Kyodai-Tenno incident (京大天皇事件)

The Kyodai-Tenno incident was an incident in which disorder arose between the Emperor Showa who visited Kyoto University on November 12, 1951 and many students who gathered at the campus on that day, and Dogakukai, the student self-governing association of Kyoto University, was ordered to dissolve later. It is also called the "Kyodai incident."


In 1951, the year when the Emperor Showa visited Kyoto City during his tour in the Kansai region, the labor movement as well as the student movement started to revive nationwide on the problems of the peace treaty and wage increases, and the labor movement was also vigorous in Kyoto. At Sanjo Works, Shimazu Corporation, one of the destinations of the Emperor's visit, a strike demanding wage increases was conducted until just before the Emperor's visit and it had relevant people (who didn't want a scene of labor-management conflicts to catch the eye of the Emperor) worried. On the "union signboard" placed in front of the Kyoto Municipal Office, which was also the destination of the Emperor's visit, a phrase saying "the Emperor is a broom" was written in large letters with sarcasm (in the sense that the Emperor's tour was intended to sweep out and conceal social problems). The city authority requested it removed, and after a night-long negotiation with the union, a compromise was reached, only one hour before the Emperor's visit scheduled on November 12, that it would be moved to an out-of-sight place.

Beginning the previous year in 1950, the student movement was on the rise at Kyoto University which the Emperor was scheduled to visit after the City office in order to have a briefing. Dogakukai (students' self-governing association of Kyoto University) which was under the philosophical/political influence of the Shokan sect, a minority group (a non-mainstream faction) of the All-Japan Federation of Students' Self-governing Associations, played a leading role in the anti Red Purge struggle in 1950. In response, the authority of the university (president of the university Shunjiro HATTORI) banned the students' strike thoroughly and punished many students. As a result, the situation at the university was still tumultuous in 1951. For the Emperor's visit, Dogakukai took a position of "We will neither welcome nor reject his visit" and "We will receive (the Emperor) as an individual," rather than vociferously appealing the abolition of the Imperial system (unlike other left-wing organizations which did so), and requested to meet the Emperor.

The Emperor's visit to Kyoto University

At Kyoto University Yoshida (headquarter) campus, two thousand students/school personnel gathered, before the arrival of the Emperor, at an open space in front of the university headquarter building (clock tower) (refer to the picture) in order to see (or welcome) the Emperor. In front of a gate at the Yoshida branch school (campus of the Faculty of Integrated Human Studies), a signboard, whose size was three meters long and two meters wide, stating "Our pleas to the Emperor" was put up. At this time, someone on board a vehicle for the Mainichi Newspapers played "Kimigayo" (Japan's national anthem), and some students who were offended by it started to sing an antiwar song "Heiwa wo mamore" (maintain peace) and many students joined forces with them.

The Emperor arrived by car at 1:20 pm in an atmosphere of disquiet and entered a conference room in the headquarters in order to have a briefing. According to Yukitoki TAKIGAWA (he later became the president of Kyoto University), who was one of lecturers, students who were carrying a placard asserting the abolition of Imperial system rushed to the front entrance at this time. As students continued to sing the antiwar song while the Emperor was in the building and the number of students increased further, a large group of people gathered in front of the clock tower and eventually blocked the Emperor's car. The authority of the university asked for the dispatch of police force to the campus in order to secure the path for the Emperor's departure. Being surrounded by the students' voices and songs of protest, the Emperor left Kyoto University after 2 pm through a throng of policemen. In the meantime, students (except for those who took radical action while carrying the above-mentioned placards) were singing together while looking across at the Emperor's party and didn't take any actions to hinder them. Also, as there were no clashes (brawls) between students and the police force with the exception of some jostles, no one was arrested.

"Open letter" from students

The Kyoto University Dogakukai prepared an "open letter" concerning five points and planned to submit it to the Emperor, but its acceptance was rejected. This open letter, which started with the phrase "When we look at you as an individual human being, we cannot help but feel compassion," was written by a student, Tetsuro Nakaoka (he later became a professor of Osaka City University). In this letter, students expressed sadness for the Emperor's tour on the ground that it was done using a big amount of tax money while social problems were being glossed over and concealed, and based on the situation at the time where Japan's re-militarization was in progress under U.S. occupation and the Korean War was becoming serious, they asked about Japan's attitude if it was on the verge of being dragged into the war. Further, they also mentioned the Emperor's wartime responsibility as well as the political exploitation of the Emperor, which were taboo, by saying "You are now playing a role of propping up war ideology as you did in the past under the situation where Japan is planning to conclude separate peace treaties and rearm itself."

Disciplinary action against persons involved

Although there wasn't any acts of violence, the Minister for Education, Teiyu AMANO, mentioned this "incident" the next day, November 13, at the Lower House Education Committee in the process of the deliberation of the draft law of the university administration. The authority of the university ordered the dissolution of the Dogakukai on November 15, and indefinitely suspended eight executives of the Dogakukai from the university on November 18. It is considered that the Dogakukai, which cooperated to regulate the crowd and restore quiet on the day of Emperor's visit, was punished severely because of the content of the open letter mentioned above and the backlash in public opinion (Dogakukai was reconstructed in 1953).

The president of the university Hattori and the chairman of the Dogakukai were summoned to the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee on November 26, and the Government (the third Yoshida cabinet) and the ruling Liberal Party planned, taking advantage of this incident, to make it possible for the police to enter the university campus freely. The Kyoto District Public Prosecutors Office studied the possibility of prosecuting them for the violation of Public Safety Regulations, but after investigating relevant personnel, it found no violation and gave up prosecution.

Public opinion at the time

In 1951, the same year as this incident, students of Kyoto university with the Dogakukai in the center held "The synthetic exhibition of the A-bomb (Kyoto University)," and it attracted many people and was favorably received by the citizens of Kyoto (in the open letter, they asked the Emperor to visit the A-bomb exhibition). After the incident, novelist Hiroshi NOMA sent a message to the Dogakukai and acclaimed the "right actions" of the students.
However, the number of people who were in favor of the students of Kyoto University and the Dogakukai concerning this incident were relatively small, and many people condemned them by saying "Abolish Kyoto University" or "Are you madmen?"
Especially, newspapers strongly condemned students as if they committed "lese majesty," including Kyoto Shimbun which posted the article "Disrespect for the Emperor and Kyoto University's responsibility" on November 13. As a result, the reaction of Kyoto citizens was unfavorable to students largely.

A literary work which dealt with the incident

Saburo SHIROYAMA "Taiginosue" 1959
It is an autobiographical novel written by Shiroyama, a novelist of the same generation as Tetsuro NAKAOAKA, an author of the "open letter." Remarks concerning the open letter are seen in this novel.

[Original Japanese]