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.
I took these photos of the Rose of Versaille themed window decoration at Isetan department store in Shinjuku a couple of months ago. I meant to post this straight away but the photos got stuck in editing limbo for the longest time. Excuse me! Still, fans of the game-changing Rose of Versaille manga series from the 70s will get a kick out of seeing these – each window is decorated to the theme of one of the characters in the famous shojo (girl’s) manga about a girl who is raised as a son and takes up the post as captain of the guard in Paris just before the revolution. It is quite possibly the story that kick started a generation of female manga readers in the 1970s and as such the whole genre is indebted to this fantastic comic book series. Those who are not fans of the manga can still enjoy this masterclass in window decoration!
Yushima Seido is possibly the most simultaneously most impressive and least talked about temple in Tokyo. Not only is it one of very few confucian temples in the city, it is also wonderfully un-photogenic. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that there is no other historic building in Tokyo that is so impossible to photograph well, with its pitch black walls and wide overhanging roof. If you really need a challenge as a photographer there is no better place in Tokyo!
Originally founded in Ueno in 1630, the temple was moved here in 1690 it was the main school/training center for government officials until it was closed in 1871 as the functions were taken over by many other schools, universities and government agencies. Today the grounds occupied by the temple itself is much smaller than they were originally. The very similarly named Yushima Tenjin nearby is also related to this temple and still to this day these two places are were people go for pray for success in their studies, exams or academic careers.
On the temple grounds you will also find the 1975 statue of Confucius which is claimed to be the biggest of its kind in the world.
The Yushima Seido is easily reached from the Ochanomizu stations and lies just a stones throw from the far more famous Kanda Myojin.
The great pond in Ueno, the Shinobazunoike is famous its many lotus flowers, which have been a feature of the pond since at least the Edo period. I summer it is covered in a green carpet of lotuses, but in winter the dried husks and shells of the flowers form an equally interesting and photogenic space. The pond is also the home of many birds, some of whom are more than happy to serve as models for the passing photographers!