Memories of the Yomiuri Labor Struggle – The Life of Journalist Tarou Miyamoto Chapter 2

II. MY TIME AT FORMER SUIKO HIGH SCHOOL –Looking at your history, one can see that although you entered Yomiuri in 1935, before that you participated in the student movement with the movie director Tadashi Imai during your time at former Suiko High School (now Ibaraki University), and you were arrested by the Special Higher […]


–Looking at your history, one can see that although you entered Yomiuri in 1935, before that you participated in the student movement with the movie director Tadashi Imai during your time at former Suiko High School (now Ibaraki University), and you were arrested by the Special Higher Police (tokkou). It seems that there’s a deep relationship between this time and your struggle at Yomiuri, so I’d like to start there.

That’s correct. During my time at Suiko High School I was expelled and arrested by the Tokkou with their reason being my involvement in student and left-wing movements, and, I’ll talk about this more later, this certainly had a relationship to my participation in the Yomiuri Struggle. I was born and raised in a mountain village in Nishitama county, in the Tokyo Metropolitan area near the border with Yamanashi and Kanagawa Prefectures. I was one of five boys raised by my father, who was a farmer and construction contractor. Graduating from Prefectural Sixth Middle School (now Metropolitan Shinjuku High School), I entered the Suiko High School humanities section in 1929. Because I took a year break from school I was scheduled to graduate in March of 1933. However, as a result of acts of repression against the Suiko High School Cell of the Communist Youth League (kyousei), I was arrested, charged, and expelled from school.

–You saying 1929 reminds me of the oppression towards the Communist Party that started with the March 15 Incident of the previous year and continued with the April 16 Incident that year.

Right. The Labour-Farmer Party representative Senji Yamamoto, who opposed the Peace Preservation Act, was assassinated by the right wing on March 5 just before I entered school. After that was the April 16 Incident, and then the world economic crisis began that October. Despite the times, my student lifestyle was still brimming with freedom. I entered the basketball club and got lost in sports, enjoyed the freedom of dorm life, and if I had to say which, it was more laidback than oppressive. However on the other hand, like in the movie “I Graduated But…” that came out around that time, the difficulties of finding a job, unemployment, poverty, and war cast a darkening shadow that I noticed even as I was in school.

The Basketball Club and Sharing a Dorm Room with Tadashi Imai

–Around what time did you become interested in left wing movements?

Well at the time we called it the Sociology Research Society (shakyuu) and the Reading Society, but I began to participate in the second semester of my first year, in the autumn of 1929. There were about 10 first year members, and throughout the school there were twenty-something members, I think. During that autumn the basketball club was off season and I was switching dorm rooms, and so I became roommates with Tadashi Imai in a two bed dorm room.

At the time, Imai’s senpai from his middle school days and the manager of the basketball club Miyahara Seiichi (later professor and chair of the Education Department at Tokyo University) would come along for training camp in town and would sometimes show up at our dorm. Miyahara would give something wrapped in newspaper to Imai, and then they would quickly leave whispering to each other, catching my attention. This was around October, I think. One day, I noticed Imai had crawled into his bed that was just a futon on the middle shelf in a closet, peaking from my bed on the upper shelf. And so I asked him what he was reading. It was Takiji Kobayashi’s novel The Crab Cannery Ship published in the magazine Battleflag.1

I immediately borrowed and read it, and I had the feeling that this touched on a world I knew nothing about. Sharing that feeling with Imai and talking it over with him, even now I can replay it in my mind. From there I soon learned that there was a thing called a Reading Society (RS), and by Imai’s introduction I became a member.

–What things did RS read and what kind of organization was it?

RS had meetings once a week, and surrounded by Miyahara and the other upperclassman tutors, we mainly studied scientific socialism. The first text we used was Bukharin’s Historical Materialism, I think. Also, we recommended subscriptions of Second Proletarian Newspaper and Young Proletarian to classmates, along with handling distribution. At meetings we also debated things we read. When I was a first year student I was still getting used to words that I had just heard for the first time, such as hantei (contraction of hanteidoumei or Anti-Imperialist League) or moppuru (International Red Aid, known by its Russian acronym MOPR). So although in the group we chose various people to be in charge of certain responsibilities, in my first year I wasn’t able to actively participate. Thus my main job was gathering money from classmates and friends for hantei and moppuru and giving it to the upperclassmen. Even at just this low level of activity, because of the strict environment created by the recent March 15 Incident and April 16 Incident, meetings, contacts, newspaper and magazine subscribers, etc. all had to be kept secret. So even if I seemed carefree, inside I was appropriately nervous. Being in the middle of all that, making my studies from RS my top priority, and studying this new knowledge of scientific socialism, I felt a great, refreshing joy.

–The Suiko High School RS faced repression from the Tokkou didn’t it.

Yes, in March 1930 around when the final trimester of classes ended. The first-year Imai, second-year Miyahara, and ten-odd third-year students were arrested by the Ibaraki Prefecture Tokkou, and nine were suspended for a year. In April I entered my second year and became captain of the basketball team. During that year’s summer vacation the Inter-High School championships were being held for the first time, so I focused on basketball practice. Because of oppression from the police as well as mass disciplinary action from the school itself during exams, the organization took a great blow and particularly students in a leadership role had been uprooted. Taking advice from Imai who was released, those of us who were not arrested kept our guard up to not get caught, and so being given the position of captain, I naturally got lost in sports. In January 1931, I played in the Prefectual Preliminaries at the Jinguu Athletic Meet, and right after the match collapsed with pleurisy. I was unable to take half of the final exams for the third trimester, but I barely made it to my third year. However, during the exam break I went back home and with Imai, who was visiting from Tokyo, made the mistake of climbing Mount Mitake. My sickness came back, and remaining sick I took a year off of school. During this time the Reading Society was reconstructed and its activities were re-started, but in December there was another wave of repression, with 18 students being arrested and later in January 1932, 8 students given one year suspensions, including Akira Seki (later president of Wakayama Broadcasting). I received this news while I was still recovering in my hometown.

–Around when did you recover and go back to school?

It was April 1932. The third-year class was switched up, and I was placed in a class with the suspended Imai and Seki. During the first trimester, we mostly concentrated on getting second year students to rebuild the organization, but as we were graduating in a year, we didn’t proactively work the second year students. We had the feeling that if another wave of repression came we would have to be ready for expulsion. At that time in June, Inako Kouzaburo, who was in the basketball team and a classmate, came to me and said “I received contact from the Central Comittee of the Kyousei (Communist Youth League). According to their direction, I am to organize the Suiko High School Cell. I’m the only third-year student, so please enter with me.” We were in the tea room on the second floor of the dorm, so I distinctly remember looking over the Hitachi Plain and seeing the ripening wheat fields. Thus it must have been right before the beginning of summer vacation. So in September at the end of summer vacation, I steeled myself and joined in the activities of the Suiko High School Kyousei Cell.

During those 2 or 3 years, society was becoming increasingly oppressive. The Imperial Government and military, through the March 15 and April 16 Incidents, brought a great wave of repression against the vangaurd of the anti-war movement in the Communist Party, and without missing a beat, began to expand the invasion of China all at once. The Kwantung Army in Manchuria fabricated the Liutiaohu Incident, and with that pretext began the series of events known as the Manchurian Incident in September 1931. In 1932 when we all entered our third year, the invasion expanded to the heart of China under the pretext of the Shanghai Incident and among the new troop deployments was an infantry regiment from Suiko. Inside the country, Tohoku and Hokkaido were repeatedly hit with cold -weather damage to crops, causing a terrible low-yield harvest that lead to farmers selling their daughters.

In my hometown of Santama, there were many sericulture farmers who took a hard blow from a crash in silk prices, and so many young people went to Hachioji or Kawasaki to work, emptying the town. Even when I returned during summer vacation, it was like the town’s flame had burnt out. From my mother I also heard stories of young women who contracted a lung disease at Hachioji’s textile factories and returned with blue faces, dying shortly thereafter. What made me decide to participate in the Suiko Young Kyousei Cell was the desire to strike at the contradictions of this society.

The Suiko High School Military Training Opposition Struggle

–Soon after, there was the Military Training Boycott Incident at Suiko, right?

The Military Training Boycott was the first mass struggle that the Communist Youth League Cell participated in. At Horihara Military Training Camp outside of Suiko, an all school three day, two night outdoor military drill was held, and everyone from our class (third-year humanities, second English specializing class) boycotted this. The desire to resist the military drill had been smoldering mostly among the third year students for some time. The lieutenant colonel, who was also a protestant minister, was exceptionally hard-headed and cruel, and so the students would pick fights with him by saying they forgot their gaiters and showing up to drills wearing normal trousers, or by saying their shoes were torn and marching in sandals or barefoot. Following directions from the central committee of the Kyousei, cells through the pamphlet “Ringing Bell of Dawn” would advertise opposition to military training. Students were outraged to be forced into doing military drills outside for a whole two nights and three days. By our proposal, the class held a debate, hearing opinions from the whole class on both sides, and then by a majority vote, decided to hold the boycott. Out of 40 students 5 or 6 were against, but because it was a result of vigorous, democratic debate, everyone participated including the opposition. Although this was an act of only one class, with the daily expansion of the invasion of China (of which these drills were one expression), the strengthening jingoism, and intensification of thought persecution, this came as quite a shock to the authorities. The commanding officer was soon made to resign. However, the incident was classified and no one on the student side was punished.

–There was also the School Shutdown Incident.

There was. For one night, around 400 of the school’s 600 students performed an occupation-style strike in the lecture halls, with demands such as democratization of the student council and cutting school fees. The whole basketball team were also among the participants. This was one part of the pre-war student movement, which I’d would like to touch on.

In 1922 the Japanese Communist Party was established, and soon after so was the Japanese Communist Youth League (Kyousei). However, as one would expect, becoming an illegal organization under the Imperial Government was unavoidable. Kyousei began formally as the Japanese branch of the International Communist Youth League, right? And so in conjunction with the underground activities of Kyousei, the Japanese Proletarian Youth League was established as an organization for the legal student movement. The national organization for the Student Sociological Research Society (gakuren) also entered into an alliance with this legal organization. However, as a result of oppression from the 1928 March 15 Incident and the 1929 April 16 Incident, these organizations had to be disbanded. In the Autumn of 1929, the Sociological Research Society was organized under a new name, Shakyuu. I entered Shakyuu in around November of my first year. After that it soon became clear to me that this was one of Kyousei’s mass organizations. So the means by which we entered Kyousei was through the Shakyuu’s re-organized RS.

Under the shadow of the Imperial Government, the JCP raised their banner against the invasion of China and struggled for popular sovereignty and democratic rights. Along with them was the Kyousei and the student movement, who fought against the compulsory military training and for student self-government. In Autumn of 1932 the Suiko Kyousei Cell was made and its leadership entered the school, and so along with this mass action begin to develop.

–And with that in background, the Military Training Boycott happened around the same time right?

Right. For this kind of uprising to happen among the students was a great shock to both the Ibaraki Prefecture Tokkou and the school authorities I think. Under the slogan of “proper thought guidance” (shisou zendou), there was a direct attack from the Ministry of Education, with a clamp-down on student left wing movements through the “student overseer” system, which had the special purpose of shutting down thought among students. At the time students from our school had the privilege of becoming commissioned officers directly after entering the military. All of us who boycotted the training lost that privilege and “it was thanks to the boycott we didn’t become officers!” is something I often heard. So it was to that extent that we surprised the authorities. And then the large wave of repression came.

Under Pursuit from the Tokkou, Escaping from Suiko

–Was that soon after the boycott?

It was January 26 of the next year. When I tried going to school, all of our notable friends from the third year class were gone. Of course Imai Tadashi wasn’t there, as well as Akira Seki and Masami Saitou, who later became editor for Kyodo News. Everyone that was previously suspended wasn’t there. There was a strange feeling in the air, and when I asked the other classes, almost everyone from the Kyousei was also gone. Immediately I realized that a wave of repression had come. In regards to why I escaped arrest that morning, the day before I had moved from my dorm in town to a farmer’s house so that I could focus on the approaching university entrance exams. The next morning, when those of us who were left held an emergency meeting to discuss countermeasures, we found that the Suiko newspapers such as Ibaraki had reported the incident and in the headline was “Ringleader Miyamoto, Hiding in the City”! So with that, I immediately realized I was being pursued. Perhaps the reason I was called the “ringleader” was because I chaired the committee for the student council democratization struggle.

From our observations, we understood that around 60 people had been arrested, including those who had no relation to the Kyousei and were only kept for 1 to 3 days. Looking at the Tokkou’s records afterwards, the number of students kept after was 41, with all of their names listed. These people were almost all Kyousei members. This was the first large wave of repression among the colleges in Suiko.

As a result of consultation with the remaining underclassmen, we decided that if I stayed in Suiko I would be arrested, and so I would leave for Tokyo and make contact with the student relations section at the Kyousei headquarters. It was dangerous to go to Suiko Station, so I decided on taking a bus to a town called Sekioka between Suiko and Tsuchiura, and from there riding the Jouban Line. From the bus window I could see farming villages celebrating the old New Year. Of course I couldn’t wear my school hat, so in Sekioka I bought a hunting cap, and while making myself look like a store clerk, passed through the ticket gate, and thus got to Tokyo.

I was then told by student relations to use my experience organizing mass struggles in Suiko to organize a Kyousei organization at Tokyo University and First Higher School. However, I didn’t really do anything until Mid-February.

–That was the month Takiji Kobayashi was murdered by the Tokkou.

Right. On the 20th of that month Takiji Kobayashi was murdered by torture at the Tsukiji Police Station. I think this was a little while before, but at the time the release of Kyousei members had started. At that time it was common for students to only be detained for 2 or 3 weeks. Imai was released and came to Tokyo, so I immediately meet him and consulted him. “I was told by the central committee to go organize underground and I might have to hide myself,” I told him. Imai’s parents house had a temple in Tokyo’s Hiroo, so Imai found me a place to stay 10 or 15 minutes from there, in Meguro.

–Imai wrote about that time in Akahata Daily‘s Totteoki Juuwa in the first installment, “My Student Days”, compiled in the book Tadashi Imai: A Life in Movies (Imai Tadashi no Eiga Jinsei, Shinnihon Publishing)

“My friend who went to the same Suiko College with me and had gotten expelled for his organizing asked me to find him a place because he was going underground to organize in Tokyo. So I found a place for him, and after a week, went to see if he was doing alright. But he wasn’t there, so I waited for him to return in his room. Thereupon the Tokkou, on the lookout for my friend, broke in and tied me up.”

Yes, there the name doesn’t come up, but the friend he was talking about was me. Of course I kept contact with other friends, but I was particularly close with Imai, and so I often consulted with him and in that way again began my activities. That February I received contact from the person in charge of the Tokyo University Kyousei, and coming down from Hongo to get to Kanda, started crossing the Mansei Bridge. On the other side I saw two strange people standing around who I at once recognized as Tokkou, and so I tried turning around, only to find two more. I was surrounded. But I was young and confident in my legs trained by basketball, so I broke through them and ran towards Kanda. Eventually I was cornered in a backstreet and forced to surrender. This was right after Takiji Kobayashi had been murdered. While I was in interrogation, the Tokkou who tortured me said clearly, right in front of me, “We are the ones who killed Takiji Kobayashi.” So it had to be in late February. It was a cold day with the powdered snow scattered around like flowers. The ones who were waiting for me at the bridge were the Ikebukuro Station Tokkou. If you’re wondering why the Ikebukuro Station Tokkou came over there, there was a wave of repression against the Proletarian Writers League in which Wataru Kaji, Mutsuo Honjou, and twenty others were being arrested by them. It really was a lot of them. I don’t know who it was, but one of those arrested told them that they were going to meet a high level person there at that bridge. I’m not sure if that was a real confession or not, but from what I overheard a detective saying, I was caught by chance in the trap they had laid for him.

A Witness to Torture: Wataru Kaji’s Testimony

After that I was put under severe torture. As for why that was, it seems I was mistaken as a leader directing the Proletarian Writers League and as a member of the Communist Party. There’s a book A Personal History of Literature by Wataru Kaji where my name and the conditions of my torture are written. He writes,

“Tarou Miyamoto, who today is the Editor-in-Chief of Akahata (actually it was Vice Editor –Miyamoto), was at the time a student at Suiko College and was taken into where I was. It seems he fell into the same detective’s trap. “This guy thinks he can play dumb!” The detective suddenly switched to a scary expression and repeatedly slapped him at full force. Then, after commanding him to sit on a chair, said that he could break bones with his boots and kicked him in the stomach five or six times. Seeing the force of it, I gasped without thinking. The Tokkou then, as if breaking the victim’s own leg, broke a leg off the chair, making it collapse with the victim as the Tokkou laughed.”


This is what Wataru Kaji wrote about what he saw. But this was only what others were able to see on the second floor. The torture performed on the third floor was different, and when I was taken from there, I was unable to walk. The real torture was done where no one could see. Anyway I wasn’t able to walk by myself. I kept bluffing while vomiting and clutching the Tokkou’s shoulder as I was taken to my cell. It seemed because I was mistaken for a leader of the Proletarian Writer’s League or the Communist Party, the torture was particularly severe. One thing I clearly remember even now was a Tokkou with a hitler moustache saying, “Even if we killed you it wouldn’t matter.You’re the same as the telephone pole a dog has pissed on. We can do whatever we like to you by the Emperor’s decree.”

Again in Totteoki Juuwa, Imai writes,

“That night, as I was put in a holding cell, my friend was dragged in with me. He must have came back to one of the places the police had kept a lookout at. He had been put under torture on the second floor, and being unable to walk, was taken in. Even so, they yelled at him to walk and beat him with a bamboo sword as he screamed in pain.”

I don’t remember screaming, but that’s what Imai saw. Also he misunderstood how I got caught at Mansei Bridge as I explained.

I think I was at the Ikebukuro Station for around a month, but my memory of that time isn’t very clear. According to the documents kept by the Suiko Tokkou, I was arrested on March 28 by the Suiko Police. As I said earlier, most of my friends were released between January 26 and the middle of February, and only I was kept a month longer than the others, being sent back to Suiko on March 28. This was because during the month of my detention they recognized that I was a student at Suiko High School. To let slip my name and school was something I really shouldn’t have done, but I did so in a moment of weakness, and so I was sent back to Suiko. I was interrogated by a public prosecutor at the Minato Police Station near Oarai Coast, and then I was kept in Suiko Prison until that summer. Akira Seki, Masami Saitou, and I were all charged under the Peace Preservation Act. During the trial that autumn, we received a sentence of 3 years imprisonment that would be suspended for 5 years. Although all of us still believed that the theory of Marxism-Leninism was correct, we told them we would no longer participate in the movement. In other words, like many others at the time, we renounced our ideology to avoid punishment. With that, our sentences were suspended and we were released. In this way I was unable to stick to a principled stance, but when I entered the Yomiuri Newspaper, this did influence my actions and attitude towards life.

This is a digression but, when we were charged Imai took it really hard. Among the comrades he was so close to, only he made it to Tokyo University. He writes about this in detail in his book called Our Takigawa Incident (Watashi-tachi no Takigawa Jiken, Shinchousha Publishing). Although I couldn’t see it at the time, seeing the people he recruited for Shakyuu be expelled and then charged with crimes made him worry, and after only a year he decided to quit school. This is all written in the book, but he said none of it to us.

–What did your family think, seeing you receive a suspended sentence and being expelled from school?

It was the old higher education system and I had taken a year off, so I was around 22 or 23. When I disappeared from Suiko, Masami Saitou’s father, a famous lawyer, and Imai’s father who lived and worked at the temple came to my family’s house in Santama. They told my father if he didn’t bring me out, both their sons and myself would be expelled, but there was nothing he could do. After all, he wasn’t hiding me, I had just disappeared. He tried having my older brother run around various places to get my location. I had also applied to the philosophy department at Tokyo University, and because there weren’t many people where I was to fill the quota, I got in without taking the entrance examination. Thus Tokyo University also notified my father about my physical examination. So there was quite an uproar at my house and even among my other relatives. My older sister had married a school teacher, and afterwards I heard that he tried negotiating with the school authorities over my graduation.

–When you were formally charged, your hideout was still unknown and your family had already given up, right?

There was nothing they could do. My older brother came to prison to see me and brought fruit and milk for me. My father was an assistant official at the village and as a member of the local firefighters organization was an official in the Tokyo Metropolitan Firefighter’s League. Through this position he had become close with the Ikebukuro Police Chief. Through this relationship he tried to get me released. The Ikebukuro Police Chief came to the Tokkou’s office and right in front of my eyes asked me how I could do these things even though my father was such an upstanding human being.

Expelled and Indicted for Violation of the Peace Preservation Act

–So after being expelled, what kind of lifestyle did you lead?

Under those conditions, I couldn’t find a job. With the judicial decision, the universities wouldn’t look at me either. So I thought I would work as a tutor while continuing my participation in the movement. I also went to night school for engineering. I didn’t want to bother my parents anymore, so I supported myself, though I often relied on Imai and my other friends from Suiko. If you ask why I did engineering, it was because even though up to then I was in humanities, more than anything else I wanted to enter a factory and continue my organizing there. I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t scientific and practical, so I studied that for a short time. I don’t remember anything I learned then though. I did that for a year, but work and school together increasingly became more difficult. At that time Masami Saitou had entered into the predecessor of Kyodo News, Doumei News. He was in the Society Section, where at the time Issekiro Kuribayashi was the vice editor.

–That’s the same Kuribayashi who was known for his Proletarian Haiku, right?

That’s correct. At the time there was a person named Yoshichika Nakamitsu who was Vice Editor of the same section at Yomiuri. In the past he was involved with anarchists and although they butted heads during the struggle, at the time he and Kuribayashi had formed a bond over haiku. Kuribayashi knew about my organizing at Suiko, and so he and Saitou asked Nakamitsu if he could hire me. I was thankful to have friends then because they saved me. I didn’t have much of an income then, so I remember receiving money that Imai and the others had raised for me. Saitou also wanted to help me find work, so through his intervention I entered Yomiuri in the autumn of 1935.

–At that time, the big newspapers were Asahi and Mainichi (then known as Tokyo Hibi) at first and second place. So Yomiuri was around the next step down?

Right. It was around third place, competing with Houchi.

–Even though it’s now a sports newspaper under the Yomiuri umbrella…

When I entered Yomiuri, it was the big rival. It had both the prestige of being a veteran of the business while having a more genuine approach to daily news than the Yomiuri. It was bought up by Shouriki in 1960 however. There was also Jiji Shinbun and Sohou Tokutomi’s Kokumin Shinbun, though these were on their last legs.

1This was the magazine of Nippona Artista Proleta Federacio (NAPF), this particular issue being from June 1929