Oct. 12, 2022

Inejiro Asanuma is Assassinated

Inejiro Asanuma is Assassinated

October 12, 1960. Inejiro Asanuma, leader of the Japan Socialist Party, is assassinated by a far-right extremist while speaking in a televised political debate in Tokyo.


Cold Open

It’s January 16th, 1960, at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan.

Almost a thousand students stand shoulder to shoulder in the airport lobby, braced behind a makeshift barricade of desks and chairs. All are yelling and chanting to protest the renewal of a security treaty with the United States, known to the Japanese as Anpo.

The treaty forces Japan to allow U.S. military bases on the island, with no promise to defend Japan from attacks. With the Cold War in full swing, many Japanese, like the students protesting today, don’t want to continue a military alliance with the Americans. So they’re here to stop Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi from flying to the U.S. to sign the treaty.

The protesters’ chants reach a fever pitch as Prime Minister Kishi appears outside the airport, guarded by a group of policemen. As Kishi walks toward the lobby, they pound the barricade and chant “Down with Anpo.”

Kishi scowls at the students blocking his way. Soon, the police form a line and attempt to push through the barricade… but the students throw their bodies on the other side to hold it in place.

A second line of police pull out batons and begin striking any students they can reach. But still, the students don’t budge. The police then regroup and charge the barricade as a unit, hoping to smash through.

The barricade buckles briefly, but the students push it quickly back into place.

Watching from a safe distance, Kishi sighs with frustration. Then he snaps at the police chief to call for reinforcements.

After the defeat of Japan in World War II, the United States led the Allies in the rehabilitation and demilitarization of the country. During this period of reconstruction, the U.S. devised a new Japanese constitution that established a democratic government and made it illegal for Japan to have a military or declare war; it also forced the country to house US military bases with the Anpo treaty; and it secretly sent millions of dollars to support Kishi and his political faction, a right-wing, imperialist group called the Liberal Democratic Party, or the LDP.

Kishi was an accused war criminal, but the U.S. released him without a trial and helped him become prime minister due to his pro-American and conservative views. He and the rest of the LDP provided critical support for the security treaty. But many in Japan are opposed to continuing a military alliance with the US. And over the past year, millions have protested the security treaty’s renegotiation. But the government has refused to heed their calls for change. And today is no different.

After hours of back-and-forth at the Tokyo Airport, the police finally break a gap in the barricades. Kishi flies to Washington and signs the treaty. But afterward, he needs the Japanese government back home to ratify it. But the people don’t want it, and hundreds of thousands will take to the streets in protest. In the wake of these demonstrations, one radicalized teenager will change the course of Japanese politics when he assassinates Japan’s Socialist Party leader, Inejiro Asanuma, on October 12th, 1960.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is October 12th, 1960: Inejiro Asanuma is Assassinated.

Act One

It’s May 19th, 1960, at the home of the Japanese legislature, the National Diet Building in Tokyo, five months after Prime Minister Kishi’s flight to Washington.

Inside the building, 150 Socialist Party representatives are packed into a hallway. Together, they sit on the floor to block an office door. Inside the office, Speaker of the Lower Chamber Ichirō Kiyose struggles to push the door open against the mass of bodies.

For months, the lower house of Japan’s legislative branch, known as the National Diet, has been debating the renegotiated Anpo treaty. Even though Prime Minister Kishi has signed off on the deal, the National Diet still has to vote to make it official. And the legislature is filled with plenty of naysayers.

Much of the treaty’s criticism has come from Japan’s Socialist Party or the JSP. The JSP is the main rival of the country’s dominant political faction, the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP. The JSP doesn’t have enough seats in the Diet to block the ratification outright. So, the party has been using legislative tactics to run out the clock and delay a vote. The legislative session will end in a week, and if the treaty isn’t passed by then, it will give the JSP critical time to gather more support and potentially change the minds of some of their LDP peers.

But Prime Minister Kishi does not want that to happen. American President Dwight D. Eisenhower plans to come to Japan in a month to celebrate the treaty. It will be embarrassing if Kishi doesn’t get it passed as promised. So, today the prime minister has asked Speaker Ichirō Kiyose - a member of the LDP - to extend the legislative session and call for an immediate vote.

Under Diet rules, any treaty passed by the lower house will automatically be approved after thirty days, even without action by the upper house - as long as the Diet remains in session during that time. By calling for a vote now and extending the session, the LDP can ensure that the treaty will pass and be ratified in time for Eisenhower’s arrival.

But the Japanese legislature has never extended a session before, and the JSP members are furious. So today, the JSP and their chairman, Inejiro Asanuma, have resorted to trapping Speaker Kiyose in his office. Only he can call for a vote on the session extension, but he can’t do that unless he is physically present in the legislative chamber. 

Confined to his office, speaker Kiyose picks up a mouthpiece connected to the building’s PA system. He commands Asanuma to move his party members out of the way. But Asanuma refuses.

Exasperated, Speaker Kiyose picks up his desk phone and calls Prime Minister Kishi. Soon, 500 police officers march into the hallway. Both sides begin shouting and policemen form ranks but the JSP members link their arms to keep the police from dragging them away. Others lie on the back and kick at the policemen.

But it's of little use. The police outnumber them by nearly three to one. Officers grab Chairman Asanuma and push him against a wall, then handcuff him and lead him out of the Diet building.

As soon as the police have made a gap in the JSP blockade, LDP members rush in to help Speaker Kiyose from his office, hoisting him into the air and pushing their way through the remaining JSP members. Eventually, he is successfully escorted to the floor of the lower house, where he calls for the beginning of the session.

The chamber settles down as the final JSP members are arrested or subdued. And from the podium, Kiyose calls for a vote on the session extension. Without a single member of the opposite party present, it passes quickly. Then, Speaker Kiyose calls for an immediate vote on the security treaty.

The chamber falls into a stunned silence. Even many LDP representatives - in the same party as Prime Minister Kishi and Speaker Kiyose - had no idea this was coming. Many of them glance to the right at the empty JSP seats. One-third of the chamber is missing.

By calling for a vote now, Speaker Kiyose and Prime Minister Kishi are almost guaranteeing that the security treaty will pass. And some of the LDP representatives are uncomfortable with this ploy. Still, they don’t want to go against their party. So one by one, they vote in favor of the treaty.

Prime Minister Kishi breathes a sigh of relief when he hears that the security treaty has passed the lower chamber; he’s accomplished his goal and avoided a diplomatic disaster with President Eisenhower.

But his victory will not last long. When the public learns of the drastic measures used to pass the treaty, outrage will spread and protests will grow in size and intensity. And when violence breaks out, the crisis will jeopardize Kishi’s position as prime minister, as well as the future of the LDP.

Act Two

It’s June 15th, 1960, in Tokyo, one month after the contentious vote on the security treaty.

17-year-old Otoya Yamaguchi runs toward the gates of the National Diet building where thousands of protesters are pushing at a line of policemen, chanting, “Down with Anpo.” But Yamaguchi isn’t here to join the protesters. He’s here to stop them.

For months, large numbers of citizens have been protesting the security treaty. Many were part of the same student group that attempted to block prime minister Kishi at the airport five months ago. But now, the protest is far more extensive than just a group of angry students.

Today, almost 300,000 people march in the streets outside of the legislature. Mothers pushing baby strollers have joined in the marches, and desk workers lean out of the windows of office buildings to shout their support of the protests outside. And now, they don’t just want the security treaty to be revoked. They also want Prime Minister Kishi to resign.

But not everyone agrees with the goals of the protesters. Least of all, Otoya Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi is part of the Greater Japan Patriotic Party, a far-right ultranationalist group led by Bin Akao, a political provocateur who labels himself as Japan’s Hitler. But Akao is strongly pro-American and agrees with the U.S. that communism must not be allowed to take root in Japan. He hates the Japan Socialist Party, and he calls the Anpo protests the start of a communist uprising. 17-year-old Yamaguchi agrees. 

As unarmed protesters begin to encircle the Diet building, Yamaguchi and other right-wing ultranationalists run down the street to meet them, brandishing clubs and bats. The protesters only have a second to react before the ultranationalists are upon them, yelling, “We will kill you!” and “Beat them dead!”

Yamaguchi furiously brings his club down on the head of one protester. As he does, two others grab his shirt, but he hits their arms until they back off. The protesters try to run from the onslaught, but the crowd is too thick. There’s nowhere for them to go. Yamaguchi and the other radicals strike them repeatedly, beating the demonstrators to the ground.

Seeing the commotion, a regiment of police run forward, yelling at the radicals to stop. A few of the ultranationalists retreat, but most of them continue to attack the protesters. The police draw their batons and join the fracas, trying to get the radicals away from the protesters.

Yamaguchi and his peers fight back, trading blows with the police. But the police are better equipped in riot gear and are better trained. Two policemen focus on Yamaguchi, striking him on the arms and knocking his club out of his hand. Yamaguchi then throws a punch, but one of the policemen tackles him to the ground, while the other quickly grabs Yamaguchi’s wrists and handcuffs him, dragging him away from the crowd.

Yamaguchi is detained, and the protests continue. At the south side of the Diet compound, anti-treaty demonstrators break through police lines and flood into the building’s courtyard. There, they gather to give speeches and sing songs for over an hour. But the police regroup and use tear gas and batons to push the demonstrators back toward the gate.

By the end of the day, hundreds of protesters are beaten and bloody. One female university student, Michiko Kanba, is even beaten to the ground by police and then trampled to death. She becomes a martyr for the protest movement.

But Otoya Yamaguchi will not be a participant to any of this. As he sits in his jail cell, Yamaguchi’s frustration grows. It’s not his first time being arrested. He’s been jailed almost ten times for violently attacking protesters. But he still feels like he isn’t doing enough to fight communism. He thinks that Bin Akao’s counter-protest strategies aren’t working.

So soon, Yamaguchi will begin brainstorming his own resolution to the crisis. If they want to stop the Japan Socialist Party from getting more powerful, Yamaguchi will determine that they need to do something bigger to fight the JSP. Something that will strike fear into the heart of any communist in Japan. Bin Akao has called for his followers to take down left-wing leaders before. But he is always vague about what that meant. So alone in his cell, Yamaguchi plots to kill the leader of the JSP.

Act Three

It’s October 12th, 1960 at a public hall in Tokyo, four months after Otoya Yamaguchi was arrested.

Inejiro Asanuma, leader of the Japan Socialist Party or JSP, stands behind a podium on the stage of a tightly packed room. 2,500 people are here to witness a televised election debate in person. And it’s Asanuma’s turn to make his speech.

In his low and gravelly voice, he begins discussing the importance of fair and democratic elections. He hopes his performance today will garner his party some much-needed traction ahead of next month’s general election.

This summer, the passing of the Anpo treaty came at a cost for the opposing party, the LDP. In July, Prime Minister Kishi was forced to resign after widespread anger at his rushed vote in the lower house. With the next election for members of the Diet just one month away, the existing LDP majority could be up for grabs.

But with the JSP struggling to form a unified front, internal disagreements between communists and moderates have begun to fracture the party. Now, only Asanuma’s charisma seems to be holding the party together. So, today he hopes to put on a strong showing.

As he faces the crowd, Asanuma tells them that his opponents in the LDP are out of touch with the public. They don’t know the desires of working-class people. And this message is authentic coming from Asanuma. He’s lived in working-class housing his whole life, and he’s known for traveling all over Japan to talk to everyday people.

Asanuma pauses his speech for a moment to glance at his notes. But as he begins to speak again, he hears a commotion onstage. He looks up in surprise.

Otoya Yamaguchi is dashing across the stage at full speed with a short sword in his hands. Asanuma has no time to react before Yamaguchi collides with him, driving the blade into the politician’s chest. As Asanuma staggers backward, Yamaguchi quickly pulls the sword out and stabs him again.

Chaos erupts. Officials standing nearby run at Yamaguchi. He tries to stab himself with the sword, but the weapon is wrestled out of his hands, and he’s pinned to the ground. People flood the stage, rushing to help Asanuma and subdue his attacker. An ambulance is called, but Asanuma is too severely wounded. He dies within minutes.

Meanwhile, millions sit in shocked horror, having just witnessed Asanuma’s death live on national television.

Less than three weeks after the assassination, Yamaguchi will commit suicide inside his jail cell. Right-wing groups will call him a hero and a martyr, and one group will even hold a memorial service for him in the same public hall where he killed Asanuma.

In the wake of Asanuma’s assassination, without its leader to hold them together, the Japanese Socialist Party will lose its chance at a majority. The opposing LDP will come out of the 1960 elections well ahead and will refocus its policy on boosting the growth of the business sector. These financial policies will usher in an economic boom for Japan. This will start an era of LDP control in the Diet that will continue almost completely unbroken for over 60 years and is still intact today.

But that political stability started in a time of extreme turmoil in Japanese politics, grounded in the unrest of the Anpo protests and the shocking assassination of JSP leader Inejiro Asanuma by a right-wing extremist on October 12th, 1960.


Next onHistory Daily.October 13th, 2010.  After a record 69 days underground, 33 trapped miners are saved by a rescue team in Copiapó, Chile, concluding the worst mining accident in Chilean history. 

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing and sound design by Derek Behrens. 

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Brandon Buerk.

Produced by Alexandra Currie-Buckner.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.