O’Sensei’s secret mission to China in 1942…

The fascinating thing about Ben-Ami Shillony’s Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan is that it reveals the same constellation of imperial family, military, politicians and civilians – loosely, the kodo-ha – who were behind-the-scenes patrons of the young officers’ attempted coup in 1936 – working to make peace, or at least avoid or resolve a situation where Japan was fighting on two fronts, throughout most of the Pacific War…

What’s important to understand is that, for the elites: the imperial family and samurai families who had managed to transition to a professional existence in the Meiji and post-Meiji world, the upper echelons of Japanese society were  quite open and functioned on a personal scale. It was possible for Gozo Shioda, the son of a doctor with friends in the cabinet, to – as his auto-biography, serialized in the Aikido Journal in the 1990’s, relates – go with a handful of friends to blow up the British Embassy, get caught, and simply be reprimanded for excessive enthusiasm, and being ahead of the government’s geo-political time-table, leaving O’Sensei to request him with some passion: “You must tell them I wasn’t involved in this!”

It is a world much more reminiscent of Shakespeare’s history plays than anything in our expectations of how the modern world works.

And, indeed, a major political forum was the court, and relations within the imperial family, especially those who had the emperor’s ear.

All of which creates context for the story that Nidai Doshu tells of his father in 1942: “On December 8th, 1941, Japan entered the Pacific War against the U.S…it now became obvious that Japan was in crisis, fighting a war on two fronts.

“It was at this time that O Sensei made a secret visit to the continent, in the company of his disciple Tsutomu Yukawa, to help lay the groundwork for peace negotiations with China. He undertook the task at the request of Prince Fumimaro Konoe, with whom he had a close relationship. The Japanese military [sic] 1)…hoped to reach a peace settlement with Chiang Kai-shek and to pull out of China. Every possible means to this objective was considered, and O Sensei’s visit was part of a broader effort.

“As we have seen, O Sensei had many ties with the higher echelons of the military, government, and the private sector. The same was true of their counterparts in Manchuria and Mongolia, including…some advisors of Emperor Pu Yi… When Tokuo, King of Mongolia, came to Japan, he actually paid a visit to O Sensei…Given his wide network of acquaintances and his influence, it was hoped that O Sensei might contribute to opening channels of negotiation.

“On the East Asia front, many of O Sensei’s former disciples were in key positions, whether officially or in a private capacity. In particular, he had many close associates in the secret service and in private intelligence units that were working on propaganda for the occupation and other projects behind the scenes…

“I understand that O Sensei left Japan secretly and made contact with General Shun-roku Hata 2)…By one account it was already arranged that O Sensei would meet directly with Chiang Kai-shek as a secret envoy. As it turned out, the timing was wrong, and he arrived after it was too late to affect events.” 3)

Simply the phrase: “private intelligence units that were working on propaganda for the occupation and other projects behind the scenes” should make us realize that this is not the world we know.

Now, a key player, along with two-time prime-minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoe, was Prince Higashikuni, who would probably have become prime-minister in 1936, had the coup succeeded. At that time he would probably have instituted a planned economy based round the farming economy – and rather more egalitarian than existing structures. At the end of the war, he was chosen to be the prime-minister overseeing Japan’s surrender process. Within a couple of years, land reform had happened: officially overseen by the American occupiers.

So, from Ben-Ami Shillony’s researches: “According to Higashikuni’s diary, three weeks after Pearl Harbor he recommended [to the emperor] that Japan should end the war and come to terms with the Allies, but his suggestion was not heeded….Higashikuni continued to see the emperor in his capacity as an imperial prince. Higashikuni had more contact with political and government figures who were dissatisfied with the official policy than any other prince of the blood. Thus in 1942 Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and the chief editor of the Asahi [Shimbun], Ogata, tried to persuade him that Japan should make peace with Chiang Kai-shek….

“Higashikuni’s position and his easy access to the emperor made him attractive to Tojo’s critics as well as to his supporters. On 11 April 1944 Prince [Fumimaro] Konoe asked him to help remove Tojo [from office]. On 20 June Tojo’s secretary… told him that the Prime-Minister was ready to resign if a suitable successor could be found…”  4)

So… A prime mover in the 1942 move to attempt a peace with Chiang Kai-shek was the editor of the Asahi Shimbun: the very newspaper that had requested O’Sensei to help found a dojo and improve their self-defence skills, amidst attacks on the press.  O’Sensei also had ties with – from Omoto-kyo times – the Taoist fraternities who had been made the foundational units of the local political structures on which Manchuko was based. He did indeed have ties to “private intelligence units” – such as the Sakurakai who had met at his dojo. And he also had close ties with students such as Tomiki and Shioda: who belonged to the Tojo faction.

The thought that he could have been a possible intermediary, and have been deployed as such, is very plausible – even more so for the plausible deniability afforded by his Omoto-kyo and Tosei-ha connections.  Remembering that this was an unofficial move by Kodo-ha people behind the scenes.

And after it came to nothing, this would have been yet another reason to get away from Tokyo, and hide in the mountains..

1)  of course, the Kodo-ha faction inside and outside the military.
2) per Ben-Ami Shillony “[Prime-minister] Tojo was the first among equals, but he was expected to consult his colleagues, some of whom were his seniors or previous superiors. Generals Terauchi  Hisaichi, Hata Shun’roku,  and Sugiyama Hajime preceded him in rank and had been Army ministers before him.”  Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan,  p.10
3) A Life in Aikido, Kisshomaru Ueshiba pp. 263-4
4) Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, Ben-Ami Shillony p.58

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