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The Great Purge of the Faculty of Economics by Hiraga Yuzuru, Battleship President

In which the author discusses the Hiraga Purge (January 1939), the Draconian measure that ended the factional fighting within the Faculty of Economics. He traces the purge’s roots to the presidency of Nagayo Matarō and the strategizing of Tanaka Kōtarō. Given the virulence of Kawai Eijirō’s critique of the military, it’s no surprise that Kawai was purged. What is surprising is that the purge removed as well the leading “renovationist” on the Faculty, Hijikata Seibi—this despite the fact that on the surface at least, both President Hiraga and Minister of Education Araki were his ideological allies. Thirteen (of nineteen) members of the Faculty of Economics were purged or resigned in protest. The Hiraga Purge was then and remains today an issue on which opinion divides sharply.

Day after Day of Headlines

A great many incidents intertwined chronologically in those three years: the Yanaihara Incident in 1937, the Faculty Group Incident (the arrest of Ōuchi) and the ban on publication against Kawai in 1938, the Hiraga Purge and the Tsuda Incident of 1939. These incidents were so many and so complex that try as you can, it’s virtually impossible to make the ins and outs easy to understand. This chapter is mainly about the Hiraga Purge. Let me state at the outset: it followed a more complicated course than did the other incidents, so it’s particularly difficult to understand, and there are many aspects we still don’t understand.

But historical truth lies in complexity. To put it differently, the truth of history is very hard to grasp. On any number of issues the judgment of history is still pending, but for the Hiraga Purge more than any of the others, historical judgment varies with the historian. The critics call it the rash act of a military officer-president who understood neither the value of scholarship nor the raison d’ètre of the university; those who praise it say it saved Tōdai. Without the Hiraga Purge, the Faculty of Economics would probably have been destroyed, and the trouble would have spread, with profound consequences, to the Faculty of Law, too.

Regardless, no contemporary Tōdai event shocked the eyes and ears of the world more than the Hiraga Purge. The Faculty of Economics came close to complete ruin. Day after day the newspapers ran headlines and reported events as they happened. They reported everything, even what was discussed at Faculty Meetings and University Council meetings—a first in Tōdai history.

I’ve already laid out the bare facts of the Hiraga Purge, but let me summarize. At the time, as a result of complicated factional struggle, the Faculty of Economics had become dysfunctional. In December 1938, succeeding Nagayo Matarō, twelfth president of the university, Hiraga Yuzuru (formerly dean of the Faculty of Engineering) became thirteenth president. The conflict within the Faculty of Economics seemed at an impasse; fed up and in blaming-both-sides fashion, Hiraga fired the bosses of the two opposing factions.[1] Assistant professors and instructors submitted their resignations in protest and left, one after the other. The first to be fired were Hijikata, of the Hijikata faction, and Kawai, of the Kawai faction. The third faction in the three-headed Faculty of Economics was the Ōuchi faction. Shortly before, in the Faculty Group Incident, its members— Ōuchi and the others—had all been arrested; with those arrests and the Yanaihara Incident just before, the faction had dissolved. The Hiraga Purge and the events before and after brought a sudden end to the factional fighting, and factional conflict, the chronic curse of the Faculty of Economics, vanished as if it had never existed. (Remnants of the factions remained, but they no longer had the strength to fight as factions.)

Still, the most crucial thing that university autonomy protects is the status of professors. The fundamental principle of university autonomy is that the hiring and firing of professors was the sole prerogative of faculty meeting, so even if the president wants to fire a specific professor, he can’t. The momentous Hiraga Purge was the exception to all exceptions in the history of the university.

It was an act of President Hiraga, and Tanaka, dean of the Faculty of Law and Hiraga’s brain trust, was sitting right at his side; so everything went according to proper legal form. But it was a series of break-through tactics, carried out in total disregard of previous customary practice, main force in the extreme. There was major debate in the Faculty of Law, hours long, over its legality and appropriateness, and one influential professor went to the president and argued that Hiraga should take responsibility for having caused great chaos and resign.

President Nagayo’s Plan to Dissolve the Faculty of Economics

From the day the Hiraga Purge was carried out, there were a great many news reports about it, but most were merely superficial factual reporting and then comment, and the story behind the story did not emerge in full clarity. The sources for the story behind the story were too few. For example, virtually all the conditions that were the context of the Hiraga Purge (the strife in the Faculty of Economics, the Yanaihara Incident, the Ōuchi Incident) had arisen in the presidency (1934-37) of Nagayo Matarō, and the most important primary source there is his diary; but it wasn’t published until 2002. Until then, the most well-known contemporary appraisal of President Nagayo was Ōuchi’s comment criticizing Nagayo’s unsteadiness at the time of the Yanaihara Incident: “Nagayo was a very well-intentioned person, but he offered no resistance to pressures from within or without and in the end was unable to formulate his own judgment or carry it out; he went one way, then the other, and wound up complicating things. Not only did he forfeit trust within and without toward the university and himself, he also fell sick on that account, resigned, and died of illness. He was an eminent scholar, and a good person, too; but as university president, he was a failure.”[2] Nagayo became the very model of a poor president.

But read the whole diary, and you’ll find that in each situation Nagayo ponders deeply and acts prudently. It’s Ōuchi’s evaluation that’s mistaken. As one bit of evidence, consider this passage I’ve already noted when he was agonizing over the Yanaihara Incident: “It’s bad if the entire university is abandoned to the currents of the times. We can’t paint it all the single color of patriotism, of the military cliques. When no one who embraces liberal ideas can become a university professor, the university’s freedom of scholarship collapses.”

At the time, Nagayo heard about the situation from various quarters and knew that behind the problem lay the factional antagonism in the Faculty of Economics that had put down deep roots some years earlier. He wrote in his diary: “November 27, 1937. Saturday. Clear. Internal unrest in Faculty of Economics has its origins at deep level in existence of rival barons. In future, too, strife will continue. Unless we carry out major organizational change (for example, splitting present two faculties—law and economics—into three—law, administration, and commerce), starting from scratch again with hearts and minds and jettisoning the petty in interest of some great common objective, there won’t be any fundamental improvement.” Coming up against the deep-rooted strife within the Faculty of Economics that he was virtually powerless to do anything about, Nagayo thought that to eradicate the problem he might have to reconfigure the Faculty totally. I think this— the need for radical change—is the source of the Hiraga Purge.

Not all that much time elapsed between the Yanaihara Incident, when Nagayo made these comments in his diary, and the Hiraga Purge—just about a year. In that one year, thanks to the Ōuchi and Kawai Incidents, the strife in the Faculty of Economics grew even more bewildering. That year was also the year the Sino-Japanese War became a quagmire and Japanese society moved, at an accelerating pace, onto war footing. In the Faculty of Economics, too, one more major axis of confrontation was added—that between those who supported the drive toward a war economy and those who opposed it. The factional opposition became all the more difficult to uproot.

In concrete terms, a group leaning strongly to nationalism (the renovationist, Japanist-economic, controlled-economy faction) emerged from the Hijikata faction and one part of the Kawai faction, and it became difficult for that faction to make peace with Kawai, who continued his fierce critique of the military, nationalism, and fascism. The major reason lay here: after 1938, the majority—it had been made up by the Kawai faction and the Hijikata faction—fell apart, most of the Kawai faction joined the renovationist faction, and Kawai himself moved closer to the Ōuchi faction. There was an additional reason for moving closer to Ōuchi—the consciousness of defending university autonomy. I’ll treat that later.

The procedures of the Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Economics distinguished two types of measure: measures that could be decided by simple majority, and measures that required a two-thirds vote. Important personnel matters required a two-thirds vote. That is, important personnel matters could not be decided so long as a hard-line “anti” faction controlled one-third of the votes. This was the biggest reason the stalemate in the Faculty of Economics continued: important matters simply could not be decided. The longer the stalemate went on, the more attractive the idea of cutting the Gordian knot—that drastic, even radical, measures were the only way to solve the problem. This background made radical solutions such as the Hiraga Purge more palatable.

The Design for the Hiraga Purge

It’s not clear precisely who got the idea for the Hiraga Purge or when or how, who worked that idea up in what way, then turned it into reality. But it’s possible the concept emerged during President Nagayo’s term in office. The Hiraga Purge was carried out on January 28, 1939: on that day, without any decision by the Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Economics, Hiraga forwarded directly to the Minister of Education his decision to fire Hijikata and Kawai. That is, he submitted a so-called formal report (of which more later). Hiraga had been inaugurated president on December 20, 1938, so he’d been in office only a month. But in that period he had taken all the steps necessary to carry out the purge.

In concrete terms, he had convened a University Council and reached an understanding that he had carte blanche to solve the strife in the Faculty of Economics, that the president had the authority to take “the appropriate action at the appropriate time.” Similarly, he had convened a deans’ meeting and struck an understanding that the president was in sole charge of the final decision to resolve the “strife in the Faculty of Economics.” Further, he had met with the Minister of Education (General Araki Sadao) and from him too got sole discretion.

At the time, the biggest issue the Faculty of Economics faced was Kawai. Kawai’s four books had all been banned, and from the right wing came fierce attacks: how can this anti-kokutai, virtually communist, liberal scholar be a Tōdai professor? From the Ministry of Education, too, came pressure to punish Kawai. But punishment meant following legal procedures. Punishment had to be for a reason. If Kawai had engaged in criminal activity that infringed criminal law, that would be reason for punishment (suspension or firing). But in that case the law (the higher civil service code) provided that punishment follow indictment by the authorities. Did the fact that his books had been banned constitute such a reason? Normally not. The act of writing books that merited proscription was not itself a crime. Even at this late date, there was still that much freedom of speech.

To find a reason to punish Kawai, Hiraga created a committee of inquiry and had it investigate Kawai’s four proscribed books to see whether it could find sufficient reason to strip Kawai of his status as professor. The committee was made up of six people in all: the deans of Law and Economics and the two delegates to the University Council of each of these faculties. The conclusion they issued after reading his four books was the very vague statement, “In his method of expression and way of thinking, there are aspects that are not appropriate for a professor and cause misunderstanding among the general public.” So far as his being unfit to be a university professor, that’s it. But with this report as sole basis, Hiraga submitted a formal report to the Minister of Education that Kawai should be fired, and Kawai was fired. Imperial university professors were imperial appointees, so their status could be changed only by order of the emperor. Specifically, that power was exercised by order of the Minister of Education, and there was a stipulation that the Minister of Education act in accordance with the formal recommendation of the university president (a recommendation with attached explanation of the situation). The formal recommendation of the president normally accorded with the decision of the appropriate faculty. But in this case that step had been skipped. That fact gave rise to the charge that the Hiraga Purge was a punishment carried out by main force in the extreme, the exception of all exceptions.

Virtually all the professors who resigned in protest at the Hiraga Purge were from the Faculty of Economics. But Kawai’s friend Rōyama Masamichi resigned from the Faculty of Law, too, on the grounds that such a purge was not justified and should not be carried out. He wrote an essay, “The Tōdai Purge and My Frame of Mind.”[3] There he points out that the committee of inquiry was not appropriate: “To investigate the intellectual content of the problematic books, the president, acting in great haste right after the New Year’s holiday, established an ‘expert’ committee made up of six members in all, the deans and the University Council representatives of the Faculties of Law and Economics. He chose this as the way for the university to investigate, for the first time ever, the appropriateness of a professor’s ideas that ‘spontaneously’ had become an issue with the public. … Are these members truly the appropriate experts to examine Kawai’s writings? Were they experts, those who happened at the time to have become dean or representative? They held chairs in commercial law, civil law, diplomatic history, history of economics, accounting, and insurance. It’s crystal clear that deans and faculty representatives are proposed for office to handle administrative or official business, not to investigate scholarship and ideas. … To put it in extreme terms, that is a structure best suited to functioning in secret, in the dark.”

The make-up of the committee was problematic, so the conclusion it reached was problematic. The vagueness of its conclusion was also problematic. But its conclusion held that there were “issues of appropriateness,” so the president pressed Kawai to retire voluntarily. Kawai refused, so he was called before the committee and given the opportunity to defend himself. Still, the final conclusion was that there were “inappropriate” aspects, so having issued Kawai a final notification, the president made his formal recommendation to the Minister of Education that it was appropriate to fire Kawai. Thus, after becoming president, Hiraga had proceeded, one by one, with all the formal steps so he could say he had done everything possible. Simply completing all these procedures takes easily a month, so after becoming president, Hiraga had no time for the tedious business of first investigating the situation and then working out an appropriate solution. The outline for the Hiraga Purge had already been completed before Hiraga became president, that is, during Nagayo’s presidency. While the university was responding to the events of 1938, the options boiled down to this as the only possible policy.

Nagayo’s Distrust of Hijikata

Nagayo’s distrust of Hijikata is clear in his diary, so let’s follow it there. The arrest of Ōuchi happened at the beginning of 1938. At that time there was a clash between Hijikata, who argued that Ōuchi should be fired—before he was indicted—and Nagayo, who held that it was not right to fire him before he was indicted. In the course of the dispute, Nagayo’s distrust of Hijikata grew. For example, in his diary for February 22, 1938, he writes (I summarize): Hijikata said that Ōuchi was clearly a Marxist, that he wanted the Faculty Meeting to discuss Ōuchi’s ideas, that these ideas were inappropriate for a professor, that a decision should be rendered. I argued it should not. Not only was it not proper to discuss a professor’s thought, there were differing points of view and no unity in public opinion or in opinion within the university; so if you were so rash as to discuss someone’s thought at such a time and render a decision, “You only stir things up needlessly and increase public and university unrest.” During the argument, “Hijikata lost his composure and continually got excited.” I suggested it was okay to discuss the Ōuchi issue in the Faculty Meeting, but not to vote on appropriateness or take other steps: “Ōuchi is a Tōdai professor. He’s not merely a professor in the Faculty of Economics. His tenure differs from that of an instructor; it involves the president directly.”

The distinguishing characteristic of the Hiraga Purge was that the president intervened directly and—on an issue of professorial status, which essentially should be handled in Faculty Meeting—went over the head of Faculty Meeting, assembled reports himself, and, based on them, submitted a formal recommendation to the Minister of Education. The idea arose here that the president has such authority and on important personnel issues should exercise it. Nagayo writes: “In normal times faculty appointments are decided by each faculty, and hiring and firing are done with the president’s sanction; but so important an issue as this is a matter for the entire university, not simply the faculty directly affected. All the faculties and particularly the president feel profound responsibility and have an interest; it calls for careful consideration and no mistakes in dealing with it. When the Faculty of Economics can’t come to a decision, it’s natural that the president step in. Moreover, now it’s become an issue not simply for the Faculty of Economics but for the entire university.” This passage concerns the issue of Ōuchi, but later, using this logic, Hiraga developed what became his model of presidential leadership: if need be, even if Faculty Meeting does not agree, the president can intervene by main force and submit a formal recommendation to the Minister of Education.

In June Nagayo thought up a “fundamental solution.” According to it, the factions undertake sincere and thorough negotiations and make mutual concessions. This is a “fundamental solution” that can only be called optimistic, but what’s fascinating is that suddenly, in the proposal’s final lines, there appears the radical plan that all should resign: “7. If all else fails, resignation of entire Faculty of Economics; president takes responsibility. In this case, study ways to rebuild the Faculty.” There were these words in explanation: “The persons responsible if things don’t work are the president and all Economics professors.… In Economics, factional fighting hasn’t ended for years, and Faculty can’t govern itself. Examples plentiful. That is underlying source of problem. … Punish only one group, and there will never be peace.” A second characteristic of the Hiraga Purge is that when two competing factions fight over what is right, don’t investigate which side is truly right and declare that side the winner; if useless fighting continues, both sides are to blame. Using that rationale, punish both sides. That idea likely originates here. In short, if you find one side guilty and castigate it, that side stores up a grudge and you can’t hope for future peace. So punish both sides—a very Japanese solution!

A memo on a separate sheet of paper left in the diary includes several radical solutions:

If Economics absolutely can’t govern itself and strife continues, abolish Faculty of Economics and set up second track within Faculty of Law.

Try for peaceful solution… If the above is absolutely hopeless:

a. I assume responsibility and seek reconsideration on part of Economics.

b. Blame all Economics professors. At this point I, too, of course take blame.

In August there is this entry:

For several months I’ve been pondering a purge of Faculty of Economics. … It’s clear that if we don’t purge Economics, forces will continue to denounce the university. Ponder considerations.

Two proposals—

a. Leaving Economics as is, force several retirements. In this case, start by demanding all professors submit letters of resignation.

b. In finding worthy successors, selection crucial. To that end merge temporarily with Faculty of Law.

Moroever, at this time, as a result of an exchange of opinions with Tamba Shigeteru, dean of Engineering, Nagayo left the following in a memo:

a. Voluntary resignation of five men (Ōuchi, Hijikata, Honiden, Tanabe, Kawai).

b. Resignation of all professors.

The second is naturally easier to manage. It’s for different reason (inability of Economics to govern itself) than Ōuchi issue.

Step by step, a solution emerges that approximates what actually happened in the Hiraga Purge. Hiraga was the next dean of Engineering after Tamba, and Hiraga then became president; so it’s likely of course that on this issue he consulted both Tamba and Nagayo. In Nagayo’s diary the day after Hiraga’s becoming president was decided, there’s this note: “Morning: Hiraga comes to call; spent an hour discussing in detail the true state of affairs on several pending issues, projects, and the like.” It would be only natural if the “true state of affairs” discussed “in detail” at this time included the proposals I’ve mentioned.

After the Hiraga Purge, Nagayo wrote: “I rejoice that thus Faculty of Economics issue has come to end of chapter. With changes in conditions and with support of public opinion, difficult problem calms down for present, thanks to President Hiraga; for me, too, a great delight. … Even if method is open to criticism, for Hiraga that’s okay; important that right man was in right place at right time. After sober reflection Hiraga did what he believed best.” Nagayo compared it with what he himself had done as president: given those conditions and his health (halfway into his presidency, Nagayo developed inflammation of the inner ear, was hospitalized, and wasn’t able to perform his duties fully), he himself couldn’t have done other than what he did. He wrote: “Since last spring I too had felt keenly the need to reconstruct Economics and had studied various proposals; the method President Hiraga chose this time was among those proposals.” It’s clear from the previous quotations that this was in fact so. In short, when things reach such a pass, there are few conceivable solutions. The issue is to choose a course of action and carry it out resolutely. On this latter point of carrying it out resolutely, the military president, the “battleship god,” was able to do what Nagayo couldn’t.

Moreover, Nagayo wrote the following review of the entire situation: “Taking the larger view, under the influence of the crisis of the times, Tōdai encountered one difficult problem after another. Yanaihara, Ōuchi, Kawai, and so on: none had done anything that in normal times would merit resignation; as professors, all were excellent in ability and scholarship; in Economics they were of the first order. That they were all forced out was on account of the crisis, and that the renovationist clique got all stirred up, too, was on account of the crisis (ever since the Manchurian Incident, and especially since the outbreak of the China-Japan War). Those of a liberal tendency and the clique that burned with ‘consciousness of the state’ departed from traditional relations of deep amity, and each side presented a united front.” This could well be a backward glance from when the war was already over; but it’s from 1939, shortly after the Hiraga Purge. This alone shows that Nagayo was really quite a man, that he could see the larger picture.

Battleship President

I’ve mentioned Hiraga earlier, but let me introduce him once more. Hiraga was born in 1878, the son of a naval officer, and entered the Tōdai shipbuilding. He got his commission while still in school; before graduation he had become a naval lieutenant, junior grade. After graduating, he continued building warships at the Navy’s arsenals in Yokosuka and Kure. Right after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, he went abroad to study shipbuilding at the British naval college. England learned the lessons of the battle of the Japan Sea (May 1905), when the Japanese Navy under Admiral Tōgo sank 35 of 38 Russian warships, and was developing faster ships with greater firepower (this development raised the curtain on the era of big ships with giant cannon—the class of battleships called dreadnoughts). Hiraga studied this development in detail and, after returning to Japan, became the leader in Japan’s battleship construction. From Mutsu and Nagato to Musashi, Japan’s most important battleships all were designed by Hiraga, and Hiraga became known as the “battleship god.” From early on, Hiraga served concurrently as adjunct faculty member of Tōdai’s shipbuilding program, and he recruited the brightest students one after another to be the Navy’s “commissioned students.” Basically, all the Navy’s ship-building officers were Hiraga’s disciples (or disciples of his disciples). In later years, Hiraga transferred from the Navy to the university (his status changed from adjunct to regular faculty), and he became dean of the Faculty of Engineering. Ōuchi issue arose just then, and the University Council (composed of all the deans plus two representatives from each faculty) was convened to consider whether it was proper to fire Ōuchi before he was indicted. There Hiraga’s statements caught people’s attention, and after Nagayo resigned, he became a candidate to replace Nagayo.

Tanaka Kōtarō, at the time dean of the Faculty of Law, was right-hand man and advisor during both the Nagayo and Hiraga presidencies. In the symposium University Autonomy, Tanaka quotes the records of the University Council and says: “Next Hiraga made a noteworthy statement. He was then dean of the Faculty of Engineering and later, as you know, president. ‘Hiraga: It’s a most regrettable climate, the tendency of late to jump to the arbitrary conclusion that someone is “anti-state.” Deciding that a university professor is anti-state is very serious and calls for care. If in actions and intent someone is anti-state, he should be dealt with; hence the time to ascertain the facts in this case is after a decision by the judicial officials.’” This University Council was convened to consider whether to fire Professor Ōuchi, arrested in the Faculty Group Incident, before he was indicted; Hiraga took the position that it was not right to do so.

Tanaka’s Support of President Hiraga

Tanaka thought very highly of Hiraga’s statement. In the symposium he says, “At the time, I thought Hiraga an extremely strong, dependable person.” And in the election that followed Nagayo’s resignation, Tanaka became a key figure in luring Hiraga into running. After Nagayo resigned, the Faculty of Law came to think that given the nature of the issue pending (how to handle Kawai), the next president should be conversant with legal and economic scholarship and with the state of affairs in the two faculties. Tanaka tried first to entice Yamada Saburō, an eminent predecessor in the Faculty of Law who had been president of Seoul University. In the election, Yamada received good support in other faculties and received the most votes. But Yamada absolutely refused to accept. Here is Tanaka: “He said he wasn’t the right person, that in particular he was unable to deal with the Kawai issue, and refused to accept the position. Rumor had it that when Kawai married, Yamada had served as matchmaker. … Even without that connection, Yamada’s character made it a distasteful task, and I think he avoided it intentionally. In short, he was elected president but declined ‘resolutely.’ So then we had to vote again…”

Hiraga was the next candidate Tanaka lured: “We of the Law Faculty came to think Hiraga was the man. His statement on the Ōuchi issue at University Council on March 22 remained vividly in my mind, and whoever was president simply wouldn’t be able to weather the crisis at that time unless he had convictions, bravery, and decisiveness: that was my thought…. In persuading colleagues, I remember saying, ‘Well, if it took Yamada Saburō ten minutes to understand something, it might take Hiraga thirty minutes. But once it’s explained to him and he understands, he’s reliable and will surmount any difficulty and make it happen.’”

Tanaka worked with great ardor, but the crucial Faculty of Engineering was unmoved. They considered “battleship god” Hiraga a person of national-treasure class. Most felt it was inexcusable to make such a man stain his closing years with demeaning work and that he himself probably didn’t want the job. So Tanaka met personally with Hiraga to ascertain whether he was willing. Hiraga didn’t say clearly yes or no, but Tanaka got the sense he’d do it (Hiraga had said he’d think about it).

When Tanaka conveyed that sense to the Faculty of Engineering, it too finally got serious. The Faculty of Engineering included lots of important people, so when it got serious, it had clout. The result of the election was that Hiraga came in first and was elected. But Hiraga didn’t accept the job immediately. For ten days he talked seriously with each of the deans about the problems and opinions of their faculties. Tanaka: “Since I knew him from before, from his time as dean, we could talk easily. I think all the deans tried hard to persuade him. Nasu Shiroshi was a Faculty of Agriculture representative on the University Council, and he and I set out together and worked to persuade Hiraga. Since the Faculty of Law had connections to the issues in the Faculty of Economics, Hiraga was very concerned about my views as dean. He called me and said, ‘Meeting you, I hope to make up my mind; what do you think about relations with the Ministry of Education?’” Hiraga appeared to feel it wasn’t worth it if he was being asked to continue fighting the Ministry. “On that issue I said if something was right even though it was the Ministry saying it, then cooperate; I hadn’t the slightest objection. In short, in dealing with issues, do things that were on the right track and made sense in terms of university autonomy, but if they didn’t, then don’t. If they made sense, then work with the Ministry as harmoniously as possible. Hiraga seemed relieved.”

When things got to this point, Hiraga decided to become president. Given these circumstances, it was natural that Tanaka become Hiraga’s brain trust, his font of wisdom. In other words, Tanaka was the one who sketched out the Hiraga Purge. It was also Tanaka who said that in dealing with the Kawai issue, begin by creating Tōdai’s own committee of inquiry and have it make its own evaluation of Kawai’s four proscribed books. It was also Tanaka who thought of dealing with Kawai and Hijikata simultaneously, in the form of blaming both sides:

Saying the university must defend its autonomy to the utmost, I turned to the issue of how to deal with Kawai. I recommended, “On the issue of whether to fire Kawai, the university itself should decide. It would be appropriate first to set the issue on the proper track, establish a committee, investigate fairly and objectively whether Kawai must pay the price, and based on that report decide university policy.” And I added, “The reason the Kawai issue has become this large, it’s crystal clear, is the machinations of some on the Economics Faculty, and the university can’t ignore that. If you take up Kawai only, it’s truckling to the times, and university autonomy will be damaged; so you’ve got to take up these two issues together. Not only that. It’s the professor who wants to topple Kawai who really needs to be purged, so I hope you take that course.” When I said that, Hiraga said, “This is a huge problem; it demands careful consideration.”

“The professor who wants to topple Kawai” was, of course, Hijikata. But it wasn’t all that easy to punish Hijikata at the same time as Kawai. To quote University Autonomy again:

Tanaka: On the factional issue, Kawai had to pay the price. But another major professor and several of his followers were responsible, too. In particular, that professor bore responsibility. These two were unable to co-exist peaceably in the Faculty of Economics. Hiraga had to do something. But at the time it was very difficult to punish an Economics professor who was riding the wave of the times …. The Ministry of Education had absolutely no problems with that professor. To deal with him required decisiveness on Hiraga’s part.

We in the Faculty of Law thought that it wouldn’t do to invoke the factional issue among the reasons for punishing Kawai, sacrifice Kawai right off, but let the boss of the opposing faction go scot-free…. To use the vernacular, it had to be “a curse on both your houses”—dealing with both at the same time. You couldn’t give the public the impression you were sacrificing Kawai but, fearful of the times, letting the other side go untouched. Wasn’t it better for both sides to pay the price at the same time? That was my advice to the president.

Wagatsuma: So that means you helped Hiraga resolve to act. “Tanaka’s low-down conspiracy”—that’s what a certain professor wrote.

Suekawa: He wrote that?

Wagatsuma: Yes indeed. Not only that. There’s criticism even now. But I think that in the context of the university as a whole, Tanaka was right to help Hiraga.

Hijikata’s Counter-Attack

The “certain professor” in whose book the phrase “Tanaka’s low-down conspiracy” appears is Hijikata, and he writes that Tanaka was the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the Hiraga Purge. In Tales of the Academic World,[4] Hijikata writes as follows of Hiraga’s request that he resign:

Suddenly on January 29, a phone call from the president: come to his office at 11 a.m. Half-foreseeing that what was to come had come, I went to the president’s office, and it was a request, “I’d like to ask that you take responsibility for the long years of strife in the Faculty of Economics and submit your resignation.” I responded, “What do you mean, responsibility for the strife?” He responded, “In government agencies, it’s normal in such cases not to state the reason.” Moreover: “Don’t speak of this to anyone. We need the help of others in rebuilding the university.” I thought to myself, this guy may be clever at designing battleships, but he thinks in frightfully bureaucratic terms. He doesn’t even recognize the difference between the university and other government agencies. I said, “I have no intention of resigning, and I’ll answer categorically once again: I can’t follow your request that I speak to no one.” (This was so that I could consult with Honiden and Tanabe, who had acted in concert with me.) And I left.

At that time Hiraga also said, “It’s the desire of professors of the entire university that you leave the university.” That this was a bare-faced lie is crystal clear from the fact that when this notification of resignation became known, professors, assistant professors, lecturers, and instructors from the Faculties of Law and Economics—thirteen of them, all at one go—submitted their own resignations, and from the fact that there was a bitter fight in the Faculty of Law.

As Hijikata declares here, when he was notified of his resignation, he immediately notified his confederates. His confederates gathered one after the other at Hijikata’s home, and the talk turned quickly to resignation en masse: “When I reported that I’d been asked to resign, my colleagues gathered quickly at my home. Among the professors, Honiden, Tanabe, Nakanishi; among the assistant professors, Hashizume, Yūmoto, Watanabe, Yanagikawa; instructors Naniwada, Takamiya. Of course, reporters from all the papers rushed to my house, and it was a scene of utter confusion and great agitation. … Indeed, those who assembled urged in unison that I not resign; we’ll fight it to the end. And they decided that they too would resign en masse. That I coerced them to resign—that’s a bare-faced lie. In the first place, I wasn’t that powerful…. The next day the people who had gathered at my house the previous evening approved their letter of resignation and carried it themselves to President Hiraga’s house. At Hiraga’s house, Hiraga himself didn’t appear, but a maid came out, said ‘Thank you,’ and accepted the letter with a smile.”

In the next day’s paper banner headlines read



and there was a very long article complete with photographs. In The University Disease,[5] Takeuchi Yō depicts vividly the state of affairs that night at Hijikata’s house:

The entryway of the Hijikata home was filled to overflowing with shoes. Reporters jammed in to hear the declaration to be issued. Two rooms were used, with the intervening sliding doors removed. The cigarette smoke was dense.

Hijikata’s father-in-law Hijikata Yasushi, soon to turn 80, was also encamped. His white hair flowing, he ranted left and right in his usual loud voice, “The university’s truly a disgrace. The Ministry of Education, too, is a disgrace…. The idea of chasing out a Japanist professor who denounced Communist Party elements! Absurd! Astounding!” The two Hijikatas and all the members of the united renovationist faction, it goes without saying, prided themselves on being crucified patriots: “It’s the renovationist faction that’s up to the crisis, so the government, of course, and popular opinion, too, should be sympathetic to it.”

At 8:30 p.m. Professors Honiden, Tanabe, and Nakanishi sat in chairs and standing behind them were assistant professors Yūmoto, Watanabe, Yanagikawa, and Hashizume, and instructors Naniwada and Takamiya. Honiden, a big name in the renovationist faction, angrily read out the declaration. “We’ve just come from the president’s house, where we submitted our resignations.” Flashbulbs went off one after the other. Reporters copied the declaration down in their notebooks.

The newspapers covered the activities of both Hijikata and Kawai factions, but the Hijikata faction was far larger; up till then, press coverage of the Kawai Incident had been far greater, but from that day on the coverage of the Hijikata faction grew by leaps and bounds. In the symposium, Tanaka says, “Hiraga carried out the purge of the Faculty of Economics at the same time as he dealt with Kawai. And public attention turned away from the Kawai issue and moved completely to the purge of the Faculty of Economics. Kawai must have felt lonely…. He was a sacrifice in the cause of university autonomy, but attention shifted to the purge of the Faculty of Economics, and public attention to Kawai grew very, very sketchy.”

That day’s flashy group picture of the Hijikata faction had an underside readers didn’t know about; Arata wrote as follows: “The renovationist faction published its declaration and photograph, the group full of energy, flaunting its unity. But pull back the curtain, and a different picture emerges: They had assembled because Hijikata had summoned them; once they were there, press photographers had been called all of a sudden to photograph the scene; and then they read aloud a declaration that had been prepared ahead of time…. Pull back the curtain, and in reality the renovationist faction was surprisingly unpopular. Photo and declaration cost them the sympathy they might have gotten otherwise. They didn’t get the support of the Tokyo newspapers or of the students, of whom they’d had hopes. People showed sympathy for the reasoned statement Professors Kawai and Yamada issued but didn’t make an issue of it. That’s how eagerly people awaited the purge of the Tōdai Faculty of Economics.”[6]

Emotionally, Minister of Education Araki must have sided with the renovationist faction. But this was what was fascinating about the Hiraga Purge: at the denouement, the professors of the renovationist faction submitted their resignations en masse, and for that very reason Araki turned his back on them completely. Tanaka: “Minister Araki was very angry with the professors of the renovationist faction. Professors going on strike? The idea! Outrageous! And he wound up swinging all his support behind President Hiraga. In the meantime, Hiraga too had gone to Araki, had a friendly chat that lasted all of four or five hours, and got his consent. Without Araki’s support, he simply couldn’t have done what he did. When you think about it, Araki didn’t support the people of the renovationist faction, that is, the right-wingers who were swimming with the tide. For the people of the renovationist faction, that was completely unexpected. This was Minister Araki’s traditionalism: professors shouldn’t go on strike….”[7] Because Minister Araki supported Hiraga completely, the Hiraga Purge was a success. And under its military president, Tōdai afterwards committed itself deeply to Japan’s war footing. As I described in Chapter 3, the merging of military and university advanced steadily under President Hiraga.

The Purge: Bold Decision or Foolish Act?

Judgments of the Hiraga Purge depend on one’s point of view and vary widely. For example, Tanaka, who was Hiraga’s right arm and poured his energy into the purge, praised it uncritically: “Hiraga’s defense of university autonomy continued thereafter… To pass judgment here on Hiraga: there have been few presidents like Hiraga in the past, and none can be expected in the future—that’s how great a president he was.”

And even Ōuchi, who criticizes him for firing Kawai, gives him high marks overall: “Kawai’s firing was unfortunate for the university. Was Hiraga able to stop the damage there because he was the kind of person he was? Or had he carried out the purge simply because he was a military man? It’s hard to discuss this objectively. Still, he did get rid once and for all of Hijikata and his faction—Tanabe and Honiden—who, hiding behind the aegis of the military, had so trampled on the freedom and autonomy of the university; it was a decisiveness unprecedented in the history of the university. I say ‘the kind of person he was’ because I esteem greatly the fact he fired these people; in fact, without a doubt his act contributed to the reestablishment of Tōdai’s autonomy after the war.”[8]

But Nambara Shigeru, professor in the Faculty of Law (and later fifteenth president of the university), gave him a very low grade: “He was sincere, a samurai-like person who got things done. However, he was, after all, a military man. It’s regrettable that he didn’t understand the university. He differed from us in respect for university autonomy and academic freedom. Perhaps he wasn’t one to look with far-seeing eye into the future. I can only think that in this case he acted imprudently.” Nambara simply could not make his peace with the purge, and he went alone to Hiraga’s home and said: “I well understand your distress. However, some things can’t be undone. Now that things have got to this point, if you really have the interests of the university at heart, please resign.”

  1. RHM: The term kyūshoku 休職means (temporary) suspension from duty, but in these cases the “suspension” was permanent from the first. Note Tachibana’s use of the phrase “have their heads,” which I have translated as “firing.”
  2. Daigaku no jichi (Tokyo: Asahi shimbunsha, 1963).
  3. “Tōdai shukugaku mondai to watakushi no shinkyō,” Bungei shunjū, May 1939.
  4. Gakkai shunjūki: Marukushizumu to no kōsō sanjūyonen (Tokyo: Chūō keizaisha, 1960).
  5. Daigaku to iu yamai: Tōdai funjō to kyōju gunzō (Tokyo: Chūō kōron shinsha, 2001).
  6. ‘Hiraga Shukugaku’ monogatari.”
  7. Daigaku no jichi.
  8. Daigaku no jichi.


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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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