Although the growth of anarchist ideas in Japan runs parallel to the growth of Anarchism in Europe, the archipelago of the thousand islands may boast of having in the time of Tokugawas when the country was completely isolated, a libertarian pioneer comparable to William Godwin. This was Ando Soeki. Ando Soeki remained unknown to the West–as did the Chinese Mo Ti who was revalued in 1922–and to his countrymen, although he wrote a voluminous book.
Ando Soeki was born towards the end of the 17th century, more than half a century earlier than Godwin who was born in 1756. Soeki’s book “Shizen Shineido” (The way of Nature and work) is an indictment of those who do not produce; a hymn to the producer; it supports a return to nature; and is a contempt for luxury. The author and his work were unknown for one and a half centuries until a studious Japanese, Kano Kokicki, discovered them in 1899. On 24th of January, 1908, Morichica Umpei, a libertarian militant and the editor of the anarchist Journal “Nihon Heimin Shimbun” published in his journal an article about Soeki entitled: “An anarchist of 150 years ago”.
While the thought of Godwin made an impact on his contemporaries, that of Ando Soeki did not. It needed the Emperor Meiji’s drive towards westernization for anarchism as a modern social theory to make headway on the archipelago. As this happened the figure of Denjiro Kotoku appeared on the scene.
Kotoku had begun his militant life in the socialist movement. He, together with Sam Ketayama and Kanoe Kinoshita, was the founder of the Japanese Socialist Party in 1897. In 1903 with Tashihito Shakai, he started “Heimin Shimbun” (The Journal of the People) which from the beginning opposed the war against Russia. For his antimilitaristic campaign he was condemned to five years’ gaol. He was released before the term of his sentence expired. While in prison he evolved from Marxism to Anarchism. In a letter which bears the date of 10th of August, 1905, he writes: “…In this country, to propagate Anarchism means to be condemned to death or to pass the rest of one’s life in prison. Consequently the movement has to be organized secretly. Time and perserverance are necessary for its development and success…”. Later on he founded “Tatsu Kawa” (Iron and fire), and began the translation of works such as “The Conquest of Bread”, “Law and Authority”, “The State”, all by Kropotkin. Among the works he wrote are: “The Quintessence of Socialism” (1903), “The Economic System of the Future”, “Free Ideas”, “Imperialism”, “The Structure of Modern Japan”, Betrayed Christ” (written in prison 1911).
In October 1905 he decided to emigrate to America, thinking that there would be greater possibility for efficient work. There a year’s experience made him realise that the Pacific Ocean was a big hindrance, an intolerable limitation for a militant like him, so he went back to Japan.
The strength of libertarian ideas was indicated by the fact that “Heimin Shimbun” was a daily publication. There were also weekly and monthly publications, pamphlets, and books translated from other languages. In face of the increasing propaganda of antistate ideas the Japanese Government ordered the “Big Revolt” accusing the anarchists of plotting against the emperor. Many of the anarchists were arrested, among whom was Kotoku. On 24th of January, 1911, twelve anarchists faced death. They were D. Kotoku, R. Hurokawa, H Naruishi, T. Nimura, S. Oishi, K. Okumiya, U. Nimi, U. Morichika. G. Uchiamo, Kotoku’s companion Suga Kano, T. Migashita, and U. Matsuo.
The most important figure after Kotoku was Sakae Osugi. In 1915 he tried to edit “Heimin Shimbun” again but not for long, because the police banned it again. Successively he founded “Rodo Unido” (The Workers’ Movement), “Rodo Shimbun” (Journal of Work), “Kandai Shiso” (Modern Idea). Like Kotoku, he began translating into Japanese any book which could be useful to his ideal. Among his translations was Darwin’s: “The Origin of the Species”. It was the first Japanese translation. Some of his voluminous works were republished not long ago.
He also visited Europe and took part in a May Day procession in Saint Denis, a rural Parisien suburb. On the insistence of the Japanese ambassador, he was extradited two months later. Two months after his extradition in September, Japan–especially Tokyo and Yokihama—was hit by a terrible earthquake. Taking advantage of the martial law the Japanese soldiers killed Osugi, his companion Noe Ito, and one of his nephews, and threw them into a well.
One year later, on the first of Spetember 1924 a libertarian, Kyutaro Wada, fired at General Hukuda who was responsible for the assassination of Osugi. Wada was imprisoned and remained there until 1928. In prison he wrote: “The Window of a Prison”, which had a sympathetic review later on. Released from prison he continued his militancy in the anarchist movement.
Japanese anarchism has had a great influence upon the worker’s movements. In fact there were (after 1926) many trade unions influenced by anarcho-syndicalism–especially the bookbinders’ unions and those in other branches of the printing trade. At that time “Giurengo” (Free Federation) was published. The Libertarian Youth had its own organ “Kuro Wakai” (The Black Youth).
The Japanese environment was not favourable to the development of anarchist ideas. Japan obstinately followed an imperialist policy which was initiated with the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. A policy which had as its consequences the Japanese-Russian War ten years later. The allies won the First World War. China, which fought on the side of the Allies, saw how all the German possessions on the peninsula of Shanghung were transferred to Japan. But things did not stop there. Japan had slowly infiltrated into Manchuria and on the 7th of January, 1937, it declared war on China. This date is recorded as the date of “Three sevens”.
From that moment the repression of all revolutionary elements began. The closing down of their branches and syndicates was complete. It was not until the end of the Second World War that the revolutionary movement could revive again. The old libertarian comrades who survived this long period of repression and massacre initiated it.
Formally the libertarian revival took place on 12th of May, 1947. This was the day the anarchists reunited in Tokyo and formed the Japanese Anarchist Federation. Two months later, on the 15th of July, the old libertarian journal “Heimin Shimbun” reappeared. It began its circulation with 20,000 copies and became a weekly.
From then on there has been a congress every year–in Kyoto, Nagoya, Osake, Heimji, Fukuoka, and so on.
At one of these congresses it was decided to change the name of “Heimin Shimbun” to “Kuro Hata”. The reason for the chage was that “Heimin” meant one of the classes into which Japanese society was divided before the coming of the Emperor Meiji. The Japanese anarchists thought that the name “Huro Kata” (Black Flag) better expressed the necessity of the moment. For the same reason the name “Huro Kata” was changed to “Jigurengo” at the congress on the 6th of August, 1962.
The years of repression before and during the war badly hit the bases of libertarianism in Japan. Therefore after the war the anarchist movement in Japan was a movement of individuals rather than of groups and federations. The Japanese Syndicalist movement has shown the same pattern as that of the West. But there was a large body of students oriented towards anarchism. Even if they did not effectively take part in the libertarian movement they were influenced by anarchism. The student organisation of leftist orientations such as that of Zengakure in various situations were sympathetic to libertarian anti-statism and anarchist free federation.
Recently, among intellectuals and technicians, there has been an approach towards anarchism. An approach in which our comrades put great hope. THe technicians and intellectual workers did not think that they were represented by the trade union mass movements such as: Sohio Jikai–influenced by the Socialist Party, Sanbetsu–of communist inspiration, or Sodomei–an extremely conservative movement.
The intellectual achievements of Japan’s anarchists have been considerable. A prolific writer after the war was Sanshiro Ishikawa. He wrote many works among which are: “Anarchism from an Aesthetic Point of View”, “Anarchism–its Principles and Its Realizations”, “History of the Oriental Civilization”, “Study of Japanese Mythology”, “Biography of Eliseo Reclus”. Also he translated into Japanese the following works of Herbert Read: “Poetry and Anarchism”, “The Philosophy of Anarchism”, “Marxism, Existentialism and Anarchism”: from Maria Luisa Berneri he translated “Workers in Stalin’s Russia”, from Rudolph Rocker–“Nationalism and Culture”.
Until recently there was a libertarian liaison between West and East. A liaison which made it possible for a great quantity of literature to pass from Europe and America to Japan, China and Korea. Out comrades int he East who knew European languages devoured it avidly. Many books were translated to make them accessible to the masses. But whereas in the East there was a craving for the knowledge of the West, the West did not show any curiosity about the libertarian literature of the East. In that way the West lost many authentic studies because it did not like to go beyond its own world.
An exception to the rule was the publication of the work of Taiji Yamaga in Spanish by Tierra y Libertad. The book deals with a libertarian interpretation of Tao To King by Lao Tse. Tao To King, from a distance of 2,500 years, contains certain libertarian anticipations which Yamaga knew how to make accessible to contemporary thought despite the cabalistic nature of the book.
Taiji Yamaga appears to be the last of the libertarians to follow the path of Kotoku. He worked together with Osushi in the Japanese Esperantist movement. We find him also in China from 1910-1920. There he worked together with the Chinese anarchist Liu Si Fu, and contributed to the Esperantist publication: “The Voice of the People” (in Chinese “Ming Sing”) which was a bilingual publication and was published in Shanghai. When the anarchist movement in Japan resumed its activities, Yamaga took an active part in it, and with his indefatigable pen worked towards to co-ordination of anarchist activities on a world level. With a primitive typographic machine and patience, he had enclosed every copy of “Heimin Shimbun”, “Kuro Hata”, and “Jiyurengo” which was sent to overseas readers a summary in Esperanto. He continued to do it till apoplexy struck him hard. Even so, there was enough energy left to enable him to continue to write to correspondents from all over the world and at the same time to remain one of the most fervent militants in the War Resisters International.
In 1961 at the world conference of W.R.I Yamaga was the delegate of the Japanese Pacifists and the Japanese Anarchist Federation. The Japanese Anarchist Federation was the only anarchist organization to send a delegate to the conference, which was held in Gandhigran–India. There he met other libertarian pacifist individuals such as Hem Day, Tomy Smyth, and the figure of the “Third Force” in Danilo Dolci.
The enthusiasm which the Japanese put into the pacifist campaign is misunderstood by Western libertarians. We have to remember that Japan was the only country to suffer from the explosion of two atomic bombs, so that the problem of pease is more pressing than any other social problem. It is the first and the most immediate problem which has to be solved there. This explains why Japanese libertarians insist so much on peace and why the Japanese Anarchist Federation was the only federation to be directly represented at the conference of the War Resisters.
In July, 1963, in the international column of “Le Combat Syndicaliste”–Paris, Gregorio Quintana quoting A. Prunier and comrades Y. Maeda and T. Hirayama, expressed a certain pessimism and at the same time a kind of criticism of those who “glorify non-existing hypothetical forces, deluding themselves”. At the same time direct information from Japan indicates that the technicalities and industrial research workers are seeing their strength int he libertarian ideals. Another encouraging sign is that when the anniversary of the death of Osugi was celebrated in Tokyo the hall was packed.
All over the world libertarian ideas are facing a crisis because of the growing interference of the State in the individual’s life and the unrestrained military aggression of the great powers. Undoubtedly, even in Japan, the crisis exists. Nevertheless, in comparing East and West we may conclude that the eastern libertarians have maintained a more consistent attitude to anarchism.