Today I learned about a 1960 assassination of a Japanese politician, by a
katana yoroidoshi-wielding ultranationalistic 17-year-old. The killing touched off riots which left dozens of students and police injured.
This shocking stabbing came at a tense time in Japan. The country was still defining itself after its defeat in World War II and the looming elections for the House of Representatives emphasized the deep divide between the left and right.
The victim, Inejiro Asanuma, was the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, whose support of the Chinese Communist Party and criticism of U.S.-Japananese ties were extremely controversial.
In 1959, he had visited China and referred to the United States as “the shared enemy of China and Japan.” He then disembarked from the plane home wearing a suit styled after Chairman Mao Zedong — a bold fashion choice at a time when Mao’s People’s Republic of China was not recognized as legitimate in Japan.
So when Asanuma assumed the lectern in Hibiya Hall in front of 1,000 people on October 12, it was assumed that some of the crowd would have strong feelings on his candidacy.
Spectators were still shocked, though, when 17-year-old Otoya Yamaguchi rushed onto the stage with a traditional samurai sword and plunged it into the left side of the 61-year-old’s ribs.
Yamaguchi was tackled before he got in a second stab, but the damage was already done. Inejiro Asanuma died an hour later.
Still wearing his school uniform, the young ultranationalist smiled as police hauled him away.
Yamaguchi had been a member of the Great Japan Patriotic Society — an extreme right-wing group that vehemently opposed both Communism and Westernization. Approximately 100 members of the organization had attended the debate and could be heard heckling Asanuma throughout his speech.
Yamaguchi’s devotion to Japanese culture was evident in his weapon of choice — a foot-long yoroidoshi sword traditionally used by samurais in the 1800s.