Militarist’s 1942 essay praising writer Higuchi offers rare look at Japanese fascist view of literature


An essay published more than 70 years ago by a Japanese military police officer convicted over the extrajudicial killings of anarchists in 1923 expressed admiration for the prominent female writer Ichiyo Higuchi, according to the literary critic who recently found it in a rare publication.

The essay by Masahiko Amakasu, rediscovered by Masaru Nishida, will be reprinted in the magazine Subaru in its Wednesday issue along with commentary by Nishida.

He said the find offers a rare chance to study “the relationship between literature and fascism in Japan.”

In the essay titled “The Diary of Ichiyo Higuchi,” which first appeared in the magazine Josei Manshu in July 1942 in Manchuria, northeastern China, Amakasu wrote that after reading the young writer’s diary he had come to “adore her nobleness.”

Higuchi, who wrote many stories on the themes of lost love, loneliness and poverty while struggling to earn a living, died of tuberculosis in 1896 at age 24. Her image is used on the ¥5,000 bill.

Amakasu was a lieutenant in the military police when he led a squad that arrested well-known anarchists Sakae Osugi and Noe Ito, as well as Osugi’s 6-year-old nephew, following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, out of fear that anarchists might try to overthrow the government. The three were later beaten to death and their bodies thrown into a well.

Nishida describes what became known as the Amakasu Incident and the killing of Koreans in Japan in the wake of the earthquake as characterizing the “first wave of fascism” in Japan, and the era following the founding of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo in Manchuria as the “second wave.”

Amakasu, who was portrayed by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto in the 1987 film “The Last Emperor,” was court-martialed and sentenced to serve 10 years in prison. He was released in 1926 after only three years in prison as part of the general amnesty celebrating the ascension of Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, to the throne.

He was later involved in various maneuvers for the Japanese military and contributed to the founding of Manchukuo, where he also headed the Manchukuo Film Association. With the fall of the puppet state to Soviet forces in 1945, Amakasu committed suicide.

Nishida said Amakasu’s essay on Higuchi shows he was not only a fanatical believer in Imperial Japan but “also had a keen eye in observing human beings.”

“With a passion for literature, an eagerness to live and a gracefulness that also reflects her determination, she followed the path of her life with pride. I adore such a noble figure,” Amakasu wrote of Higuchi.

Nishida said: “Amakasu never hesitated to practice terrorism or conspiracy to show his loyalty to the Emperor and his patriotism. He was a typical fascist.

“The essay is valuable material that allows us to consider the relationship between literature and fascism in Japan,” he added.

Josei Manshu was first published in January 1942 as the only cultural magazine for women in Manchuria, Nishida said. Although there are no known copies of some of its issues, the magazine is confirmed to have fun until June 1945, around the time Japan lost Manchuria.