Sakae Osugi: Wikis


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Ōsugi Sakae

Born January 17, 1885(1885-01-17)
Marugame, Japan
Died September 16, 1923 (aged 38)
Tokyo, Japan

Sakae Osugi (大杉 栄 Ōsugi Sakae ?, January 17, 1885 – September 16, 1923) was a radical Japanese anarchist. He published numerous anarchist periodicals, helped translate various western anarchist essays into Japanese for the first time, and created Japan's first Esperanto school in 1906. He, Noe Itō, and his nephew were murdered in what became known as the Amakasu Incident.





Sakae Ōsugi was born on January 17, 1885, in Marugame, Kagawa, according to his autobiography, Jijōden. However, the Ōsugi family registry misrepresents his date of birth by several months, leading to some confusion in other reports. He was the eldest son of Ōsugi Azuma, a captain in the Japanese military, and Kusui Yutaka. Little is known of his siblings, except for the youngest, Ayame. She was married to Tachibana Sōsaburō and moved to Portland, Oregon. Their son, Munekazu, would be the third victim of the Amakasu Incident in 1923.

In his early teens, Ōsugi enlisted in Cadet School, but was a poorly motivated and rebellious student. He was reprimanded often, and nearly expelled more than once. On one occasion it was implied that he took part in illicit, homosexual behavior with a younger cadet, for which he was held in the school stockade for ten days and received thirty days of confinement. He later took part in a knife fight (though he fought unarmed, fearing to injure his opponent), and received injuries which required two weeks of hospitalization. After this incident he was finally expelled from the school.

Interest in socialism and Christianity

In 1902 he eventually decided to attain a middle school education (comparable to a U.S. college education) in Literature in Tokyo, with the encouragement of a childhood friend, Rei, advice from an associate of his father, Lieutenant Morioka, and the blessings of his parents. While in cram school he experienced independent living for the first time and began associations that would last years and lead to his experimental phase in Christianity and socialism.

After the death of his mother, whom he cared for more than his father, he became somewhat depressed and redirected his energies into his studies. He began to read large numbers of books, but counted only a handful as having an impression on him later in life, primarily works by Gorky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. He later wrote that he'd been most influenced by Oka Asjirō's Discourse on Evolution:

My interest in natural science was awakened first by this book. At the same time, the theory of evolution, holding that all things change, cried out for the reformation of various social systems which remained as authorities deep within my mind, and made it extremely easy to associate myself with the tenets of socialism.

His depression over his mother's death also led him to begin searching for a spiritual outlet in Christianity. He attended several churches, but never fully accepted the miracles of the faith, and "believed that God is something within the self". He was eventually baptised when others assured him he would understand the religion more if he did so, but he later wrote that he was never fully satisfied.

He also began to involve himself in socialism more at this time, mostly because of exposure to the most radical newspaper available in Tokyo at the time, Yorozu chōhō. He would further involve himself in the socialist movement when Kōtoku Shūsui and Sakai Toshihiko formed the Commoners' Society (Heimin-sha). It was in this organization's paper, the Heimin Shimbun (Common People's Newspaper), that he began to write letters to the editor, and he participated in handing out the paper in public. When the Heimin shimbun folded, his first article, "Socialism and patriotism" (Shakaishugi to aikokushugi), was published in Hikari, another radical paper, in August-September 1905. However, his participation with socialism was largely superficial at this time, and he admitted later that he did so largely because he felt the need to take part in a paper he often read.

Later exposure to criticisms of Christianity from prominent socialists led him to question his faith, but it was not until the onset of the Russo-Japanese War that he fully cut his ties to the religion. When his local church began to merge its sermons with patriotic and pro-war sentiments, he felt this was a betrayal of his spiritual principles and left it permanently.

Anarchism and the High Treason Incident

Ōsugi still held military aspirations as a matter of practicality, since he still had no other career ambitions. However, in 1906 he was arrested during a demonstration-turned-riot against increasing trolly fares, after which a military career became impossible. While in prison he took the time to fully study socialism and its various tenets, and completed his transition to a socialist. His interest in science would also lay the groundwork for his eventual shift to anarchism.

While in prison he taught himself various languages, including Italian, Esperanto, Russian, English, French, and German.

His initial prison sentences were due to separate instances of activist-related activity. The first was for the aforementioned trolly fare protest riot. Later he was arrested for violating press laws in connection with two articles he published in late 1906 and early 1907. Still later he served two more separate terms in 1908 for violating the Peace Police Law on two separate occasions, the Rooftop Incident (Yane-jō jiken) and the Red Flag Incident (Akahata jiken) in early and late 1908, respectively.

While in prison, Kōtoku, now an avowed anarchist, encouraged him to research the work of Bakunin and Kropotkin. Ōsugi was particularly receptive to Kropotkin's scientific approach to anarchy, and he would later translate Kropotkin's autobiography in 1920.

When he was arrested in 1908 as part of the Red Flag Incident, he was handed the heaviest prison term he would receive in his life. However, the prison terms saved him and others convicted at the time from being associated with the High Treason Incident (Taigyaku Jiken) of 1910. At the trials, 12 anarchists, including Kōtoku Shūsui and one of the few anarchists found not guilty during the Red Flag trials, were found guilty of conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor and were sentenced to death.

Ōsugi later encountered the defendants in prison, but was too afraid to speak to them too loudly. Kōtoku was unable to hear him, as he was nearly deaf. Ōsugi also encountered their executioner, who retired after their execution.

After this experience he never challenged the state with open calls for violent revolution, and his future essays instead focused on individualism and criticisms of capitalism. He would not be arrested again until 1919, for assaulting a police officer, for which he was sentenced to a three-month term. He was also briefly held in detention in France in 1922 before being deported to Japan.

Free love and scandal

Ōsugi was married to Hori Yasuko in September 1906, but later pursued a relationship with Kamichika Ichiko and author Noe Itō as part of his philosophical and political beliefs in egoism and free love.

He first met Ichiko, a twenty-six-year-old reporter for the Tokyo Daily Newspaper (Tōkyō nichinichi shimbun) in April 1914, at a meeting of his Sanjikarizumu kenkyūkai (Syndicalism study Society), through two of his anarchist associates, Miyajima Sukeo and his wife, Reiko. Initially Osugi did not record any mention of her in his writings. However, in 1915 he had moved with his wife to Zushi, Kanagawa prefecture, to publish the second Kindai Shisō. On Fridays he would commute to Tokyo in order to teach his Furansu bungaku kenkyūkai (French Literature Study Society) classes , and so would spend the night in Ichiko's house. Eventually this led to their affair, which would be an open secret by December of that year.

During this time he also encountered Itō on several occasions, as both were anarchists who mingled in similar circles. In February 1913, Osugi attended a meeting of the Seitō-sha Kōenkai (Seitō-sha Kōenkai lecture meeting), but he later made no mention of her in his review of the event. In September of that year, Itō published a translation of an article by Emma Goldman, which Osugi had also intended on writing. Her work impressed him, and he praised it highly in a review on articles about women's liberation.

It was not until September 1914 that they met each other, introduced by Watanabe Masatarō, in the home of her then husband, Tsuji Jun. Initially their attraction was platonic; based on their mutual beliefs in anarchism. Later, when the Heimin shimbun was banned by the police, Itō's Seitō was the only journal to criticize the police openly. This display of solidarity was noted by Osugi, and a response in thanks was produced by Arahata in the next issue of the Heimin shimbun. Over time, Osugi would visit Itō at her home three times in February 1915. However, his affair with her probably did not begin until February 1916.

In 1916 he was stabbed by Ichiko, in an incident that would lead to an open scandal. The incident has been a source for popular culture (see a calendar with a drawing of it, lower left corner, in [1]), and has been the inspiration for the film "Eros plus Massacre", by Yoshishige Yoshida and Masahiro Yamada (1969).

The Amakasu Incident

On September 16, 1923, in the chaos immediately following the Great Kantō Earthquake, Osugi and his lover/partner, Noe Itō, and his six-year-old nephew, Munekazu Tachibana, were arrested, beaten to death and thrown into a well by a squad of military police led by Lieutenant Amakasu Masahiko.

The killing of such high profile anarchists, along with a young child, became known as the Amakasu Incident, and sparked surprise and anger throughout Japan.

Timeline of Osugi's life

  • 1885 - January: Sakae Ōsugi born
  • 1889 - December: Father transferred from Tokyo to Sendai
  • 1891 - April: Enters elementary school
  • 1895 - July: The first Sino-Japanese War begins; father dispatched to war zone
  • 1897 - April: Advances to higher elementary school
  • 1898 - April: Enters Shibata Middle School
  • 1899 - Summer: Travels to Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka to visit relatives
  • 1901 - April: Receives 30-day disciplinary confinement to Cadet School, probably for homosexual activity; November: Stabbed during fight with another cadet and expelled from Cadet School after returning to Shibata
  • 1902 - January: Moves to Tokyo and enters Tokyo Academy; June: Mother dies; October: Enters fifth year at Junten Middle School
  • 1903 - September: Enters Tokyo Foreign Language School, and experiments with Christianity; December (approximately): Begins to frequent the Heimin-sha
  • 1904 - February: Russo-Japanese War begins; father dispatched to war zone
  • 1905 - July: Graduates from Foreign Language School
  • 1906 - March: Arrested in demonstration against increasing Tokyo trolly fare; June: Released on bail; September: Marries Hori Yasuko, and begins teaching Esperanto; November: Begins editing Katei zasshi, and charges filed against Ōsugi for writing "Shimpei shokun ni atau"
  • 1907 - March: Charges filed against Ōsugi for writing "Seinen ni uttau"; May: Incarcerated in Sugamo Prison; November: Released from prison
  • 1908 - January: Arrested for the Rooftop Incident, and incarcerated in Sugamo Prison; March: Released from prison; June: Arrested for the Red Flag Incident; September: Incarcerated in Chiba Prison
  • 1909 - November: Father dies
  • 1910 - November: Released from prison
  • 1912 - October: Begins publishing Kindai Shisō
  • 1914 - April: First meets Kamichika Ichiko; September: Stops publishing Kindai Shisō, and introduced to Itō Noe; October: Begins publishing Heimin shimbun
  • 1915 - March: Stops publishing Heimin shimbun; October: Begins publishing second Kindai shisō; December: Begins affair with Kamichika Ichiko, and removed from control of second Kindai Shisō
  • 1916 - January: Second Kindai Shisō ceases publication; February: Begins affair (perhaps) with Itō Noe; May: Itō Noe leaves husband, Tsuji Jun, for Ōsugi; November: Stabbed by Kamichika Ichiko
  • 1917 - January: Hori Yasuko renounces ties with Ōsugi; September: First daughter born
  • 1918 - January: Begins publishing Bummei hihyō; April: Stops publishing Bummei hihyō, and begins publishing Rōdō shimbun; July: Stops publishing Rōdō shimbun
  • 1919 - May: Strikes policeman Andō Kiyoshi; July: Charged for striking policeman; October: Begins publishing Rōdō undō; December: Incarcerated in Toyotama Prison, and second daughter born
  • 1920 - March: Released from prison; June: Stops publishing Rōdō undō; October: Goes to Shanghai to attend Congress of Far Eastern Socialists; December: Taken into temporary custody at founding meeting of Nihon shakaishgi dōmei in Tokyo
  • 1921 - January: Begins publishing second Rōdō undō in cooperation with Bolshevik faction; March: Third daughter born; June: Stops publishing second Rōdō undō; December: Begins publishing third Rōdō undō
  • 1922 - June: Fourth daughter born; September: Attends Osaka meeting to found national labor union; November: Invited to attend the International Congress of Anarchists in Berlin in early 1923; December: Departs for Europe
  • 1923 - February: Arrives in France; May: Arrested at May Day demonstration in St. Denis; June: Deported from France; July: Arrives in Japan. Last issue of third Rōdō undō; September: Murdered together with Noe Itō and nephew in aftermath of the Great Kantō Earthquake.

Sakae Ōsugi in films


  • Stanley, Thomas A. (1982). Osugi Sakae, Anarchist in Taisho Japan: The Creativity of the Ego. Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University. ISBN 0-674-64493-X.  

External links


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