Before Shinzo Abe, the last assassination of a Japanese prime minister took place 90 years ago

The assassination of Japanese prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai on 15 May 1932 went down as one of the biggest events in the history of the country. Image Courtesy: National Diet Library

Political violence in Japan is rare. There have been three instances when the country’s leader has been killed while in office — Takashi Hara in 1921, Osachi Hamaguchi in 1930 and Tsuyoshi Inukai in 1932

The day 8 July will scar Japan forever. It’s the day that the longest-serving prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was assassinated.

The tragedy unfolded on Friday when 67-year-old Shinzo Abe, who led the largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party, was shot while he was campaigning in the city of Nara.

The Associated Press reports that Abe was shot from behind minutes after he began his speech. He was airlifted to a hospital for emergency treatment but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later pronounced dead despite emergency treatment that included massive blood transfusions, hospital officials said.

The police arrested the 41-year-old suspected shooter Tetsuya Yamagami at the scene of the attack. Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, later reported that the suspect, a former maritime self-defence force member for about three years, had been frustrated with Abe and intended to kill him.

The tragedy comes as a shock not only to Japan as well as the world, the country prides itself on being a safe society; shootings are particularly rare in the eastern country.

Also read: Former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe dies: Political assassinations that shook the world

However, Abe isn’t the first prime minister of Japan to be assassinated. We take a look at other incidents that occurred last 90 years ago.

Stabbed to death

On 4 November 1921, Takashi Hara, who established Japan’s full-fledged party Cabinet system and was known as the first commoner to become the prime minister was stabbed to death at Tokyo Station by a young railway worker.

A son of a high-ranking samurai family of northern Japan, he became the first Japanese prime minister not from the aristocracy. In the 1900s, he joined Japanese politics and in September 1918, he became the prime minister of the country.

However, Hara didn’t enjoy support of people within Japan— the liberals and socialists accused him of delaying universal suffrage as it would endanger his position in power.

Things took a tragic turn for Hara in November 1921 when he went to Tokyo Station, intending to board the 7:30 pm sleeper bound for Kyoto in order to attend the Seiyukai’s Kinki Conference.

Railroad worker, later identified as Konichi Nakaoka, stabbed him to death at the Tokyo Station. It was later reported that Nakaoka was infuriated by Hara’s policies. The Japan Times reports that Nakaoka had earlier made a rant to his manager blaming Hara for Japan’s societal problems.

The assassination of the incumbent prime minister sent shock waves through the political world, since it was the first such incident after Japan had become constitutional government.

The assassination of Takashi Hara, the first commoner to become the prime minister, was the first such incident after Japan had become constitutional government. Image Courtesy: National Diet Library

A second assassination

Nine years after Takashi Hara was killed, Osachi Hamaguchi befell a similar fate, only he was shot.

Osachi Hamaguchi, also known as Hamaguchi Yuko, became prime minister of Japan in July 1929. He was nicknamed the ‘Lion Prime Minister’ due to his dignified demeanour and mane-like hair.

A young right-winger named Sagoya Tomeo, enraged over the alleged usurpation of the Emperor’s prerogative of supreme command, shot Hamaguchi on 14 November 1930 at Tokyo Station. He didn’t die immediately and nine months later succumbed to a bacterial infection in his unhealed wounds.

Osachi Hamaguchi befell the same fate as Takashi Hara except that he was shot at Tokyo Station. Image Courtesy: National Diet Library

15 May 1932 Assassination

This is perhaps the most shocking assassination that took place in Japan before the Shinzo Abe incident.

On 15 May 1932, a group of armed navy officers stormed the prime minister’s residence and shot Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai to death.

Inukai’s last words were roughly translated to: “If I could speak, you would understand” to which his killers replied, “Dialogue is useless.”

The assassination came as the junior officer corps attempted to overthrow the government. While his supporters were keen to see him rein in the growing power of the military, the army and navy charged him with not being patriotic due to his lack of support for their imperial adventures.

When the Japanese Army proclaimed the state of Manchukuo in occupied China, Inukai refused to recognise it diplomatically and the rest, as they say, is history.


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