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Ryoichi Sasakawa

Ryoichi Sasakawa (笹川良一 Sasakawa Ryoichi) (May 4, 1899 – July 18, 1995) was a Japanese businessman, politician and philanthropist born in Minoh, Osaka. He was accused but acquitted of being a Class A war criminal after World War II,[1][2] was a self-proclaimed fascist[3], kuromaku (political power-broker), and the founder of The Nippon Foundation. While he is widely known throughout Africa and much of the developing world for the wide-ranging philanthropic programs that he established, he is at the same time viewed with hostility by many intellectuals [4] [5] for his right wing ideals and ties to Japan's motorboat racing industry and support for the Unification Movement[6][7][8][9][10][11].


Prewar activity

In the 1930s, during the Sino-Japanese War, Sasakawa rose to prominence by using wealth gained in rice speculation[12] to build a voluntary flying squad within Japan for the purpose of providing trained pilots in the case of a national emergency.[13] He also built an air defense field, donating it to the army. Once Japan began to coordinate its air power in 1941, Sasakawa dissolved his voluntary flying group and gave all of its facilities and aircraft to the nation.[14] In addition, he used the various mining interests that he had accumulated to support the army by in a more concrete fashion.[15] It has been noted that "... his family records show ... that his mining ventures were not as profitable in wartime as they could have been" because he seems to have been more interested in supporting the war effort than in making a profit.[16]

In addition, the 1930s saw Sasakawa take the helm of the Kokusui Taishu-to, or Patriotic Peoples' Party (PPP)[17]. This small organization was one of the many right-wing groups that sprang up in Japan in the lead-up to World War II[18]. It was in this connection that he first met Yoshio Kodama, who was at that time a member.[19] In 1935, Sasakawa and twelve other leading members of the PPP were arrested and held for three years on suspicion of having ordered the blackmail of several leading companies, such as Takashimaya, the Hankyu Railway, and Tokyo Life Insurance.[20] Though he was eventually exonerated, the jail time and the subsequent appeals process took a total of 6 years, leading up the opening year of World War II.[21] In the end, the prosecution itself revealed that the charges against him had been based more on perception of the PPP as "dangerous," than on actual evidence of blackmail.[22]

Sasakawa's trials ended in August 1941[23]. In December that year, World War II broke out, and in April 1942, Sasakawa won a seat in the Japanese parliament, taking one of only 85 out of 466 seats that were captured by non-government-backed candidates.[24] The reason that such candidates were so few was that it was wartime, and those in power were doing all they could to control policy while maintaining a mask of parliamentary democracy.[25] Sasakawa joined the parliament nearly a half year after the war began, as a member of the opposition.

In parliament, he stood against the government's suppression of the freedom of speech and its pressure for the conformity of all parliamentarians.[26] However, his efforts in this vein were largely unsuccessful, and he spent much of the war outside of parliament, touring Manchuria and China, visiting prisons around the country, and cheering those on the home front.[27]

Sugamo prison

At the end of the war, Sasakawa entered the occupation-run Sugamo prison. While until a short time before his arrest, there was little possibility of his detainment, much less as a Class A war crimes suspect,[28] from October to November, 1945, he launched a campaign of twenty or so speeches in Osaka, decrying victor's justice and demanding to be taken as a prisoner so that he could help defend Japan in the Tokyo war crimes trials.[29] He was "...motivated by a desire to speak out in defense of the emperor and in the interests of Japan at the Tokyo Trials."[30]

The US summary for his arrest, dated December 4, 1945 read as follows:

Sasakawa should be arrested for the following reasons: first, for leading campaigns instigating aggression, nationalism and hostility against the United States. And second, for his continued vigorous activities in an organization that strongly impedes the development of democracy in Japan."[31]

While in the prison, Sasakawa was able to establish connections with many of the men who had led Japan during the war, and who would go on to reassume these roles after their release. He also came into further contact with Yoshio Kodama, though the exact nature of their prison relationship does not seem to have been as positive as it had been when they were both members of the PPP. (In prison, Kodama pursued a policy of collaborating with his captors, naming names and making questionable statements that put other prisoners at a disadvantage. As part of this policy, he asked that his testimony about Sasakawa be kept secret, and it would appear that Sasakawa never found out about it.[32].)

Postwar activity

On December 23, 1948, Tojo Hideki and six other class A war criminals were hanged. The next day, all class A suspects who had not been indicted were released. (Aside from the 7 who were executed, 18 were given very long or life sentences.) Sasakawa and Kodama were among the many who were found not-guilty and released. There is much speculation surrounding Sasakawa's release, but the verifiable facts suggest that there was simply not enough evidence to indict him of Class A war crimes.[33] While the two men subsequently chose different paths in life, they maintained their friendship until the death of Kodama in 1984.[34]

Sasakawa became deeply involved in the post-war reconstruction, though he never again entered politics, but chose to use his considerable influence to bolster business and political parties. The most effective of his post-war activities was the creation of a philanthropy-oriented gambling industry that is still in existence today.

Sasakawa is also known for his support of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon in Moon's anti-communist activities.[35][36]

Nippon Foundation

Bust of Sasakawa at the WHO in Geneva.

In 1951, the Japanese government passed the Motorboat Racing Law – an invention of Sasakawa's. Under this law, motorboat races are held at 24 locations around the nation for the purpose of both bolstering the local economies and providing the revenue needed to support 1) the reconstruction of Japan's maritime industry, and 2) welfare projects around the country. In later years, international projects were also added. The law established that the distribution of the monies to support projects was to be performed by the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, a body that eventually came to be known as the Nippon Foundation.[37 ] Sasakawa became the foundation's chairman. In fact, public and governmental focus on the issue drove Sasakawa to take pains to make the system as clear as possible.[38]

Since motorboat racing is one of only four sports for which gambling is officially allowed in Japan,[39] it became a very large resource for rebuilding the nation's shipbuilding industry, and was largely responsible for Japan's meteoric rise to become one of the world’s maritime leaders by the 1960s.[40] The system is regulated by the department of transport, and it can be noted that many of the foundations Sasakawa later created through grants by The Nippon Foundation were led by previous employees of the department of transport. It should be mentioned, however, that the system of farming out former government employees to businesses and foundations has long been common, legal practice in Japan, though one that Sasakawa himself viewed with suspicion.[41]

Under Sasakawa's leadership, The Nippon Foundation made extensive charitable contributions both in Japan and around the world.[37 ] It has been especially active in human resources development at all levels, ensuring that all people can obtain such basic human needs as food and medicine, disaster relief and maritime safety.[37 ]

It also founded a large number of other organizations, such as the United States-Japan Foundation[42] and The Sasakawa Peace Foundation[43]. Through these foundations, Sasakawa was instrumental in promoting the betterment of the world's people.

Specifically, the support of the Nippon Foundation has been directed toward solving global problems related to the poor and the marginalized. By cooperating on an ongoing basis with agencies of the United Nations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, this foundation has helped to make substantial progress on many worldwide fronts, including famine relief, aid for refugees, support for various educational programs, allocations for pharmaceutical and medical equipment, and international campaigns to eradicate smallpox, and leprosy.

He also funded the expansion of Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution to Africa, creating the Sasakawa Africa Association to help stop rising famine in the continent.[44][45]

Sasakawa died July 18, 1995.

See also

Gandhi Memorial International Foundation


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica: Sasakawa Ryoichi (retrieved 4 May 2007)
  2. ^ Sato, Seizaburo, Sasakawa Ryoichi: A Life (published 2006)  
  3. ^ "The Godfather-san", TIME, August 26, 1974,,9171,944948,00.html, retrieved 2007-10-22  
  4. ^ Kaplan, David and Dubro, Alec, Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld (published 2003), pp. esp. 64–65  
  5. ^ Boneau, Denis, "Sasakawa, a Respected War Criminal", VoltaireNet, May, 2004,  
  6. ^ Kaplan, David and Dubro, Alec, Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld (published 2003), pp. esp. 64–65,  
  7. ^ Samuels, Richard J., "Kishi and Corruption: An Anatomy of the 1955 System", University of San Francisco Japan Policy Research Institute (Working Paper No. 83), December 2001,  
  8. ^ Samuels, Richard J., "Machiavelli's Children", Published by Cornell University Press, 2003,,M1  
  9. ^ Koehler, Robert, "'Frontline' Penetratingly Investigates Rev. Moon", Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1992,  
  10. ^ GOODMAN, WALTER, "Review/Television; Sun Myung Moon Changes Robes", New York Times, January 21, 1992,  
  11. ^ Sato, p.210. Sato is the only reference here that describes Sasakawa's Unification/International Anti-communist League ties as more than a passing accusation, but that his reference is to a "brief" encounter that Sasakawa ended when unimpressed.
  12. ^ Sato, p.12
  13. ^ Ibid, p.25
  14. ^ Ibid, p.27-28
  15. ^ Ibid, p.13
  16. ^ Ibid, p.15
  17. ^ Ibid, p.16
  18. ^ Ibid, p.16-17
  19. ^ Ibid, p.23
  20. ^ Ibid, p.42
  21. ^ Ibid, p.43
  22. ^ Ibid, Sato, p.45
  23. ^ Ibid, p.232
  24. ^ Ibid, p.50
  25. ^ Ibid, p.50-52
  26. ^ Ibid, p.52-53
  27. ^ Ibid, p.54
  28. ^ Ibid, p.78
  29. ^ Ibid, p.76-78
  30. ^ Ibid, p.50
  31. ^ Awaya Kentaro and Yoshida Yutaka, eds., Vol. 24, Kokusai Kensatsukyoku (IPS) Jinmon Chosho [Official records of interrogations by examining prosecutors] (Tokyo: Nihon Tosho Center, 1993, 126., quoting Civil Intelligence Section (CIS) records, Minkan Joho Koku, December 4, 1945.)
  32. ^ Sato, p.97-103
  33. ^ Ibid, p.87
  34. ^ Ibid, p.24
  35. ^ The Resurrection Of Reverend Moon PBS, Frontline, January 21, 1992
  36. ^ Sun Myung Moon Changes Robes, New York Times, January 21, 1992
  37. ^ a b c The Nippon Foundation’s Website,, retrieved December 5, 2008  
  38. ^ Sato, p. 187
  39. ^ The Nippon Foundation’s Resources,, retrieved December 5, 2008  
  40. ^ Sato, p.175-76
  41. ^ Ibid, p.186
  42. ^ The United States-Japan Foundation's Website,, retrieved December 5, 2008  
  43. ^ The Sasakawa Peace Foundation's Website,, retrieved December 5, 2008  
  44. ^ Program Plants Seed of Change, Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 1990
  45. ^ Borlaug: sowing `Green Revolution' among African leaders, Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 1994

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