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Otoya Yamaguchi, assassin of Inejiro Asanuma, remembered by right-wing groups

Photo of Otoya Yamaguchi placed on the stage at the Hibiya Public Hall on Tuesday
Photo of Otoya Yamaguchi placed on the stage at the Hibiya Public Hall on Tuesday (The Tokyo Reporter)

TOKYO (TR) – Right-wing groups celebrated the assassination of socialist politician Inejiro Asanuma by holding a small ceremony to honor his killer, Otoya Yamaguchi, at Hibiya Park in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Tuesday, the 50-year anniversary of the gruesome event.

Roughly 20 members of various right-wing organizations congregated in front of the Hibiya Public Hall just before 3:03 p.m, the time when the 17-year-old Yamaguchi, brandishing a sword, rushed the stage while Asanuma, head of the Japanese Socialist Party, spoke during a political debate prior to lower house elections. (Other reports indicate the attack actually took place at 3:05 p.m.)

Nationalists had at that time strongly opposed Asanuma, who criticized the Liberal Democratic Party and the United States, proclaiming the latter to be the common enemy of the Japanese and Chinese peoples during a speech in Beijing the year before. He also attempted to block a bill in the Diet that would establish the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the U.S.

The beginning of the debate and subsequent assassination of the 61-year-old radical were video recorder by public broadcaster NHK (watch video below).

Right-wing members see the current scandal-plagued state of politics and the ongoing turmoil with China — specifically, the recent dispute over the Senkaku Islands — as evidence that the attack still has merit in a modern context.

“Asanuma was a traitor to his country 50 years ago, and today we have numerous traitors in Japan,” said Takashi Funakawa, a representative of the right-wing group Dai Nippon Aikoku-to, as he stood in front of his blue sound truck in the hall’s parking lot. “For example, [former Democratic Party of Japan leader] Ichiro Ozawa and [Prime Minister] Naoto Kan, they are traitors to their country. We want to send them a message.”

As Asanuma began speaking on that fateful day, right-wing activists taunted him from the edge of the 2,085-seat hall. When police officers attempted to break up the group, Yamaguchi, attired in his school uniform, broke for the stage.

Inejiro Asanuma was assassinated by Otoya Yamaguchi at the Hibiya Public Hall on October 12, 1960

Upon reaching the podium, Yamaguchi thrust his 30-centimeter-long blade into the heavyset Asanuma. Following impact, Yamaguchi lost his glasses and the two separated. The assembled spectators immediately rushed to the scene. Mainichi Shimbun newspaper photographer Yasushi Nagao pointed his camera at the pair just before Yamaguchi plunged his weapon into Asanuma for a second time — the resulting image of which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.

Asanuma died an hour later, before arriving at the hospital. On November 2 of that same, Yamaguchi committed suicide in his detention cell in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward by hanging himself with his bedsheets. One of his last acts was to open a container of toothpaste and smear the concrete wall of his cell with the message: “Seven lives for my country. His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, banzai!”

Positive public remembrances of Asanuma at the park on Tuesday were non-existent. In September, a representative of the Inejiro Asanuma Memorial Assembly Committee, Tamotsu Shima, explained in an article distributed on the Kyodo wire service that a tribute to Asanuma on the anniversary of the event by the ruling DPJ would be unlikely given that scheduling a speech by Naoto Kan would be “difficult.”

However, an editorial in the Mainichi Shimbun, dated October 5, questioned Yamaguchi’s “Seven lives for my country” statement, adding that his death was for glorification purposes and that the state of politics 50 years later is severely ill. “In times of political trouble, incidents do occur,” the editorial concluded. “But don’t let history repeat itself this time.”

Photo of Otoya Yamaguchi is positioned on the stage at the Hibiya Public Hall on Tuesday

Promotional literature was issued by nationalist Web pages to announce the Tuesday event. Nationwide commemorations began on Saturday and concluded Tuesday, when right-wing members entered the Hibiya Public Hall at roughly 3 p.m.

A framed, black-and-white photo of Yamaguchi was quickly propped at the front of the stage. Three minutes later, the lead representative of the Otoya Yamaguchi Memorial Association uttered a short prayer as the members of the contingent bowed their heads (see at right).

“We are here to honor Yamaguchi’s deliverance of justice to Asanuma,” added Dai Nippon Aikoku-to’s Funakawa.