On May 14, 1932, about two months after the founding of Manchukuo, the world-famous comedian Charlie Chaplin landed in the port of Kobe.
The next day, he moved on to Tokyo by express train, accompanied by a throng of reporters.
The papers were full of articles welcoming him, and Chaplin responded: The Japanese are the hardest working people in the world and I respect them for it.
It was Sunday, and Tokyo lay under a bright, sunny sky.
That afternoon, Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi, relaxing in the Japanese room of his official residence in down town Tokyo, was reading the evening edition of the newspaper. He had succeeded Prime Minister Wakatsuki toward the end of previous year.
A former journalist, he was on friendly terms with the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen and was also known for having assisted the Filipino champion of independence, General Emilio Aguinaldo.
At seventy-six, he stood out among the politicians of his time as an elder statesman of the highest integrity.
At about 5:30, two taxis suddenly pulled up in front of the residence. In the cars was a party of naval officers and army cadets.
Evading the eye of security, the group, led by the naval officers, forced its way inside, heading for the prime minister’s room.
The prime minister now sat behind a table, surrounded by military men.
Riveting his eyes upon them, he opened the lid of a cigarette box, and offered it around without a word.
Not one of the officers put out a hand.
Inukai then addressed the intruders: Won’t you at least remove your boots?
You needn’t worry about our boots. You know what’s happening, shouted the leader, Lieutenant Mikami Taku, in an excited voice, aiming his pistol.
If you have any last words, let’s have it quick.
Inukai calmly retorted, There’s no need to get excited. If we talk this over, we can come to an understanding.
His tranquility made a strong impression on lieutenant Mikami and he lowered his pistol, but another lieutenant shouted angrily, No discussions, shoot, shoot!
The prime minister raised his hand as though to calm the attacker.
At this point a young second lieutenant who had just burst into the room suddenly pulled the trigger.
Lieutenant Mikami also fired a shot.
The Prime minister collapsed face down on the table. Inukai breathed his last that night.
To the last moment he kept repeating in his delirium, If only we could have talked…. At the subsequent trial, the criminals stated that they had had no personal motive for killing Inukai―on the contrary, they thought him an out-standing politician.
Their reasoning was that he had to be eliminated because he was the head of corrupt political party.
At the same time, the group had attacked the keeper of Privy Seal, Count Makino―one of the plenipotentiaries at the earlier Paris Peace Conference―as well as party headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Office, and the electrical transformer station; but except for the prime minister’s assassination, all the attacks ended in failure.
By creating confusion in the capital, which would be followed by a declaration of martial law by the army, the plotters had hoped to create an occasion for establishing a reformist military cabinet.
Their object was the destruction of the status quo; what followed, they hoped, could be left to the top echelon of the army.
Their leaflets, disseminated in the vicinity of the Metropolitan Police Office, made the following appeal:
People of Japan!
The time has come to take a look squarely at our fatherland!
Look at politics, foreign policy, the economy, education, ideas, military matters―where is the true imperial Japan to be seen?
The political parties, blinded by their own interests, conspire with the zaibatsu to squeeze sweat and blood out of the common people; our foreign policy is spineless, our education decadent, our military corrupt, our ideas are perverted, our working class and farmers suffer in direst distress, and vain speeches are made all the while!
Japan is on the verge of dying in a cesspool of depravity. Fellow citizens, to arms! In the name of Emperor, slay the evil courtiers! Kill the enemies of the people―the parties and zaibatsu! Wipe out the privileged classes!
Farmers, workers, people of our country! Defend your Japanese fatherland! Build a healthier new Japan!
To reconstruct, first destroy! Demolish the present abominable system totally!
Japan: The Years of Trial, 1919-52