiko, Tōdai’s old Shinto scholar of emperor-ism who preached “the way of the gods.” Under Kakehi’s guidance, Iyasaka Shrines were set up at training institutions, and the Mongolia-Manchuria development officials who received training there were indoctrinated with Kakehi-style belief in the emperor. In 1937 Kakehi traveled to Manchuria, made a two-week tour to “pioneer communities” all over the country, and taught belief in “the way of the gods.” In 1938 Kakehi was invited to Manchuria again by the Kwantung Army, went to Manchuria a second time, and this time gave long lectures on “the way of the gods” to the Manchurian emperor, Pu Yi. Pu Yi was influenced by Kakehi, and when he visited Japan, Pu Yi made a pilgrimage to the Ise Shrine with a special mirror brought from Manchuria and received a portion of the spirit of Amaterasu Ōmikami to be worshipped as the sacred dynastic founder of Manchuria. According to Kakehi’s old Shinto, the religions of the entire world—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism—all had their source in Japan’s ancient Shinto. So he appears to have thought that if Amaterasu Ōmikami was worshipped in Manchuria’s founders’ shrine, then the Manchurian dynasty and Japan’s Imperial dynasty would be one in their religion, too.

Such a unification of belief in imperial divinity between Japan and Manchuria was considered a model to be realized in the future in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The world of “eight corners, one roof” that would be realized by the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere would spread belief in imperial divinity to all Asia, and a world of divine political rule would be realized, with military control (Imperial army control) and political control united in the emperor. The Greater East Asian War, which would bring about that reality, spread to all Asia, which meant the clarification of the kokutai was spread to all Asia.

Seen globally, the belief in a divine emperor is no more than one Asian people’s belief in its ethnic god, but the radicals of right-wing national-essentialism of the time used war to pursue their ambition to spread Japan’s military and political sphere of influence to all Asia and to make an ethnic god (the emperor) a world god. Making the Japanese ethnic god the world god was the polar opposite of what Tanaka attempted in Theory of World Law. He sought to create a universal human society by discarding the thought of each people’s ethnic god as source of law and seeking a more universal source of law elsewhere. Because the polar opposition was clear to both sides, the war between the advocate of world law, Tanaka, and the right-wing national-essence people could only be a fight to the finish.

Tanaka’s Defiant “Kill Me If You Dare!”

In the Hiraga Purge, Tanaka took the extreme tactic of striking down at one go the Tōdai Faculty of Economics renovationist bunch, starting with Hijikata. Hijikata and the renovationist faculty group, he felt, were the same breed of badger as Minoda and the right-wing national-essence people, who in the Emperor-Organ Incident had slaughtered Minobe and now had turned their fangs on Tanaka himself and all the anti-fascist members of the Faculty of Law. He felt acute danger: if he didn’t get them, they’d get him.

Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Law right after the Hiraga Purge became its final battleground. Yoshimura Sachio’s “The Tōdai Story, Part II”[12] paints those meetings as the climax of the Hiraga Purge:

The Faculty of Law met six times about the purge and had a truly horrendous time, even though that fact wasn’t reported clearly in the press. Even in the Law Faculty, some professors had ties to the renovationist clique. Moreover, it’s natural that in a Faculty of Law people should argue this issue from the standpoint of pure reason. In the gathering storm, voices rose in favor of holding a faculty meeting to denounce “disregard of Faculty Meeting.” But as dean of the Law Faculty, Tanaka did not respond. [Tanaka’s prime objective was to push through the Hiraga Purge no matter what the cost, and although voices calling for convening a faculty meeting to discuss this matter increased daily in number, he did not respond and did not respond.] The discontent became unsupportable, and finally he did convene a meeting. No sooner had he done so than rhetorical arrows came flying in unison against the Hiraga Purge faction—Tanaka, Wagatsuma, and Yokota—from Nambara, Yanaihara, Takayanagi, Kamikawa, Suehiro, Ono, Sugimura, Hozumi, Rōyama: “Shame on you for ignoring Faculty Meeting!” “Isn’t the reconstruction being carried out very much along party lines?” “Isn’t the treatment of Hijikata and Kawai extremely uncollegial? Aren’t there more moderate means befitting a university?” “The changes in the recommendation—how on earth will that matter be settled?” And so on. In this argument the opposition had the upper hand numerically and won the battle logically, too; Tanaka had few dependable defenders, and none of them was a truly strong polemicist. Smeared in blood, Tanaka stood alone.

Throughout these six sessions Tanaka was beaten to a pulp. Leading the charge in this pummeling was Nambara—Tanaka’s close friend of thirty years—who pressed cogently: “Dean Tanaka’s current action absolutely cannot stand.” There were many times when even Tanaka, it is said, could only turn pale, lips sealed, at a loss for a response.

The meetings were in fact awful; even Nambara speaks of what happened as follows:[13] “… The meetings of the Faculty of Law at the time were something. Late into the night, under the electric lights, we argued about the Hiraga Purge. Tanaka supported the action of Hiraga and spoke out for it. Instantly, strong opposition came from Suematsu: personnel matters of the university are to be decided in Faculty Meeting, and actions infringing that principle can’t be justified. Hozumi, too, spoke in opposition, albeit elliptically. Most of the senior professors were opposed. But some spoke strongly in defense and supported Tanaka, and some agreed with the dean and supported him silently. As always, I was a party of one and argued that in terms of university justice, at least, the method of this solution was a mistake. … I remember raising my voice in anger.”

What made Nambara angry? “The Tōdai Story, Part II” records the give-and-take as follows: “Tanaka thought—‘I’m the one, of course, who’s defending Tōdai in the larger sense. If we don’t carry out the purge, scholars will be stripped away from Tōdai, one after the other. In that sense, I’m the defender of Tōdai, and you fellows are merely defending the autonomy of one small faculty.’ But this idea was destroyed utterly and completely. Nambara arose and counter-attacked: ‘I don’t want to be protected at the cost of jettisoning university autonomy. If we can’t defend university autonomy with Faculty Meeting and recommendation as our shield, then we should all share Kawai’s fate and resign. Tanaka: how could you!’ That statement was the last word.”

Normally, if you’re spoken to like that, it’s time to give up the deanship of the Faculty of Law; but in order to defend the Hiraga Purge, Tanaka resolutely refused to quit:

The day the fourth faculty meeting ended, the professors the lecture hall disgorged at dusk reflected: “We’re flabbergasted. We can’t believe he’s so gutsy! The issue’s been argued out, and he’s been utterly and completely defeated, and he still won’t quit. He thinks: I can’t quit so long as quitting might have a negative impact on the Hiraga Purge. His attitude: say whatever you want! Here I am, spread-eagled, at your mercy: ‘Kill me if you dare!”’ Assistant professors who couldn’t speak at the meeting thought: “Tanaka’s bold tenacity is far more interesting than the argument.”

From first to last, with Tanaka spread-eagled in Faculty Meeting and defiant—“Kill me if you dare!”—the opposition swarmed and sliced away at him and beat him thoroughly with the whip of pure reason or, if they were members of the renovationist faction, the club of sympathy. Then thinking “Tanaka must be dead,” they stop slashing at him and pull back. And Tanaka, who by all rights should be dead, springs back up, smiling defiantly, and starts once again to restate his argument. Again they slice away at him and again leave thinking he’s dead, and again he gets back to his feet.

This happened six times, and Tanaka outlasted six thorough Faculty Meeting thrashings.

  1. Gensuikyō原水協—Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. Nambara Shigeru kaikoroku.
  2. Tanaka Kōtarō, Watakushi no rirekisho (Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1961).
  3. “Kyōiku to sekaikan,” Chūō kōron, April 1946.
  4. RHM: The Latin phrase was in use in the 16th century and (in slightly different form) was the motto of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Immanuel Kant used it in Perpetual Peace (1795): “Let justice reign even if all the rascals in the world should perish from it.”
  5. RHM: One of Japan’s highest cultural awards, voted on by the cabinet; it has been declined only rarely (novelist Ōe Kenzaburō in 1994).
  6. Hō to shūkyō to shakai seikatsu (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1927).
  7. “Kokka to daigaku,” Genri Nihon rombunshū.
  8. Chō was a violent right-wing officer who belonged to the Sakurakai and was elected chief of the shock troops in the 1931 “October Incident”—an attempted coup d’etat that misfired.
  9. TT: Those who had recommended this work for the Japan Academy prize also came under attack.
  10. RHM: “Tanaka Kōtarō-shi no inken naru han-kokutai shisō ishi,” “Tanaka Kōtarō-shi no genriteki hai-nichi kō-nichi shisō.”
  11. “Jinrei wa kokutai meichō ishi de ari: Kōgun wa kokutai meichō ishi kōdō de aru.”
  12. “Tōdai monogatari II,” Nihon hyōron, April 1939.
  13. Nambara Shigeru kaikoroku.


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Tokyo University and the War by Tachibana Takashi & Richard H. Minear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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