Japan News - History

Japan News - History


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Japan school bomb fuels internet fears

Japan Times 1945: Tokyo hit by second major air raid

One of the newer street cars of the long bogie type got out of control while coming down the steep hill at Akasaka-Mitsuke this afternoon at 5 o’clock, and crashed into another bogie car in front of it on the same track just at the crossing at the bottom of the hill.

The colliding car was packed with people and, although the front of the car was smashed up and thrown off the track, no one was killed or even seriously hurt. Fortunately the forward car was empty and was being taken back to the Aoyama car barn for some reason or other.

If it had been crowded with passengers, as it usually is at that time of the day, with the people overflowing from the back platform even onto the ledge outside behind the conductor, as is frequently the case, the casualties might have been very serious.

The cause of the colliding car getting out of control was probably due to the brakes not holding, as it has frequently been noticed on the newer bogie cars, it is necessary to use both brakes — forward and rear — and sometimes the electric backing brake.

Friday, May 25, 1945

Tokyo hit by second major WWII air raid

After a lapse of more than one month, B-29 bombers from a southern base again raided Tokyo during the small hours of Thursday, the Imperial Headquarters announced in a communique.

Flying at an altitude of 3,000 to 3,500 meters, the main strength of the enemy planes, numbering about 210, singly or in small formations, indiscriminately bombed the city areas of the metropolis for about 2½ hours from 1:30 a.m. Simultaneously, some of the enemy raiders, about 40 in number, raided Shizuoka and Hamamatsu.

In the counterattacking battle, Japanese Anti-Air Raid Forces shot down 27 bombers and damaged about 30.

As was revealed by the Imperial Headquarters, a teahouse in the gardens of the Imperial Palace and a building in the compounds of the Akasaka Detached Palace used for storing firefighting apparatus were reduced to ashes.

The indiscriminate bombing attack resulted in the outbreak of fires at various places in the capital, as well as in the cities of Kawasaki, Yokohama, Shizuoka and Hamamatsu besides the southern part of Saitama Prefecture. However, all the fires were put under control by 7 a.m.

In close cooperation, the official and civilian defense corps promptly went into action to fight the fires, thus succeeding in minimizing the damage.

No digital records of Nippon Times, as The Japan Times was called at the time, exist in the company’s archives from May 26 to 31, with a short notice appearing at the foot of the front page of its June 1 issue stating that a “dislocation of various facilities” had necessitated the publication of a “reduced-size paper.”

Thursday, May 14, 1970

Ferry hijacker dies after being shot by policeman

A 20-year-old man who hijacked a 177-ton ferryboat with 44 passengers and crew members Tuesday was fatally shot on Wednesday morning by a police sharpshooter at Hiroshima Port.

Nobuhisa Kawafuji collapsed on the bridge of the ferryboat Prince when the first shot was fired about 40 meters away at 9:45 a.m.

The ferryboat had just started moving from the pier at the demand of the hijacker when the shot was fired.

Kawafuji was rushed to a hospital with a bullet in his chest. He reclaimed conscious until 10:45 a.m. and complained of a pain in the back. He underwent an operation at about 11:15 a.m. but was pronounced dead 10 minutes later.

The Hiroshima District Prosecutor’s Office seized two rifles, one shotgun, a revolver and a large amount of ammunition during its investigation on board the Prince later in the afternoon.

The investigation was conducted to see if the police action could be considered justifiable self-defense.

Hirotada Sudo, superintendent general of the Hiroshima Prefectural Police, said he had ordered the police to shoot Kawafuji because he thought further efforts to persuade the gunman to surrender were futile.

Sudo said the gunman had a large amount of ammunition and had failed to respond to pleas by his father and sister to surrender. Kawafuji told the skipper he was ready to “shoot it out” with the police, Sudo said.

Earlier, Kawafuji let 33 passengers, including three children, leave the ferryboat at Matsuyama Port on condition that the vessel be refueled. The boat left the port with the gunman keeping skipped Fumito Nakamuko, 44, and six other crew members hostage.

Thursday, May 4, 1995

Tomiichi Murayama offers remorse for aggression in China

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, meeting Chinese leaders 50 years after the end of World War II, reiterated on Wednesday his remorse over Japan’s victimization of China and other Asian countries before and during the war.

In a symbolic gesture to China, Murayama also visited the Marco Polo Bridge, the site of the 1937 clash that triggered the war between Japan and China. He is the first Japanese prime minister to visit the site, located just outside Beijing.

In a meeting with Premier Li Peng, Murayama said, “ I recognize anew that Japan’s actions, including aggression and colonial rule, at one time in our history caused unbearable suffering and sorrow for many people in your country and other Asian neighbors.”

Hiroyuki Sonoda, Japan’s deputy chief Cabinet secretary, quoted Murayama as saying, “I intend to make every effort to build world peace.”

Compiled by Elliott Samuels. In this feature, we delve into The Japan Times’ 124-year archive to present a selection of stories from the past. The Japan Times’ archive is now available in digital format. For more details, see jtimes.jp/de.

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Son of prewar Japanese scholar warns gov't intervention in science repeats history

KYOTO -- Over six months have passed since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga controversially refused to appoint six scholars to the Science Council of Japan in October 2020. The six rejected researchers have still not been appointed, and academic freedom in Japan remains shaken.

The Science Council of Japan is a representative organization of the community of Japanese scientists that makes policy recommendations independent from the government. In Japan, academic freedom has repeatedly been threatened over the course of history. Yasushi Shinmura, 74, a Yokohama resident whose father was imprisoned for nearly two years in prewar Japan when the government suppressed academics, is increasingly alarmed by the current state of affairs, which reminds him of the country's dark past.

Shinmura's father, Takeshi Shinmura (1905-1992), was a French literature scholar. Takeshi was the second son of Izuru Shinmura, a linguist known for compiling the Japanese dictionary "Kojien." Takeshi graduated from No. 3 High School in the prewar Japanese education system and Kyoto Imperial University (both predecessors of Kyoto University) in 1930. According to his own writing following the end of World War II, he considered himself to be one of the youths who enjoyed "Japan's freest and best time since the Meiji Restoration (in the late 1860s)." Japan, however, began to move into a new age.

In 1933, when Takeshi was teaching as a professor at Doshisha University's prep school in Kyoto, an event known in Japanese history as the "Takigawa incident" occurred at his alma mater, in which the government rejected an individual researcher's work and intervened in the university's autonomy. Then Education Minister Ichiro Hatoyama criticized Kyoto Imperial University's criminal law professor Yukitoki Takigawa as teaching Marxism and demanded he be removed from his position. Around this time, the government's suppression of academics and thought policing became entrenched.

In Europe, meanwhile, militarism and totalitarianism were spreading, with the formation of the fascist Nazi government. In 1934, Takeshi joined a coterie involved in a self-published magazine titled "Bi Hihyo" (renamed as "Sekai Bunka" in 1935). The magazine was started by scholars including aesthetician Masakazu Nakai. While still teaching, Takeshi introduced the anti-war, anti-fascism movement led by literary figures and other activists in Europe. In the process, he worked towards "the protection of academic freedom and freedom of thought."

Early on the morning of Nov. 8, 1937, Takeshi was taken to Gojo Police Station from his home in Kyoto on suspicion of violating the now-defunct Peace Preservation Law. He was subsequently found guilty of planning to expand the Communist Party, which was illegal at the time, and was handed a three-year prison sentence, suspended for five years. From his arrest until he was released in August 1939, Takeshi spent one year and nine months in detention.

Amid this suppression of academic freedom, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred in July 1937 and Japan began invading China, which ultimately led to the Second Sino-Japanese War. In 1938, the National Mobilization Law came into effect, and Japan plunged into the Pacific War.

The suppression of academics was reflected in the bullying of Takeshi's child. Yasushi's older brother Toru, who died in 1984 at age 48, told magazines and in other publications that he was "bullied to the limit" by the children of military personnel at school after the Pacific War broke out.

As Yasushi was born after the war was over, he doesn't know in his bones what it was like at the time. He says his father was "a man of few words" and didn't speak of his experience much to his children, but he wrote down his thoughts.

According to Takeshi's notes, while he was "well aware that many prominent anti-Nazi intellectuals and cultural figures had been arrested, persecuted and banished, or forced to go into exile," he did not think even for a little that he would be detained. He wrote that after he admitted to the high policing unit known as Tokko, or the thought police, that he was a communist during interrogation to match their story, he felt "extremely ashamed" when he faked "reconverting" following his rejection of the philosophy -- highlighting the harshness of the Tokko interrogation.

These sentiments hit home as Yasushi was going through items left at his father's house with his sisters in 2014 before the building was demolished. They stumbled upon the interrogation report compiled during the preliminary hearing of his case. The report came in as two sets of documents, each consisting of several hundred pages. In his writing, Takeshi claimed his innocence, saying that crucial parts in the interrogation report for the preliminary hearing were "completely false." Yasushi said he felt the absurdity of the situation.

Today, whenever the government's intervention in the appointment of Science Council members and its responses are reported, Yasushi thinks about his father. "What happened when academic freedom was infringed upon? My father would tell us to have a keener sense of danger," Yasushi said.

The kanji for Yasushi's name was taken from the name of philosopher Kyo Tsuneto, who left Kyoto Imperial University to protest the Takigawa incident and became the first president of Osaka City University.

There's a saying Yasushi's father used to repeat which left a strong impression on him: "Freedom is not about being able to do what you want to do it's about being able to do what you should do as a person."

Some key dates in Japan's history:

1853 - US fleet forces Japan to open up to foreign influence after over 200 years of self-imposed isolation.

1868 - Empire of Japan proclaimed, and country enters period of rapid industrialisation and imperial expansion.

1910 - Japan annexes Korea, becoming one of the world's leading powers.

1914 - Japan joins First World War on the side of Britain and her allies, gaining some Pacific islands from Germany.

1925 - Universal male suffrage is instituted.

1930s - Seizes Chinese province of Manchu, Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing amid atrocities such as the "Rape of Nanjing".

1939-45 - Second World War sees Japan occupying several Asian countries. It is defeated when US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

1945 - US occupation of devastated country post-war recovery and political reform. Economy recovers, eventually flourishes.

Fraught history haunts Japan virus vaccine roll-out

Japan has declared a virus state of emergency in greater Tokyo, but its vaccine roll-out will be haunted by a fraught history

A history of vaccine controversies in Japan may cast a long shadow over the coronavirus jab roll-out, experts warn, even as the country battles a severe third wave of infections.

While vaccine hesitancy, and outright opposition, has been growing in developed countries in recent years, public suspicion dates back much further in Japan.

Even as millions in the UK and US are being inoculated against COVID-19, Japan has yet to approve a single jab, and vaccinations will not start before late February at the earliest.

This week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would be among the first to be vaccinated, in an apparent attempt to bolster lukewarm confidence about the jab.

Just 60 percent of Japanese respondents in a December Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey said they want the vaccine, compared with 80 percent in China, 77 percent in the UK, 75 percent in South Korea and 69 percent in the US.

The figure was still significantly higher than the 40 percent recorded in France.

Another poll, by Japanese broadcaster NHK, showed just half of respondents want the vaccine, with 36 percent opposed.

Mistrust in Japan dates back decades, with experts pointing to a vicious cycle of lawsuits over alleged adverse events, media misinformation and government overreaction.

"The reason why Japanese are hesitant, I think, is because there is a lack of trust in government information," Harumi Gomi, professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases at the International University of Health and Welfare, told AFP.

As early as the 1970s, class action lawsuits were filed against the Japanese government over side effects linked to smallpox and other vaccines.

Japanese experts warn careful communication about the risks and benefits of a virus vaccine is needed to secure public trust

And two deaths that followed vaccination with the combined diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus shot prompted the government to temporarily withdraw the jab.

It was reintroduced shortly after with new rules but confidence did not recover.

Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, cases of aseptic meningitis among children who received locally produced combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccines caused renewed outcry, prompting withdrawal of the combined jab.

A key turning point was a 1992 court ruling that held the government liable for adverse reactions to several vaccines, including side effects—even without scientific evidence of a link.

"Following the lawsuits, I think the government must have thought they would be sued if they actively introduced vaccines and there was a problem," said Tetsuo Nakayama, a project professor at the Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences who focuses on clinical virology.

"People thought something (negative) might happen if they get vaccines," he added.

"As a result, Japan's vaccine programmes did not advance for 15 to 20 years."

There has been grassroots work by doctors to build trust, with some success, notably with the Hib vaccine, given to young children to prevent an infection that can otherwise lead to meningitis.

"Hib vaccines became available in 2008 thanks to efforts by pediatricians," Nakayama said, adding Japan's vaccine programme "began to change course then".

But there was another setback soon after, with massive media attention on adverse reactions allegedly tied to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Despite scientific doubt about the links, the outcry prompted the government to remove the vaccine from its list of actively recommended shots.

Vaccinations are not expected to begin in Japan before late February at the earliest

'Proper risk communication'

Subsequent investigations have found no cause for concern, and the HPV vaccine is widely administered elsewhere.

But in Japan, uptake has plummeted from 70 percent to less than one percent, according to an article in The Lancet medical journal.

"This is a very disappointing situation to me as a specialist," Gomi said.

For now, Japan is weeks, if not months, from any large-scale roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine, which will be provided for free.

It has secured sufficient doses for all 127 million residents in deals with Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, which filed for approval of its jab in December.

A decision on that is unlikely before February, and Nakayama said the government should work to build trust before then through "proper risk communication with the public".

"They need to explain the risks when infected with the virus, the benefits of vaccines and their side effects," he said.

Gomi, who is treating virus patients, said vaccine uptake would depend on clear explanations by healthcare workers and responsible media coverage.

"No vaccine is 100 percent safe. Vaccine programmes won't work if that's what people want," she said.

Japan, home to the Summer Olympics, has a rich Jewish history

Japanese Imperial Consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, hand wrote thousands of visas, working 20 hours a day and producing a month’s worth of visas on a daily basis.

As athletes converge on Japan for the Olympic Games that begin July 23, they won’t find any restaurants that serve kosher meat, but they will find a rich Jewish history dating back to the arrival of Portuguese conversos (Jews who converted to Catholicism under severe persecution) who arrived in Japan as merchants in the early 16th century.

But it wasn’t until after Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in 1853 and forced Japan to trade with the West that the first Jewish settlers – consisting of at least three Jewish families – arrived in 1586. Five years later, Jews settled in Yokohama near Tokyo. The earliest Jewish tombstone is dated 1865 and by the late 1860s, approximately 60 Jewish families lived there.

Another group of Jewish conversos, this time from Spain, arrived in 1572. They arrived in Nagasaki on ships from Portuguese Macau. Once there, they returned to practicing Judaism and resumed their family names, including the Levi family. By the turn of the century, Nagasaki was the largest Jewish community in Japan.

Rabbi David Kunin, who served eight years as spiritual leader of the Jewish community of Japan, an egalitarian synagogue in Tokyo, said another community was founded in Kobe by primarily Sephardic Jews from Iraq and Syria. There were also Ashkenazi Jews from Poland and others from Russia who were fleeing pogroms.

The Japanese general who rescued 20,000 Jews fleeing the Nazis

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

General Higuchi Kiichiro is credited with saving thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

This doctrine of non-discrimination against Jews had been formalized in December 1938 when top-level ministers (the prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister, army minister and navy minister) met for what is known as the Five Minister’s Conference. There they decided to protect all Jewish refugees because expelling the Jews as the Germans demanded went against racial equality that Japan had espoused for years. Their decision came at a time when both the U.S. and Britain imposed strict limits on Jewish immigration. In fact, the U.S., Cuba and Canada all refused to permit the M.S. St. Louis permission to dock in June 1939 with its more than 900 Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany.

Jews began a mad scramble to flee Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht on Nov. 8-9, 1938, during which Jewish businesses and synagogues were destroyed and Jews sent to concentration camps. Many Jews fled to Japanese-controlled Shanghai, one of the few places in the world Jews could enter without a visa. Major General Kiichiro Higuchi permitted their entry and it is estimated that 20,000 Jews were saved.

Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was furious with Higuchi’s actions and demanded he be punished. But Hideki Tojo, chief of staff of the Kwantung Army and Higuchi’s superior, rejected the request, reportedly saying Higuchi’s action was “the right thing to do from a humanitarian point of view.”

A mad dash to handwrite visas and save Jews

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A 1940 issued visa by consul Sugihara. The visa holder was managed to escape the Nazis in 1939.

Despite Japan’s decision to protect Jewish refugees, the country’s government was not willing to permit its emissaries to help Jews in Germany escape the Nazis. In fact, the Japanese Imperial Consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, was pointedly told by his superiors not to help Jews trying to flee the Holocaust in 1940. He was told to issue visas to only those who had gone through proper immigration procedures, had enough funds and had a visa to exit Japan for another country. But he defied three directives, believing that unless he helped, the Jews would be in danger.

As the crowd of Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi-occupied Poland grew outside his office from hundreds to thousands, Sugihara began writing visas. From July 18 through Aug. 28, 1940, he spent 18 to 20 hours each day handwriting visas – producing a month’s worth on a daily basis. By the time he closed the consulate on Sept. 4, he had handwritten an estimated 2,193 transit visas that saved 6,000 Jews – some say as many as 10,000 Jews. Witnesses reported that even after boarding a train to leave, he was writing visas and tossing them out the window and into the crowd as the train pulled away from the station.

Many Jews with Sugihara visas then fled across the Soviet Union and took a boat to Kobe, Japan. Some of the Sugihara survivors stayed in Japan until they were deported to Japanese-held Shanghai, where they joined other Jews who had been there since the mid-1930s.

Meanwhile, Sugihara was reassigned to East Prussia and then served as consul general in Prague before he and his family were arrested and imprisoned for 18 months by the Soviets. After their release, the Japanese Foreign Ministry reportedly dismissed him for the visas he had written in Lithuania and he retired in disgrace and self-exile. He was largely forgotten and died in 1985. It was not until several years later that the Japanese government honored him for his actions, later erecting a memorial in his honor. Israel lso honored him and listed him among the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A street in Tel Aviv is named after the Japanese diplomat who rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis.


Stretching 3,500 km (2,174 miles) from north to south, Japan includes a number of different climate zones. It has a temperate climate overall, with four seasons.

Heavy snowfall is the rule in the winter on the northern island of Hokkaido in 1970, the town of Kutchan received 312 cm (over 10 feet) of snow in a single day. The total snowfall for that winter was more than 20 meters (66 feet).

The southern island of Okinawa, in contrast, has a semi-tropical climate with an average annual temperate of 20 Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). The island receives about 200 cm (80 inches) of rain per year.

The track of society

The Shinkansen has run for the past 50 years amid major social changes.

The nation moved from rapid economic growth to the bubble economy and its collapse.

Superstars rose and faded, and unparalleled disasters occurred.

The era turned from Showa to Heisei.

Let's look back on five turbulent decades through Yomiuri Shimbun photos.

The first Shinkansen, the 0 series, traveled between Tokyo and Osaka in 3 hours and 10 minutes at a maximum speed of 210 kph. The Shinkansen featured white and blue colors to convey the ideas of "new" and "fast." It was nicknamed "dangoppana"—literally, dango dumpling nose—after the shape of the locomotive.
(In service October 1964 to September 1999)

Blueprint image courtesy of West Japan Railway Co.

The Osaka Expo lasted 183 days and attracted roughly 64 million visitors, around 10 million of whom took the Shinkansen. To bolster its transportation power, JNR added extra cars to its 12-car Hikari trains, leading to the 16-car version in use today.

Due to poor management, JNR was only able to put on a small exhibit at the expo. However, as former JR Tokai Chairman Hiroshi Suda later noted, "It seems that a lot of children were super-keen to visit the Expo, primarily because they wanted to ride on a Shinkansen." Indeed, the idea of Hikari trains as "moving pavilions" persisted throughout the year.

Aug. 7, 2000, Yomiuri Shimbun morning edition
Oct. 9, 2004, Yomiuri Shimbun Chubu morning edition
July 21, 2012, Yomiuri Shimbun morning edition.

When the Sanyo Shinkansen's Okayama-Hakata service began operating, it became possible to travel between Tokyo and Hakata in 6 hours and 56 minutes.

Despite a recession caused by the oil crisis, parts of Kyushu such as the hot spring district of Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, suddenly registered a surge in visitor numbers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun described the upbeat mood: "Hotel operators have been taken aback by the boost to the tourist season trade, and for the past month, even ryokan inns have been fully occupied people in the industry just can't stop smiling."

However, some among the local populace took a less positive view. Protests were held to voice concerns about environmental pollution. It certainly was not the case that everyone welcomed the coming of the Shinkansen.

March 10, 1975, Yomiuri Shimbun evening edition
April 10, 1975, Yomiuri Shimbun evening edition

In 1985, the original 0 series Shinkansen trains were joined by the 100 series. The 100 series improved on the 0 series design by introducing double-decker rolling stock to enhance customer experience. The new dual-level carriages were used as dining cars and first-class "Green Cars," and proved very popular. The 100 series also had a sleek design: The locomotive's sharp prow led to the nickname "shark nose."
(In service October 1985 to September 2003)

JNR was virtually bankrupt under the weight of massive debt.

Many reasons were cited: The company was constrained by political influence and government budget considerations management took no initiative employees lacked cost-consciousness. However, the ultimate reason was the fact it was a public corporation, and privatization was a natural consequence.

JNR was broken up into private companies including Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), which took over operating the Tokaido Shinkansen line. With the help of the money-making line, JR Tokai's financial status gradually stabilized.

March 18, 1987, Yomiuri Shimbun morning edition
March 31, 1987, Yomiuri Shimbun morning edition, editorial
Aug. 21, 2000, Yomiuri Shimbun morning edition

City urged to avoid crowds as cluster of virus infections continues to grow.

She said਌ovid helped bring communities together despite social distancing.

Hardship for millions waiting on unemployment benefits, stimulus checks.

Residents asked toਊvoid outings bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m. 

Trump praises first responders, calls vaccine a Christmas miracle. 

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Historians describe the Nomonhan Incident, a little-known 1939 Japan-Soviet border conflict, as the starting point of World War II.

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