May 15 Incident

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Osaka Mainichi Shimbun describing the May 15 incident and assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi May 15 Incident.jpg
Osaka Mainichi Shimbun describing the May 15 incident and assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi

The May 15 Incident(五・一五事件,Goichigo Jiken) was an attempted coup d'état in the Empire of Japan, on May 15, 1932, launched by reactionary elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy, aided by cadets in the Imperial Japanese Army and civilian remnants of the ultra nationalist League of Blood. Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated by 11 young naval officers. The following trial and popular support of the Japanese population led to extremely light sentences for the assassins, strengthening the rising power of Japanese militarism and weakening democracy and the rule of law in the Empire of Japan.

Coup détat Sudden deposition of a government; illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus

A coup d'état, also known as a putsch, a golpe, or simply as a coup, means the overthrow of an existing government; typically, this refers to an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a dictator, the military, or a political faction.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.



As a result of the ratification of the London Naval Treaty limiting the size of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a movement grew within the junior officer corps to overthrow the government, and to replace it with military rule.[ citation needed ] This movement had parallels in the Sakurakai secret society organized within the Imperial Japanese Army. The naval officers established contacts with the ultranationalist Inoue Nissho and his "League of Blood", and agreed with his philosophy that to bring about a "Shōwa Restoration", it would be necessary to assassinate leading political and business figures.

London Naval Treaty agreement between the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and the United States, signed on 22 April 1930, which regulated submarine warfare and limited naval shipbuilding

The Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armament, commonly known as the London Naval Treaty, was an agreement between the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and the United States, signed on 22 April 1930, which regulated submarine warfare and limited naval shipbuilding. Ratifications were exchanged in London on 27 October 1930, and the treaty went into effect on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on 6 February 1931.


Sakurakai, or Cherry Blossom Society was an ultranationalist secret society established by young officers within the Imperial Japanese Army in September 1930, with the goal of reorganizing the state along totalitarian militaristic lines, via a military coup d'état if necessary. Their avowed goal was a Shōwa Restoration, which they claimed would restore the Emperor Hirohito to his rightful place, free of party politics and evil bureaucrats in a new military dictatorship.

In March 1932, in the "League of Blood Incident", Inoue's group only managed to kill former Finance Minister and head of the Rikken Minseitō, Inoue Junnosuke, and Director-General of Mitsui Holding Company, Takuma Dan.

Ministry of Finance (Japan) finance ministry of Japan

The Ministry of Finance is one of the cabinet-level ministries of the Japanese government. The ministry was named the Ōkura-shō (大蔵省) until 2001. The Ministry is headed by the Minister of Finance, who is a member of the Cabinet and is typically chosen from members of the Diet by the Prime Minister.

Mitsui company

Mitsui Group is one of the largest keiretsu in Japan and one of the largest corporate groups in the world.


On May 15, 1932, the naval officers, aided by army cadets, and right-wing civilian elements (including Shūmei Ōkawa, Mitsuru Tōyama, and Kosaburo Tachibana) staged their own attempt to complete what had been started in the League of Blood Incident.

Shūmei Ōkawa Japanese nationalist intellectual

Shūmei Ōkawa was a Japanese nationalist, Pan-Asian writer and indicted war criminal. In the prewar period, he was known for his publications on Japanese history, philosophy of religion, Indian philosophy, and colonialism. He is frequently called a "right-wing" writer, although he described himself as anti-capitalist and rejected the label "right-wing".

Tōyama Mitsuru Japanese politician

Tōyama Mitsuru was a nationalist political leader in early 20th century Japan and founder of the Genyosha nationalist secret society.

Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was shot by eleven young naval officers (most were just turning twenty years of age) in the prime minister's residence. Inukai's last words were roughly "If I could speak, you would understand"(話せば分かる,hanaseba wakaru) to which his killers replied "Dialogue is useless"(問答無用,mondō muyō). [1]

Prime Minister of Japan Head of government of Japan

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government of Japan. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the National Diet and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office. He is the chairman of the Cabinet and appoints and dismisses the other Ministers of State. The literal translation of the Japanese name for the office is Minister for the Comprehensive Administration of the Cabinet.

Inukai Tsuyoshi Japanese politician and Prime Minister of Japan (1855–1932)

Inukai Tsuyoshi was a Japanese politician, cabinet minister, and Prime Minister of Japan from 13 December 1931 to his assassination on 15 May 1932.

The original assassination plan had included killing the English film star Charlie Chaplin who had arrived in Japan on May 14, 1932, at a reception for Chaplin, planned by Prime Minister Inukai. "These activists, eager to ingest a nativist Yamato spirit into politics, recognised the charged political nature of mass culture". Chaplin's murder would facilitate war with the U.S., and anxiety in Japan, and lead on to "restoration" in the name of the emperor. [2] When the prime minister was killed, his son Inukai Takeru was watching a sumo wrestling match with Charlie Chaplin, which probably saved both their lives.

Charlie Chaplin British comic actor and filmmaker

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona, "The Tramp", and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, and encompassed both adulation and controversy.

Yamato-damashii or Yamato-gokoro is a Japanese language term that refers to the cultural values and characteristics of the Japanese people. The phrase was coined in the Heian period to describe the indigenous Japanese 'spirit' or cultural values as opposed to cultural values of foreign nations such as those identified through contact with Tang dynasty China. Later, a qualitative contrast between Japanese and Chinese spirit was elicited from the term. Edo period writers and samurai used it to augment and support the Bushido concept of honor and valor. Japanese nationalists propagandized Yamato-damashii – "the brave, daring, and indomitable spirit of Japanese people" – as one of the key Japanese military-political doctrines in the Shōwa period. English translations of Yamato-damashii include the "Japanese spirit", "Japanese soul", "Yamato spirit", and "The Soul of Old Japan". Lafcadio Hearn mentions the latter in connection with Shinto.

For this national type of moral character was invented the name Yamato-damashi , — the Soul of Yamato , — the appellation of the old province of Yamato, seat of the early emperors, being figuratively used for the entire country. We might correctly, though less literally, interpret the expression Yamato-damashi as "The Soul of Old Japan". (1904:177)

Sumo full-contact wrestling sport

Sumo is a form of competitive full-contact wrestling where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into touching the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet.

The insurgents also attacked the residence of Makino Nobuaki, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, head of the Rikken Seiyūkai political party, and tossed hand-grenades into Mitsubishi Bank headquarters in Tokyo, and several electrical transformer substations.

Aside from the murder of the prime minister, the attempted coup d'état came to nothing, and the rebellion as a whole proved a failure. The participants took a taxi to the police headquarters and surrendered themselves to the Kempeitai without a struggle.


The 11 murderers of Prime Minister Inukai were court-martialed. Before the end of their trial a petition arrived at court containing over 350,000 signatures in blood, which had been signed by sympathizers around the country to plead for a lenient sentence. During the proceedings, the accused used the trial as a platform to proclaim their loyalty to the emperor and to arouse popular sympathy by appealing for reforms of the government and economy. In addition to the petition, the court also received a request from eleven youths in Niigata, asking that they be executed in place of the naval officers, and sending eleven severed fingers to the court as a gesture of their sincerity. [3]

The punishment handed down by the court was extremely light, and there was little doubt in the Japanese press that the murderers of Prime Minister Inukai would be released in a couple of years, if not sooner. Failure to severely punish the plotters in the May 15 Incident further eroded the rule of law and the power of the democratic government in Japan to confront the military. Indirectly, it led to the February 26 Incident and the increasing rise of Japanese militarism. [4]

The May 15 Incident serves as a major plot point in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GiG of 2005, in which a terrorist group attempts to recreate the incident out of the leader's cynical belief that people prefer to be controlled and told what to do rather than make their own decisions.

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  1. Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936–1945
  2. Erotic Grotesque Nonsense:The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times, p.1 - Miriam Silverberg, 2006 Univ of California Press.
  3. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun. pp.36
  4. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan