Main Body

Yanaihara’s Expulsion at the Hands of the “Fat Pig”

In which the author reports on how Japan’s war in Asia came to Tōdai. He describes Tōdai’s increasing involvement in the war effort—in personnel, ideology, curriculum. Within the Faculty of Economics, the “Renovationist” faction around Dean Hijikata Seibi led the charge against those who opposed increasing involvement in the war effort;in the ouster of Yanaihara Tadao it achieved a first victory. The author analyzes the standard explanation for Yanaihara’s forced resignation and finds that the true reason lay elsewhere.

“Marxism” vs. “Liberalism”

After the Manchurian Incident in 1931, Japan entered its time of emergency, its quasi-wartime footing. And after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937, it plunged into the era of true war. In that process, Japan’s nationalism grew ever fiercer, and Japanese society top to bottom moved to wartime footing. Tōdai was no exception. Within the university, the renovationist clique of professors with connections to the military (the name came from the desire to renovate Japan into a state of total mobilization for war) came to rule the roost; pacifists and war-shunners grew fewer in number.

This use of the terms “renovation” and “renovationist clique” differs completely from their use today. The same issue will come up later, too, but to say a bit now by way of explanation: the leaders of Tōdai’s renovationist clique were Hijikata Seibi (dean of the Faculty of Economics), the key figure in driving Yanaihara Tadao out, and the bunch of professors in league with him—Honiden Yoshio, Tanabe Tadao, and the others. They founded the journal Renovation (its inaugural issue appeared in October 1938), and the lead essay of that first issue, “The Mission of the Renovation Association,” gives the essence of their views. First, to speak of Japan’s current situation, Japan is fighting a war that began on the continent and preparing for the even greater war with the Allied Powers that will arise in the future. Such a situation makes “Japan’s fundamental renovation unavoidable.” What should be renovated? How? “The existing economic structure is organized basically for the goal of profit.” With it, Japan is unable over the long run to ensure “the large-scale production of military goods and the provision of robust fighting men.” To build a wartime structure for the long haul, it is “necessary first of all to change the existing structure in favor of the state, so selfishness no longer governs.” At the same time, it is necessary to “rebuild today’s unjust society from the roots up” and, in addition to expanding the production of military goods, satisfy the lives of the common people, “construct a true national community,” and thereby “accomplish the true mobilization of the state.” In order to prepare for the war already being waged and the war against the Allies that is foreseeable, it is necessary to reorganize totally the economy and the state—up till now, these have been governed by personal profit and self-interest—and build a totalitarian structure centering on the state. In short, turn Japan into a totalitarian state similar to fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Hijikata, it so happens, was also well-known as an expert on Italian fascism.

Notice the difference in awareness. In today’s society, “fascism,” “Nazism,” “totalitarianism” are all negative terms, but at the time that was not the case. Rather, they were all positives pointing the way to a new age. Taken together, they meant “renovation.” With links to the military, the renovationist clique pushed for the creation of a totalitarian state as war goal. The Faculty of Economics included not a few professors—Ōuchi’s Marxist-sympathizer group and Kawai’s liberal group—who loathed the renovationists and their goal, and the two factions clashed. It developed into major strife, and the Tōdai Faculty of Economics nearly collapsed. In any case, in the Hiraga Purge (1939) that was the climax of that strife, a total of thirteen faculty—professors, assistant professors, and others—were fired or resigned. Of these, eight were dissuaded from resigning and in the end stayed on.

In the Faculty Group Incident of one year earlier, Ōuchi and three other left-wing professors aligned with the Rōnōha had been arrested, so the Tōdai Faculty of Economics was short on faculty and nearly collapsed.[1] When they hear “Tōdai strife,” postwar generations are likely to summon up the great riots of 1969 (the all-university strike, the blocking of the entrance examinations) and the Tōdai All-Student Alliance’s fight to seize and defend Yasuda Auditorium.[2] But generations a bit older, when they hear “Tōdai strife,” will think first of the strife in the Faculty of Economics that began in 1937 and continued for several years.

The Expulsion Drama Hijikata Orchestrated

The expulsion of Yanaihara lit the fuse of this great strife. The drama of the expulsion of Yanaihara stemmed from confrontation between Yanaihara and Hijikata, dean of the Faculty of Economics. In The Agony of Democracy, Minobe Ryōkichi summarizes what happened at Faculty Meeting: “Dean Hijikata pulled from a purple furoshiki the September issue of Chūō kōron and said, ‘In time of crisis Yanaihara’s essay in this issue [“The Ideals of the State”] is not an appropriate view, I think, for a professor to hold. I respect Yanaihara as scholar, and in this essay he doesn’t say explicitly that he’s talking about Japan; but in fact he says that public opinion on the war is being controlled and that the war is not just—it’s surely satire about Japan; it’s anti-war. What do you say, colleagues?’”

Ōuchi took more detailed notes at the Faculty Meeting that day (November 24) and tells what came next:[3] “In response, several professors stood up valiantly and said, ‘This essay may be written in the abstract, but it’s clearly an argument against Japan’s current war.’ And this: ‘This essay has serious implications for Japan’s official policy.’ These advocates and the dean were of course on precisely the same page: there’s no need to criticize Yanaihara’s essay in detail; we should simply decide by majority vote that Yanaihara is not fit to be a professor. Oppressed by this atmosphere, mouth agape, I couldn’t stop myself but said, ‘Discussion about the essay—shouldn’t that happen after we’ve read it?’” The “several professors” who joined immediately in Dean Hijikata’s attack on Yanaihara were Honiden Yoshio and Tanabe Tadao, whom I introduced earlier as the renovationist faction.

Establishing New Specialties and Courses at the Behest of the Military

To understand what was happening at Tōdai at the time, you need to know what was happening in Japan. The Japan-China Incident that began at the Marco Polo Bridge in July 1937 quickly developed into full-scale war with China. In a major mobilization involving several stages, hundreds of thousands of troops were sent to various parts of China, and from then until 1945, normally about 1,000,000 troops were fighting in China. It was called an incident, but from 1937 on Japan was at war.

The flames of the Incident leapt first to Shanghai, and hoping to bring about a quick end to the fighting, the Japanese Army landed in Hangzhou Bay and then aimed for Nanjing: capture Nanjing, the chief city of the Chinese Republic, and China would surrender. But even though Japanese forces occupied Nanjing (December 1937), the fighting did not stop, and the war rapidly became a quagmire. The next year, 1938, Japan passed a national mobilization law, and in every sense Japan went onto wartime footing. After August 1937, when the national spiritual mobilization movement was started, the whole society suddenly moved to wartime footing.

If you read the diary of Nagayo Matarō, Tōdai president at the time, you’ll understand and be fascinated by what happened—things unimaginable today—as the university was engulfed in the wartime order. For example, take this entry from October 28: “Today I addressed the following telegram to General Terauchi, Supreme Commander for North China, General Matsui, commander for Central China, Vice Admiral Hasegawa, commanding officer of the Third Fleet, and Major General Ōkōchi, Commander of Land Forces: ‘In victory after victory, the fierce fighting of our loyal Imperial officers and men has reaped great fruits of war and enhanced national prestige greatly. It is truly everlastingly moving. Representing all the employees and students of Tokyo Imperial University, I hereby express our deep gratitude.’”

This isn’t a telegram Nagayo sent as an individual; it’s a formal telegram of gratitude that as president, representing all the staff and students of Tokyo Imperial University, he sent to the entire China command of the Army and the Navy. Since the imperial universities were created by the state as special organs of the state to study and teach (in the words of the university decree) “the theory and application of the scholarly arts essential to the state,” the enhancement of the prestige of the state was something very much worth congratulating.

And note well: formal mobilization had begun, and from the universities, too, men were heading quickly, in droves, for the battlefield. According to the Imperial University News for October 11, 1937, at the end of August the number of students drafted from universities nation-wide had already reached 1,000; the universities at the top of the list were Tōdai with thirty, Kyōto University with forty-three, Osaka University with twenty-four, Kyushu University with twenty-one. The “call-up of students” came in December 1943, but that meant merely that the “student deferment” (for university students, postponement of the military physical until the age of twenty-seven) was no longer operative; even students were drafted when they turned twenty. Even before that time, many students had taken the field. Once the call-up came and they were drafted, students who had already passed the military physical and entered the reserves (a few graduate students—particularly medical students—past the age of twenty-seven) had to head immediately for the front. According to the Imperial University News for October 25, 1937, counting Tōdai students, faculty, administrators, and employees, two hundred-fifteen (sixty-six of them students) had been called up already; most numerous, at eighty-two, were those in medicine. Tōdai—the entire institution—had already been engulfed by the war.

Moreover, in terms of education and research, there were parts of Tōdai that could not avoid becoming engulfed wholly by the war. This was because in the university at the time, the study of military affairs (weapons) was a major field of research and education. For example, the ship-building curriculum included a course in the design of battleships. Nagayo’s successor as president, President Hiraga—with the “Hiraga Purge,” he put an end to the turmoil in the Faculty of Economics—was Japan’s leading battleship designer and had set his hand to battleships Nagato, Mutsu, Yamato, Musashi; he was called “the battleship god.” When Nagayo was president, Hiraga was dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and together the two were invited to the christening of the battleships. From Nagayo’s diary:

November 16, 1937

Tuesday. Clear.

Attended christening of battlehip Hiryū at Yokosuka Works. There and back by car. Dean Hiraga of Engineering went with. …

Progress in Japan’s shipbuilding knowledge is astonishing. It’s not simply the independence of the ship-building industry; setting new standards in submarines, cruisers, and the like, it now builds world’s finest ships—astonishing. …

Today’s launch completely according to plan, not even tiny miscalculations, ended without incident. They say Hiryū tests new design features.

In passing, let me note that it was not only the shipbuilding curriculum that studied military arts. The aeronautics curriculum studied planes for military use; there was also the ordnance curriculum, a curriculum specializing in the study of weapons. Traditionally, the ordnance curriculum studied gunnery and gunpowder and bombs, but soon an independent explosives curriculum was set up in the study of explosives, but , distinct. Moreover, the fifth ordnance course carried on the study of chemical weapons.

Military studies were carried on in close conjunction with the military, of course, and as “commissioned students,” many military men from both Army and Navy were admitted to study at the university. There were only thirty “commissioned students” in 1938, but they increased year by year, and by about 1942, there were more than 120. On graduating, the military’s “commissioned students” were commissioned Naval Ordnance ensigns and Army Gunnery lieutenants. In these fields of study, it was not merely the students, but also the faculty: military men joined the university ranks as professors, lecturers, and the like. Hiraga Yuzuru himself was a military man with the rank of vice-admiral. After graduating from Tōdai, Hiraga entered the Navy, became a naval officer, studied abroad at the British Naval Academy, and learned the world’s finest ship-building arts. While a military officer, he became a Tōdai professor and trained many officers. Virtually all the World War II ship-builders were Hiraga’s disciples.

A further index of the close ties between university and military at this time is the special-researcher system for graduate students. Upon promising to enter the military after graduating, a faculty’s outstanding students were allowed to advance to graduate school. While they were in graduate school, the military paid not only for their tuition, but also for their living expenses. (At a time when the salary of a university instructor was 70 yen, they received 90 yen.) Each year from 350 to 400 were selected, and always one quarter of them were Tōdai students.

Moreover, in response to requests from the military, the Faculty of Engineering also established a new curriculum. In the section on the Faculty of Engineering in the Tōdai Centennial History, there is the following: “Beginning in 1942 with the establishment of a course on oil, the establishment or expansion of courses in each of the existing specialties continued to advance at an unusual pace, virtually all in response to requests from the military; the rationales for the changes teem with phrases that reflect the times: ‘modern scientific war,’ ‘excellence in scientific weapons determines victory or defeat,’ ‘to establish a national defense state of a high order,’ ‘in the attempt to respond to the urgent demand of the state,’ ‘to contribute to the great work of establishing the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,’ and so on. There was even a course ‘Chemical Weapons.’ Here is an example from the fifth shipbuilding curriculum: the rationale gives ‘The military’s intent regarding the establishment of this curriculum.’ The establishment of this course in large-scale production of weapons is due to ‘the fervent demand of the military,’ and this statement is appended: ‘If by any chance budget overruns might lead to the elimination of this program, we wish this program to continue even if the funds have to come from the Army budget.’ Here we can see how much the military clamored for the establishment of this program.”

In 1942 various specialties and lecture courses had been established in response to the demands of the military. Not only that; in response to the demands of the military supplies industry as a whole for more students in science and engineering, an entire second science and engineering department was established—Engineering II. President Hiraga established it, and in his report to the Ministry of Education he stated explicitly that the goal in creating Engineering II was to foster human talent for the prosecution of the war: “In Chiba, Tokyo Imperial University has set aside over 80 acres of land and is bending every effort to establish Engineering II, new, on a greater scale than the existing Faculty of Engineering, thereby increasing the fostering of the human talent the state needs and responding to the strong demand of the state. If we turn this plan into reality, three years from now we will be able to offer the state four hundred twenty useful human talents per year and contribute thereby to the sacred task of constructing Great East Asia.”

In fact, this creation of Engineering II, too, began earlier in Nagayo’s term as president. Here is a passage from Nagayo’s diary:

May 8, 1938: Sunday. Cloudy, then clear.

Yesterday at 11 Dean Tamba of Engineering came.

Feeling has arisen among core of faculty that in present crisis and to improve future state fortunes, faculty cannot sit idly by, and in March former Dean Hiraga set up a curriculum plan for Engineering II. Tamba and new and old representatives to the University Council all in agreement. Before consulting Faculty Meeting, he wanted to ask my opinion and showed me outline of his curriculum plan for Engineering II.

1938 was the year the national mobilization law was implemented, and in the form of an attachment to the national mobilization law, an “Ordinance Controlling the Employment of Graduates” was established by Imperial decree. It focused on military production. Because the competition for science and engineering students had become intense, rather than leave the choice of employer of science and engineering students to the free choice of the individual, it regulated employment, focusing on the state. Each business reported to the Ministry of Health the numbers and specialties of the new graduates it needed for each factory and office, and the Ministry of Health made the allocation. During the Soviet era, Russia had this sort of system, with the state controlling the careers of university graduates in letters and in the sciences. This is one reason it’s often pointed out that there are similarities between Japan under national mobilization and communist countries (communist countries virtually always have mobilization systems). While national mobilization existed, the state controlled the distribution of labor power (the places that hired graduating students).  Even after this system was set up, science and engineering students were very much in demand, far too few to meet the demand, so then there was no alternative but to create Engineering II.

The Issue of a Procession to the Meiji Shrine

But as in the Nagayo diary that I quoted earlier, behind this plan lay an impatience on the part of some university people. Large-scale war had already begun: “Was it enough simply to sit idly by?” From the very start of the Japan-China Incident, there began an across-the-board shift in mood toward greater cooperation in the war effort.

Earlier, when left-wing student movements flourished, it was unthinkable that the university actively cooperate in the war, send congratulations to the military, or shout, “Long live military victory!” But as the Japan-China Incident progressed, such things became taken for granted. Consider the entry from Nagayo’s diary for the day Tōdai celebrated the fall of Nanjing:

December 16, 1937. Thursday. Clear.

We hold a ceremony to commemorate the fall of Nanjing.

Platform set up on north side of athletic field, 5,000-6,000 employees and students line up in designated places, at 9:45 the university brass band played the Kimigayo twice, my message, three shouts of “Long Live the Emperor,” three shouts of “Long Live the Imperial Army and Navy,” ceremony ends. Most present form procession, walk to palace, bow at Nijūbashi, then process to Yasukuni Shrine, break up there.

After ceremony, accompanied by the chief cabinet secretary, I present letter of thanks from Imperial University to Army and Navy and say words of gratitude to Army Minister Sugiyama in Army Minister’s official residence, and to Admiral Yamamoto, vice minister, in Navy Minister’s official residence (Navy Minister was at palace today), chat briefly about the war, return home.

The backlash against Professor Yanaihara, advocate against war and for peace, arose in this changed time and mood.

The occasion for the first great collision between the anti-war professors and the renovationist professors was the issue of processing to the Meiji Shrine for that year’s Meiji Ceremony (November 3, the birthday of Emperor Meiji). In fact, at the November 24 Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Economics that dealt with the expulsion of Yanaihara, the main topic there, too, was the visit to the Meiji Shrine. At issue in the visit was that both “Friends of Economics,” the autonomous student organization of the Faculty of Economics, and Ōuchi had declined to take part. For that reason Ōuchi, as we saw earlier, kept a careful memo about the day’s give and take.

What was the issue of the visit to the Meiji Shrine? Let’s consult then-dean Hijikata’s The Events Are Long Behind Us:[4]

In 1937 the Japan-China Incident spread to the Shanghai front, and wearying of the siege, our military fought a very tough battle; in the attack the three brave soldiers carried the bomb.[5] Praying for the eternal success and the victory of the imperial forces, public-spirited students tried to organize a visit to the Meiji Shrine in anticipation of the November 8 Meiji Ceremony ….

But at first Tōdai officials vetoed the plan. I don’t really understand why, but I heard it was probably because it was proposed by right-wing students, and a decision of the Deans’ Council vetoed it…. But whatever the reason, at the meeting of the university’s University Council several days later…the issue arose of whether to allow a visit to the Meiji Shrine by students who wanted to go. Representatives of the Faculty of Natural Sciences raised the question, “Why not permit it?” But the Faculty of Law was strongly opposed, and the majority leaned against permitting it. … Then I stood up and said I couldn’t help it if the majority rejected the plan, but I wanted to be told explicitly, there and then, the reason for the denial. This was a visit that was voluntary (not mandatory) for public-spirited students who wished to go to pray for the military success of officers and men at the front. The speculation that, for example, it was the scheme of a few right-wing students was no reason to deny it. If it was, it might be said that to deny it was to express anti-war ideas. Indeed, I’d like to be given a clear reason for the denial. This was a question directed to the president. Then the president responded, “Hmm, if that’s the case, let’s approve it.” (Emphasis in original.)

The condition for the president’s permission was that the students conduct themselves in a way befitting students. If that was to happen, it was thought that a professor should accompany them, and given the circumstances thus far, that responsibility fell to Hijikata (Honiden volunteered to go along, too).

Hijikata’s account continues:

That November 3 the rain fell pretty heavily all morning….I too thought that on a day like this, when it had rained all morning, few would join the procession to the shrine. But as luck would have it, or perhaps because the concern of the students for the crisis was higher than that of their highnesses, the professors, those who defied the rain and gathered…became a large procession of more than a thousand. That day President Nagayo came to the entryway of Yasuda Auditorium to see the procession off; he said to me, “Hijikata, thank you.” I responded, “We’re off.” … When it left via the main gate, the procession was occasionally brought to a halt by the phalanx of photographers from newspapers and elsewhere, but with all of us very calm and with no ostentatious flag-waving apart from a single banner, we walked in the rain to the Meiji Shrine and paid silent obeisance at the shrine and then disbanded. Of course, that day’s evening editions and the next day’s morning editions reported on the procession and ran photographs.

Indeed, this procession of 1,000 Tōdai students to the Meiji Shrine and their prayers for victory were reported prominently in the general press. But strangely, if you search the Imperial University News, there’s not a single line about it. It seems the student mainstream ignored this great patriotic event that Hijikata writes up here so grandiosely. In any case, Hijikata was furious that virtually no students from the Faculty of Economics had taken part.

When he looked into the matter, the meeting of the committee of the Friends of Economics that discussed whether it should take part appears to have been taken over by left-wing students who forced a decision against participation. Hijikata summoned the members and admonished them: “I have long regretted that some people in the university lack patriotic ardor. No matter what the situation in normal times, I thought that in this time of national crisis, patriotism would blaze up. But on this issue of the procession to the Meiji Shrine, the committee didn’t show the slightest patriotism; without even sticking to its own rules, it decided against participation. To encourage soul-searching, I call on all its members to resign. From now on I want you to keep in mind Article 1 of the University Law—‘The university should give heed to the cultivation of state thought’—and not have anti-state, anti-patriotic feelings.” As I wrote earlier, the first topic of the November 24 Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Economics that criticized Yanaihara’s essay, “The Ideal of the State,” was in fact this issue of replacing the members of the committee of the Friends of Economics.

Perhaps because this had happened, the atmosphere within Tōdai thereafter became more and more patriotic, and as in the Nagayo diary I cited earlier, on December 12 all students and faculty participated in the ceremony to commemorate the fall of Nanjing. After the ceremony, all 6,000 processed to the plaza in front of the palace, together bowed to the palace, and then all marched to Yasukuni Shrine to bow. Such events took place, and no one objected. Tōdai, too, had rapidly turned patriotic.

Non-Confidence in Ōuchi as University Council Representative

To return to the story of the November 24 Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Economics, there was a second major item on the agenda. It was to oust Ōuchi from his seat on the University Council. The University Council was the university’s highest decision–making organ; it included two representatives of each faculty. At the time, Ōuchi was a representative of the Faculty of Economics. The issue was the attempt to kick him out. Hijikata thought that the Marxist Ōuchi was unquestionably behind the anti-war left-wing students in the Faculty of Economics and wanted to oust him. In the colloquium University Autonomy [6] held in 1963, Ōuchi speaks as follows: “I first became an issue at the Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Economics of November 24, 1937; it was the same day as the Yanaihara Incident we’ve discussed, and the political background was precisely the same. The right-wing professors around Hijikata apparently wanted to make me resign at the same time as Yanaihara, so they had to pin something on me. As I said before, in Yanaihara’s case they made it an issue that his essay was not patriotic; so they pinned something else on me. It was that on November 3 of that year, at the time of the Meiji Ceremony, there was a proposal that the ‘Friends of Economics,’ the association of Faculty of Economics students, form up and go en masse to pay obeisance at the Meiji Shrine, and when they asked what the faculty thought of it, Hijikata said by all means do it…but I said it’d be okay if only those who wanted to go went. Hijikata said of this statement that if such an unpatriotic fellow represented the Faculty of Economics, he would not serve as dean, so he would resign. I said the whole thing was utterly silly, but he said he was resigning, period. In response, Honiden and Tanabe argued that there was no need for Hijikata to resign but that I should resign.” This was all a charade acted out by Hijikata, Honiden, and Tanabe. As we’ve seen, in the attack on Yanaihara, too, the same charade was acted out. In Ōuchi’s Fifty Years in Economics, he speaks once again of this time and quotes Honiden and Tanabe: “At the time of the Yanaihara Incident, Honiden and Tanabe said in Faculty Meeting, ‘We must now drive England out of China. Once we’ve done that, we’ll deal with the Tōdai scholars who preach peace.’ Listening to their grandiose statement, I thought they must have lost their minds, but thinking about it afterward, those fellows had been truly prophetic. At the time they were prophets who already believed firmly in the victory of fascism.”

Hearing these statements, today’s young folks may all think, with Ōuchi, that these people “must have lost their minds,” but at the time such thinking was not rare: the “renovationist” faction, the university’s renovationist faction, and the military’s renovationist faction all thought basically that way. Japan’s chief enemy was England, which ruled the world, especially with huge colonies all over Asia, and Japan’s historic mission was to liberate the colonies from England. The lead essay in Renovation, “The Mission of a Renovationist Society,” which I introduced earlier, also started off: “Japan is the last bastion defending the East from foreign invasion, and the liberation of Asia is the historic mission assigned Japan.” Also in that first issue of Renovation, “The Fundamental Principles of Japan’s Economic Renovation,” a long essay contributed by Tanabe, argued, “The stage that the Japanese economy is facing is development toward a controlled economy for the sake of preparing for war;” the war for which Japan must prepare was the war of intervention of the Allied Powers that would follow the China Incident. “In short, according to our firm belief, the current incident is not simply a conflict between Japan and China. It is a conflict, in part camouflaged, with England and Russia, and we cannot predict when those two countries—perhaps along with France and the United States—will intervene.” The renovationist faction within the military often voiced the same thought; it was the common sense, so to speak, of all the renovationist factions. In the final analysis, the greatest point of difference at this time between the leftist faction—Ōuchi and the others—and the renovationist faction—Hijikata and the others—was their different takes on the war and the crisis.

Yanaihara Writes His Apology

In My Resume, Ōuchi recapitulates: “At the time in the Faculty of Economics, these three professors—Hijikata, Honiden, and Tanabe—were at the center of a movement advocating that Tōdai’s cooperate in the war effort. We had no interest in that and didn’t join so foolish a movement. Then they attacked us publicly and privately, saying that because those fellows Yanaihara and Ōuchi weren’t interested, the students too weren’t interested, and Tōdai as a whole was negative and critical about the crisis. But we hadn’t the slightest idea that they, who were saying these things, would go farther and stir up trouble.

“It was, I think, November 1937. A full meeting of the Friends of Economics—the organization of Faculty of Economics students—was held…and at that time Honiden gave a speech saying that Tōdai should cooperate a bit more in the crisis. But I just thought I didn’t have to cooperate in the military’s aggressive war. One day in Faculty Meeting right after the meeting of the Friends of Economics, Hijikata suddenly produced a copy of the September issue of Chūō kōron, pointed to Yanaihara’s essay, and came out with, ‘The guy who wrote this essay is not fit to be a professor. I ask that the Faculty Meeting make that decision.’”[7]

Yanaihara’s essay, “The Ideal of the State,” that the dean made an issue of: it was supposedly so problematic, but it simply wasn’t. On reading it, you understand that at once. But it isn’t an easy essay to read: it quotes the Old Testament copiously and is hard to make sense of. Even if you want to make an issue of it, it’s hard to do so in a way that everyone will understand. To hear Hijikata, who sank his teeth into it at the Faculty Meeting, he says this: “When I read this essay through, I thought it was inappropriate for the times. To be sure, if you read it today, it’s entirely unexceptionable, harmless. It’s different if it’s a critique of a happy, peaceful age. But at the time it was a problem. It’s a satire that cites the words of the prophet Isaiah to suggest that Japan is fighting an unjust war. Of course, it’s one thing if he addressed a memorial to the government making an anti-war argument point-blank. Was there a single person in Japan then so brave as to do that? But this essay in a mass-circulation journal, satirical and sneering at the crisis, stirred up people’s emotions to no purpose, merely sapped the fighting spirit of our officers and men at the front, and didn’t help in coping with the crisis.”[8]

Yes, Chūō kōron was banned simply because it included this essay, but did this essay seal Yanaihara’s fate? No. Given that even his adversary Hijikata calls it “harmless,” it can’t be of much use as clincher. In fact, at the Faculty Meeting in question, most people hadn’t read it. Ōuchi asksed, “Shouldn’t we read it first?” and the issue of Yanaihara’s “Ideal of the State” was tabled until the next Faculty Meeting. In the meantime, Ōuchi rushed about saying Yanaihara had agreed to write a letter of apology to President Nagayo—this we can divine from the Nagayo Matarō Diary. The Yanaihara issue had already come to the attention of the Minister of Education (Kido Kōichi, later Privy Seal), and Nagayo had been a close friend of his for many years, so with Kido’s consent Nagayo could seek a satisfactory solution:

Nov. 27, 1937: Saturday. Clear.

University. Three professors Ōuchi, Maide, Mori appear. Make presentation about problem in Faculty of Economics. Exchange opinions, promise to act prudently.

10:30: appointment at Minister of Education Kido’s home. … Also on Yanaihara issue: Minister is always in touch with me, and if said person intends to express sincere apologies to me and Faculty Meeting, we wish to warn about future conduct and settle issue amicably. Even if as result of negotiations with Interior Ministry, incident grows more serious and punishment necessary, I express hope Ministry of Education will respect university autonomy and not be heavy-handed…. Seek agreement of Minister of Education. Kido: “I agree fully.”

Back to university, summon Dean Hijikata immediately….state my view that once Yanaihara has gone through formality of apology to Faculty Meeting and president, I’d like harmonious solution, with any further steps taken in consultation with me. Hijikata says he agrees in general, but two or three professors have very decided opinions, and he will exert every effort to see that nothing arise contrary to my will.

Return home. Ōuchi and Maide appear at 3. Consult on solution…. If the two can get Yanaihara to present letter of apology that satisfies me, then ask their full cooperation in satisfactory solution to crisis….

Nov. 28. Sunday. Clear.

*Yanaihara Issue.

Ōuchi Hyōe comes. Yanaihara grateful for my good will, intends to express very respectful contrition; presents text of Yanaihara’s handwritten apology. I cut one sentence of original, express satisfaction with rest.

At this point, agreement had been reached to settle the matter with the presentation of Yanaihara’s apology. The apology was actually written and is included in Nagayo’s diary:

Nov. 30, 1937.

Your Honor, President Nagayo:

I regret sincerely that my published words have caused trouble and occasioned you worry. It goes without saying that I prize obedience to the constitution and laws of the land, and I love Japan deeply…. But because the method of expressing my ideas was inadequate, I was unable to convey my true intent and have been delinquent in not living up to the responsibilities of a professor, so I have caused you concern. I humbly express my regret. It is my true intention to exercise full caution henceforth.

Yanaihara Tadao (seal).

Hijikata still was dissatisfied and expressed his strong opinion, but by main force Nagayo got him to accede to this proposed solution. In his diary Nagayo writes of his reason for this proposed solution, and to read what he says is to understand that Nagayo was an extremely perceptive man.

University self-control and self-discipline are necessary. But when that takes the form of a response to pressure from outside, it destroys university autonomy and is not something I can tolerate.

He did not break the laws of the state. If the university as a whole rides the current of the times, it is in trouble. Not right to paint everything the one color of patriotism and the militarists.

When no person who embraces liberal ideas can be a university professor, academic freedom collapses. I am extremely patriotic and extremely worried for the country.

The individual concerned apologizes for inappropriate speech. It is wrong to go further.

Yanaihara is a fine scholar. His reputation overseas is high. It is narrow-minded to drive out those with different ideology. Unity in diversity is university ideal.

President Nagayo Reconsiders

By November 30, agreement had been reached. But suddenly on November 30, another report reached officials, and everything fell apart. The next morning, abruptly, Yanaihara wrote out his resignation.

From Nagayo’s diary:

*It Is Decided Yanaihara Will Resign.

4:30: returned home. 5:00: Yamakawa appeared.

He reports: as result of consultation at official residence of Minister of Education, apology is wholly insufficient; passages in two writings apart from Chūō kōron are completely irreconcilable with spirit of kokutai; should questions arise in the Diet, there is absolutely no justification, and the university too will not escape getting embroiled in the matter. There is no alternative to Yanaihara’s resignation.

Looking at these two writings, I too find them utterly unacceptable. Decide his resignation is only alternative. …

Immediately summon Ōuchi and Maide, tell them the situation, decide to have Yanaihara submit resignation prior to tomorrow’s Faculty Meeting; together we visit Onozuka; he too agrees entirely with me…

Home at 10 p.m. (Italics: Tachibana.)

What were the two writings that caused it all to fall apart? One is the essay that appears in the following passage from Ōuchi’s “The Events of Yanaihara’s Resignation”: “Things changed suddenly the next day. At 5:30 on Nov. 30, Maide and I were summoned by phone to the president’s home. The president said sternly to us: ‘I’ve tried till now to protect Yanaihara, but now this apology is simply not enough. Even prior to the Chūō kōron essay, there is the text of another speech by Yanaihara. And the officials in the Ministry of Education say it leaves them no room to defend Professor Yanaihara in the Diet. I too read it, and it was absolutely wrong of Yanaihara. Given its existence, there is no alternative but to ask Yanaihara to resign; I regret it, but impossible is impossible; I can’t allow the government to be put into a quandary on his account.’ Up till then, I too hadn’t known of this speech; it was a passage from a eulogy for Fujii Takeshi. Yanaihara himself probably never ever expected it might become an issue.”

Fujii Takeshi was a disciple of Uchimura Kanzō and older than Yanaihara; he was the disciple Yanaihara respected most highly. After graduating from the Tōdai Faculty of Law, Fujii entered the Home Ministry and served as a prefectural official but soon resigned to become an independent preacher. He turned to Uchimura Kanzō and until Uchimura’s death was close to him. Soon after Uchimura’s death, Fujii too died, as if following Uchimura in death. He was a great inspiration to Yanaihara, and the two were also close personally, so close that Yanaihara had married Fujii’s younger sister.

Fujii had strong passions, on the order of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah; he lamented the rottenness and rampant evil of this world and exclaimed that as things stood, Japan would incur the wrath of God and perish. Among his fiercest prophetic poems is “Perish!”, with the refrain: “Perish! Country of soiled virgins, country of young men without self-respect / Country of beasts and insects that do not know true love! / Perish!” Yanaihara responded strongly to this poem. The reflection he wrote the day of the February 26 Incident was to this poem—“The quatrain ‘Perish!’ that the young prophet among us left behind resounds like the incoming tide.”

Each year thereafter, on the anniversary of Fujii’s death, Yanaihara held a memorial service, and the following problematic words from the 1937 memorial service appeared in his private newsletter Tidings: “Today, in a world of lies, we sit at the funeral of the ideals of the Japan we all love, the Japan that has lost its ideals. I am beyond anger. I am beyond tears. Please, everyone, if you understand what I’ve said: to give life to the ideal Japan, please first consign this country to the grave!”

The True Reason for Yanaihara’s Resignation

According to the standard explanation, this passage from the speech became the decisive factor in Yanaihara’s expulsion. But I don’t think that’s true. As you understand if you read Nagayo’s diary closely, the problem was two writings over and above the Chūō kōron essay, “Ideal of the State.” And the problem was the kokutai. The problematic writings contained “passages that are completely irreconcilable with the kokutai.” But this memorial address contains not a single line that infringes the kokutai. The true problem, it’s clear, was not this memorial address but something else. Ōuchi’s account continues as follows about “Ideals of the State”: “If you don’t get caught up in the trivialities of words and grasp what Yanaihara wants to say, it is clear at first glance that it does not come from an unpatriotic heart.” “Please consign Japan to the grave!” may be immoderate, but it’s mere rhetoric, isn’t it?

What sealed Yanaihara’s fate is another book, Nation and Peace, that was laid on the chopping block at this time. “The Nostalgic and the Forward-Looking in the Japanese Spirit” has a series of vehement passages that reject Japan’s kokutai head-on and say the emperor isn’t a god. It fits to a tee the description “passages that are completely irreconcilable with the kokutai.” In this essay Yanaihara discusses various theories of the Japanese spirit: “They all say that the state is at the root of our nation’s culture, of the Japanese spirit, that the emperor is the center of the state; so they make the emperor either the highest good as true ego of the nation, or the person who is the source of action, or the object of the state’s highest reverence. Hence they hold that the core of our Japanese spirit is a belief in the supremacy of a state led by the emperor and finding its unity in the emperor. Thus I take the concept of kokutai to be the center of studies of the Japanese spirit, and the center of kokutai studies must be the state as highest value and the emperor as sacred…”

Yanaihara addresses the issue of the emperor first: “The basis of the emperor’s divinity is not his person but his status, and the basis of the emperor’s personality is not the status but the person. The reigning emperor is god in his state status, so it is not the case that he personally has all-sacred, all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful divinity. In life and person, he is the same as all humans and has human life relative to the Lord and Creator.” Then he turns his attention to the issue of the state: “[The view that the state is supreme] gives birth to the assertion that what is moral is what the state wants, what benefits the state…. This is an extremely shallow view of morality, of the state; it is like a complacent, egotistic view of human life. True patriotism recognizes as morality a universal self-evident truth transcending the state and criticizes its own actual state in terms of that morality; by pointing out and correcting what is contrary to self-evident truth, it approaches the ideal state and must try to let the light of morality shine out from within the state. So true patriotism thinks not of state good but of state morality.”

The book was banned the next day, so we can tell that it was on this very day that the officials too grasped its problematic nature. Yanaihara himself wrote[9] that the work is “something I wrote on mature reflection, fully resolved to take the consequences,” and “when that book incurred judicial penalty, this was the most problematic essay. I myself set the most store by this essay.” From this, too, we see that “The Nostalgic and the Forward-Looking in the Japanese Spirit” was the real problem.

The above becomes clear on reading the Tokyo prosecutor’s office’s “Documents Concerning the Cases of Infringement against the Publication Law involving Yanaihara Tadao and Several Others.”[10] Yanaihara’s writings—

A: essays in the Iwanami volume The Nation and Peace;

B: the private newsletter Tidings; and

C: “The Ideal of the State” in Chūō kōron

—were investigated for infringing the publication law on the following two counts: profaning the dignity of the Imperial House; and upsetting public peace and tranquility. Half of A and all of B and C were investigated only for “upsetting public peace and tranquility.” The only passages in The Nation and Peace investigated for the greater crime of “profaning the dignity of the Imperial House” (Article 26 of the publications law) were in the essay, “The Nostalgic and the Forward-Looking in the Japanese Spirit.” The documents state explicitly that it was considered criminal that “despite writing and publishing [these passages] rejecting the absoluteness of our country’s emperor and profaning the dignity of the Imperial House, he still hasn’t changed his mind.” The issue is crystal clear.

Why, then, have all those involved maintained that the problem was the memorial address, not the essay that rejects the godhood of the emperor? I think it’s because identifying the latter as the problem was too dangerous. Had that passage become famous, it wouldn’t have been surprising if something had happened, such as fanatic rightists coming to run Yanaihara through. Nor would it have been surprising if university officials at the presidential level and even the Minister of Education had been called to account. To divert the public gaze from an abstruse essay that few had read (it appeared first in Ideals, a small-circulation journal of theoretical philosophy), everyone maintained in unison that the issue was the easier-to-understand, less-dangerous memorial address—“Look! Look! Here’s the problem!”—and that became the standard explanation.

On December 2, the day after he submitted his resignation, before three hundred people filling Lecture Hall #7 to overflowing, Yanaihara gave his final lecture. The Imperial University News ran a very detailed report on its content and wrote as follows about the final moments: “Now every head in the entire lecture hall was bowed, and in the silence faint sobs began to be heard…. ‘I fear with all my heart that after I have left the university will become fascist. I fear absolutely…that the university—especially the Faculty of Economics—will move at the whim of the currents of the outer world. If that happens, scholarship of course will perish…. I depart, taking my leave of the university, my study, colleagues, students. But for me myself, this is not important. I do not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. If I fear no one, neither do I hate or grudge. Rather, I scorn those whose bodies alone are fat, their souls thin. Don’t become that sort of person.’”

Long afterwards, Hijikata wrote of this peroration as follows: “In his farewell lecture to students, Yanaihara satirized me harshly—‘I scorn those who are fat as pigs and whose souls are thin,’ wrote ‘I don’t like marching at the head of a parade,’and left Tōdai. Those with fat souls really are different from us ordinary mortals.” Was that the image Hijikata had of himself? Unaware he was doing so, he changed “fat” to “fat as pigs.”

Ōkōchi Kazuo was a member of the Faculty of Economics amid this turmoil; long afterward, he became president, and in a graduation speech—by general consensus a great speech—he said, “Don’t become a fat pig; become a thin Socrates.” That passage alludes to this exchange between Yanaihara and Hijikata.

  1. On the Faculty Group Incident and the Rōnōha, see Chapter 4.
  2. RHM: Zenkyōto was the umbrella alliance of student organizations at the center of the 1969 student riots.
  3. Ōuchi Hyōe, “Yanaihara kyōju jishoku no ikisatsu” (“The Events of Yanaihara’s Resignation”),  in Nambara Shigeru, ed., Yanaihara Tadao: shinkō, gakumon, shōgai (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1968).
  4. Hijikata Seibi, Jiken wa toku narinikeri (Tokyo: Keizai ōraisha, 1965).
  5. RHM: The incident of the three brave soldiers became an icon of the war: during the siege, the three joined forces to carry a large bomb to the base of a rampart, blowing up the rampart at the cost of their lives.
  6. Daigaku no jichi, ed. Tanaka Kōtarō (Tokyo: Asahi shimbunsha, 1963). Participants included Tanaka, Suekawa, Wagatsuma, Ōuchi, Miyazawa.
  7. Watakushi no rirekisho.
  8. Hijikata, Jiken wa toku narinikeri (1965).
  9. Yanaihara, “Omoide: 4,” Yanaihara Tadao zenshū, vol. 26.
  10. Gendaishi shiryō 41: Masu mejya tōsei 2 (46 vols.; Tokyo: Misuzu shobō, 1962-80).


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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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