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Shūmei Ōkawa

Shūmei Ōkawa
Shūmei Ōkawa
Born (1886-12-06)December 6, 1886
Sakata, Yamagata, Empire of Japan
Died December 24, 1957(1957-12-24) (aged 71)
Tokyo, Japan
Cause of death cardiac asthma
Nationality Japanese
Education Tokyo Imperial University, 1911, Ph.D. 1926
Occupation Educator, Political philosopher, Islamic scholar, historian
Known for
  • leading proponent of nationalism
  • founded Yūzonsha (1919, with Kita Ikki)
  • founded Nippon (1924), magazine advocating military government and takeover of Manchuria
  • failed military coup (March 1931)
  • failed military coup (October 1931)
  • shaped and broadcast government domestic propaganda (1939-45)
Religion Perennial philosophy
Criminal charge
  • imprisoned (1932-37) for involvement in assassination of Premier Inukai Tsuyoshi
  • arrested (1945) for war crimes 1945
Criminal status International Military Tribunal for the Far East dropped charges
Children none
Parent(s) Shūkei Ōkawa, physician (d. 1914)

Shūmei Ōkawa (大川 周明 Ōkawa Shūmei, December 6, 1886 – December 24, 1957) was a Japanese nationalist, Pan-Asian writer, indicted war criminal, and Islamic scholar. In the prewar period, he was known for his publications on Indian philosophy, philosophy of religion, Japanese history, and colonialism. He is frequently called a "right-wing" writer, although he described himself as anti-capitalist and rejected the label "right-wing."


  • Background 1
  • Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal 2
  • Translation of Quran 3
  • Major publications 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Ōkawa was born in Sakata, Yamagata, Japan in 1886. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1911, where he had studied Vedic literature and classical Indian philosophy. After graduation, Ōkawa worked for the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff doing translation work. He had a sound knowledge of German, French, English, Sanskrit and Pali.[3]

He briefly flirted with Rash Behari Bose.

After years of study of foreign philosophies, he became increasingly convinced that the solution to Japan's pressing social and political problems lay in an alliance with Asian independence movements, a revival of pre-modern Japanese philosophy, and a renewed emphasis on the kokutai principles.[4]

Ōkawa as a youth

In 1918, Ōkawa went to work for the South Manchurian Railway Company, under its East Asian Research Bureau. Together with Ikki Kita he founded the nationalist discussion group and political club Yūzonsha. In the 1920s, he became an instructor of history and colonial policy at Takushoku University, where he was also active in the creation of anti-capitalist and nationalist student groups.[5] Meanwhile, he introduced Rudolf Steiner's theory of social threefolding to Japan.

In 1926, Ōkawa published his most influential work: "Japan and the Way of the Japanese" (Nihon oyobi Nihonjin no michi), which was so popular that it was reprinted 46 times by the end of World War II. Ōkawa also became involved in a number of attempted coups d'état by the Japanese military in the early 1930s, including the March Incident, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1935.[6] Released after only two years, he briefly re-joined the South Manchurian Railway Company before accepting a post as a professor at Hosei University in 1939. He continued to publish numerous books and articles, helping popularize the idea that a "clash of civilizations" between the East and West was inevitable, and that Japan was destined to assume the mantle of liberator and protector of Asia against the United States and other Western nations.[7]

Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal

Okawa in court

After World War II, the Allies prosecuted Ōkawa as a class-A war criminal, the only civilian among the twenty-seven military officers. They described him to the press as the "Japanese Goebbels" and claimed that he had long agitated for a war between Japan and the West. In pre-trial hearings, Okawa countered that he had merely translated and commented on Vladimir Solovyov's geopolitical philosophy in 1924, and that in fact Pan-Asianism did not advocate for war.[8]

During the trial, Ōkawa behaved erratically – dressing in pajamas, sitting barefoot, and hitting the bald head of the former prime minister Hideki Tōjō while shouting "Inder! Kommen Sie!" (Come, Indian!) in German, and so on. Some heard him shout "This is act one of the comedy!" U.S. Army psychiatrist Daniel Jaffe examined him and reported he was unfit to stand trial. Therefore, the presiding judge Sir William Webb (The President of the Tokyo Tribunal) concluded that he was mentally ill and dropped the case against him. (Of the remaining defendants, seven were hanged and the rest imprisoned.)[9][10] From the beginning of the tribunal, Ōkawa was saying that the court was a farce and not even worthy of being called a legal court. Therefore, some people still believe that he was feigning madness.[10]

Translation of Quran

Ōkawa was transferred from the jail to a US Army hospital in Japan, which concluded that he had mental instability. Later, he was transferred to the Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital, a famous mental hospital, where he completed the first Japanese translation of the entire Quran.[11] He was released from hospital in 1948. He spent the final years of his life writing a memoir, Anraku no Mon, reflecting on how he found peace in the mental hospital.

In October 1957, Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru requested an audience with him during a brief visit to Japan. The invitation was hand-delivered to Ōkawa's house by an Indian Embassy official, who found that Ōkawa was already on his deathbed and was unable to leave the house. He died two months later.[12]

Major publications

  • Some issues in re-emerging Asia (復興亜細亜の諸問題), 1922
  • A study of the Japanese spirit (日本精神研究), 1924
  • A study of chartered colonisation companies (特許植民会社制度研究), 1927
  • National History (国史読本), 1931
  • 2600 years of the Japanese history (日本二千六百年史), 1939
  • History of Anglo-American Aggression in East Asia (米英東亜侵略史), 1941
  • Best-seller in Japan during WW2
  • Introduction to Islam (回教概論), 1942
  • Quran (Japanese translation), 1950


  1. ^ "Okawa Shumei". Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary (fee, via   Biography in Context.
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Wakabayashi, Modern Japanese Thought, pp.226
  4. ^ Samuels, Securing Japan: Tokyo's Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia, pp. 18
  5. ^ Calvocoressi, The Penguin History of the Second World War pp.657
  6. ^ Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, pp.572
  7. ^ Wakabayashi, Modern Japanese Thought, pp.226-227
  8. ^ Japan’s Pan-Asianism and the Legitimacy of Imperial World Order, 1931–1945
  9. ^ Maga, Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials
  10. ^ a b Halzack, Sarah (January 17, 2014). "A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II".   (review of book by Eric Jaffe)
  11. ^ This was not from Arabic, as Ōkawa could not read that language. He made his translation from about 10 language editions, including English, Chinese, German, and French. The most popular translation appeared in the late 1950s; it is by T. Izutsu, who was helped by Ōkawa. Ōkawa's version is difficult to find nowadays.
  12. ^ Sekioka Hideyuki. Ōkawa Shūmei no Dai-Ajia-Shugi. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2007. p. 203.


  • Jaffe, Eric (2014). A curious madness : an American combat psychiatrist, a Japanese war crimes suspect, and an unsolved mystery from World War II (First Scribner hardcover ed.).  
  • Maga, Timothy P. (2001). Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials.  
  • Samuels, Richard J (2007). Securing Japan: Tokyo's Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia.  
  • Wakabayashi, Bob (2007). Modern Japanese Thought. Cornell University Press.  

Further reading

  • Esenbel, Selçuk (October 2004). "Japan's Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900–1945". Bosporus-Universität an der Dozentin Prof Dr. Selçuk Esenbel,  
  • Szpilman, Christopher W. A. "The Dream of One Asia: Okawa Shumei and Japanese Asianism". In Fuess, Harald. The Japanese Empire in East Asia. pp. 49–64. 

External links

  • Ōkawa hitting Tojo illustration
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