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Friday, February 6, 2015

How A Photograph Helped Shape Japan

Above is one of those iconic photographic moments, a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken by Nagao Yasushi (長尾 靖 - surname first).

Yasushi lived from May 20, 1930 – May 2, 2009, but had a most interesting day on October 12, 1960, when he captured the assassination and death of Japanese politician Asanuma Inejira (浅沼 稲次郎 - surname first), who I suppose didn't have that great a day.

The photograph shows the attempted SECOND stabbing by the assassin as he is in the throes of being restrained.

The photograph is iconic in Japan, as the year 1960 is a mere 15 years after the conclusion of WWII and Japan was rebuilding in every way shape or form, including political ideology.

Asanuma (December 27, 1898 – October 12, 1960) was the leader of the Japan Socialist Party and a supporter of the Chinese Communist party.

In 1960 Japan, spouting socialist ideals and supporting communism was akin to working with Satan for those living in the west.

In Japan, while firmly western politics, there was still a fair bit of internal debate going on regarding why.

The United States had just blown the crap out of Japanese citizens and military on WWII.

Then again, thanks to the U.S., Japan had been rebuilt and treated reasonably well by an 'enemy' that could have been so much worse (such as how Japan would have been if it had won the war).

Despite the political conflict, socialism and communism were noted as hated by the majority of Japanese citizens.

In 1959, Asanuma visited mainland, Communist China and called the U.S.the "shared enemy of China and Japan."

That's interesting. Even in 2015, China still has a lot of animosity towards Japan for the transgressions of Japan against it before and during WWII. Why would they appear to have forgiven any Japanese person in 1960?

Well… it was a fight between capitalism and communism to align as many us versus them countries as possible.

When Asanuma arrived back in Japan from his China trip, he caused a furor with his wearing of a Chinese Mao suit. Apparently THAT pissed off the communist powers of the U.S.S.R.

A different shade of red, apparently.

The sign of the times, however was that Taiwan, the Republic of China was what non-communist countries tended to recognize as the rightful government of Mainland China. 

On October 12, 1960, Asanuma was speaking in a televised political debate in Tokyo at Hibiya Hall when Yamaguchi Otova (山口 二矢 - surname first) rushed on stage stabbed Asanuma through the stomach with a wakizashi, one of the smaller samurai-class style of swords. The wakazashi sword when worn with a katana sword denoted one to be of the samurai class. Yamaguchi

Yamaguchi was a 17-year-old militant right wing nationalist - these groups are known as the uyoku dantai (右翼団体).

Along with the photograph, Japan's NHK television company was filming the political debate for later transmission, so Japanese everywhere had a good view of where it stood on its volatile political landscape.

As you can see from the photograph, Yamaguchi was already in the process of being restrained following that initial thrust, and was taken into police custody, eventually placed in a juvenile detention facility.

On November 2, 1960, just a few weeks after the assassination, Yamaguchi mixed some of his toothpaste with water and wrote with his finger on the cell wall:

"Seven lives for my country. Long live His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor!"

The youth then knotted strips of his bedsheet and hung himself from a light fixture.

His epitaph on the wall (Seven lives for my country) references the final words of the 14th century samurai Kusunoki Masashige (surname first), who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo who tried to wrest rulership of Japan away from the Kamakura shogunate (failed), but regardless, is remembered as the ideal of samurai loyalty.

Seriously? A 17-year-old who knows this sort of stuff? It's so difficult to find kids really interested in politics and history these days.

Following the violence of the assassination, peace demonstrations and order smashed their way across the country. Yes… peace and order.

Asanuma's Japan Socialist Party continued to divide politicians on the right and the left, eventually disbanding, but reforming itself in 1996 as the Social Democratic Party (with the word social, party and a version of democracy, they sound like a bunch of nice people). After the Japanese House of Councillors election in 2013, it has five representatives in the National Diet, two in the Lower House and three in the Upper House.

By the way… by 2013, the National Police Agency of Japan estimated that there were over 1,000 different Right Wing Groups in Japan, with an estimated 100,000 total members.

Andrew Joseph

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