Japan novelist and Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933): Communist martyr

Japan novelist and Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933): Communist martyr

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese novelist Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933) was tortured to death in 1933. His crime was to support the working classes and the downtrodden. Hence, with socialist and communist ideals being part of his inner soul for many years, the Tokkō (Special Higher Police – Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu) deemed him a threat to the state apparatus.

Kobayashi wrote in his novel, “Each railroad tie in Hokkaido was nothing but the bluish corpse of a worker. Posts driven into the soil during harbor reclamations were laborers sick with beriberi buried alive like the ancient “human pillars.” The name for workers in Hokkaido was “octopus.” In order to stay alive, an octopus will even devour its own limbs. It was just like that! Here a primitive exploitation could be practiced against anyone, without any scruples. It yielded loads of profit. What’s more such doings were cleverly identified with “developing the national wealth,” and deftly rationalized away. It was very shrewdly done. Workers were starved and beaten to death for the sake of “the nation.” 

On the fatal day of February 20, 1933, Kobayashi set out to meet a fellow member of the Communist Party. However, unknown to Kobayashi, this member was a police infiltrator linked to Tokkō. Therefore, after being spotted in Akasaka by Tokkō, he was arrested and ultimately tortured to death in Tsukiji Police Station.

His final day on this earth was hours of interrogation and torture by the Japanese state apparatus. Hospitals, fearing Tokkō, refused to do an autopsy. However, it later turned out that Kobayashi had lacerations to his wrists and neck – one forefinger was broken – bruises from his back to knees – internal bleeding – and a hole in his temple.

Tokkō and nationalist forces felt not an ounce of shame. Instead, it was a warning to socialists, trade unionists, and communists – that the state apparatus was “all-powerful.” Also, it would set off internal suspicions because the Communist Party had been infiltrated – by the state apparatus.

Kobayashi wrote, “Brilliant executives wedded such work to “the interests of the Japanese Empire.” That way, fabulous sums of money rolled wholesale into executive pockets. Even so, while enjoying a drive in their automobiles these moneymen contemplated running for the Diet in order to make their bets doubly certain. And perhaps at the very same moment, in the dark northern seas thousands of miles away, the workers of the Chichibumaru were fighting their final struggle against the wind and the waves that were sharp as broken glass!”

The Tokkō – under the Home Ministry – was fearful of anarchism, communism, the labor movement, socialism, and the increasing migrant population that was bringing new ideas. Suspicion increased after the Russian Revolution in 1917, internal Rice Riots in 1918, and the Samil Uprising in 1919 in Korea. Hence, the brutal Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 witnessed the slaughter of Koreans in Tokyo and the surrounding environs. Therefore, Kobayashi was tortured to death for defending the downtrodden in Japan and spreading ideas through the pen.

His famous novel Kanikōsen became a best seller in 2008. This concerns the growing anxiety in Japan related to reduced working rights, political elites being out of touch, the stagnant economy, corporate bullying, long working hours (limited pensions), and other ills that escape the ruling political and capitalist elites.

Reuters reports, “The book has long been a favorite of scholars of Marxist literature, but it gained mainstream attention after an advertising campaign linked it with the concept of working poor, said Tsutomu Sasaki of Shinchosha Publishing Co, which reprints the pocket-sized book. The book has been on bestsellers’ lists since around May.”



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