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Political prisoners in Imperial Japan

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Title: Political prisoners in Imperial Japan  
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Subject: Japanese Resistance, Fuchu Prison, Japanese dissidence during the Shōwa period
Collection: Japanese Resistance, Political Repression in Japan
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Political prisoners in Imperial Japan

Political prisoners in Fuchu prison. Kyuichi Tokuda (second from left), Yoshio Shiga (third from left).

Beginning in the Meiji period, the government of the Empire of Japan detained Japanese suspected of political dissidence.[1] Political prisoners in Imperial Japan were released as a result of the fall of the Empire of Japan after World War II, and the policies of the Allied occupation of Japan.


  • Meiji period - Shōwa period 1
    • Political Prisoners after World War II 1.1
  • Notable Political Prisoners 2
  • Notable Prisons 3
  • Memoirs 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

Meiji period - Shōwa period

During the Meiji Period, the government took steps to suppress socialism, and labor movements in Imperial Japan. In response to Prime Minister Katsura Taro's orders to destroy all subversive literature and to arrest anyone who publicly advocated socialism, the police broke up a demonstration by some of Kotoku Shusui's followers. They were carrying flags inscribed with the words "anarchism" and "anarchism-communism". Known as the Red Flag Incident, fourteen received two-year prison sentences. The police made many arrests and administrative detentions during the Rice riots.[2]

In 1925, the Peace Preservation Law was passed. Article 1 of the law stipulates that:

"Anyone who organises an association with the objective of change the kokutai or denying the private property system, or who joins such an association with full knowledge of its objectives, shall be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years."

The Peace Preservation Law was revised over the years. In the 1928 revision, the death penalty was added to the Peace Preservation Law. Only about 5000 out of more than 74000 suspected violators of the Peace Preservation Law between 1928 and 1941 were prosecuted. Police frequently pressured suspects by detaining them over and over without formal charges. Some were held in this way for as long as two years.[3]

Those who recanted were either released or received short prison terms.[4] Tanaka Kyoharu, who was arrested in 1934, denounced communism while in prison but remained in prison until 1941. Sano Manabu, arrested in 1933, denounced the communist movement from his prison cell but was not freed until 1943. Nabeyama Sadachika, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1932, denounced the communist movement in 1933 while in prison. In 1934, his sentence was reduced to fifteen-year imprisonment, but he was released on an imperial amnesty in 1940.[5]

Tokuda Kyuichi, when interviewed by Domei just before release from prison, said that two hundred had died from undernourishment and mistreatment in prison.[6] There were political prisoners who died before they could be released. Japanese Communist Party leader Shoichi Ichikawa died in Miyagi penitentiary in March 1945 reportedly from "senility" following "pneumonia". Intellectual Jun Tosaka died in Nagano prison in Aug. 9. Philosopher Kiyoshi Miki died as a result of maltreatment.[7] Yoshio Shiga survived prison, but was so severely mistreated that he emerged from prison deaf and half blind.[8] The prisoners termed their treatment cruel. One was quoted as saying "We were in solitary confinement all the time." It was reported in Oct 1945 that the sixteen political prisoners freed from Fuchu prison appeared to have been well fed.[9] [10] Another report states that those released were emaciated, and many of them weighed less that 75 lb. Some of them were branded with irons and tattooed. Kyuichi Tokuda, was quoted as saying "I, myself was branded at Abashiri prison, and lost the use of my right arm as a result." Chief Warden Kogoe, of Sugamo prison, was reported that he would hang, kick, torture and beat inmates. Prisoners named Chief Warden Ozawa, named "The Viper", of Toyatama prison of killing Professor Miki. In many cases, suspects were tortured to death by third-degrees practices. Tokuda was quoted as saying "I do not know how many have been killed by prison guards".[11] Tokuda Kyuichi, Yoshio Shiga, and Shiro Mitamura, still in Fuchu prison, claimed that when ever one of the members of the Communist underground in Japan during the war was caught, his entire family was imprisoned.[12]

Communist prisoners in Fuchu Prison wrote several documents in prison, including "An Appeal to the People", which was issued after their release on October 10, 1945.[13]

Political Prisoners after World War II

Imprisoned leaders of the Japan Communist Party are greeted upon their release from Fuchu Prison. (ca. October 10, 1945)

Following the end of World War II, the Allied occupation of Japan began. Japanese newspapers after the war estimated that between 2000 and 3000 prisoners were held in hundreds of small prisons scattered throughout Japan under the Peace Preservation Law and laws used for the repression of Liberals.[14] Between 1 and 3 October French correspondent Robert Guillain and two American journalists, learning that Communists were still in jail, visited Fuchu Prison where they interviewed several leaders there. On 5 October, John K. Emmerson of POLAD and E. Herbert Norman drove to Fuchu Prison and met prominent Communists incarcerated there, including Tokuda Kyuichi, and Shiga Yoshio. On 7 October, the two men escorted Tokuda, and Shiga to SCAP HQ for a day-long debriefing on the Party's postwar plans.[15]

On 4 October 1945, the GHQ issued the Removal of Restrictions on Political, Civil, and Religious Liberties directive, which stipulated the release of political prisoners.[16] The National Diet Library estimated that 3,000 political prisoners were released by the Shidehara cabinet after the war.[17] Ben-Ami Shillony estimates that only about 2,500 political prisoners were behind bars by the end of the war.[18] Following the release of political prisoners on 10 October 1945, the GHQ enacted the "Restoration of Electoral Rights to Released Political Prisoners."[19] Fuchu prison, Kosuge, Toyotama and Tokyo Kochisao were reported to have released its prisoners on October 10, 1945. Some of the prisoners were taken to the First Cavalry division command post for questioning as U.S officers sought to locate possible additional prisons housing jailed liberals.[20] [21] Tokuda, Nishigawa, Mitamura, and Kuroki would work with attorney Toshio Kuribayashi in Tokyo to formulate plans for contacting other party members being freed.[22]

According to Henry Oinas-Kukkonen, the release of political prisoners was not the most urgent task for the United States. After news articles about political prisoners in Japan were published in the European press, it was concluded that these articles could contribute to a wider campaign that would be harmful to the United States. The Japanese government resigned at the same day that the political prisoners were released. The Intelligence Section of the Department of State regarded SCAP's order on 4 October as the reason for the resignation.[23]

The PBS documentary American Experience estimates that Douglas MacArthur released hundreds of communists, and highlights that "Japan's conservative government complained he was turning the country red."[24] Sixteen Communist leaders were released from Fuchu Prison. They included Kyuichi Tokuda, Ryuji Nishgawa, Shiro Mitamura and Shigenori Kuroki.[25] Kasuga Shojiro, Hakamada Satomi,[26] and Yoshio Shiga were also released after the war.[27] When sixteen liberated prisoners walked out of Fuchu prison, they were hoisted immediately to the shoulders of a cheering crowd of 300 Japanese Communists and Koreans that waved red flags and Korean independence flags, and shouting "Banzai for the release of fighters of the people's front." [28] [29] [30] [31]

Notable Political Prisoners

Notable Prisons


See also


  1. ^ Elise K. Tipton (1990). The Japanese Police State: Tokko in Interwar.  
  2. ^ Elise K. Tipton (1990). The Japanese Police State: Tokko in Interwar.  
  3. ^ Elise K. Tipton (1990). The Japanese Police State: Tokko in Interwar.  
  4. ^ Ben Ami Shillony (1981). Politics and culture in wartime Japan.  
  5. ^ Milorad M. Drachkovitchy (1986). Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern. Hoover Press.  
  6. ^ Unconditional Democracy: Education and Politics in Occupied Japan, 1945–1952 By Toshio Nishi Page 94
  8. ^ Maoism in the Developed World By Robert Jackson Alexander Page 171
  9. ^ "TOKYO COMMUNISTS, KOREANS SHOUT OPPOSITION TO HIROHITO". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Oct 10, 1945. 
  10. ^ "Four Jap Prisons Open Their Doors". Lawrence Journal-World. Oct 10, 1945. 
  12. ^ "Japanese Diet Called Farce". The Tuscaloosa News. Oct 5, 1945. 
  13. ^ Revolution and Subjectivity in Postwar Japan By J. Victor Koschmann Page 28
  14. ^ "CONTROL OF JAPAN Political Prisoners ENFORCING ORDER FOR RELEASE". Kalgoorlie Miner. 17 Oct 1945. 
  15. ^ Takemae, Eiji (2003). Allied Occupation of Japan. A&C Black. 
  16. ^ "5-3 The Occupation and the Beginning of Reform – Modern Japan in archives".  
  17. ^ "Glossary – Birth of the Constitution of Japan". National Diet Library. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  18. ^ Ben-Ami Shillony (1991). Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan. Oxford University Press. p. 13. 
  19. ^ Takemae, Eiji (2003). Allied Occupation of Japan. A&C Black. 
  20. ^ "Four Jap Prisons Open Their Doors". Lawrence Journal-World. Oct 10, 1945. 
  21. ^ "Anti-Russian Organization Rises In Japan; Red Liaison Officer Says That American Occupation Too Soft". Times Daily. Oct 9, 1945. 
  22. ^ "Japs to Free 3000 Political Prisoners New Premier Set To Pick Cabinet". The Pittsburgh Press. Oct 7, 1945. 
  23. ^ Tolerance, Suspicion, and Hostility: Changing U.S. Attitudes toward the Japanese Communist Movement, 1944-1947: Changing U.S. Attitudes toward the Japanese Communist Movement, 1944-1947 Page 16
  24. ^ "American Experience . MacArthur".  
  25. ^ "Japs to Free 3000 Political Prisoners New Premier Set To Pick Cabinet". The Pittsburgh Press. Oct 7, 1945. 
  26. ^ Milorad M. Drachkovitchy (1986). Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern. Hoover Press.  
  27. ^ Takemae, Eiji (2003). Allied Occupation of Japan. A&C Black. 
  28. ^ "Communist Crowds Voice Imperial Rule Opposition; Nippons Band To Assail Reds". The Tuscaloosa News. Oct 10, 1945. 
  29. ^ "Four Jap Prisons Open Their Doors". Lawrence Journal-World. Oct 10, 1945. 
  30. ^ "REMOVE HIROHITO IS CRY OF FREED JAP COMMUNISTS". Toronto Daily Star. Oct 10, 1945. 
  31. ^ "Anti-Russian Organization Rises In Japan; Red Liaison Officer Says That American Occupation Too Soft". Times Daily. Oct 9, 1945. 
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