Today is the 79th anniversary of one of the last Japanese military coups and one of the most famous acts of political violence in modern Japan, the “2.26 Incident”. The story is far too complicated to tell in a simple blog post, but the short story of it is that a group of young officers in the military decided to try and purge the government and the military of their enemies, and attempt that ultimately failed after three days of martial law in central Tokyo. The coup makers wanted to revive a more imperial era and move away from modern economics and capitalism.
This blog post will focus on just one of the incidents in the event, the assassination of the minister of finance, Takahashi Korekiyo (高橋是清). The early hours of February 26th 1936 saw a lot of snowfall on the capital, and one of the army units that took part in the coup, the 3rd Imperial Guard under 1st Lt. Motoaki Nakahashi, assembled 120 men and marched to the Takahashi family’s mansion in Aoyama, next to where the Canadian Embassy is located today. Arrived they woke up the servants and half the force broke into the house where the two most senior officers found Takahashi in bed asleep, killing him before he even woke up.
The finance minister Takahashi was an incredibly interesting character. Having been adopted at birth into a samurai family at birth in 1854, he studied English at a school in Yokohama nd set of for California in 1867. He was promptly captured by his landlord, an American merchant and sold into slavery by the merchant’s parents but escaped and returned to Japan in 1868. He soon started working at the Bank of Japan and later the ministry of finance. When the Great Depression hit Japan he revitalized the economy by a series of reforms that heavily influenced none other than John Maynard Keynes. As with all reforms his policies created both losers and winners, and this fact together with his policy of reducing military size and influence led him to be one of the coup makers main targets, especially after his 1934 decision to cut the military budget radically.
Had he lived he might have effectively stopped the war in the pacific, the war between the US and Japan 1941-1945.
After the assassination his house was moved to the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum in Koganei, where it is one of the most interesting houses on display, not only because of its history but also because of how remarkably comfortable it seems even to foreign visitors. One of the photos is of Takahashi with one of his granddaughters (whom I think married the grandson of the 1st, 5th, 7th and 10th prime minister of Japan, Hirobumi Ito). Another of his grandchildren, Toyoji, was a forward in the Japanese National Soccer team at the Berlin Olympics later that year.
This year I visited the famous Kanda Myojin Shrine near Akhibara for hatsumode – the first visit to a shrine of the year – pretty early in the day. Lots of people and the obligatory new year’s lion dance. I have seen dozens of lion dancers throughout my years living in Tokyo but the dancers of this troupe is by far the best so far. The most endearing part of this tradition is when they hold up the little kids to have their heads “bitten” by the lions, which is supposed to make for strong healthy children. The bravest ones go through it with a smile but the smaller kids often cry fiercely at the prospect, obviously these kids get the biggest cheers of approval from the sympathetic audience.
This year’s New Years was spent at Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo. We were ushering in the year of the Sheep according to the zodiac, in addition to the wester year 2015 or the 27th Year of the reign of Emperor Heisei or the year 2675 according to the old Japanese Imperial reckoning. As usual there was plenty of people, lost of food stands and as always the different scout groups stood at attention around the fires. Hatsumode is the traditional first visit to a shrine in the new year and most people perform it within a few days of January first, if not at midnight itself!