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内山愚童 Uchiyama Gudō (1874-1911)
Uchiyama Gudō was a Sōtō Zen Buddhist priest and anarcho-socialist activist who protested against rural poverty as “unjust and anti-Buddhist,” and as a result was arrested and executed on trumped-up charges of plotting to assassinate the emperor in what is known as the High Treason Incident (taigyaku jiken 大逆事件). He was one of few Buddhist leaders who spoke out against the Meiji government in its imperialist projects. Gudō was an outspoken advocate for redistributive land reform, overturning the Meiji emperor system, encouraging conscripts to desert en masse and advancing democratic rights for all. He criticized Zen leaders who claimed that low social position was justified by karma and who sold abbotships to the highest bidder.
PDF: The Social Response of Buddhists to the Modernization of Japan: The Contrasting Lives of Two Sōtō Zen Monks
by Ishikawa Rikizan
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1998 25/1-2, pp. 87–115.
Professor Ishikawa was particularly active, along with other
members of the Central Bureau for the Protection and
Promotion of Human Rights， in the effort to restore the
honor of Uchiyama Gudō, a Sōtō cleric who was executed
because of his antigovernment activities. Professor
Ishikawa's effort came to fruition in July 1993，when
Uchiyama was posthumously reinstated as a cleric by the
Japanese Religion and Society: Paradigms of Structure and Change by Winston Davis. Albany: SUNY Press. 1992, pp. 169–170.
Zen at War by Brian (Daizen) A. Victoria. New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1997. pp. 66–73.
Zen War Stories by Brian (Daizen) A. Victoria. London: RoutledgeCurzon. 2003, pp. 204–207.
Moriya Tomoe 守屋友江, Social Ethics of “New Buddhists” at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: A Comparative Study of Suzuki Daisetsu and Inoue Shūten
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 32/2: 283–304 © 2005 Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture
Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Thought of Uchiyama Gudō (1874-1911) by Fabio Rambelli
Berkeley: Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2013
In the early decades of the twentieth century, as Japanese society became engulfed in war and increasing nationalism, the majority of Buddhist leaders and institutions capitulated to the status quo. At the same time, there was a stream of ‘resistance' among a few Buddhist figures, both priests and laity. These instances of progressive and ‘radical Buddhism' had roots in late Edo-period peasant revolts, the lingering discourse of early Meiji period liberalism, trends within Buddhist reform and modernisation and the emergence in the first decade of the twentieth century of radical political thought, including various forms of socialism and anarchism. This essay analyses the roots of ‘radical Buddhism' in Japan by analysing the life and work of three distinctive figures: Tarui Tōkichi (1850–1922), Takagi Kenmyō (1864–1914), and Uchiyama Gudō (1874–1911). While noting their differences, I argue these three collective represent both the problems and possibilities of radical Buddhism in an East Asian and specifically Japanese context.
Sōtō Zen priest Uchiyama Gudō (1874-1911) is well known for his participation in the Japanese anarcho-communist movement and his alleged involvement in a terrorist plot to assassinate Emperor Meiji (known as the “High Treason Incident,” taigyaku jiken), on account of which he was sentenced to death. Authors have tended to consider Uchiyama's texts as almost self-explanatory, and his anarchism has been described as only superficially related to Buddhist politics and ethics. This talk will present a critical discussion of the complex and confl icting relationship between Buddhist teachings and anarchism in Uchiyama's thought and practice, based on a close reading of his own texts. Gudō's writings will be placed within their plural cultural and historical contexts, in particular, modern Buddhism, socialist thought and praxis, and the Edo period Japanese tradition of anti-authoritarian political activism as exempli ed by Sakura Sōgorō, Ōshio Heihachirō, and Ninomiya Sontoku (a tradition which draws, among others, upon Daoist elements and the thought of Wang Yangming). Finally, the presentation will point to the lack of substantial Buddhist contributions to progressive political and social movements in Japan; more generally, it will question the actual possibility of formulating explicitly, and specifically, Buddhist political positions in the modern world.
Fabio Rambelli is the Professor of Japanese Religion and Intellectual History and the International Shinto Foundation Chair of Shinto Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, and in the Department of Religious Studies, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He holds a PhD in East Asian Studies (Italy, 1992). Prior to his current position at UCSB, he taught in Europe, the United States, and Japan. His main research interests concern the history of Buddhism and Shinto in Japan, issues of intercultural representation, and cultural semiotics. He is the author of Vegetal Buddhas (2001) and Buddhist Materiality (2007), and the co-editor of Reconfi guring Cultural Semiotics (Versus, 1999, with Patrizia Violi) and Buddhas and Kami in Japan (2003, with Mark Teeuwen). He is currently working on a book on Buddhist semiotic theories; other ongoing projects deal with the representation of India in the cultural imagination of premodern Japan and the relations of Buddhism with local cults in Asia.
Reviewed by Paulus Kaufmann (Centre for Japanese Studies Munich University)
Published on H-Buddhism (June, 2015)
In view of the silence and even complicity of Buddhist individuals and institutions with regard to the injustices and cruelties that took and are still taking place in many Buddhist societies, one is relieved to find Buddhists who fight against these evils. The Japanese Sōtō Zen priest Uchiyama Gudō (1874-1911) was such a person. He publicly denounced the exploitation of tenant farmers, growing militarism, and the arrogance of the political elite in Japan during the first decade of the twentieth century. A socialist and an anarchist sympathizer, Gudō paid the ultimate price for his convictions as he was trailed and executed by the authorities in 1911.
Gudō's heroic life could easily lead contemporary interpreters to misrepresent his position in Buddhist and Japanese intellectual history in several respects. However, we should keep in mind, first, that Gudō was not a theoretician who synthesized the Buddhist tradition with Western thought, nor did he systematically reinterpret basic Buddhist notions to show their affinity with egalitarian and socialist ideals. In fact, Gudō only left a very small oeuvre consisting of three short articles, two of them being only fragmentary. In none of these texts did he try to relate his socialist and anarchist conceptions of justice to his Buddhist faith. Moreover, Gudō regarded the Buddhist teaching according to which one's present economic and social fate is the outcome of past lives and actions as a superstition, promoted by those in power to defend against reasonable claims made by those underprivileged. Second, Gudō did not defend any established teaching. In this sense, he was neither a doctrinal thinker of Buddhism nor a clear-cut anarchist. Although he considered himself to be a member of the Japanese socialist-anarchist movement of the day, in his writings he also defended institutions that seem to be compatible with representative democracy or with social market economy. Third, Gudō cannot be seen as an immaculate model for peaceful Buddhist revolt against injustice and oppression. He sympathized with terrorist action against the state and claimed that “the hand that holds the rosary should also always hold a bomb” (p. 24).
In his book Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Dharma of Uchiyama Gudō , Fabio Rambelli is very careful to avoid all of these interpretative traps; only the book's title is somewhat misleading in this regard. It is Rambelli's great achievement to present us Gudō as the fascinating personality that he was, in all his facets and contradictions. The book consists of three parts. The first introductory part contains a foreword by Richard Payne, a preface by Rambelli, and an introduction to Gudō and Engaged Buddhism by Sallie King. The second part introduces the reader to Gudō's life and work and summarizes his ideas and their intellectual sources. The third part contains English translations of Gudō's three extant papers as well as two texts that were published but not written by Gudō. Of these three parts of Rambelli's book, the last part is the most innovative and valuable. Concise information in English about Gudō's life, work, and ideas are already available in Brian A. Victoria's Zen at War (1997) and in Ishikawa Rikizan's article “The Social Response of Buddhists to the Modernization of Japan” (1998). But Rambelli's very readable translations of Gudō's writings are a welcome opportunity for readers of English to deal directly with Gudō and his thought.
In his writings we meet Gudō as a multifarious author. His only complete publication, “Anarchist Communist Revolution” (“Museifu kyōsan kakumei”), is a carefully composed speech designed to agitate tenant farmers to fight for social justice and to revolt against landowners, the state, and the army. In his fragment “Common Consciousness” (“Heibon no jikaku”), on the other hand, Gudō argued in an almost philosophical manner for a teleological understanding of the human condition. According to this image, human beings are born with a mysterious holy spirit ( fukashigi no seirei ) that urges them to strive for freedom, first from the bonds of nature, and ultimately from the bonds of society. Departing from this metaphysical framework, Gudō proposed several concrete institutions and political measures that lie on the road toward ultimate freedom. Among other things, he defended gender equality, the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco, and a stepwise abolition of private property, and promoted public education and free health care. In his last writing, the “Fragment from a Prison Manuscript” (“Gokuchū shuki”), finally, we encounter a Gudō who pondered about society's condition and about his own role as a social activist. He expressed some pride to die as a martyr and put himself in a line with Sakura Sōgorō, Ōshio Heihachirō, Śakyamuni, Diogenes, and Jesus Christ.
As this list of exemplary figures shows, Gudō's thought was not only influenced by Buddhism and anarchism. Rambelli therefore analyzes Gudō's sources of inspiration at some length and he convincingly points to, for example, the Edo-period discourse about justice. Although we have no evidence for any direct influence, the similarity of Gudō's thought and Andō Shōeki's (1703-62) egalitarianism is striking. Both claimed that every member of society must labor physically to secure his or her living and that an ideal society would have no need for government. In mentioning Sōgorō and Heihachirō, Gudō furthermore identified with the Edo-period's tradition of civil resistance. Finally, besides the reference to Jesus, Gudō's teleological description of the human kind also contains Christian vocabulary, such as the term “heaven” ( tengoku ) (pp. 31, 63). This Christian undertone is typical for Japanese socialist authors, but Gudō was, to be sure, striving for heaven on earth and not for a transcendent paradise.
Rambelli's book is a valuable contribution to Japanese social and intellectual history as it deepens our acquaintance with Gudō and his published work. Rambelli generally arrives at balanced judgments about Gudō's character, his work, and his intellectual sources. He makes it very clear, in particular, that Gudō must not be misappropriated as some kind of Buddhist saint. At some points, Rambelli's presentation is repetitive and it is not always easy to follow his line of argument. Much of the information and topics from the first section reappear without much change in the second section; for example, in his chapter on Buddhist Anarchism, Rambelli compares Gudō's thought to many different authors and intellectual movements and repeats most of these names in another chapter, “Gudō's Intellectual Bricolage.” It would, moreover, be desirable to find some more systematic analysis of Gudō's texts and to have a clearer view about the relationship of Gudō's writings with the texts of the other authors that he published. Rambelli's book is, finally, very focused on the person of Gudō and does not localize him more generally within the intellectual landscape of his time. It is therefore helpful to read the book together with James Shields's recently published article “Zen and the Art of Treason: Radical Buddhism in Meiji Era Japan” (2014) that characterizes Gudō's thought in comparison to other Meiji-era Buddhist thinkers. Zen Anarchism , nevertheless, precisely through the fascinating figure of Gudō, provides new insights into an important period of Japan's religious and political thought.
. Brian A. Victoria, Zen at War (New York: Weatherhill, 1997); and Ishikawa Rikizan, “The Social Response of Buddhists to the Modernization of Japan,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 25, nos. 1-2 (1998): 87-115.
. James Shields, “Zen and the Art of Treason: Radical Buddhism in Meiji Era Japan,” Politics, Religion & Ideology 15, no. 2 (2014): 205-223.
UCHIYAMA GUDŌ: RADICAL SŌTŌ ZEN PRIEST
CHAPTER THREE in: Zen at War by Brian (Daizen) A. Victoria.
New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1997. pp. 66–73.
By the time of the Russo-Japanese War it is fair to say that the clerical and
scholarly leaders of Japan's traditional Buddhist sects were firm supporters
of the government's policies, especially its war policies. But this does not
mean that there was no Buddhist resistance to the government. There were,
in fact, a few Buddhist priests who not only opposed what they believed to
be their government's increasingly repressive and imperialistic policies but
actually sacrificed their lives in the process of doing so.
This chapter will focus on one such group of "radical" Buddhists. Because
they were quite small in number, it might be argued that this attention is
unwarranted, but few as they were, they had a significant impact on the
Buddhist leaders of their time, especially as those leaders continued to for-
mulate their individual and collective responses to Japan's military expan-
sion abroad and political repression at home.
RADICAL BUDDHIST PRIESTS AND
THE HIGH TREASON INCIDENT
It is the High Treason Incident (Taigyaku Jiken) of 1910 that first brought to
light the existence of politically radical Buddhist priests. Twenty-six people
were arrested for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to kill one or
more members of the imperial family. Four of those arrested were Buddhist
priests: Shin sect priest Takagi Kemmyō (1864-1914), a second Shin priest,
Sasaki Dōgen; a Rinzai Zen sect priest, Mineo Setsudō (1885-1919); and Sōtō
Zen sect priest Uchiyama Gudō (1874-1911). All of the defendants were con-
victed and twenty-four were condemned to death, though later twelve had
their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Uchiyama Gudō was the
only priest to be executed. The remaining three Buddhist priests were among
those with commuted sentences, though they also all eventually died in
prison, Takagi Kemrnyō at his own hand.
As the execution of Gudō indicates, the authorities clearly considered
him to be the worst of the four priests. This is not surprising, for of all the
priests Gudō was the most actively involved in the movement that the Meiji
government found so reprehensible. Gudō also left behind the most written
material substantiating his beliefs. This said, even Gudō's writings contain
little that directly addresses the relationship he saw between the Law of the
Buddha and his own social activism. This is not surprising, since neither he
nor the other three priests claimed to be Buddhist scholars or possess spe-
cial expertise in either Buddhist doctrine or social, political, or economic
theory. They might best be described as social activists who, based on their
Buddhist faith, were attempting to alleviate the mental and physical suffer-
ing they saw around them, especially in Japan's impoverished rural areas.
The Japanese government attempted to turn all of the accused in the
High Treason Incident into nonpersons, even before their convictions. The
court proceedings were conducted behind closed doors, and no press cov-
erage was allowed, because, the government argued, would be "prejudicial
to peace and order, or to the maintenance of public morality." Gudō's tem-
ple of Rinsenji was raided and all his writings and correspondence removed
as evidence, never to surface again. Only a few statues of Buddha Shakya-
muni that Gudō had carved and presented to his parishioners were left
behind. Even his death did not satisfy the authorities. They would not allow
his name to appear on his gravemarker at Rinsenji. In fact, when one of his
parishioners subsequently dared to leave some flowers on his grave, the
police instituted a search throughout the village of Ōhiradai, located in the
mountainous Hakone district of Kanagawa Prefecture, to find the offender.
Early Life Uchiyama was born on May 17, 1874, in the village of Ojiya in
Niigata Prefecture. His childhood name was Keikichi, and he was the oldest
of four children. Gudō's father, Naokichi, made his living as a woodworker
and carver, specializing in Buddhist statues, family altars, and associated
implements. As a child, Gudō learned this trade from his father, and, as
noted above, later carved Buddhist statues that he presented to his parish-
ioners at Rinsenji. Even today these simple yet serene nine-inch images of
Buddha Shakyamuni are highly valued among the villagers.
Gudō was an able student, earning an award for academic excellence
from the prefectural governor. Equally important, he was introduced at an
early age to the thinking of a mid-seventeenth-century social reformer by
the name of Sakura Sōgorō, Discussions of such issues as the need for land
reform to eliminate rural poverty and the enfranchisement of women were
an integral part of his childhood education.
Gudō lost his father at the age of sixteen. In his book Buddhists Who
Sought Change (Henkaku o Motometa Bukkyōsha), Inagaki Masami identi-
fies this early death as a significant factor in Gudō's later decision to enter
the Buddhist priesthood. On April 12, 1897, Gudō underwent ordination in
the Sōtō Zen sect as a disciple of Sakazume Kōjū, abbot of Hōzōji temple.
Over the following seven years, Gudō studed Buddhism academically
and trained as a Zen novice in a number of Sōtō Zen temples, chief among
them the monastery of Kaizōji in Kanagawa Prefecture. On October 10, 1901,
Gudō became the Dharma successor of Miyagi Jitsumyō, abbot of Rinsenji.
Three years later, on February 9, 1904, Gudō succeeded his master as Rin-
senji's abbot, thus bringing to an end his formal Zen training.
The temple Gudō succeeded to was exceedingly humble. For one thing,
it had no more than forty impoverished families to provide financial support.
Aside from a small thatched-roof main hall, its chief assets were two trees, one
a persimmon and the other a chestnut, located on the temple grounds. Village
tradition states that every autumn Gudō would invite the villagers to the tem-
ple to divide the harvest from these trees equally among themselves.
In his discussions with village youth, Gudō once again directed his
attention to the problem of rural poverty. He identified the root of the
problem as being an unjust economic system, one in which a few individu-
als owned the bulk of the land and the majority of the rural population was
reduced to tenancy. Gudō became an outspoken advocate of land reform,
something that would eventually come to pass, but not until many years
later, after Japan's defeat in the Pacific War.
What is significant about Gudō's advocacy of land reform is that he
based his position on his understanding of Buddhism. In discussing this
period of his life in the minutes of his later pretrial hearing, Gudō stated:
The year was 1904 ... When I reflected on the way in which priests
of my sect had undergone religious training in China in former
times, I realized how beautiful it had been. Here were two or three
hundred persons who, living in one place at one time, shared a
communal lifestyle in which they wore the same clothing and ate
the same food. I held to the ideal that if this could be applied to one
village, one county, or one country, what an extremely good system
would be created.
The traditional Buddhist organizational structure, the Sangha, with its com-
munal lifestyle and lack of personal property, was the model from which
Gudō drew his inspiration for social reform.
It was also in 1904 that Gudō had his first significant contact with a
much broader, secular social reform movement, anarcho-socialism. Gudō
appears to have first come into contact with this movement as a reader of a
newly established newspaper, the Heimin Shimbun or "The Commoner's
News." By the early months of 1904 this newspaper had established itself as
Tokyo's leading advocate of the socialist cause, and Gudō later expressed its
impact on him: "When I began reading the Heimin Shimbun at that time
, I realized that its principles were identical with my own and there-
fore I became an anarcho-socialist."
Gudō was not content, however, to be a mere reader of this newspaper.
In its January 17, 1904 edition, he wrote:
As a propagator of Buddhism I teach that "all sentient beings have
the Buddha-nature" and that "within the Dharma there is equality,
with neither superior nor inferior." Furthermore, I teach that "all
sentient beings are my children." Having taken these golden words
as the basis of my faith, I discovered that they are in complete
agreement with the principles of socialism. It was thus that I
became a believer in socialism.
The phrase, "all sentient beings have the Buddha-nature" is one of the
central themes of the Lotus Sutra, as is the phrase, "all sentient beings are
my children." The phrase, "within the Dharma there is equality, with neither
superior or inferior" comes from the Diamond Sutra. Regrettably, this brief
statement is the only surviving example of Gudō's understanding of the
social implications of the Law of the Buddha.
Even this brief statement, however, puts Gudō in direct opposition to
Meiji Buddhist leaders such as Shimaji Mokurai. In his 1879 essay entitled
"Differentiation [Is] Equality" (Sabetsu Byōdō), Shimaji maintained that
distinctions in social standing and wealth were as permanent as differences
in age, sex, and language. Socialism, in his view, was flawed because it
emphasized only social and economic equality. That is to say, socialists
failed to understand the basic Buddhist teaching that "differentiation is
identical with equality" (sabetsu soku byōdō). Or phrased somewhat more
philosophically, socialists confused the temporal world of form (yūkei) with
the transcendent world of formlessness (mukei), failing to recognize the
underlying unity of the two. It was Shimaji's position that would gain
acceptance within institutional Buddhism.
Village Priest and Social Activist Of the eighty-two persons who eventually
expressed their allegiance to socialism in the pages of the Heimin Shimbun,
only Gudō and one other, Kōtoku Shūsui, were later directly implicated in
the High Treason Incident. This suggests that Gudō, like Kōtoku, was a
leading figure in the nascent socialist movement, but that was not the case.
Gudō's relative physical isolation in the Hakone mountains limited the role
that he was able to play. He might best be described as a rural social activist
or reformer who, in his own mind at least, based his thought and actions on
his Buddhist faith.
Ironically, it was Gudō's relative physical isolation that eventually thrust
him into the historical limelight. The Japanese government and police
devoted ever-increasing efforts to suppressing the growing socialist move-
ment with its pacifist platform. This suppression took the form of repeated
bannings of politically offensive issues of the Heimin Shimbun; arresting,
fining, and ultimately jailing the newspaper's editors; and forcefully break-
ing up socialist meetings and rallies. With two of its editors (including
Kōtoku Shūsui) on their way to jail for alleged violations of the press laws,
the Heimin Shimbun printed its last issue on January 25, 1905. When the
newspaper closed down, the socialist antiwar movement within Japan vir-
tually came to an end, thereby enabling the government to prosecute its war
with Czarist Russia free of domestic opposition.
In September 1905 the war with Russia ended with a Japanese victory.
The victory was, however, a costly one, both in terms of the government's
expenditures on armaments and the high number of military casualities.
When it became general knowledge that the peace terms did not include a
war indemnity, riots broke out in Tokyo and martial law was immediately
imposed. In this atmosphere of significant social unrest, the government
pursued its suppression of socialism even more relentlessly than before. On
February 22, 1907, the Socialist Party was banned and socialists were
harassed, beaten, and jailed. By 1908, unable to hold public meetings or
publish either newspapers or magazines, what was left of the socialist move-
ment went underground. Prohibited from advocating socialism openly,
some members of the movement came to believe that the only way they
could succeed was to take some form of "direct action" against the imperial
It was these circumstances which prompted Gudō to visit Tokyo in
September 1908. He not only met with Kōtoku Shūsui but purchased the
necessary equipment to set up a secret press within his own temple. The
printing equipment itself was hidden in the storage area located under-
neath and to the rear of the Buddha altar in the Main Hall. Gudō used this
press to turn out popular socialist tracts and pamphlets, and he also wrote
and published his own materials, including his best-known work, In Com-
memoration of Imprisonment: Anarcho-Communism-Revolution (Nyūgoku
That work is interesting for a number of reasons. It contains a pointed
critique of the then prevalent understanding of the Buddhist doctrine of
karma. After beginning with a lament for the poverty of tenant farmers,
Is this [your poverty] the result, as Buddhists maintain, of the ret-
ribution due you because of your evil deeds in the past? Listen,
friends, if, having now entered the twentieth century, you were to
be deceived by superstitions like this, you would still be [no better
than] oxen or horses. Would this please you?
Gudō clearly understood that the Buddhist doctrine of karma was
being interpreted as providing the justification for social and economic
inequality. That is to say, if tenant farmers were impoverished, they had no
one to blame but themselves and their own past actions. Shaku Sōen was
typical of the Buddhist leaders who advocated this interpretation: "We are
born in the world of variety; some are poor and unfortunate, others are
wealthy and happy. This state of variety will be repeated again and again in
our future lives. But to whom shall we complain of our misery? To none but
ourselves!" Gudō was also critical of certain aspects of Buddhist practice.
For example, on May 30, 1904, he wrote a letter of protest to the abbot of
Jōsenji, Orihashi Daikō. In this letter he requested that the Sōtō sect cleanse
itself of the practice of selling temple abbotships to the highest bidder.
When Daikō refused to endorse his position, Gudō expressed his determi-
nation to push for this reform on his own.
The real significance of In Commemoration of Imprisonment lay not in
its critique of certain aspects of Buddhist doctrine, but rather in its blister-
ing rejection of the heart and soul of the Meiji political system, the emperor
system. It was, in fact, this rejection of Japan's imperial system that, more
than any other factor, led to Gudō's subsequent arrest, imprisonment, and
execution. He wrote:
There are three leeches who suck the people's blood: the emperor,
the rich, and the big landowners ... The big boss of the present
government, the emperor, is not the son of the gods as your pri-
mary school teachers and others would have you believe. The
ancestors of the present emperor came forth from one corner of
Kyushu, killing and robbing people as they went. They then
destroyed their fellow thieves, Nagasune-hiko and others ... It
should be readily obvious that the emperor is not a god if you but
think about it for a moment.
When it is said that [the imperial dynasty] has continued for
2,500 years, it may seem as if [the present emperor] is divine, but
down through the ages the emperors have been tormented by for-
eign opponents and, domestically, treated as puppets by their own
vassals ... Although these are well-known facts, university professors
and their students, weaklings that they are, refuse to either say or
write anything about it. Instead, they attempt to deceive both others
and themselves, knowing all along the whole thing is a pack of lies.
Imprisonment Gudō printed between one and two thousand copies of the
tract containing the foregoing passages and mailed them to former readers
of the Heimin Shimbun in small lots wrapped in plain paper. Its radical con-
tent, especially its scathing denial of the emperor system, so frightened
some recipients that they immediately burned all the copies they received.
Others, however, were so excited by its contents that they rushed out onto
to the streets to distribute the tract to passersby. It was not long, predictably,
before copies fell into the hands of the police. This in turn sparked an
immediate nationwide search for the tract's author and the place and means
of its production.
On May 24, 1909, Gudō was arrested on his way back to Rinsenji after
having finished a month of Zen training at Eiheiji, one of the Sōtō sect's two
chief monasteries. He was initially charged with violations of the press and
publications laws and, at first, believed he would simply be fined and
released. Upon searching Rinsenji, however, the police claimed to have dis-
covered a cache of explosive materials including twelve sticks of dynamite,
four packages of explosive gelatin, and a supply of fuses.
One contemporary commentator, Kashiwagi Ryūhō, claims, though
without presenting any proof, that the charges relating to the possession of
explosive materials were false. In an article entitled "Martyr Uchiyama
Gudō" he states: "The dynamite had been stored at his temple in conjunc-
tion with the construction of the Hakone mountain railroad. It had noth-
ing to do with Gudō." Nevertheless, Gudō was convicted of both charges
and initially sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment. On appeal, his sen-
tence was reduced to seven years.
On July 6, 1909, even before his conviction, officials of the Sōtō Zen sect
moved to deprive Gudō of his abbotship at Rinsenji. Once he had been con-
victed, they quickly moved on to yet more serious action. On June 21, 1910,
Gudō was deprived of his status as a Sōtō Zen priest, though he continued
to regard himself as one until the end of his life.
Toward a Second Trial On May 25, 1910, two socialists, Miyashita Takichi and
Niimura Tadao, were arrested in Nagano Prefecture after police searched
their quarters and found chemicals used to make explosives. In the minds of
the police this was concrete evidence of the existence of a wider conspiracy
against the imperial house. This in turn led to Kōtoku Shūsui's arrest a week
later, and the investigation and interrogation of hundreds of men and women
in the following months. By this time Gudō had already been in prison for a
full year, yet this did not prevent him from becoming a suspect once again.
At the conclusion of its investigation, charges were brought against
twenty-six persons, including Gudō and one woman, Kanno Sugako. If
convicted under Article 73, "Crimes Against the Throne," of the new crimi-
nal code, all of them could face the death penalty. Under Article 73 prose-
cutors had only to show that the defendants "intended" to bring harm to
members of the imperial house, not that they had acted on this intent in
any concrete way. Ideas, not facts, were on trial.
The trial commenced in Tokyo on December 10, 1910. Kanno Sugako
not only admitted in court that she had been involved in the alleged con-
piracy but indicated how many others had been involved as well. Upon
being asked by the presiding judge, Tsuru Jōichirō, if she wished to make a
final statement, Kanno responded:
From the outset I knew that our plan would not succeed if we let a
lot of people in on it. Only four of us were involved in the plan. It
is a crime that involves only the four of us. But this court, as well
as the preliminary interrogators, treated it as a plan that involved a
large number of people. That is a complete misunderstanding of
the case. Because of this misunderstanding a large number of peo-
ple have been made to suffer. You are aware of this ...
If these people are killed for something that they knew nothing
about, not only will it be a grave tragedy for the persons con-
cerned, but their relatives and friends will feel bitterness toward the
government. Because we hatched this plan, a large number of inno-
cent people may be executed.
In her diary entry for January 21, 1911, Kanno identified the other persons
involved in the plot as Kōtoku, Miyashita, Niimura, and Furukawa
Kanno's plea on behalf of the other defendants fell on deaf ears. As for
Gudō, Chief Prosecutor Hiranuma Kiichirō went on to identify his earlier
writing, with its uncompromising denial of the emperor system, as "the
most heinous book ever written since the beginning of Japanese history."
He also mentioned a second tract which Gudō had printed, entitled A
Handbook for Imperial Soldiers (Teikoku Gunjin Zayū no Mei). Here Gudō
had gone so far as to call on conscripts to desert their encampments en
masse. In addition, Gudō had, as already noted, repeatedly and forcefully
advocated both land reform in the countryside and democratic rights for all
Many years later an alternative view of Gudō's role in the alleged con-
spiracy came from a somewhat surprising source, namely the administra-
tive headquarters of the Sōtō Zen sect. In the July 1993 issue of Sōtō Shūhō,
the administrative organ for this sect, an announcement was made that as
of April 13, 1993, Uchiyama Gudō's status as a Sōtō priest had been restored.
The announcement went on to say, "[Gudō's] original expulsion was a mis-
take caused by the sect's having swallowed the government's repressive
The explanation as to what caused this turnabout in the sect's attitude
toward Gudō was contained in a subsequent article that appeared in the
September 1993 issue of the same periodical. Written by the sect's new
"Bureau for the Protection and Advocacy of Human Rights," the highlights
of the article are as follows:
When viewed by to day's standards of respect for human rights,
Uchiyama Gudō's writings contain elements that should be regarded
as farsighted. We have much to learn from them, for today his writ-
ings are respected by people in various walks of life, beginning
with the mass media. In our sect, the restoration of Uchiyama
Gudō's reputation is something that will both bring solace to his
spirit and contribute to the establishment within this sect of a
method of dealing with questions concerning human rights ...
We now recognize that Gudō was a victim of the national policy
of that day ... The dynamite found in his temple had been placed
there for safekeeping by a railroad company laying track through
the Hakone mountains and had nothing to do with him ... The
sect's [original] actions strongly aligned the sect with an establish-
ment dominated by the emperor system. They were not designed
to protect the unique Buddhist character of the sect's priests ...
On this occasion of the restoration of Uchiyama Gudō's reputa-
tion, we must reflect on the way in which our sect has ingratiated
itself with both the political powers of the day and a state under the
suzerainty of the emperor.
While the Sōtō sect's statement clearly views Gudō as a victim of gov-
ernment repression, it presents no new evidence in support of his inno-
cence. It merely repeats Kashiwagi's earlier unsubstantiated claim that the
dynamite found at his temple was put there as part of a nearby railway
construction project. All in all, the Sōtō sect's statement must be treated
with some scepticism, perhaps as more of a reflection of the sect's regret for
what it came to recognize (in postwar years) as its slavish subservience to
Because of this lack of evidence, no definitive statement can be made
about the guilt or innocence of those on trial in the High Treason Incident.
As noted earlier, much critical evidence was destroyed by the government
as it sought to make the accused into "nonpersons." When in 1975 the
descendents of one of those originally convicted in the case petitioned for
a retrial, the Ministry of Justice stated clearly for the first time that the trial's
transcripts no longer existed. Even if the transcripts had existed, it is doubt-
ful that they would have provided definitive evidence, given that everyone
directly connected with the trial was by then dead. Historian Fred
Notehelfer admits at the end of his study of the case that "an element of
mystery ... continues to surround the trial." It probably always will.
There was never any doubt at the time, however, that the defendants
would be found guilty. The only uncertainty was how severe their penalties
would be. On January 18, 1911, little more than a month after the trial began,
the court rendered its verdict. All defendants were found guilty, and twen-
ty-four of them, Gudō and the three other Buddhist priests included, were
condemned to death. One day later, on January 19th, an imperial rescript
was issued which commuted the sentences of twelve of the condemned to
life imprisonment. Three of the Buddhist priests--Takagi Kemmyō, Sasaki
Dōgen, and Mineo Setsudō--were spared the hangman's noose, though all
would die in prison.
Toward Execution Mikiso Hane has suggested why the government was so
determined to convict all of the defendants:
The authorities (under Prime Minister Katsura Tarō, who had
been directed by the genrō [elder statesman] Yamagata Aritomo to
come down hard on the leftists) rounded up everybody who had
the slightest connection with Kōtoku and charged them with com-
plicity in the plot.
Yamagata was particularly concerned by the fact that the court testimony of
nearly all the defendants revealed a loss of faith in the divinity of the emper-
or. For Yamagata, this loss of respect for the core of the state represented a
serious threat to the future of the nation. Those holding this view had to be
eliminated by any means necessary.
Acting with unaccustomed haste, the government executed Gudō and
ten of his alleged co-conspirators inside the Ichigaya Prison compound on
the morning of January 24, 1911, less than a week after their conviction.
Kanno Sugako was executed the following day. Gudō was the fifth to die on
the twenty-fourth, and Yoshida Kyūichi records that as he climbed the scaf-
fold stairs, "he gave not the slightest hint of emotional distress. Rather he
appeared serene, even cheerful--so much so that the attending prison chap-
lain bowed as he passed."
The next day, when Gudō's younger brother, Seiji, came to collect his
body, he demanded that the coffin be opened. Looking at Gudō's peaceful
countenance, Seiji said, "Oh, older brother, you passed away without suf-
fering ... What a superb face you have in death!"