Tokyo: Social Protests in an age of ‘Imperial Democracy’

Following the outcome of the Russo- Japanese War, growing dissatisfaction evolved from terms of the peace treaty, which saw an end to the war in 1905. The Treaty sparked rioting within Tokyo, culminating in the “first major social protest of the age of imperial democracy.”[1]Following a failure to obtain a substantial and “profitable peace settlement”, local factions with in Toyoko rebelled and were only quelled when the government were forced to enact martial law[2]. The demonstration on the 5th September 1905, became known as the Hibiya Riot, which would last for three days. As Andrew Gordon has described, this was “the first in a series of violent incidents that took place over the first and second decade of the century after which time social protests.. took on a more organised and less violent form.”[3]

 

As time progressed, social protests have been described by Andrew Gordon as taking on an increasingly organised approach as well as moving away from violence.It may well have been the intention of the protestors to move away from violence but the report from the Japan Chronicle published 5th June 1930 suggests that the response of the authorities was increasingly hard line and utilised excessive violence against the protestors, which created a violent incident. Following the article’s  title of “The New Weapon of the Tokyo Police”, the article alleges that the Metropolitan police service in Tokyo took on the role of aggressor by employing the use of tear-gas to quell what started as an orderly protest of Tokyo Communications Labour Union workers who had gathered near Hibiya Park. It was further reported that “soon orderliness, however, gave way to something alike to riot when the police strove to stem the march.”[4] It is questionable why in fact the Police had taken these steps to prevent the protest as the organisers had  discussed the protest  with the Metropolitan Police in a previous meeting. The use of tear-gas by the Police in order to disperse the crowds, was viewed as an intentional weapon by representatives of the Tokyo Communications Labour Union, who “filed a joint protest against the use of tear-gas revolvers by the Hibiya Police against the members of the Tokyo Communications Labour Union.”[5]

 

However, it was not the fact of the supposed use of the police’s “new weapon” in order to quell the demonstration which is illuminating, it is the apology which the police gave in light of the protest filed against its use. As the article goes on to examine, the apology given by the Police Bureau, suggests no remorse in the use of tear-gas as a weapon on protestors. Moreover, it details how explicitly “the Police Bureau.. do not consider the tear-gas revolver as a weapon.”[6] However, the response of the Police Bureau subsequently debates how the use of the product was used to determine its weaponry status.  Moreover, the Police Bureau’s response offers a contradiction by asserting that “to try and make out that the pistol is not a weapon would therefore seem to open the way to wholesale without a licence and indiscriminate use.. in quiet places.”[7] By further concluding that “it is a weapon and nothing else, even if its use does not involve death, and should certainly be licensed.” [8]

The article thus serves as an insight into the police response to protest in the period. Whilst they were clearly concerned with the spreading of armed protest by use of “articles of everyday use”, they were unprepared to take accountability for their use of the weaponry against protestors, as examined with the example above. This account serves to highlight how as Andrew Gordon suggests, the trajectory of protests in Toyoko towards less violent response was definitely varied.

Bibliography

 

Gordon, Andrew “Social Protest in Imperial Japan, The Hibiya Riot of 1905”,MIT Visualising Cultures, 2011, < https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/social_protest_japan/trg_essay01.html>[ 14 December 2019].

 

SMPA Archive, ‘Protest by Labour:The New Weapon of the Tokyo Police’,The Japan Weekly Chronicle, Tokyo, 5 June 1930, <Shanghai Municipal Police Files>[accessed 14th December 2019.]

[1] Gordon, Andrew “Social Protest in Imperial Japan, The Hibiya Riot of 1905”,MIT Visualising Cultures, 2011, < https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/social_protest_japan/trg_essay01.html>[ 14 December 2019].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] SMPA Archive, ‘Protest by Labour:The New Weapon of the Tokyo Police’,The Japan Weekly Chronicle, Tokyo, 5 June 1930, <Shanghai Municipal Police Files>[accessed 14th December 2019.]

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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