Maki Kimura’s inexhaustible energy in seeking justice in the Yokohama Incident — a still ongoing case of repression of free speech dating back over 60 years — is a reflection of the strong bond she built with her husband during their six years of marriage.
The 59-year-old Kimura’s husband, Toru, was among 30 people convicted from 1942 to 1945 of promoting communism in violation of a notorious wartime law aimed at stamping out elements opposed to Japanese militarism.
He had been seeking a retrial since 1986, arguing the defendants were tortured into falsely confessing that they had plotted to foment communism, counter to the now-defunct Peace Preservation Law.
He died in 1998 at age 82, five years before the Yokohama District Court made a landmark decision in April 2003 to retry their case.
The Yokohama Incident began with the arrest of Karoku Hosokawa, author of a democracy-advocating article for Kaizo (Reform) magazine, by the special political police created to crack down on leftists and other antigovernment elements.
About 60 journalists and others, including Toru Kimura, were subsequently arrested over their alleged involvement in communist activities.
His widow, who has been continuing her husband’s case since his death, met him in 1989 when she was 40. She had little knowledge of the incident, which is often now referred to as the worst suppression of free speech in wartime Japan.
Her encounter with the journalist, which she describes as a “not coincidental, but inevitable” event, changed the course of her life.
They married in March 1992, when Toru Kimura was 76 and she was 43. Her marriage to Kimura, who was living alone on a pension after his first wife passed away in 1984, meant another financial burden for her as she was already caring for her parents.
As an editor for a publishing company, she worked from morning to midnight to support the family. But neither the age gap nor financial hardship mattered to her. “We were made for each other,” she said.
Although the two spent less than a decade together, she has devoted all her time and energy for nearly two decades to the battle to clear her husband’s name and promote human rights.
“It’s a little embarrassing to say this, but I simply love the man so much and that love has been my driving force,” she said. “Certainly, I have the urge to change society for the better, but that was not in itself enough to keep me going.
“I feel like we were together for more than 20 or 30 years,” she said.
Maki Kimura left the publishing company two years ago and is now living off her savings to concentrate on the retrial of her late husband and four others that is currently before the Supreme Court.
The prospects are not good, however, as it seems the top court will uphold the lower court decisions and end the case Friday, since it did not open a public hearing as is usually done when decisions have subsequently been overturned.
In February 2006, the Yokohama District Court dismissed the retrial without pronouncing a guilty or not-guilty verdict on grounds that the five were granted amnesty and that the Peace Preservation Law had been abolished.
The court also said that termination of the case equally would void their convictions and would not mean they could not recover their lost dignity. The Tokyo High Court upheld the decision.
“It sounds as if the court is saying, ‘You committed crimes but we will give you mercy by freeing you from criminal procedures,’ ” Maki Kimura said. “That’s totally different from a not-guilty verdict, which we have long sought.”
Following Hosokawa’s arrest, Toru Kimura, an editor at another magazine, was arrested because he happened to appear with Hosokawa and other journalist friends in a photo taken when they went on a vacation. He was 27 at the time.
During his time in jail from May 1943 to September 1945, the special police beat him and other detainees with wooden swords and thick ropes until they passed out, according to Kimura’s court documents.
He was eventually forced to make false confessions and was given a suspended two-year prison term.
Kimura was granted amnesty in tandem with the abolition of the Peace Preservation Law in October 1945.
But he could not accept the fact that he had been tortured on the basis of wrongful accusations. Along with other victims, he filed charges against the special police involved in violent interrogations that had resulted in four deaths.
Three of the officers were convicted in April 1952, but they were pardoned in an amnesty and served not a single day behind bars.
Over the years following his own amnesty, Toru Kimura wrote several books about the incident in which he sought to clear his name. Finally, he decided to pursue exoneration through the courts and filed for a retrial in 1986.
“What he had wanted to gain by a retrial was not just to vindicate their honor, but to make Japan a society that sees no more wrongful accusations and a country that never wages war,” his widow said.
She sees her age difference with the Yokohama Incident generation as her strength.
“I can serve as a bridge linking generations when all the victims have left this world,” she said. “I would like people to know that the incident does not only concern us but also society as a whole.”
Despite growing pessimism over the top court’s likely ruling, she still holds out hope, recalling her memories of a man who had never given up hope no matter what the circumstances.