Hibiya Incendiary Incident (日比谷焼打事件)

Hibiya Incendiary Incident was a revolt caused from the dissatisfaction with the compensation after the Russo-Japanese War, triggered by the rally held at Hibiya Park in Tokyo on September 5, 1905.


By the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905, Russia approved the cession of Sakhalin Island from 50 degrees north latitude to the southern end as well as the handover of Liaodong Peninsula, a leased territory, to Japan, thus the Russo-Japanese War substantially ended with the Japan's victory. However, this treaty didn't mention the Russia's obligation to pay the reparations to Japan, so Japan couldn't directly gain the reparations although it sacrificed a considerable number of victims and a huge amount of war expenditure (including the external debt) incomparable with the Sino-Japanese War. Because of this, the criticism increased in the public opinion (inside of Japan), and the people who turned into a mob burned out the official residence of Minister of Home Affairs, Kokumin Shinbunsya which was regarded as a pro-government newspaper company, police stations and so on. Besides, in this incident, a martial law (emergency imperial edict) was also proclaimed.


In 1905, Japan and Russia came to be holding reconcilatory negotiations at Portsmouth of America (State of New Hampshire) through the intermediation of Theodore ROOSEVELT, the President of the United States of America, triggered by the incident that the Baltic Fleet, the Russian Navy, was explosed by the Imperial Japanese Navy led by Heihachiro TOGO during the Russo-Japanese War. In thouse days, Japanese financial affairs deteriorated due to the enormous expenditure for war, and in Russia also, the revolutionary movements such as Bloody Sunday (1905) were growing worse, so it was getting difficult for the both countries to continue the war.

But the enemy was a large strong country, Russia. Japan of the time had no more energy enough to continue the war. Most of people who hadn't been informed of the circumstances expected to be able to get a large amount of reparations from Russia, but the Russian side refused to pay the reparations. Because the battlefields set for the Russo-Japanese War were only in the southern Manchuria (the northeastern China) and the northern Korean Peninsula, so nowhere in Russia had been attacked by Japan. Being afraid of the breakdown of the negotiations, Jutaro KOMURA, a plenary power of the Japanese side, signed, on August 29, the Treaty of Portsmouth, a peace treaty, by accepting several conditions including the cession of the southern half of Sakhalin and the Japan's priority for taking a leadership toward Korean Empire.

These conditions were far from what Japanese people were expecting, which are reparations of 5 billion yen, the transfer of the right for Liaodong Peninsula as well as the right of the railroad between Lushun and Harupin, the transfer of the entire land of Sakhalin and so on. A part of right-wing activists agitated the Japanese people by sayng that the Russian Empire's territory in the east of Irkutsk State would be ceded. So, Asahi Shinbun put some comments dated of September 1 such as 'the peace treaty was putting the cart before the horse', 'Taro KATSURA Cabinet sold Japanese people and army', 'Komura was unforgivable' and so on. However, Komura's negotiations were highly praised by Hirobumi ITO and others. Besides, Prime Minister Taro KATSURA and Minister of the Navy Gombei YAMAMOTO seemed to be ready for being killed by bombs along with KOMURA if it happened, so they walked putting KOMURA between them after they welcomed him at Shimbashi Station.

People who had been suffered from the tax increase to compensate the expenditure for the prolonged war increased their dissatisfaction with the peace treaty which didn't bring them any reparations. Because of this, a rally took place in different places of the country such as the public hall in Osaka City on September 3, to stand against the peace treaty and call for continueing the war. The details of their demands were extreme such as 'the punishment of all the cabinet members, the abrogation of the peace treaty and the continuation of the war with Russia'.

A revolt in Hibiya

On September 5, another rally took place by the people who called for abrogating the peace treaty in Hibiya Park in Tokyo. Then, the people who finally turned into a mob by rage caused Hibiya Incendiary Incident. The people who turned into a mob attacked and distracted the official residence of Minister of Home Affairs, Kokumin Shinbunsya, police stations and so on. At that time, St. Nicholas Church and the related facilities were also targetted and about to be burned out because of the deep relationship between Japan Orthodox Church and Russia, but it was saved by the defence of the Imperial Guards.
Due to this, Tokyo was put in a state of anarchy, and on September 6, Japanese Government proclaimed martial law (administrative martial law by an emergency imperial edict) and the disturbance finally calmed down. (The martial law was abolished on November 29.)

In this disturbance, 17 people died, over 500 people got injured and over 2000 people were arrested (including 87 people adjudicated guilty).

For your information, this kind of rally calling for abrogating the peace treaty took place in various places, and a revolt occurred in Kobe on September 7 and in Yokohama on September 12 as well.


It can be considered that, in the background of this incident, there was a people's (and media's, especially, news companies') anticipation that the war could bring a huge fortune if win, inspired by earlier Sino-Japanese War from which Japan had gained reparations much enough to compensate the war expenditure. Anyway, it was likely true that such people's thought later helped the Japanese army's surge. In the newspapers of the times, there were a lot of articles likely supporting the military action, telling that the Russo-Japanese War could increase the income.

Some people say the anti-governmental political party which organized the rally might have agitated the people, but the other people say that people were too much excited to be controled any longer.


People's repellence couldn't calm down even after the revolt was suppressed, so Prime Minister Taro KATSURA secretly had a meeting with Kinmochi SAIONJI, Leader of the Rikken seiyukai, to discuss about the relief program. In this concequence, the First Katsura Cabinet resigned in a body in January of the following year, instead, the First Saionji Cabinet was formed. SAIONJI and the new Minister of Home Affairs (Japan), Takashi HARA refused the anti-governmental side's demand for the punishment of the persons concerned with the martial law, and thus tried to put an end to the incident.

After this incident, the civil disorder which occurred in the Taisho Coup or the Siemens Incident let men of power know people's potential and served as the propulsion for Taisho Democracy.

[Original Japanese]