Main Body

Yanaihara Tadao: A Christian Against the Establishment

In which the author describes the remarkable career of a prominent economist and Christian whose convictions led him to oppose Japanese imperialism and colonialism. The author treats briefly Yanaihara’s student days (and romantic entanglement with another prominent figure in this tale) and his hair-raising encounter with “bandits” in Manchuria. Yanaihara’s reading of the Manchurian Incident differed sharply from that of Hijikata Seibi, his future antagonist. This background sets the stage for the author’s subsequent account (in Chapter 3) of Yanaihara’s expulsion from Tōdai.

The Man Appointed Assistant Professor on the Basis of One Letter

Let me introduce Yanaihara Tadao. The Tōdai Faculty of Economics was founded in 1919 and included a chair in colonial policy. Its first occupant was Nitobe Inazō (1862-1933), economist and ethicist and educator and Christian, who had lectured on colonies at the professional schools that later merged to become Tōdai. After studying at Sapporo Agricultural College, Nitobe studied economics at Johns Hopkins University in the U. S. Then, as brain trust for Gotō Shimpei, chief of the civil government section of Japan’s colonial administration in Taiwan, he was involved in policy across the board. He himself became chief of the Sugar Bureau and worked to expand Taiwan’s sugar production. That and other accomplishments gave him rich practical experience and made him ideally suited to teach colonial policy. But the next year, 1920, he was appointed to the very important post of Under Secretary General of the League of Nations, a first for a Japanese. He resigned from Tōdai and left for Geneva.

To succeed Nitobe in the chair in colonial policy, the Faculty of Economics chose Yanaihara, a 1917 graduate in political science. After graduating from Tōdai, Yanaihara had entered the Sumitomo home office and then been assigned to the Besshi Mine in Shikoku. At First Higher and then at Tōdai, he had been a disciple of Nitobe, and from his student days he had been interested in the colonies; after graduating, he intended to become a hands-on colonial administrator. His first choice was Korea, but personal reasons led him to sign on for a while with Sumitomo. From First Higher School days, he had been close to Maide Chōgorō, who had become an assistant professor of the Faculty of Economics at the time of its founding, and the negotiations to hire Yanaihara bore fruit quickly. But the way the decision was reached was quite informal. In Speaking of Myself, Yanaihara gives this account:[1] “Nitobe had gone to Geneva for the League of Nations, and the Tōdai chair in colonial policy was vacant. The Tōdai Faculty of Economics looked for his successor, and it became a matter of ‘How about Yanaihara? He’s a disciple of Nitobe—how about it?’ At the time, it took serious work if you wanted to become a university professor—writing up research, and the like. At the time I’d written nothing. Because for three years I’d been at the mine. They said he hadn’t studied colonial policy, but he’s Nitobe’s disciple; he must have written something. I hadn’t studied very hard, so I hadn’t written anything. Well, he must have written letters. So they looked at a letter I’d written a friend and concluded, Well, okay. It’s true: I became a Tōdai assistant professor on the basis of one letter.” Becoming a Tōdai assistant professor on the basis of one letter: it had never happened before, and never since. But once he joined the Faculty of Economics, Yanaihara quickly distinguished himself.

Spirited Debate on Colonial Policy

At about the same time, Ōuchi Hyōe quit the Finance Ministry and became an assistant professor; he wrote the following recollection: “When Yanaihara began to lecture, the students were amazed at the freshness and depth of his theories. And Colonial Policy immediately became a Faculty of Economics classic. In fact, he holed up in his study every day from early to late, drawing up his lectures with a will; not only that, but he published scholarly writings, one after the other. His Colonies and Colonial Policy, New Foundations of Colonial Policy, and The Population Problem are monuments to his efforts in these years, and each is a classic of high quality.”[2]

Before returning to the university, he hadn’t published a thing; but now good books appeared, one after the other. Among them the most famous were the practical books on Japan’s administration of its colonies. Here is Ōuchi: “In the decade after 1926, he planned studies of the administration of Japan’s colonies and decided to set out himself to do them; in each colony he cast his net broadly—people and materials. This is how his famous four-part work came to be: Taiwan Under Imperialism, The Manchurian Issue, Studies on the South Pacific Islands,[3] India Under Imperialism. Each of these was a major scholarly work and in essence a critique of Japan’s colonial policy grounded on solid research. The talk of the town was about how very scholarly they were and about how very alarming they were to the colonial officials, about how most of these books were banned from import into the colonies they dealt with and were translated in China and Russia, about how Studies on the South Pacific Islands became the prime reference guide for the staff of the American Occupation after the war—implicitly, a high evaluation of these books.”

Yanaihara criticized the administration of the colonies sharply, so if he went to do on-site research, Japan’s various colonial administrators kept an eye on him; before you could say Jack Robinson, he would be tracked by spies. Reportedly, spies even made their way into his Tōdai courses, and as for foreign students from the colonies taking his courses, they in particular were investigated rigorously and blocked. I’ll say more about that later, but first I want to touch on his student years.

 “Boy-Love” Relation with Kawai Eijirō

Immediately on entering First Higher School, Yanaihara joined the Debate Club. Kawai Eijirō, two years ahead of Yanaihara, was a club member. Written twenty-five years after Kawai’s death, Egami Teruhiko’s Biography of Kawai Eijirō first made public the fact that in his First Higher years Kawai had homosexual proclivities.[4] (Those close to him had known all along.) It shocked Kawai fans, but this biography was based on Kawai’s unexpurgated diary, to which the family had given Egami special access; so the account is reliable. (To protect Kawai’s privacy, his students had made considerable deletions in the diary as printed in his Collected Works. Those who have read the uncut original say there are many other sections that can’t be made public, so full publication is either impossible or will happen at best some decades from now.) Egami writes clearly of Kawai’s sexual orientation, setting out concrete examples such as the following. His partner at the time was Nasu Shiroshi, who was to become a professor in the Tōdai Faculty of Agriculture. I give Nasu’s name because—as will become clear—this relation has significance for the Kawai Incident of 1939. Nasu was two years ahead of Kawai, and the two spent the summer vacation in the same lodging in Akagi, the mountain resort in Gumma Prefecture. Egami writes: “Thus Nasu, for whom he’d been pining, finally came to the Igaya Inn. Hearing the innkeeper’s daughter say, “Nasu-san…,” he hesitated for a moment, then rushed to greet his beloved. … Eijirō was in seventh heaven. He was ecstatic to spend time—even if only briefly—under the same roof in this chalet far from the bustle of the city, with a friend with whom he shared brotherly love…. He and Nasu slept side by side, holding hands, and he found even the violent rain that thundered in the air and rattled against the rain shutters quite like a symphony wishing him joy in that love….

“The two went boating on the lake and crossed to a small island. In the silence—all they could hear was the twittering of birds—they embraced and kissed, sank into an enchanted, charmed world, lost track of time…. The relation between them at the time was indeed close to the passionate love between a man and a woman. But when things got too sensual, Eijirō had second thoughts, felt shame, even feared that the relation might harm Nasu, and proposed a total break. Nasu didn’t agree. He said, ‘Don’t threaten that! I’ll agree to whatever conditions you want to set. But I simply can’t agree to a total break.’ And he started to cry. Theatrically, Eijirō flung aside the hat he’d been wearing hugged Nasu, and said, ‘Please let’s go back to the way we were.’ In the woods above Numajiri, the two spread a cloak on the ground, sat on it, and spoke again of the foolishness that their brotherly love had led to and how they had come to speak of a total break.”

Citing Egami’s biography, Kasuya Kazuki writes:[5] “He formed passionate attachments; he was a seeker after Eros. Adonises: they too had value, and he was a pushover for Adonises who were smart.” It began in his First Higher School years with his boy-love relation with Nasu, and it continued throughout his life. It’s why those of his students he liked particularly were bright Adonises. He summoned them to his home and even bathed with them (one of them, reportedly, was a later director of the Bank of Japan). And he sought close emotional ties with his disciples. (He wanted to be loved by his opposite numbers as much as he loved them. Both sides invaded the privacy of the other and wanted their own privacy invaded.) If that hope was not met, he sometimes got violently angry. I’ll have more to say about the fact that at the time of the Kawai Incident, some disciples were ostracized because they aroused that anger.

When Yanaihara arrived as a first-year student, the same sort of relation developed between Kawai and Yanaihara. In Yanaihara’s diary of his First Higher years, there’s the following:

At about two in the afternoon I was invited by Kawai and went to talk with him in his room in East Dorm…. We talked until six, then went to eat together. Again on his invitation we set off for Kawanishi’s place.[6] Talked until eleven…. Back to dorm at twelve, and at the entrance to South Dorm he invited me once more to go to the athletic field, where we squatted and talked. Talk turned to life in Akagi; I’m dying to go this summer and see what it’s like, and the desire to live the pure life with my dear Kawai in beautiful Akagi grew phenomenally strong. For the first time Kawai used my given name Tadao. He said at first he had been in awe of me and didn’t think he could hold hands with me….

It was a dark night, not a star in the sky, and on the gentle slope of the athletic field he embraced me, and as in a dream I imagined what a clean and ideal friendship in Akagi might be. The houses across the way loomed like a chain of hills. Ah—truly trance-like. I had no sense of time. I wasn’t sleepy; I wasn’t cold; I was in ecstacy.

When roosters crowed and the folks who did winter outdoor training were about to appear, I came to and looked at my watch—already five a.m. We stood up on the dewy field and entered my room again for a bit. Light showed in the east, the steam heating came on, people got up, and finally at six we parted. We’d talked from two in the afternoon to six the next morning. I don’t remember much of what I said or heard. On parting, Kawai hugged me and said, “Tadao. Please stay pure at all costs. I love your purity.”[7]

They talked for sixteen hours straight, holding hands, at times embracing; so at one bound, the two had developed quite a relation. When you look at contemporary photographs of Yanaihara, he was indeed an attractive young man—one of those “bright Adonises” Kawai favored. There are other accounts in the diary reporting that later, too, they—although not for so long a stretch—and talked for hours. But one can infer that Kawai was the more ardent of the two, that Yanaihara wasn’t so ardent. There’s this entry for another day: “I don’t think I’m lukewarm, but I am relatively indifferent [on sexual matters]; I’m philosophical. In contrast with Kawai’s ardent sincerity, I am even rather unresponsive. Kawai said he’d serve me utterly. Then he said I should treat him in any way I wanted, that if I did so, our friendship would flourish.[8] But I simply couldn’t conceive that Kawai existed for my sake alone. Kawai was my respected elder brother; could I treat him selfishly? The decision is difficult. But maybe I need to be candid with him. I’ll never forget Kawai’s love, his sincerity; Kawai did win a place in my heart.”

But in his First Higher years, Yanaihara was closer to classmate Mitani Takanobu than to Kawai. In his biography of his father, Yanaihara Isaku writes as follows: “Beginning about February of his first year, he became close to the upper-classman Kawai Eijirō; but at this time he truly felt love and affection for his classmate Mitani.[9] For example, in his entry for March 4: ‘In the afternoon walked toward Yanaka with Shin-san [Mitani]. Returned after about four hours. Ah, Shin-san, the Shin-san I respect; my equal Shin-san, laconic Shin-san; I love Shin-san—more than Kawai.’ He met ‘Shin-san’ occasionally, went to the public bath with him, together paced the athletic field at night, together read the Bible.”

Yanaihara Becomes a Christian, a Disciple of Uchimura Kanzō

Mitani was a fervent Christian, and invited by him, Yanaihara was drawn deeply into Christianity. First, with Mitani, he joined the First Higher Christian Club, then became a disciple of Uchimura Kanzō. That event determined his entire life thereafter. Yanaihara writes:[10] “In October 1911 Uchimura threw open the doors of his Kashiwagi congregation. At the opportunity, I went with friends and fortunately was admitted. Soon thereafter, in January of the next year, Uchimura’s beloved daughter Rutsuko[11] died; the memorial service was held at the Non-Church building. Uchimura appeared intensely grief-stricken and in a strong voice said, ‘This isn’t Rutsuko’s funeral but her wedding.’ This was my first Christian funeral, and I was stunned to hear such unexpected words, and then when the coffin was taken to Zoshigaya Cemetery and interred, Uchimura took a handful of dirt and raising his hand high, shouted in a voice as if squeezed from the pit of his stomach, ‘Rutsuko, Banzai!’ As he did so, it was as if I was struck by lighting, and my whole body was transfixed. Solemn feelings took me captive: this is a huge thing; Christianity is amazing; this isn’t something to respond to half-heartedly. I began to attend Uchimura’s Bible meetings with great seriousness.”

Up till then, Yanaihara had gone to church half-heartedly, looking to find new friends; thereafter, he confronted Christianity head-on and for that very reason grew deeply worried. Two months later, his mother died back at home. She died knowing nothing of Christianity. Could she not go to Heaven? Yanaihara’s love for his mother was particularly strong, so he worried constantly. In his diary he wrote: “Will God admit Mother to Heaven? Or will only those who know Christ be resurrected and not Mother? I’d have no hope of being reunited with her…. She’d never said Christ’s name, so he wouldn’t take pity on her? If so, what of those people who lived before the birth of Christ? What of those righteous people in remote areas who never knew Christ?”

Agonized, he went to Uchimura and broaching his agony, asked Uchimura to respond. He thought he’d learn quickly that such-and-such was the way it was, but to his surprise Uchimura answered, “I don’t know.” And then he said, “You’ll learn the answer after a lifetime of faith.” Yanaihara writes: “‘Even Uchimura doesn’t know!’—this was a major discovery for me. I had to learn directly from God myself. And faith—one doesn’t understand all at once, in a flash. You have to study for a long time.”

Yanaihara resolved then to spend his life as an independent proselytizer. Yanaihara’s life has three facets: scholar, educator, and in the Christian world, independent proselytizer in the Christian tradition a la Uchimura. Uchimura never belonged to any church, emphasized Non-Church-ism, and on each Sunday convened his private Bible Study group; he dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel via a magazine Uchimura published himself. Following his example, many of his disciples, too, carried on with their own private Bible-study groups and proselytized via private journals and assemblies. By means of such activity, the Non-Church movement had and has a unique influence in Japanese Christianity. From the time of Uchimura’s lèse-majesté incident at First Higher School in 1891, many First Higher students became his disciples; when Yanaihara returned to Tōdai as assistant professor, quite a few Tōdai professors, assistant professors, and students were members of the non-Tōdai Bible study group Uchimura convened. So Yanaihara proposed that if there were that many people, then why not a Bible study group at Tōdai? And beginning in 1924-25, the Tōdai Bible Study Group was formed. Among its chief members, in addition to Yanaihara, were Nambara Shigeru, Tanaka Kōtarō, and Takagi Yasaka; many prominent figures joined. This group lasted until 1937, when Yanaihara was driven out of Tōdai; among the younger members who had joined in the interim were Ōtsuka Hisao and many others who became distinguished professors. In its final stage, the group changed into an assembly where Yanaihara preached the Gospel. In addition, from 1933 on, Yanaihara held home gatherings on the second floor of his home, and these too were popular; he had to limit the attendance to forty-two or -three people lest the second floor  collapse.

Many people wanted to hear Yanaihara’s talks, but only a limited number could be accommodated in such gatherings, so after 1933, when the meetings began, Yanaihara created the private journal Dispatches to take the place of letters in conveying his doings and distributed it to those interested. Gradually it grew to a circulation of about a thousand. It was this private journal that ran his essay on the February 26 Incident (see the previous chapter) and this journal, too, that ran the stenographic record of “The Land of God,” delivered at the lecture meeting away from Tōdai that became the grounds for driving Yanaihara from Tōdai.

How did Dispatches get its start? In September 1932, after the Manchurian Incident, Yanaihara went to inspect Manchuria. The Southern Manchurian Railroad train on which he was riding between Xinjiang and Haerbin was attacked by bandits, and Yanaihara escaped miraculously with his life. This event was reported in Japan’s newspapers, too, and there were banner headlines, YANAIHARA MISSING; so many acquaintances worried and inquired. It would have been difficult to try to answer these all one by one, so he said he’d print something—it became the inaugural issue of Dispatches.

In 1932, the year after the Manchurian Incident, Manchukuo had been established, and as soon as that happened, the Kwantung Army had invited professors from the Tōdai Faculty of Economics, wanting to learn from them about running the new state. Those invited were Yanaihara, Ōuchi, and Hijikata Seibi. (All three were key figures in the Faculty of Economics strife I’ll tell about later. In the expulsion of Yanaihara that set off the strife, Hijikata was the chief figure pushing for his expulsion. Ōuchi supported Yanaihara.) Hijikata had set off happily for Manchuria, but Yanaihara and Ōuchi declined the invitation. Why did Yanaihara say no? Because from the time the Manchurian Incident arose (the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge), he had thought it suspect. He wrote:[12] “When the Manchurian Incident took place, I was suspicious. In light of the past history of the Japanese administration of Manchuria, or of Taiwan or Korea—it was the same in the colonies of foreign countries—if you studied their histories, in view of the situation at the time in Manchuria, it was not likely that the troops of Zhang Zuolin would bomb the Southern Manchurian train tracks; I doubted it. As a scholar, I also doubted that the ethnic Manchus would create an ‘ethnic state.’ Hearing and seeing things, making on-site observations, I was really dubious.”

After turning down the Army’s invitation, he set off himself for Manchuria to investigate—after all, he knew many people working for the Southern Manchurian Railroad. The more he investigated, the more he grew convinced it had been an Army plot. It was on this trip that he came under bandit attack. According to “Attacked by Bandits” in the inaugural issue of Dispatches, this is what happened: “I awoke suddenly to a fierce juddering of the coach. The train stopped, and the lights went out; it was pitch black…. The train had stopped and the lights gone out because the bandits had sprung the rails and were waiting in ambush; we had derailed…. With the sudden stop, we came under small-arms fire from the left.… The bandits fired for a while, then stormed the train, shouting a strange shout. They numbered, it was said, a hundred or so. We locked the compartment from the inside and kept quiet. Bandits kicked at the door two or three times and cried, “Open up!” but then they went away…. Here and there came the ominous sound of windows breaking, and then an eerie interval passed when we didn’t hear a single voice roaring or weeping.”

The attack ended after less than an hour: “When we went to the next railcar, one Japanese passenger had been speared through the skull—a grisly corpse lying face up. His blood had splashed and dyed the white skirt of a Russian girl. We went to the first- and second-class coaches at the front of the train, and they appeared to have been the target of the bandit attack; they had received much gunfire that broke windows and compartment doors and wounded passengers…. From front to rear, virtually the entire train, fully loaded with five hundred passengers, had been overrun and pillaged: four of the Japanese soldiers on board and one passenger had been slain; two Russians had also been killed…. Our compartment with its four occupants in the center of the train was the only compartment totally overlooked, so none of us was injured, and there wasn’t even damage to our luggage; we hadn’t been threatened by pistols waved in our faces—no, we hadn’t even seen a bandit face or been seen by one. It was truly a miracle.” This event deepened Yanaihara’s belief that God was protecting him, and he reaffirmed his resolve to believe in God and communicate His word.

A “Fighting Principle” Learned from Christ

This inspection trip to Manchuria deepened Yanaihara’s conviction that the Manchurian Incident was an army plot, as he had sensed at first, and after returning to Japan, he treated the Manchurian problem in a topics course in 1932-33. In the next year, 1934, he worked those lectures up and published them as The Manchurian Problem.[13] In the preface he wrote: “What I wish to convey to you here is not materials, not data…. What I wish to convey is simply and solely a critical spirit. Because the danger of blindness is greatest where criticism is lacking.” This book is very critical on the Manchurian issue: he states that “It’s already clear that Japan is essentially an imperialist state” and argues that Japanese capitalism has reached the stage of monopoly capital, that the Japanese Army is deeply implicated in the Manchurian issue, that the newly established Manchukuo is “a country rare in world history,” founded on principles that don’t fit with the principle of national self-determination, and that as concession-holder, Japan is deeply complicit in that founding.

Naturally, the military expressed displeasure at this course, and a strange situation arose: when Faculty of Economics students took military drill, their instructors (active-duty officers) ordered them not to attend Yanaihara’s lectures. Inoki Masamichi, then a student, writes as follows:[14]

In April 1934, when I entered the Tōdai Faculty of Economics, there was a convocation for new students. The speakers were Yanaihara Tadao and Kawai Eijirō…. After welcoming remarks by those in charge, Yanaihara took the podium. Yanaihara began to speak, with what appeared to be notes in one hand, and gradually it dawned on us that they were final exams from the previous year.

It’s now thirty years in the past, so I don’t remember his precise words, but two impressions are still crystal-clear today. One, rapping those exams in his right hand loudly on the podium, he exclaimed, “It’s a disgrace!” As a topics course in the academic year 1933, he’d chosen the theme, “The Manchurian Problem.” He’d been reading those exams and discovered from some of them that military officers assigned to Tōdai had told students, “Yanaihara’s lectures are unpatriotic, so don’t go.” He exclaimed, “How can they call someone in the same university unpatriotic? It’s a disgrace!”

With the Manchurian Incident, Yanaihara’s life changed decisively. In “Battle Scars,” Yanaihara writes of this episode with the military instructors:[15] “From that time on, my scholarship and my faith became a united force and caused me to confront the Manchurian Incident…. I said publicly what for the sake of truth I needed to say. But even if I was criticized or impugned for that reason, I said not a word in defense or protest. I had determined to take that attitude. In later battles, too, I held generally to that principle, and the result—for the public and for me as an intellectual—was more often a plus than a minus. It goes without saying that this was a fighting principle I’d learned from Jesus.”

“A Word” on which He Risked Everything

Yanaihara’s life thereafter was devoted to “saying publicly what…I needed to say.” But in Japan after the Manchurian Incident, freedom of speech was rapidly being lost, and it wasn’t all that easy to say “what I needed to say.” Moreover, what Yanaihara thought “needed to be said” was not roundabout criticism of national policy via lectures in the Faculty of Economics on “The Manchurian Problem” but more head-on, the assertion that Japan’s national policy after the Manchurian Incident was fundamentally wrong. This was a matter not simply of criticizing policy mistakes but of asserting that Japan as a state should be denounced for having become a state utterly unjust before God.

At the time, when nationalism was hounding all Japan, it took great courage to say that. Still, beginning with the ceremony marking the third anniversary of the death of his master Uchimura Kanzō, Yanaihara began to make that assertion publicly. To do so required firm resolve. Yanaihara writes:[16] “On March 26, 1933 we held an assembly on the third anniversary of Uchimura’s death, and Mitani Takanobu and I were two of the four speakers…. I had tried to turn down the invitation to be a speaker, saying that I wasn’t a proselytizer, that I was a younger generation, and that I was sorry; but they simply wouldn’t take no. The deepest reason for my declining was that if I took the podium, I had only one thing to say. Moreover, that was given me with great clarity. I feared saying that thing. It would jeopardize my social standing, of course, but also my physical freedom.”

What was that thing? His son writes:[17] “It was that since the Manchurian Incident, which had been cheered on by an extreme nationalism that took the emperor as absolute, Japan’s policy was based on falsehood…. Yanaihara spoke for twenty minutes on ‘A Man of Sorrows.’ He spoke for twenty minutes, throwing his heart and soul into his words. Thinking back on this lecture, he wrote: ‘I wept for Japan—since the Manchurian Incident, it had been sinning in the eyes of God. It was a lecture I gave fully resigned to the consequences, and after we returned home, my wife said of her thoughts as she listened, ‘For a brief moment I grew tense, but I resolved that whatever happened to the family was okay and prayed with all my strength to God.’ I was grateful for her words. Not looking back, instead setting my face toward Jerusalem, I confronted the trend that was heading rapidly and violently toward fascism.’” What did “setting my face toward Jerusalem” mean? At the end of his life Jesus headed for Jerusalem and set his course toward Jerusalem.[18]

What did he say in “A Man of Sorrows”? Yanaihara writes: “Amid such chaos, the one who sees the reality of things and speaks the truth is indeed a man of sorrows. A man of sorrows is not someone who bemoans personal matters…. When lies fill the world and no one understands the reality of things, a man of sorrows is the one person who perceives the true state of human affairs, who speaks up when everyone else keeps silent. Truth isn’t something that all people in this world can understand easily. Truth itself has its sorrow. Therefore the man who knows the truth is necessarily a man of sorrows.”

For Yanaihara, Jesus Christ is the paradigmatic man of sorrows, who realized that there was no hope for all mankind living in sin and unrighteousness unless he himself died on the cross; he became a man of sorrows. And amid general derision he ascended the cross. The prophet Jeremiah foresaw that if it continued on its course, his fatherland Judea, filled with unrighteousness, would be destroyed by God; but no one believed him. Jeremiah was hated, ridiculed, killed. And Judea was destroyed. Uchimura Kanzō was the epitome of a man of sorrows: preaching pacifism during the Russo-Japanese War, he was termed a traitor, a rebel.

Now, by clamoring that in the Manchurian Incident Japan had sinned, Yanaihara sought to join this lineage of men of sorrow. He knew, of course, that he would be called a traitor. He writes: “Not a single country supported Japan at the League of Nations. Japan stood isolated…. What made Japan isolated? Foreign countries said Japan didn’t keep its promises…. All the countries of the world speak badly of Japan…. Should our beloved country have made a mistake, if today’s crisis arose from Japan’s violation of God’s righteousness, what should we Christians do?… Anyone at all can do it: if the nation makes a mistake, bear guilt for it. Die for it. This is the man of sorrows.”

Further, Japan’s nationalism was the greatest evil: “The essence of Japanese ideas lies in the concept of the state. This is probably the most beautiful of Japanese ideas. But where there is the most beauty, there will be the greatest evil also…. If in the case of individuals, greed and lies are bad thoughts, national greed, national lies are profoundly bad ideas. Moreover, dressing up and justifying greed is an extreme sin…. If Japanese Christianity is to protect and perfect Japan’s unique state concept, it must renounce with all its strength the concept of state greed and lies.” In short, the Manchurian Incident is a great evil that the state, carried away by greed, has committed. To cloak what it did out of greed in the guise of justice is to commit great sin.

Slightly modified, these words appeared later in Dispatches; they weren’t word-for-word what he said at the ceremony. Watanabe Miyoji was in the audience that day and asked on the spot to become one of Yanaihara’s disciples. We can gather from the thoughts of that Yanaihara’s words were in fact more bitter, more impassioned:[19] “In ‘A Man of Sorrows,’ Yanaihara pointed out the unrighteousness of Japan in the Manchurian Incident. Struck by his fierce vigor, I listened with sweaty hands, praying for his safety. For me, into whom had been pounded the thought that the state was supreme, what he said then—that the Christian God transcended the state, that if the state committed unrighteous acts it could not escape God’s judgment—was a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky and caused me to tremble, body and soul; my eyes were opened. Yanaihara made known to me the existence of a living God who governs history; I received a clear sign that I must follow this teacher.”

Grappling Head-on with the Issue of the Emperor

Just before that memorial service, Yanaihara wrote an essay “The Backward-Yearning and the Progressive in the Japanese Spirit” (January 1933). His statements there about Japan’s statism were even more impassioned. He lined up the arguments glorifying the Japanese spirit: “All of them take the state to be the root of our Japanese culture, the Japanese spirit, set the emperor at the center of the state, and make the emperor either the highest good as the true self of the people or the source of executive power or the majesty of the state. Hence the core of our Japanese spirit is taken to be the statism of a state commanded by the emperor and that has its unity in him. So the concept of kokutai forms the core of studies of the Japanese spirit, and the focus of kokutai studies must be state supremacy and the divinity of the emperor.” At the time, fearing they’d get burned, no intellectuals apart from the emperor-believers touched these issues—the kokutai, the divinity of the emperor, statism; but Yanaihara addressed them head-on.

Even more than was the case with the speech we’ve just considered, Yanaihara girded up his loins to write this essay. He reflects: “I remember particularly the essay ‘The Backward-Yearning and the Progressive in the Japanese Spirit’ that I published in the January 1933 issue of Risō. This was an issue I had to address, and I thought carefully and wrote resolutely. The issue was the fundamental relation between Christianity and the kokutai. This essay is included in my The People and Peace, and when that book was referred for legal penalty, this essay was the most problematic. I myself value this essay most highly.”

It’s an essay that makes tough reading, so I won’t discuss it here in detail, but its essence is the issue of the divinity of the emperor. For Yanaihara, a Christian, the stumbling block was that he simply could not set the divinity of the emperor on the same plane as the divinity of the Christian God. If the emperor was divine, he argued, it was a different divinity from the divinity of the Christian God—the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe. To begin with, when emperor-believers said, “The emperor is universal morality and must be followed,” weren’t they assuming “the existence of a universal morality that transcends the emperor, that provides a foundation for the emperor, that the emperor too must follow?” The emperor-believers also argued that the emperor was majesty personified. If that was the case, “The fact that the emperor is majesty itself—is that the ideal emperor? Or is it the real emperor? Is it a standard the emperor should follow? Or is the emperor the very standard?” Thus: “The foundation of the divinity of the emperor is not his person but his office, and the foundation of the emperor’s humanity is not his office but his person. The actual emperor is divine in his state office, but that is not to say that as a person he is divine—most-sacred, most-loved, all-knowing, all-powerful. In life and person, he, like all human beings, has personhood relative to the God of creation.” This was his conclusion. Before the creator-God, the emperor too has the same personhood as all human beings, so the emperor’s divinity isn’t in conflict with Christian morality.

Moreover, statism “gives birth to the assertion that morality is what the state wants, what is to the state’s benefit,” and “this statism conflates the ideal state and the real state…so it becomes in the end the assertion that morality is what benefits the state…. This is a very shallow view of morality and the state; it’s like a self-complacent, egotistical view of human life. True patriotism recognizes morality as a universal axiom that transcends the state, and it criticizes the actual state in terms of that morality; where the actual state contravenes morality, it must point that fact out and remonstrate and so draw nearer to the ideal of a moral state, letting the light of morality shine out from within. So true patriotism does not consider state benefit; it considers state morality.” True patriotism thinks first of the morality of the state, not its benefit.

Perhaps because it was a difficult essay built up on very fine logic, this essay didn’t cause the journal that ran it to be banned; moreover, the book that reprinted this essay—The People and Peace—didn’t suffer immediate ban, either. (It was published in 1936; the ban came in 1937.) As per usual, lengthy criticism was published in Minoda Muneki’s Genri Nihon, including “Scholarly Critique of Former Tōdai Professor Yanaihara’s Blasphemy, Anti-Military and Anti-War Ideas, and Argument for Giving Up the Colonies.” And because that was an abstruse critique of an abstruse essay, it didn’t win much popular acceptance. So—unlike the Takigawa Incident and the Minobe Emperor-Organ Incident that Minoda’s attacks had occasioned—it didn’t occasion a sensational Yanaihara Incident. Still, this essay should be remembered as a counter-blow aimed directly at the tenor of kokutai-absolutism, at the out-and-out celebration of statism.

Between 1933, which saw the publication of this essay and Yanaihara’s speech on the third anniversary of Uchimura’s death, and 1937, Yanaihara spoke out vigorously. In his own words:[20] “In the four years and eight months after my speech on the third anniversary of Uchimura’s death, in discourse and lectures, in books and travel, I worked very hard. In this span of less than five years, I think I produced as much as most people produce in a lifetime. Looking back now, I think I did really well. It was work I couldn’t have done without divine assistance.”

The Contrast: Hijikata Seibi’s Evaluation of the Manchurian Incident

1937 concluded that period of amazing activity. Yanaihara aroused the ire of officials with the essay, “The Ideal State,” which appeared in Chūō kōron, and with the stenographic record of the speech, “The Land of God,” which ran in Dispatches and led to the ban on publication. 1937 was also the year Yanaihara’s resignation from Tōdai became unavoidable. I’ll have more to say about that later. What I want to mention first is the visit to Manchuria of Hijikata Seibi, point man in driving Yanaihara out in the great dispute (it was about to begin) at the Tōdai Faculty of Economics.

Yanaihara and Ōuchi Hyōei rejected the invitation to Manchuria, but Hijikata accepted with pleasure. That event appears in Hijikata’s memoir, and reading it, one sees how different his thinking about Manchuria was from that of Yanaihara and Ōuchi. Hijikata writes: “The Manchurian Incident had roots reaching back to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05; our ancestors shed much blood, left many of their bones to bleach on the plains of Southern Manchuria…. Via the noble sacrifices of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had secured a foothold in Southern Manchuria, and for a while peace was maintained. In the Lansing-Ishii Agreement of 1917, the United States, too, had recognized the ‘special interests’ of Japan in Southern Manchuria. Under the Zhang Zuolin regime, not only was the right of Japanese to own land not recognized, but peace and order tended to break down; it was feared that in the attempt to oust Japan from Southern Manchuria, Japan’s several decades of managing Southern Manchuria would come to naught. Even if there were actions of the Japanese military during this time that should be criticized, the sense of the great majority of Japanese was that, at best, we should not renounce Southern Manchuria.

“So the great majority of Japanese who heard of the Manchurian Incident did not stint in their applause. To be sure, opinion on the Manchurian Incident among intellectuals critical of the military’s action was divided. Even if they didn’t support the military’s action entirely, some recognized it as a fait accompli and thought it right to establish a regime that pacified Manchuria and planned the development of resources and the betterment of the residents; others rejected the military’s action categorically. I was among the former.”

Even though the vast majority of Japanese shared this opinion, from Yanaihara’s point of view it accepted “the state lie (the immorality) that disregarded morality and focused on state benefit.” The basic evaluations of the Incident differed completely between the two men; Yanaihara refused the invitation of the Kwantung Army, and Hijikata accepted it. And when he went to Manchuria, Hijikata got an astonishing welcome. He writes: “That evening a reception to welcome the delegation was held at the Yamato Hotel. Beginning with commanding officer General Honjō, all the headquarters officers attended—Itagaki Seishirō, Ishiwara Kanji, and so on. By blind chance, my seat was directly opposite Gen. Honjō….[21]

“Next morning in the Yamato Hotel in Mukden, a knock came on my door. I opened the door, and it was Colonel (later General) Ishihara Kanji; it was our first meeting. He was energetic, his face ruddy, and he told me the following: some idiots were talking nonsense, that Manchuria was Japan’s lifeline (at the time in Japan, it was often said that Manchuria was Japan’s lifeline). but he himself had never said that or thought it. Manchuria was only a foothold. Now we must advance to Shanxi and Shaanxi.[22] In Shaanxi rich oil fields were said to exist; the colonel’s ambitions for managing the continent were very large.” Already at this time, shockingly, the grand plan was already formed in Ishiwara Kanji’s head: to advance into Shanxi and Shaanxi and control even oil. And Hijikata hadn’t the slightest criticism of that plan; he admired it without reservation.

Thus, sucked in by military policy, university professors, too, moved steadily rightward. It is natural, of course, that even those who at the start of the Manchurian Incident had their doubts moved steadily in the direction of rationalizing the Incident (greed over morality). Hijikata writes: “It goes without saying that the Manchurian Incident and the establishment of Manchukuo that ensued differ significantly from the Russo-Japanese War. Formally, of course, sudden military intrusion into another country’s territory is invasion. But it wasn’t carried out entirely without reason. Over more than twenty years, Japanese had lent a helping hand in the development of Southern Manchuria. The foundation they had built and managed laboriously was being shaken by the policy of the Zhang Zuolin regime…. Thanks to the Kwantung Army, banditry was suppressed, and peace and order maintained. The Manchurian Incident was an explosion of public indignation on the part of the Japanese people at unfriendly treatment at the hands of the Zhang Zuolin regime. At the time, China had not been unified territorially under the Guomindang regime, and the north was divided among warlords. There was no reliable peaceful regime, and Russia threatened from the north; so the fact that with Japanese cooperation an independent and peaceful regime was established in Manchuria was a further consideration…. On these grounds I approved the Manchurian Incident and subsequent Army actions in Manchuria.”

The appraisals of the Manchurian Incident and the military of Yanaihara and Hijikata differ so greatly that one senses that a head-on collision between them was inevitable.

  1. Yanaihara, “Onore o kataru,” Zenshū, 26.
  2. Ōuchi Hyōe, “Akai rakujitsu—Yanaihara Tadao no isshō,” in Yanaihara Tadao: Shinkō, gakumon, shōgai (Iwanami).
  3. RHM: As a result of Japan’s alliance with Britain in World War I, Japan had taken over Germany’s colonies in the South Pacific.
  4. RHM: The Japanese term is “youth-love” or “boy-love” (shōnenai). It has far less of a pejorative connotation than (in the U.S. in the modern era) the term ‘homosexual.’ All the parties in this account went on to contract long heterosexual marriages. In the biography, Egami references Socrates, Plato, and Greek boy-love and states that Kawai was sometimes the older lover, sometimes the younger loved. The voguish term ‘homosocial’ may be useful here. Shōnenai relations began with the homosocial and shaded off into the homosexual. In the 1930s physical contact was rarer in Japan than in some societies, so embraces are of greater significance.
  5. Nasu, Kawai Eijirō den.
  6. Kawanishi had been ahead of Yanaihara in middle school.
  7. RHM: Twice in this final passage, Yanaihara uses the English word ‘pure.’
  8. RHM: The words ‘serve’ and ‘friendship’ are in English.
  9. TT: Mitani served in the Foreign Ministry before becoming Grand Chamberlain in the Household Ministry.
  10. “Watakushi wa ika ni shite kirisuto shinja to natta ka.”
  11. RHM: The name Rutsuko was a Japanese approximation of the Biblical Ruth.
  12. “Watakushi no ayunde kita michi.”
  13. Manshū mondai, Tokyo: Iwanami, 1934.
  14. Yanaihara Tadao: Faith, Scholarship, Life.
  15. “Ikusa no ato,” Zenshū 26.
  16. “Omoide,” Zenshu 26.
  17. Yanaihara Tadao den.
  18. RHM: The references here need some explaining. “A man of sorrows” is from Isaiah 53:3 and has been interpreted as a prefiguration of Jesus. To set one’s face toward Jerusalem is from Ezekiel 21:2: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, and speak against the sanctuaries; prophesy against the land of Israel.” Again, it is an Old Testament verse taken to be prefiguration. In the New Testament, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem knowing he is going to his death.
  19. Yanaihara Tadao: Shinkō, Gakumon, Shōgai.
  20. “Omoide.”
  21. RHM: Honjō was commander-in-chief of the Manchurian Army (1931-32) and was arrested as a war criminal in 1945; he committed suicide in November 1945. Itagaki was a chief plotter of the Manchurian Incident; he was tried by the U. S. as a war criminal and executed in 1948. Ishiwara was a chief plotter of the Manchurian Incident.
  22. RHM: These two provinces lie southwest of Beijing, on the other side of Beijing from Manchuria, so Japan would need to control Beijing, too. Shaanxi’s southern border abuts Sichuan Province and is not far from the Yangzi River. Ishihara’s plans are indeed large.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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.

Share This Book