1870: Kumoi Tatsuo

Add comment December 26th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1870, Japanese samurai Kumoi Tatuo was beheaded for attempting to topple the Meiji government.

Briefly a bureaucrat under the restored emperor, Tatsuo like many samurai grew disillusioned with the new state and its eclipse of the old ways.

Suspected of plotting an attack on senior government officials, he was arrested and beheaded with eleven others.

At death, I fear no dying;
In life embrace not living;
The brilliance of the sun
Is rivaled by integrity.
Execution has no terror,
Though it be a boiling cauldron;
But how insignificant my poor person,
Against the Great Wall!

-Kumoi Tatsuo

Tatsuo’s verse would later inspire the developing People’s Rights movement against the Meiji government’s authoritarianism, as well as nascent pan-Asianism.

Still, where art’s concerned, everyone is a critic. Japanese intellectual Shiga Shigetaka, addressing another young poet around the turn of the century, implored him to rise above Tatsuo.

You are only twenty-seven or -eight of age and your future is greatly promising. Above all, you must aim to be a great man in maturity and, without becoming content with temporary honor, work hard from this moment, striving to leave a name imperishable for a thousand years in the history of English literature. Tatsuo … has left nothing for the history of Japan, let alone for the history of the world. It is merely that because his poems are inept (they are, yes, inept when viewed in Chinese literature), because they meet the taste of those without a discerning eye as readers, a handful of students, who just want to feel good, recite them. You must draw your own conclusion from Tatsuo’s example.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Artists,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Treason

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1876: The samurai leaders of the Hagi and Akizuki rebellions

4 comments December 3rd, 2009 Headsman

Unless you’re a Jedi knight, feudal warrior castes and industrial civilization go together like sashimi and fries. So, when the Meiji Restoration made its choice for Japanese modernization, it gained the enmity of the samurai it necessarily dispossessed.

A news nishiki-e woodblock depicting the defeat of the Hagi Rebellion, with the conquering Miura Goro on horseback. (Click for a wider, three-panel image.) From here.

In many cases, said samurai were especially burned at having initially backed the restoration’s restoration of the emperor and attendant jingoistic sloganeering, only to find themselves on the outs as soon as the new government got its feet under it.

Over the 1870’s, the samurai caste was essentially abolished, and it lost its sword-toting privileges along with (come the advent of a new conscript army) its military import.

Small wonder that once-haughty military folk fought this unwelcome progress katana and wakizashi.

In 1876, the Shimpuren Rebellion helped spark sympathetic retrograde uprisings both named for their locations, Akizuki and Hagi. In all of these, the aggrieved samurai made desperate bids to reassert their lost position and reverse Japan’s westernization.

In all of these, they failed.

Leaders of both the Akizuki and Hagi Rebellions — Wikipedia gives it as two from the former (Masuda Shizukata and Imamura Hyakuhachiro) and seven from the latter (notably Maebara Issei) — were beheaded together this date in Fukuoka.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Mass Executions,Power,Soldiers

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1703: 47 Ronin forced to commit seppuku

1 comment February 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1703, Japan’s most renowned epic of bushido vengeance reached its endgame with the condemned ronin who had avenged their executed master forced to commit seppuku.

So compelling an allegory of conflicting loyalties could hardly have been so skillfully constructed as outright fiction. The 47 Ronin owed personal fealty to a daimyo who drew his blade when provoked by the insolence of a shogunate official, and was condemned to death for the offense.

For the shogun, it was a just assertion of a central state’s prerogatives.

For the samurai made ronin by the death of their lord, it was a test of honor.

Knowing that the offending shogun retainer would be well-defended on the lookout against retribution, forty-seven of them (or possibly more at first; in any case, not the entirety of the samurai force) feigned dissipation and indifference for over a year … then raided his palace and slew him once he dropped his guard.

The ronin were condemned to death, but authorities “allowed” them the more honorable route of seppuku — which they committed to a man.*

Theorists of bushido honor may dicker over whether this plot fulfilled the demands of honor, but less philosophically exacting interlocutors have made the tale among the most beloved in Japanese history — like these illustrations of a traditional adaptation, or several films.

Their graves can be honored by the discerning Tokyo visitor at the popular Sengakuji Temple.

* Actually only 46 of the 47; the other was sent as a messenger, or perhaps fled, but was otherwise separated from his party, and ended up spared.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Japan,Mass Executions,Murder,Myths,Popular Culture,Soldiers,Treason

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