(JAPAN and EMPEROR HIROHITO, TO 1936 – continued)

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JAPAN and EMPEROR HIROHITO, TO 1936 (4 of 6)

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Encouraged Rightists and the End of Parliamentary Government

Japan's army officers were aware of their emperor's unhappiness with their aggressions, and they in turn were dissatisfied with their emperor. Some of them called Hirohito a mediocre sovereign and complained that he spent too much time playing mahjong instead of attending to his duties while the army was fighting a sacred war. But, exercising humanity's capacity for rationalization, they maintained their devotion to the emperor as an abstract ideal and as a god.

In October, 1932, a plot to overthrow the government had been thwarted and the plotters arrested. The plotters had planned to murder Emperor Hirohito's entire cabinet and to move Hirohito to accept a military government. Involved in the plot was Dr. Shumei Okawa (Okawa Shumei for the Japanese). He was a rightwing Chinese language scholar, intellectual, spy, and friend of persons at the royal court, including the Emperor's brother, Chichibu. Dr. Okawa (who was to be tried as a war criminal) was a great talker and brilliant in debate. He was an admirer of the anti-industrial ideas of Charles Maurras of Action Française, and he had become Japan's leading advocate of fascistic ideas. Hirohito's brother, Prince Chichibu, was implicated in the plot. The plotters, but not Prince Chichibu, were arrested. They were released almost immediately. Okawa was held for twenty days in a comfortable cell and then released. None stood trial.

One rightwing activist, who continued worshiping the emperor and believed the emperor to be divine, was a fundamentalist, born-again Shinto priest and super-nationalist by the name of Nissho Inoue. He was leader of a small secret society called the Blood Brotherhood (Ketsumeidan). He believed that assassination was another way of fighting for an ideal Japan. He was a friend of Dr. Okawa, who gave him guns and ammunition. In early February, one of Inoue's followers, a student, shot the government's finance minister – who had been outspokenly opposed to increased military spending. Then the assassin surrendered to police.

In early March, on the day of the arrival of a committee from the League of Nations, another assassin shot down a Japanese banker and prominent supporter of the League of Nations – much to the embarrassment of the emperor. Another plot was hatched involving Dr. Okawa. Okawa took his group to Manchuria where they received a pep talk from the Kwantung Army commandant, General Shigeru Honjo. In mid-May, they made their assault in Tokyo. Their plan was to occupy a power station, banks and government ministries. One of the assault teams, consisting of civilians, naval officers and military cadets, had as their target the prime minister and leader of the Constitution Party, Takeshi Inukai. Prime Minister Inukai had approved of the military's move into Shanghai and the creation of Manchukuo, but he had tried to put limits on further military activities, and this had infuriated the super-patriots. A team invaded the prime minister's home and assassinated him.

The coup failed to overpower government forces. In defeat, Dr. Okawa was tried with others in a court of law, and as usual the defendants were allowed to make patriotic speeches. Killing for political motives was considered a crime of passion, and assassins had been getting light sentences because of their patriotic motives – similar to what had happened in Germany in the early twenties. Fifty-four of the coup participants were sentenced, and by 1935 all would be free except for six, who would be free by 1940.

The Constitution (Seiyukai) Party withdrew from power, and Emperor Hirohito requested a government that would uphold the constitution and work for peace. Rather than form a government from the political parties in parliament, the emperor accepted a recommendation that he make a retired admiral, Makoto Saito, head of a new government. Saito's new government claimed to be non-partisan and a national unity coalition, but it was dominated by military men. To reverse a political insurgency there had to be a strong counterforce and that was absent. Parliamentary government by political parties had come to an end, with the emperor believing that he had not besmirched the honor of his ancestors.

With extreme rightists who believed in terror and assassination still thriving, being at the head of the government was still dangerous, and in August 1932 police aborted a plot to assassinate the new prime minister, Saito. The leader of the plot was a close friend of Dr. Okawa, and he received a suspended sentence. And in September, the police aborted a plot to kill the last living former prime minister of the Democratic Party, the fearful Wakatsuki.

By July 1933 another plot to overthrow the government was underway. The police arrested forty-four men from secret societies who were conspiring to kill members of the government's cabinet, other politicians and some people around the emperor. The police were aware that an army group was behind the plotters and intended to place Prince Chichibu on the throne in place of Hirohito – facts that were not made public knowledge. The greater scandal was avoided, and the conspirators received suspended sentences on the grounds that they all had been motivated by love of country.


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