Aka-hata Jiken (Red Flag Incident) (赤旗事件)

Aka-hata Jiken is an incident that clamped down on socialists, occurred on June 22, 1908.
It is also called 'Kinki-kan Theater Incident' and 'Kinki-kan Theater Red Flag Incident.'

In the Meiji period of Japan, social movements became active including the formation of Rodo Kumiai Kiseikai (association for establishment of labor unions) as a backlash against extremely harsh labor environments. In response to such movements, the government started to control social movements by establishing the Security Police Law in 1900. The Social Democratic Party, which is the first socialist party in Japan, was established by six founders, including Iso ABE, Sen KATAYAMA, Shusui KOTOKU, Kojiro NISHIKAWA, on May 20, 1901 but was banned by the fourth Ito Cabinet immediately after the establishment. The Socialist Association, established by ABE and others in 1900, was also forced into dissolution by the first Katsura Cabinet four years after the establishment.

On January 7, 1906 Kinmochi SAIONJI became prime minister, replacing Taro KATSURA, and the first Saionji Cabinet was started. SAIONJI announced a policy of tolerating the moderates, avoiding cracking down on socialism indiscriminately. Supported by this policy, the first legal socialist party "Japan Socialist Party" was established on January 28. This party, however, was divided into two groups; advocates of direct action (hard-liners) who insisted on violent revolution, including KOTOKU, and advocates of parliament activities (soft-liners) who insisted on legal takeover through parliaments, including Tetsuji TAZOE. Conflict between the said two groups, especially the existence of the hard-liners, was regarded as dangerous by the government, and the prohibition order against association was issued on a charge of infringement against the Security Police Law, one year after the establishment of the party. In such a situation, tens of socialists gathered at a movie theater in Kanda, Tokyo (Chiyoda-ku) called "Kinki-kan Theater" on June 22, 1908, in order to welcome Koken YAMAGUCHI, who had just been discharged from prison.

YAMAGUCHI had contributed an article of argument and consideration titled "Kick the parents" to Heimin Shinbun (Commoner's Newspaper) (No.59) in March 1907, severely criticizing the feudal family system. Due to this article he had been accused of violating Shinbunshi Jorei (Press Regulations), sentenced to three months in prison (a year and two months in total with other charges), and discharged on June 18 the next year. In this case of troubles brought on by publication, Sanshiro ISHIKAWA was also imprisoned, was discharged from prison earlier than YAMAGUCHI, and he, feeling sorry that the hard-liners and the soft-liners separately held a gathering for celebrating his discharge from prison, suggested that the both groups should jointly celebrate YAMAGUCHI's discharge from prison. The hard-liners and the soft-liners were still opposed to each other, but they could have the welcome party in cooperation, partly because YAMAGUCHI, who was in prison, could not directly be involved in this matter.

On the afternoon of June 22 (the time varies according to materials), the celebration was started by an opening speech of ISHIKAWA, the originator. After NISHIKAWA and Toshihiko SAKAI made salutation speeches, the participants spent entertaining hours and the celebration ended in the evening. Just before the end of the celebration, a group of hard-liners including Kanson ARAHATA, Takuji UTSUNOMIYA, Sakae OSUGI and Genjiro MURAKI suddenly waved red flags (the number of the flags varies according to materials) on which white letters saying 'Anarchism,' 'Social Revolution' and 'SOCIALISM' were written, and started to sing songs of revolution. ISIHIKAWA tried to stop them but they did not follow him and ran out of Kinki-kan Theater yelling 'Hurrah for anarchism!' at the top of their voice. The police force was standing by and watching for the celebration, but as soon as they saw the hard-liners appearing at the street, they rushed in toward the hard-liners to take away the red flags, only to wrestle with with the hard-liners, who fought back in order to secure the flags.

As a result of this fight, many people including Kanson ARAHATA, Takuji UTSUNOMIYA, Sakae OSUGI, Genjiro MURAKI, Satoru SATO, Yasunosuke TOKUNAGA, Eiji MORIOKA, Shin MOMOSE, and four women (Satoko OSUGA, Suga KANNO, Reiko KOGURE and Matsuko KAMIKAWA) were arrested, and SAKAI and YAMAKAWA, who tried to stop the fight, were also arrested. In addition, two of the onlookers clustered around the fight were arrested, too.

The arrested people were taken to the Kanda police station and tortured (e.g., kicked in the belly). SAKAI 'simply lay in a coma in his cell,' and KOGURE 'suddenly had a fit and writhed in agony but was left as she was without any treatment.' (the article as of June 26 in Tokyo Niroku Newspaper).

As leaders of the social movement were arrested all together, socialists got upset and rebelled against the police. On July 7, posters were found stuck to telephone poles that said 'We will hold a meeting at Hibiya Park on July 10 in order to avenge the incident of Kinki-kan Theater. The attendee should carry petroleum oil, a club and matchsticks.' (the article as of July 8 in Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper).

On August 15 at 9:00 a.m., the fourteen arrested people, accused of resisting the government officials and violating the Security Police Law, were on trial at the Tokyo District Court.

SAKAI insisted that his several comrades who carried red flags were simply on their way home with the flags rolled up in order to make them inconspicuous when the policemen jumped onto them and turned to violence. SATO acknowledged that he was the first to sing songs of revolution in a loud voice and to yell 'Hurrah for anarchism,' and replied that the ultimate objectives of anarchism and of socilalism may be the same.
OSUGI insisted that, as the policemen who had been waylaying him and his comrades tried to take away red flags, violently ordering them to roll up the flags, they resisted the policeman shouting, 'It is a robbery to take away people's possessions without reason.'

The decision was handed down on August 29, after the second public trial on August 22 in which OSUGI's wife was summoned as witness. KAMIKAWA and KANNO, found not guilty, were discharged from prison on September 1 and TOKUGAWA and KOGURE, given a suspended sentence, were discharged on September 4, while OSUGI was sentenced to two years and six months in prison and fined 25 yen, SAKAI, YAMAKAWA and MORIOKA were sentenced to two years in prison and fined 20 yen, and ARAHATA and UTSUNOMIYA were sentenced to one year and six months in prison and fined 15 yen.

According to what the parties including ARAHATA disclosed later, the red flags were waved only in order to demonstrate against the soft-liners. The contents of the decision were contrary to their optimistic expectation that they would not be severely punished.

On June 27, five days after the incident, SAIONJI announced his intention of resignation to the Minister of Home Affairs Takashi HARA and others. On July 4, the first Saionji cabinet resigned as a body. Although there were certain disturbing elements such as economic downturn in those days, the resignation prompted a flurry of speculation because the cabinet was dissolved shortly after the ruling Seiyu Party won the tenth general election of the House of Representative in May with a historic landslide victory.
The official reason of the resignation was Saionji's failing health, but it is said that the direct cause of the resignation was Arimoto YAMAGATA's report to the Emperor that said 'The incident occurred as a result of a move to reconcile with socialists by the Saionji's cabinet, so it was a blunder by the cabinet.'

KOTOKU, who escaped imprisonment because he had been in his hometown in Kochi at the time of the incident, went back to Tokyo as soon as he heard of the incident and struggled to rebuild the movement. As a result, anarchists and those close to anarchism became the majority in the socialist movement. This trend was further spurred by the stronger crackdown by the newly-formed second Katsura Cabinet, and developed into the Taigyaku Jiken (case of high treason) or the Kotoku Incident in 1910.

[Original Japanese]