by Angela Xie
Born on November 13, 1896, Kishi Nobusuke was a prominent Japanese political leader from a family with roots in the Meiji Restoration. Growing up in a small town in Japan, Kishi Nobusuke seemed to have little chance to rule Manchuria and Japan when he got older; nobody would connect him with the prime minister of Japan. However, he eventually pursued his dream of becoming a government official who aimed at modernizing Japan. Kishi was easily one of the most controversial characters of the 20th century as he went from a Class A War Criminal after WW2 to prime minister of Japan within ten years.
Many historians associate Kishi's life with Westernization. It is indeed true. Even though he grew up in a small town, he was exposed to Western ideas during the Showa Restoration and believed only modernization would help Japan catch up with the West. Kishi also believed a state should be highly industrialized and centralized instead of sticking to the old feudal system. With this belief in mind, Kishi joined the Ministry of Commerce and had the opportunity to travel around the world. He soon learned about industrialization in America and Germany.
Dan Kurzman, the author of Kishi and Japan: The Search for the Sun, describes him as a combination of the old and the modern world, which was similar to the country Japan. In Kurzman's book, he says that:
"As for the future of Japan, in order for resource-poor Japan to maintain itself, it must establish itself through trade. In order to establish itself through trade, industrial technology needs to be developed, and through technological superiority, industry must be developed… I'm entering it so it will have more prestige."
From Kurzman's perspective, he believed that Japan adopted both Eastern and Western ideologies for its development. So was Kishi. He embraced new knowledge from his trip to the West and decided to bring them back to Japan. When he returned, he participated in the "reform bureaucracy" activities, which aimed at creating an authoritarian version of modern Japan. They also supported the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even though they advocated for pan-Asianism, it was a pro-Japan political plan. The Imperial Japanese government completely controlled Manchuria, China, after the Mukden Incident (1937). Kishi was made the army's de-facto head of Manchuria. Under his rule, most Chinese laborers underwent brutalities. Of the four million Chinese people who were used as forced labor for this operation, more than 40% of them died from the brutal conditions. In 1945, after the surrender of Japan, Kishi was classified as a Class A criminal.
However, Kishi was released quickly with the help of the U.S. "The U.S. decided to support Kishi to ensure American dominance in Japan, and his 1957 visit to Washington won him CIA financial support and a promise that the security treaty would be revised." In return, Kishi signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the United States in 1960. The treaty, which allowed American military bases to remain in Japan, sparked widespread protests and unrest, leading to violent clashes between demonstrators and the police. Kishi's handling of the treaty and his suppression of protests led to accusations of authoritarianism and fueled anti-American sentiments.
Kishi Nobusuke's legacy is a complex tapestry of achievements, controversies, and contradictions. He transformed Japan into an economic powerhouse, while his role in negotiating the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security highlighted his willingness to navigate international alliances, even in the face of domestic opposition. However, Kishi's wartime past and his association with the Imperial government remain deeply contentious aspects of his legacy, shaping perceptions of his character and leadership. His political decisions and actions, both laudable and questionable, exemplify the challenges faced by Japan as it emerged from the ashes of World War II.
Ultimately, Kishi's impact on post-war Japan underscores the intricate interplay between political maneuvering, economic development, and historical context. His story serves as a reminder of the complexities and nuances inherent in rebuilding and reshaping a nation in the aftermath of war.
Kurzman, D. (1960). Kishi and Japan: The Search for the Sun. I. Obolensky.
Mimura, Janis. Planning for Empire: Reform Bureaucrats and the Japanese Wartime State. 1st ed., Cornell University Press, 2011. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7zjn3. Accessed September 2, 2023.
Schönander, L. E. (2022, June 3). The works of the monster of shōwa. Palladium Magazine. https://www.palladiummag.com/2022/06/03/the-works-of-the-monster-of-showa/