Ōsugi Sakae

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Ōsugi Sakae (大杉 栄, January 17, 1885 – September 16, 1923) was a radical Japanese anarchist. He published numerous anarchist periodicals, helped translate 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.

Ōsugi Sakae
Ōsugi (c.1920)
Born(1885-01-17)January 17, 1885
Marugame, Japan
DiedSeptember 16, 1923(1923-09-16) (aged 38)
Tokyo, Japan



Ōsugi Sakae was born on January 17, 1885, in Marugame, Kagawa, according to his autobiography, Jijōden. 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 Kusui Yutaka and Japanese military captain Ōsugi Azuma. 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, 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; he was held in the school stockade for 10 days for this and received 30 days of confinement. Later he participated in a knife fight; fighting unarmed, fearing he'd injure his opponent, he received injuries which required a fortnight's hospitalization. After this incident he was finally expelled.

Interest in socialism and ChristianityEdit

In 1903 he eventually decided to attain higher education in French Literature at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages (the present-day Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), 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 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. He graduated from the school in 1905.

After his mother's death, he became depressed and redirected his energies into his studies. He began to read large numbers of books—only a handful of which he counted as having made 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 search for a spiritual outlet in Christianity. He attended several churches, 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, but he later wrote that he was never fully satisfied.

He began to involve himself in socialism more at this time, mostly because of exposure to the most radical newspaper available in Tokyo: Yorozu Chōhō. He would further involve himself in the socialist movement when Kōtoku Shūsui and Sakai Toshihiko formed the Commoners' Society (Heimin-sha). He began to write letters to the editor of this organization's paper, the Heimin Shimbun (Common People's Newspaper), and hand out the paper in public. When the Heimin Shimbun folded, his first article, "Socialism and patriotism" (Shakaishugi to aikokushugi), was published in another radical paper, Hikari, 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,[citation needed] he felt this was a betrayal of his spiritual principles and left permanently.

Anarchism and the high treason incidentEdit

Ōsugi from a 1921 copy of the magazine Kaizō

Ōsugi still held military aspirations as a matter of practicality, since he had no other career ambitions. But a military career became impossible in 1906, when he was arrested during a demonstration-turned-riot against increasing trolley fares. In prison he took the time to fully study socialism and its tenets, and completed his transition to socialist. His interest in science would lay the groundwork for his eventual shift to anarchism. He also taught himself languages including Italian, Esperanto, Russian, English, French, and German.

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

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

His arrest as part of the Red Flag Incident handed him his heaviest prison term, but it saved him and others convicted at the time from being associated with the High Treason Incident (Taigyaku Jiken) of 1910. At the trials, twelve 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 encountered the defendants in prison but was afraid to speak to them too loudly. Kōtoku, nearly deaf, was unable to hear him. Ōsugi also encountered their executioner, who retired after their executions.

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 received a 3-month term. He was also briefly held in detention in France in 1922 before being deported to Japan.

Free love and scandalEdit

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 26-year-old reporter for the Tokyo Nichi Nichi 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 Ōsugi made no mention of her in his writings. But in 1915, he and his wife moved to Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, to publish the second Kindai Shisō. On Fridays he would commute to Tokyo to teach his Furansu Bungaku Kenkyūkai ("French Literature Study Society") classes and he'd spend the night at Ichiko's house. This led to their affair, which was an open secret by that December.

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

It was not until September 1914 that they met in the home of her husband, Tsuji Jun, introduced by Watanabe Masatarō. 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. Ōsugi noted this display of solidarity, and a message of thanks was produced by Arahata in the next issue of the Heimin shimbun. Ōsugi visited Itō at her home three times in February 1915, but their affair probably did not begin until February 1916.

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

The Amakasu IncidentEdit

On September 16, 1923, in the chaos immediately following the Great Kantō earthquake, Ōsugi and his lover/partner, Noe Itō, and his 6-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 child became known as the Amakasu Incident and sparked surprise and anger throughout Japan.

Timeline of Ōsugi's lifeEdit

  • 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 School of Foreign Languages (now Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), 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 Tokyo School of Foreign Languages
  • 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 "Shinpei 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 Saint-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.

Ōsugi Sakae in filmEdit


  1. ^ Desser, David (1988). Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-253-20469-1.


  • Stanley, Thomas A (1982). Ōsugi Sakae, Anarchist in Taishō Japan: The Creativity of the Ego. Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University. ISBN 0-674-64493-X. OCLC 993334190.

Further readingEdit

  • Sakae Osugi (December 17, 1992). The Autobiography of Osugi Sakae. University of California Press.
  • Filler, Stephen (2012). "The Theory and Practice of Early Literary Anarchism in Japan: Ōsugi Sakae, Arahata Kanson, and Miyajima Sukeo, 1911–1923". Studies in the Literary Imagination. 45 (2): 47–79. doi:10.1353/sli.2012.0010. ISSN 2165-2678.

External linksEdit