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Suicide, boycotts and embracing Tagore: The

Japanese popular response to the 1924 US
Immigration Exclusion Law

Nancy Stalker

To cite this article: Nancy Stalker (2006) Suicide, boycotts and embracing Tagore: The Japanese
popular response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law, Japanese Studies, 26:2, 153-170,
DOI: 10.1080/10371390600883552

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Japanese Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, September 2006

Suicide, Boycotts and Embracing Tagore:

The Japanese Popular Response to the 1924
US Immigration Exclusion Law

NANCY STALKER, University of Texas at Austin

In June 1924 popular protests over the US Immigration Exclusion Law erupted throughout Japan
as individuals and groups mobilized to express their anger and resentment in a brief but potent
wave of anti-Americanism. This paper traces several forms of popular protests and examines
the reasons behind anti-American hysteria. I place the protests within the larger ‘dispute
culture’ that arose under pre-war imperial democracy and identify how specific individuals and
groups, especially the media, encouraged popular protest in order to further their own self-interests.

On 31 May 1924 at around 5.30 a.m., a servant of former Finance Minister Inoue
Junnosuke discovered the disemboweled corpse of a middle-aged man propped against
a tree stump in the garden. Alongside the body were three letters: one was addressed to
the American Ambassador Cyrus Woods, another to ‘the People of America,’ the third
to ‘My fellow Japanese countrymen.’ The letters held no clue as to the man’s identity,
but he was attired in traditional black kimono and pleated hakama trousers and carried
a silver pocket watch. He had committed ritual suicide (seppuku or hara-kiri), using a
small dagger to slice open his abdomen and a razor to slit his neck.1 The letter, written
in English and addressed to Ambassador Woods read:

I hereby entreat by my death his Excellency Cyrus E. Woods, American Ambas-

sador, who well understands Japan and has great sympathy for the Japanese
people, to convey my request as follows: That a law shall be enacted to remove
the exclusion clause from the new immigration bill . . . I greatly regret that
your country . . . enacted the Japanese exclusion clause in complete disregard
of humanity . . . I am a Japanese. We are now humiliated by your country in
the eyes of the world without any justification . . . I prefer death rather than to
feel resentment. After my death I will ask the reconsideration by the people of
your country through Jesus Christ and pray for the greater happiness of
your people. At the same time, I pray God for the removal of the injurious
anti-Japanese clause from the immigration bill, which has subjected the Japanese
to great insult and humiliation.
A Nameless Subject of the Japanese Empire2

Tokyo nichinichi shimbun (hereafter TNN), 1 June 1924, in Taishō nyūsū jiten (hereafter TNJ); New York
Times (hereafter NYT), 1 June 1924. There are discrepancies in the accounts. TNN mentions three letters
while NYT notes only two. TNN provides a detailed description of the Japanese-style clothing worn by the
individual; the Times, reporting to the US, described his clothing as ‘a foreign style suit.’
NYT, 1 June 1924. The two remaining letters were not published.
ISSN 1037-1397 print=ISSN 1469-9338 online/06=020153-18 # 2006 Japanese Studies Association of Australia
DOI: 10.1080=10371390600883552
154 Nancy Stalker

The victim had intended to commit his act in Ambassador Woods’s garden, but
mistakenly chose Inoue’s home instead.3
The occasion for this poignant plea, as indicated in the letter, was the recent passage of a
new US immigration law. The system favored northern Europeans, providing large quotas
to ‘Nordics’ with smaller allowances for Eastern and Southern Europeans. Immigration
from Asia was prohibited entirely by a clause that would not admit ‘any alien ineligible to
citizenship,’ a status which applied pointedly to the Japanese as the Chinese had been
excluded since 1882. The new law vitiated the so-called ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ of
1908, a set of diplomatic negotiations under which the Japanese government agreed to
refrain from issuing passports to laborers bound for the continental US. The US govern-
ment, in turn, agreed to permit the entry of Japanese students, merchants, diplomats and
the families of Japanese residents in the US.
Since the 1919 rejection of the Racial Equality clause proposed by Japan for the Versailles
Peace Treaty, public resentment over racial discrimination by western nations, particularly
the US, had escalated as popular knowledge about the world outside Japan’s borders had
grown. Although the new 1924 law continued to exempt ‘desirable’ immigrants and
would not substantively affect the numbers of Japanese allowed in the US, some Japanese
viewed it as a deep racial insult; a ‘gratuitous affront’ which amounted to a declaration of
war between the yellow and white races.4
Izumi Hirobe has chronicled the Japanese official reaction to the passage of the law and the
efforts of US groups, especially missionaries and businessmen, to allow a token quota of
Japanese immigrants.5 Hirobe characterizes the official response as a ‘split attitude’ in
which the Foreign Ministry, cautious about aggravating anti-Japanese feeling in the US,
avoided addressing the issue directly. Instead it pursued quiet protest through diplomatic
channels. Nevertheless, Ministry officials and internal publications privately expressed
outrage. Hirobe briefly addresses the Japanese popular response, but focuses on
American efforts to ameliorate the affront to the Japanese.
Some forms of Japanese public protest had been underway since the Senate passage of the
bill in late April. It was generally subdued in tone, consisting largely of high-minded, civilized
telegrams to the US Senate and President Coolidge from a variety of middle-class citizens’
groups. But following the suicide of the man dubbed the ‘unknown patriot’ (mumei kokushi)
popular protest galvanized in different forms and took on an angry, anti-American tone.
Ritual suicide was a dramatic act that effectively stirred public emotions. Officially
denounced as a ‘retrograde custom,’ it nevertheless held deep meaning for the Japanese
public who had historically considered many who committed seppuku national heroes.
Celebrated instances, such as the 47 ronin in 1703, were associated with loyalty and
moral justice. The suicide of Russo-Japanese War hero General Nogi Maresuke in 1912,
following the death of the Meiji emperor, was memorialized in popular drama, fiction and
even textbooks. Yet with Nogi’s act of junshi, following one’s lord into death, there was no
action that people might undertake to express their support. Not so with the ‘unknown
patriot,’ whose death sparked mild protest into a blaze of activity.
Like other Japanese protest movements in the early twentieth century, however, the tide
of active protest ebbed rapidly, likely due to the state’s ability to pressure the media under

TNN in TNJ, 1 June 1924.
For a more detailed discussion of the Gentleman’s Agreement and the 1924 Law, see Ichioka, The Issei,
Ch. 7; Chuman, Bamboo People, 90–103. In Japanese, see Suzuki, ‘1850-1920 nendai ni okeru Amerika
no tōyō imin haiseki’; Yoshida, Kokujoku.
Hirobe, Japanese Pride, American Prejudice.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 155

the 1909 Newspaper Law.6 By mid-July little activity was reported in the dailies. Yet in
June 1924, the exclusion law and related suicide became a ‘mnemonic site’ in the con-
struction of a beleaguered Japanese international identity in the 1920s. Takashi Fujitani
defines these sites as ‘material vehicles of meaning’ that help construct national identity
or serve as ‘symbolic markers for commemorations of present national accomplishments
and the possibilities of the future.’7 In his analysis, mnemonic sites are state-sponsored
events, such as imperial pageants and national rituals. These ceremonies ‘evoked feelings
of love and respect for the emperor, pride in being Japanese, and a sense of communion
with other Japanese.’8 Thus, such sites were ‘positive’ in the affirmative feelings and sense
of shared national identity they invoked. Yet, such a sense of shared identity can also be
invoked through ‘negative’ sites such as Hiroshima and Auschwitz, to name two powerful
examples. Negative sites, often marked by the tragic loss of human life, are, in many ways,
even more effective in generating popular solidarity and resolve. Furthermore, they are
not necessarily creations of the state. Negative sites are often memorials or commemora-
tive ceremonies sponsored by private groups or individuals. In June 1924, the numerous
anti-American rallies and activities that captured public attention did not enjoy official
sponsorship. Instead different arms of the bureaucracy and establishment publicly con-
demned such actions, trying to reassure Americans of continued goodwill.
This paper examines the reasons behind anti-American hysteria, tracing several differ-
ent forms of popular protest that erupted after the passage of the exclusion law and the
suicide of the ‘unknown patriot.’ Individuals from many strata of society mobilized in
different forms, expressing their resentment and rage in a brief wave of anti-American
hysteria during the month of June 1924. I argue that these protests constituted
another aspect of the ‘imperial democracy’ of the pre-war years described by Andrew
Gordon. Gordon chronicles the rise of an urban ‘dispute culture’ from the 1910s to
1930s, focusing on the way in which workers and urban crowds engaged in movements
designed to assert their role as ‘participants in local and national communities.’9 The
popular protests following the exclusion law demonstrate that urban crowds also had
aspirations as participants in the international community, seeking respect and equal
treatment from other nations. I further argue that the public’s emotional vulnerability
provided an opportunity for disparate groups and individuals to exploit the anti-
American mood to suit their own needs: right-wing and Pan-Asian organizations
found new supporters, Christian groups gained greater independence, businesses advo-
cated boycotts of US goods and individuals from Uchimura Kanzō to Rabindranath
Tagore found sympathetic new audiences for their views. And throughout the month,
newspapers, which reached mass circulation in the early 1920s, fanned the flames of
public anger and resentment, creating sensationalistic front-page stories that undoubt-
edly sold more copy than reportage on the milquetoast resolutions of citizens’ groups.

Early Temperance
The Japanese press had closely followed the immigration issue since mid-March 1924,
but the general mood was optimistic. The mainstream press portrayed America as a

Under the 1909 Newspaper law (shimbunshi hō), the Home Ministry had the authority to prohibit sales
of newspapers. See Kasza, The State and Mass Media in Japan.
Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, 11.
Ibid., 15.
Gordon, Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan, 3.
156 Nancy Stalker

democratic and humanitarian nation committed to internationalist ideals and high moral
principles. Critiques tended to center not on the US, but on the Japanese government’s
failure to obtain favorable immigration policies or appropriate international stature
abroad.10 The issue began to dominate front-page headlines in April, when the bill
passed in the US House of Representatives by a margin of 322 to 71.11 Still, the press
continued to predict that it would be killed in the Senate or vetoed by the President.12
Around this time, Ambassador Hanihara Masanao’s famous ‘grave consequences’
letter was introduced to the US Senate. The letter protested the impending legislation
predicting ‘the grave consequences which the enactment of the measure . . . would inevi-
tably bring upon the otherwise happy and mutually advantageous relations between our
two countries.’13 Senator Henry Cabot Lodge interpreted the letter as a ‘veiled threat’
against the US. He asserted that no nation had the right to interfere in domestic
policy and called for the immediate passage of the immigration bill. The Senate con-
curred, and approved the measure on 15 April by an overwhelming majority.
The Japanese, hoping for Senate reversal of the House action, were caught by surprise
and the level of coverage on this issue suddenly shot up in late April when over 80 edi-
torials appeared in major metropolitan newspapers.14 Criticism of the Hanihara
blunder was extensive.15 Editorial writers encouraged the public to become involved
in this issue of national honor, urging that ‘every friendly effort’ be made to induce
US reconsideration. Headlines naively reassured readers that ‘Coolidge would avoid
an affront to Japan.’16
Citizens were urged to express their protests through issuing resolutions and seeking
presidential veto via telegrams. Meetings were organized by a wide variety of groups
throughout the nation and colonial empire—newspaper publishers, patriotic societies,
women’s associations, religious, educational, or social associations.17 Their rhetoric
was hopeful and oriented toward gaining American sympathy rather than stirring up
the feelings of the Japanese public.

Mounting Fervor
The moderation and restraint of early protests were swept away by the tragedy of the
‘unknown patriot’ in late May. There can be no denying that after 1 June the public
response intensified, became more emotional and became clearly anti-American.
Copycat suicides, massive rallies, and hotheaded rhetoric followed closely on the heels
of his death. By mid-June, newspapers reported, ‘anti-American sentiment is now sweep-
ing over the country like wildfire.’18
Four more suicides in emulation of the ‘unknown patriot’ followed in rapid succession,
though none received the fanfare of the initial tragedy. On 3 June, two young men threw
themselves in front of trains. Among the ‘mangled remains’ of a student from Choshi was

Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes toward the United States Immigration Act of 1924’, 47–50.
Japan Times and Mail (hereafter JTM), 14 April 1924.
JTM, 17 April 1924.
For more on the Senate debate, see Daniels, Coming to America, 99–105; Chuman, Bamboo People,
95–101; Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 76–82.
Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 82.
JTM, 19 April 1924.
JTM, 21 & 26 April 1924.
Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 126–130.
Osaka Mainichi (hereafter OM), 17 June 1924.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 157

a scrap of paper reading, ‘Buy absolutely no American goods.’ The second victim, Kojirō
Miura, 24, of Hamamatsu, left a note stating ‘I lay down my life when the country is agi-
tated over the American exclusion question, praying peace for the fatherland. My seventy
million compatriots must not laugh at my death.’19 The third death occurred in
Odawara.20 The fourth suicide occurred at the Toyama Military School, where a
25-year-old hanged himself after swallowing rat poison. A letter in his pocket addressed
to Ambassador Woods urged him to work on ‘untangling of the anti-Japanese question’
that had resulted in ‘racial insult.’21
As the media sensationalistically reported the incidents, the furor and commotion
mounted. Four thousand placards were placed throughout Tokyo inviting people to
attend a 5 June rally to be held at Ryōgoku stadium. The rally was sponsored by a
newly formed organization calling itself the Anti-American Citizens’ Convention
(Taibei kokumin taikai), supported by notorious right-wing activists Uchida Ryōhei and
Toyama Mitsuru. The signs listed 365 sponsors, including leading members of the
House of Representatives and influential journalists. One of the event’s advertised
purposes was to plan a ‘grand national funeral’ for the ‘unknown patriot.’22
By the opening of the rally at 1 p.m. the stadium was filled to its capacity, 35,000.
Youth groups from neighboring prefectures had waited at the site for several hours.
Over 18 new protest groups spawned by the exclusion issue were in attendance, along
with representatives from each political party.23 The following resolution, decidedly
more heated than the earlier telegrams to President Coolidge, was adopted to a chorus
of banzais:

American anti-Japanese actions are increasingly reaching the extremes of

high-handedness, encouraging the calamity of racial hatred. Truly ignoring
international justice and trampling on the honor of the empire is an unforgiva-
ble slight upon the Japanese people. We demand that America preserve the
prestige of our empire, based upon the principles of justice and urge America
to reconsider.24

Plans to commemorate the ‘unknown patriot’ continued. The rally resolved to hold a
national funeral and condolence ceremony at the Aoyama Fairgrounds on 8 June. The
funeral would bestow a Buddhist posthumous name for the still unidentified national
hero.25 Uchida and Toyama were appointed heads of an executive action committee of
50 individuals that would plan speeches and rallies throughout Tokyo, form anti-
American leagues in each neighborhood and organize a national oratorical campaign
to arouse anti-American public opinion.
The infectious mood spread rapidly through Tokyo. Posters calling for the rejection of
American-made goods were posted at every major street corner. Even the Tokyo City
Medical Association recommended refusal of treatment to any American who dared
remain in Tokyo.26 Throughout the commotion, the memory of the ‘unknown patriot’
represented a rallying point, a mnemonic site, for anti-American actions. Postcards

JTM, 4 June 1924.
NYT, 5 June 1924.
JTM & NYT, 5 June 1924.
JTM, 5 June 1924.
TNN in TNJ, 6 June 1924.
Yorozu, 7 June 1924, in Shimbun shūroku Taishō shi (hereafter SST).
Yorozu, 8 June 1924 in SST.
158 Nancy Stalker

depicting his gravesite selling for 20 sen were ‘flying off the shelves’ (tobu yō ni urete iru) at
the numerous anti-American rallies being held in every region of Japan.27
The most scandalous, albeit overblown, incident occurred at the upmarket Imperial
Hotel in Tokyo. On the night of 7 June, 35 members of the Taikōsha and Tesshinkai
young men’s patriotic societies, ‘indignant at the frivolity and heedlessness’ of western
dancing ‘while the nation is facing one of the greatest crises of its history’ barged into
a society dance, brandished swords and distributed handbills stating ‘Punish Tyrannical
America.’28 The incident received tabloid-style coverage in the press. As a result, other
hotels frequented by westerners, such as the Oriental Hotel in Kobe, prohibited Japanese
men and women from attending dances to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents.29
The young men’s associations also visited large Tokyo department stores, including
Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya and Takashimaya, distributing hundreds of thousands of
handbills urging people to ‘cast aside extravagance and consume more homemade pro-
ducts.’30 On 8 June, Taikōsha president Shimizu Kōnosuke addressed a large congrega-
tion of the Ginza Christian Church, expressing widely felt frustration at the lack of
adequate response by the establishment.
We are not agitating for an unnecessary anti-American movement. We simply
cannot remain silent and lie back supinely when our national leaders are
doing nothing while the dignity of our nation is being dragged in the mud.31

The Boycott of US Goods and Movies

Boycotts of US goods and movies in reaction to the discriminatory legislation generated
an even higher degree of anti-American action among the public. A wide variety of
groups and individuals spearheaded boycott campaigns, including housewives, students,
and young men’s patriotic associations. A group of 50 geisha in the city of Ninomiya
declared that they would abstain from using American cosmetics.32 The press praised
the efforts of housewives who publicly rejected US-made toiletries and hair-styling
products and who distributed leaflets urging other Japanese consumers to do the
same. Newspapers exaggeratedly likened their efforts to women in the French Rev-
olution, the matriarchs of ancient Rome, even Joan of Arc.33
During May, three women’s associations in Tokyo passed resolutions urging women
not to buy US made toiletries.34 Yet it was not until June, in the wake of the memorials
commemorating the ‘unknown patriot,’ that the consumer goods boycott gained national
momentum. As handbills and street corner signs proliferated, extensive media coverage
soon followed. Under a front page banner headline proclaiming ‘Made in USA mark
unpopular,’ the Osaka Mainichi reported a 30% decline in demand for American-
made canned goods and a 20% decline in demand for US toilet articles, specifically
tooth powders, talcum and face powders, soap and ‘Pompeiian cream’ in June.35

TNN, 2 July 1924 in TNJ.
OM, 10 June 1924.
OM, 15 June 1924.
OM, 10 June 1924.
Japan Weekly Chronicle (hereafter JWC), 19 June 1924, in Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 187.
TNN, 15 & 16 June.
OM, 31 May 1924.
OM, 10 June 1924.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 159

Merchants voluntarily replaced their stocks of American cameras and films with
German-made articles and predicted declining demand for American phonographs,
records, toys and woolen goods.36 Some stores not only boycotted US goods, but
turned away American customers with signs, in English, such as this:

American Ladies and Gentlemen: It must be rather unpleasant for you to make
purchases at a store of a people whom your national legislative body has
excluded. We, too, do not feel pleasant. Before making any purchase here,
please work for the revision of the anti-Japanese law.37

Beginning in mid-June, advertisements confirm manufacturers’ awareness of negative

sentiment towards American goods. Advertisements for Japanese alternatives to western
toilet articles, including Lion toothpaste and Jin-Tan medicinal tooth powders became
more prominent than in previous months.38 Some ads explicitly stressed the Japanese or
non-American origin of their products in bold print: Gold Star was ‘JAPAN-made
Butter;’ Ovaltine was markedly ‘Manufactured in Switzerland.’39 Students joined the
boycotts, refusing to buy American neckties, shirts, underwear, stationery and dry goods.
Shopkeepers near Keio University reported that students would inquire as to the country
of origin before making purchases and ‘positively will not buy any American article.’40
By late June, boycotts spread widely in the Kansai region and the majority of shops and
departments stores in Kyoto had also posted signs stating ‘No American goods here.’41
The importation of US-made toilet articles, like Colgate toothpaste and Pompeiian face
cream, had further dropped to around 50%.42 Boycott campaigns against phonograph
records from Victor and Columbia were underway.
In alarm, a group of merchants formed the Nichibei kyōwakai, an association intended
to ‘mitigate the widespread ill-feeling towards America and American goods among the
Japanese public.’43 Not only businessmen, but also bureaucrats expressed their dis-
pleasure at the boycotts. Agriculture and Commerce Minister Takahashi Korekiyo
lamented that such ‘regrettable’ protests were a ‘favorite trick of the Chinese and we
should not imitate it.’44 Yet the general public seemed to have no qualms in adopting
this relatively simple technique.
Another boycott occurred in the Japanese motion picture industry. Movies were big
business in Japan. Thirty private corporations were involved in the manufacture, distri-
bution and exhibition of films at 850 movie halls, over 120 in the Tokyo vicinity
alone.45 By the early 1920s, American studios represented 65% of film footage
shown in Japan. Domestic manufactures comprised 29% of the market.46 Within
one week of the suicide, newspapers noted the sudden drop in popularity of American
movies, while Japanese films enjoyed a ‘roaring trade.’47 Sensing an opportunity to

OM, 12 June 1924.
OM, 13 & 20 June 1924.
OM, 12 & 20 June 1924.
OM, 27 June 1924.
OM, 29 June 1924.
OM, 21 June 1924.
Japan Yearbook, 1924–1925 volume (hereafter JY), 380.
OM, 4 June 1924.
160 Nancy Stalker

improve market share, on 9 June a coalition of movie industry interests led by the
Nikkatsu and Shōchiku studios, announced a resolution not to buy, rent or show
American films beginning 1 July, the date that exclusion would take effect.48 Reservist
and youth groups who had already formed an ‘Alliance for Avoidance of American
Films’ (Beikoku eiga miru bekarazu dōmei), which posted guards at theater entrances
to intimidate potential patrons, greeted the announcement enthusiastically.49 The
embargo of American movies would create a sizable hole in the industry’s offerings
to viewers, which the studios proposed to fill with European films, a mainstay in the
early days of Japanese cinema.
Despite the popularity of American films, the boycott quickly spread to movie houses
in the Kansai region. Benshi, the performers who translated foreign dialogue and pro-
vided running commentary to foreign films, vowed to withhold their services.50
Theater owners and managers recognized that financial losses would probably result
from their actions, but were determined to participate in the boycott ‘for the sake of
the country.’51
Some moviegoers also strongly supported the boycott. In a letter to the editor, a writer
with the pseudonym Momotaro, the folk hero who defended the country by defeating the
demons of the West, lambasted American films as a ‘a grave menace to the well being of
the nation, touching . . . the very foundations of the thoughts and sentiments of the
people.’52 To Momotaro, movies were a ‘weapon’ with which the US wielded unwelcome
influence over the Japanese public mind. He expressed disgust over the ‘dominance of
American films everywhere that give us nausea with their sameness, their curious
mixture of the religious with the frivolous, their “popular” movie stars, their cowboys,
their impossible “million dollar” productions.’53
The US film industry quickly attempted to counter the threat presented to its position
in the Japanese market. On 12 June, representatives of Paramount, United Artists and
Fox studios held a conference and charged that Japanese movie production was insuffi-
cient to meet demand. They predicted the boycott would result in the closure of many
theaters and the loss of thousands of jobs.54 They also smugly reminded the Japanese
that the loss of their business would ‘hardly be felt at our Head office’ and that, in any
case, Japanese studios would have to continue to buy film stock and other necessary
raw materials from the US.55
After the US embassy lodged an official protest with the Japanese government, the
Home Ministry pressured the industry to capitulate and the boycott waned.56 Charges
that the film industry had used the immigration issue for its own self-interest also dimin-
ished public support. Their motivation may have been partially patriotic, but film direc-
tors and studios had also taken advantage of public anti-American sentiment to attempt
to improve their market position. It must be assumed, however, that the consumers who
boycotted products and movies, were sincerely expressing their anger over the American

Jiji shinpō, 9 June 1924 in SST.
JWC, 19 June 1924, in Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 186.
OM, 11 June 1924.
OM, 24 June 1924.
OM, 12 June 1924.
Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 189–197.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 161

slight to Japan’s international reputation. Their efforts were greatly aided by the media,
which prominently publicized boycott targets and tactics.

The Apostasy of Christian Leaders

Anti-Americanism also soon became apparent among Japanese Christian groups.
Christian leaders, among the most stalwart pro-Americans in Japan, began to question
their association with American missionaries and their alliances with American mission
boards. While some groups, including the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist
denominations, had achieved administrative independence from their boards, all contin-
ued to receive some form of funding from America.57 Japanese church councils debated
what actions might be taken and through the course of June, proposals became increasingly
During the first few weeks of June, members of Japanese missions, such as The Japan
Mission of the American Board, an inter-denominational council of Japanese Christian
missionaries, issued calm resolutions ‘deploring’ or ‘denouncing’ the exclusion clause
and calling for meetings to debate further actions.58 By the latter part of month,
however, activity became more heated. Students at Kansai Gakuin, a Methodist univer-
sity, demanded the ouster of American missionary teachers.59 Other regionally based
youth groups passed resolutions demanding the withdrawal of American missionaries
from their districts.60 While some Tokyo churches tried to sever all connections with
their American mission boards, Osaka churches, considered more conservative, also
decided to move for independence from American financial aid.
Several famous Japanese Christians began to openly criticize American Christianity for
its profligacy and discriminatory attitudes. Kagawa Toyohiko (1888– 1960), acclaimed
for his work in the slums of Kobe, supported the ousting of US missionaries, charging
that they led luxurious lives and were wasteful in the tasks of evangelical work. He
claimed that despite the predominance of Americans among foreign missionaries, they
accounted for less than a third of the estimated 10,000 annual Christian converts. Yet
nearly half of the seven million yen spent by US missionaries was expended on their
elite lifestyles, more than the amounts spent for evangelizing and schools combined.61
Uchimura Kanzō (1861 –1930), a Christian leader who gained notoriety for his refusal
to bow to the Imperial Rescript on Education, was even dubbed a ‘champion of the
Hate-America movement.’62 Known for his distinct anti-institutional bent, he disclaimed
allegiance to any particular Christian sect, claiming instead to serve only the two
J’s—Japan and Jesus.
Uchimura had been deeply ambivalent about America for decades. During his four
years at Amherst College, he frequently experienced discrimination, and he later
recorded these incidents in his first book How I Became a Christian. Prior to his arrival

OM, 18 & 29 June 1924. For discussion of secessionist activities by Japanese-American churches, see
Hayashi, For the Sake of our Japanese Brethren.
OM, 11 & 13 June 1924.
OM, 22 June 1924.
OM, 1 June 1924.
OM, 24 June 1924.
Moore (ed.), Culture and Religion in Japanese-American, 35. Uchimura founded the Mukyōkai (no
church) movement, which rejected clergy, church buildings and formal membership, consisting instead
of study groups who met in private homes or rented halls. Mukyōkai drew many intellectuals who had
withdrawn from American Christian churches.
162 Nancy Stalker

in the US, Uchimura had held an ideal of a ‘Christian America’ as a Holy Land that was
‘lofty, religious Puritanic’ but found the existence of crime, greed, and racism in America
a terrible disillusionment.63 As a member of the ‘yellow race,’ he was enraged by the
exclusion of Chinese immigrants, yet himself bristled when he was confused with
lowly ‘coolies from Canton.’ Uchimura further raged against materialistic American
society as morally and spiritually bankrupt and characterized by penitentiaries and poor-
houses. The exclusion law provided a receptive new audience for his vehement anti-
Americanism. In a letter to the Tokyo nichinichi newspaper on 2 June, Uchimura heatedly
declared he was ‘glad of exclusion.’
Whatever material benefit the Japanese may have derived from Americans, they
have lost more spiritually. It is a fact patent to all that the reason for the Japan of
today being a slave to materialistic lust can be traced to the evil influence of
Americans. The Christianity of Americans is, in the majority of cases,
shallow to the extreme. It is materialistic and partisan. It differs entirely in its
fundamental spirit from that of Christ.64
He followed up his initial diatribe with a widely publicized letter to the Kokumin
shimbun, in which he charged that American ‘mad and thoughtless’ actions had resulted
in an actual ‘grave consequence’ for America—the loss of its true friend, Japan.65
Later that year, Uchimura published ‘A Dialogue between Christian America and
Heathen Japan’, in which an arrogant America acknowledges, ‘That I kicked you and
give you an insult,’ yet counsels patience: ‘Only be . . . meek, quiet and show yourself to
be a great nation. That is the best way to win the praise of the world.’ Japan retorts, ‘I
see. But I cannot understand why you label me as “an undesirable heathen” while you
advise me to behave as Christian. Is it not more reasonable for you to repent in ashes
and sackcloth for the evil you have done?’ America impatiently replies, ‘Do you not see
the possible disaster to your trade and finance, if you do not care my advice? Why stick
to your Bushido nonsense and endanger your very existence?’ Japan, bewildered,
concludes, ‘What course to take, I do not know. Only this one thing seems to be
evident: You are a Christian in name and heathen in deed, and I am just the opposite.’66
Prior to the heightening of public emotions over the exclusion law, Japanese Christians
were among the most pro-American segments of society, beholden to the US for inspi-
ration, administrative support and financial subsidy. Yet in June 1924, swept up into
the mood of anti-Americanism, Japanese Christian leaders rejected and criticized their
American mentors and loudly voiced long-held grievances. Their apostasy had long-
term consequences—in the decades that followed and through the post-war era, denomi-
national growth stagnated, while an increasing number of ‘native’ Christian groups with
Uchimura-style nationalist inclinations emerged.67

Media Spotlight on American Racism

Clearly the media, especially newspapers, played a key role in informing the public about
anti-American activity, inciting even more hatred and protest. Following the passage of

Ibid., 37.
TNN, 2 June 1924; OM, 4 June 1924.
Uchimura, The Complete Works of Kanzo Uchimura, 168–169.
Ibid., 170–173.
Mullins, Christianity Made in Japan.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 163

the law and the death of the unknown patriot, they exacerbated public resentment by
featuring stories on discriminatory incidents targeting Japanese immigrants in the US.
Of course, racially motivated violence was nothing new to the immigrant communities
abroad who regularly faced physical hostility, such as arson, destruction of property
and mob violence, not to mention the demeaning everyday slurs that characterized
their daily interactions with whites, well-meaning and otherwise.68 Immigrants had
long become accustomed to the idea that their yellow race marked them as inferior in
the minds of white Americans. What was new, in Japan, was front-page newspaper cover-
age of such incidents, which a few months earlier would have been swept under the
national rug as humiliating affronts to common laborers that should not be spoken of.
In June, editors suddenly found violence committed against immigrants newsworthy,
but ignored the long, painful history of anti-Japanese discrimination.
The sudden appearance of such news items is notable in late June, after mass rallies
and boycotts heightened popular consciousness of American racism and after the
response of the US government to the Japanese official protest shattered hope for any
face-saving measures. Following 22 June, the day that US determination to stand by
its discriminatory law was made public, brief, inflammatory stories about anti-Japanese
actions in the US often made front-page headlines. On that day, three items on assaults
against Japanese immigrants in California appeared on the front page of the Osaka Main-
ichi. Over the next few days, front-page headlines announced further abuses against
immigrants: ‘Japanese defend against rowdies,’ ‘Charges of tar and feathering,’ and
‘Mutilated body of Japanese is found at bridge’ among many others. Without grounds,
newspapers attributed the suicides of Japanese immigrants to the exclusion law and
their murders to racial hatred alone.69
The new media focus on racism began in early June when Kiyoshi (Karl) Kawakami,
a well-known writer and unofficial publicist for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, contributed
a two-part article to the Osaka Mainichi entitled ‘America backslides toward medieval
clannishness.’ Prior to the passage of the law, Kawakami was known for his advocacy of
assimilationism, but his shift toward criticism reflected the private feelings of many
Ministry officials who could not publicly voice their anger. The article implied that the
Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the passage of the exclusion law and that the pervasive-
ness of the Klan in the US demonstrated rampant racism.70 Following Kawakami’s article,
headlines in Osaka and Tokyo repeatedly invoked the Klan and its evils. In the final weeks
of June, articles claimed to describe secret Klan rituals and recruitment efforts.71 On 26
June, the Tokyo nichinichi featured a questionable photograph that purported to capture
American naval officers in their Klan costumes.72 The photo showed four men in white
tunics emblazoned with a shield marked with a single, large ‘K.’ The hoods did not
have the characteristic peak associated with the Klan. Furthermore, rather than simple
holes for eyes and mouth, the faces had noses drawn in and the appearance of slight
smiles, making the figures strangely reminiscent of prehistoric haniwa statuettes. The
press was clearly willing to manufacture stories or photographs that fed anti-American
hysteria in order to sell more papers.

See the catalogue of racist and discriminatory incidents reported by immigrants in Ito, Issei.
OM, 23 June 1924.
OM, 1 June 1924. For more on Kawakami’s role as a Japanese publicist, see Ichioka, 190–191.
See Osaka Asahi, 22 June 1924 in Shimbun shūsei Taishō hennen shi (hereafter THS); TNN, 25 June 1924
in THS.
TNN, 26 June 1924 in THS.
164 Nancy Stalker

In reaction to the increased coverage of anti-Japanese incidents in America, Tokutomi

Kenjirō, a Christian novelist and brother of influential publisher Tokutomi Sohō, radically
proposed recalling all immigrants to Japan. Kenjirō suggested dispatching ‘all Japan’s avail-
able warships and merchant vessels . . . (to) bring every one of the 100,000 odd Japanese
immigrants back home.’73 A positive response to his proposal, printed in the Osaka Mainichi
noted that the farming skills of returnees, including raising oranges, lemons and chickens,
would enable Japan to reduce reliance on food imports. Bringing back the laborers would
also provide retaliation, dealing ‘a blow to our agitating friends in California’ who would
lose a cheap and productive source of labor.74
Tokutomi’s new stance was a complete about-face from an earlier position strongly
advocating that Japanese immigrants aim to assimilate and settle in America ‘for life’
instead of returning home after accumulating some savings.75 Like Uchimura, he was
an individual who originally held the US in great esteem and worked towards emulating
western norms. The exclusion law and its fallout had turned both bitterly against their
former idol.

Rabindranath Tagore and the Quickening of Popular Pan-Asianism

Coincident with the outburst of anti-American feeling, renowned Indian poet-
philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) arrived in Japan. During his visit in
the agitated atmosphere of June 1924 Tagore delivered public speeches that praised
eastern spiritual transcendence over western aggression and materialism. This message
provided a timely salve for the wounded pride of the Japanese and the press enthusiasti-
cally followed Tagore’s movements in detail. Daily reports and excerpts of his lectures
were often front-page news. The July 1924 issue of the popular journal Kaizō featured
Tagore’s poetry and reproduced one of his speeches, in which he credits Japanese art his-
torian Okakura Tenshin (1862–1913) with first teaching him that ‘there was such a thing
as an Asiatic mind.’76
Tagore, one of modern India’s most influential and popular figures, gained international
renown in 1913 as the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Although he is often
viewed as an apostle of universal brotherhood and world peace, he reified conceptions of a
divided East and West and was highly critical of western materialism, which he believed
hindered the development of the moral and spiritual aspects of man’s ‘higher nature.’77
It was not Tagore’s first trip to Japan. In 1916, fulfilling a promise to his friend
Okakura, he visited Japan en-route to a coast-to-coast lecture tour in the US. Upon
his arrival in Kobe, he was warmly received by a wide variety of individuals and
groups, from official Welcoming Committees to local Indian merchants and Buddhist
priests. The initial enthusiasm, however, quickly cooled as his ideas became more appar-
ent. At a Tokyo Imperial University lecture entitled ‘The Message of India to Japan,’
Tagore brooded that the political, mechanical and commercial nature of European
modern industrial civilization threatened to betray the Japanese soul and to devour Asia’s

OM, 21 June 1924.
OM, 28 June 1924.
‘Toshi to Denen’, Kaizō, July 1924, 96. For details of Okakura’s activities in India, see Hay, Asian Ideas
of East and West, 35–44.
Tagore, Nationalism, 141–143. Tagore’s anti-western stance seems somewhat at odds with his back-
ground, from a Calcutta family who amassed their initial fortune as revenue collectors for the East
India Company. See Hay, 14–35.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 165

fundamentally spiritual civilization.78 In later speeches during the trip, he condemned

nationalism and denounced Japan’s imitation of western imperialist tactics in Asia. He
noted that the West had felt no respect towards Japan until her victories in the Sino-
and Russo-Japanese wars, that is, until ‘she proved that the bloodhounds of Satan are
not only bred in the kennels of Europe but can also be domesticated in Japan and fed
on man’s miseries.’79 He warned that ‘nations who sedulously cultivate moral blindness
as the cult of patriotism will end their existence in a sudden and violent death.’80
It should come as no surprise that the media, intellectuals and officials, proud of
Japan’s rapid modernization, did not welcome such sentiments. Tagore was quickly iso-
lated and branded the ‘representative of a ruined country,’ ‘an inhabitant of a pale,
decaying land, where all things droop to ruin.’81 The average educated person likely
held India in contempt, as a mere colony under the control of Japan’s ally, Great
Britain. As Tagore criticized Japan’s modern trajectory, he lost the luster of his
international fame and gained the taint of his defeated nation.
The poet was angered, saddened and humiliated by his ostracism. In his work Nation-
alism, published the following year, he blamed the pervasive power of the Japanese state
in molding popular sentiment against him, lamenting ‘the voluntary submission of the
whole people’ to their government, which ‘manufactures their feelings’ and stifles their
spirituality.82 He concluded that the Japanese people tolerated this ‘mental slavery’
because of their ‘nervous desire to turn themselves into a machine of power, called the
Nation, and emulate other machines in their collective worldliness.’83
The bitter taste left by his initial visit did not prevent the poet from returning to
Japan in June 1924 as part of a worldwide speaking tour designed to raise funds for
the Visva-Bharati University, which he established in 1921.84 He had maintained deep
friendships with individual Japanese and had never abandoned the idea, impressed in
his mind by Okakura, that the ‘spirit of Asia was One.’ Tagore had written positively
of Japan in his 1922 essay ‘East and West,’ praising Japan’s ‘ideal of perfection and
human self-revelation in art, in ceremonial, in religious faith, and in customs expressing
the poetry of social relationship.’85
He could not have chosen a more opportune moment to generate support for his call
for ‘Asian Unity.’ His worldwide fame had continued to soar since his last disappointing
visit. For the Japanese, growing western adulation of Tagore heightened his value as a
sharp critic of the West. On 1 June, the very day the suicide of the ‘unknown patriot’
was first publicized, the poet’s message seemed particularly relevant and the media
praised his critique of the US and call for Asian unity. Under the headline ‘For simple
love of people, Tagore is in Japan again,’ Tagore is quoted as follows: ‘The Japanese
are an exceedingly courteous people and possess the admirable Yamato spirit. Against
the racial questions challenged by the US, the time has come for all peoples of Asia to
unite.’86 In a separate article on the same day Tagore stressed that the ‘need for spiritual

Hay, 60, 64.
Ibid., 70
Ibid., 78. See Hay, Ch. 3, for a thorough analysis of the response by Japanese literary and religious
leaders in 1916. Hay does not report on the 1924 trip.
Tagore, Nationalism, 38–39.
Dutta and Robinson, Rabindranath Tagore, 220– 221.
Ibid., 205.
OM, 1 June 1924.
166 Nancy Stalker

unification of Asiatic peoples has never been more acute than at this time of racial
persecution at the hands of American lawmakers.’87
Over the ensuing weeks, Tagore’s addresses were advertised in large newspaper
announcements and drew crowds of thousands. He seized the opportunity to exploit
Japan’s current popular rage against the US to generate enthusiasm for his Pan-Asian
ideals.88 On 10 June, at Tokyo Imperial University he declared ‘The insult to Japan by a
certain power is undoubtedly an insult to all peoples of Asia . . . The Occidental Powers
with their materialistic civilization and strong nationalism . . . are destined to stagnation
before long and will come to kneel before the peaceful Oriental civilization of Nature.’89
At a public address in front of 3,000 in Osaka, he flattered Japanese egos, pleading ‘Let
me earnestly hope that your beautiful island be not spoiled by the surging wages of
western utilitarian vulgarity, that you keep aloof from all the defamatory influence of
Mammonism! Let me hope that like your sublime Fuji Yama, your national spirit be
kept free from that of empire builders and money-mongers of the present age.’90 Such pan-
dering, a complete reversal of his 1916 views, undoubtedly made for better fundraising.
The media and general public lapped up Tagore’s anti-western rhetoric. Most
Japanese were loath to acknowledge that any Asian unity at that moment stemmed as
much from victimization and oppression at the hands of the West as from any aspects
of shared culture and religiosity in the East. In contrast with coverage of Tagore’s visit
eight years earlier, there was little reminder that the great poet represented the view of
‘a defeated nation.’
Rallies, meetings and new organizations in support of anti-American, Pan-Asian unity
sprung up during the course of Tagore’s visit. On 15 June, a rally of 2,000 in Kobe
featured 10 Chinese, Japanese and Indian speakers who called for Pan-Asian
cooperation. The most stirring speech of the evening was delivered by a Mr
A.S. Bamral, an Indian resident of Kobe:
Gentlemen of Asia, awake, arise, agitate, agitate and agitate against this
monstrous and inhuman insult which America has heaped upon us . . . Let
the spiritual powers hidden in the Great Fujiyama . . . raise and enlighten us.
Let all the spiritual power lying latent in the Sacred Himalayas . . . awaken
and inspire us . . . May the numberless gods of Hinduism, Buddhism, and
Shintoism annihilate and destroy the Pride of Arrogant America . . .
Calling Tagore the ‘Pride of the Orient,’ he went on to describe how the poet had refused
to visit the Great Wall of China, a ‘symbol of isolation’ that denied the possibility of universal
brotherhood. Bamral likened the US immigration law to a ‘new Great Wall’ that would bring
‘the enmity not of Japan alone of the whole of Asia’. He claimed the law would:
unite the Asiatic races who will awake from their long sleep and stand erect and
march forward . . . Japan will become the standard bearer of the Coloured
people . . . May the frontiers of the Asiatic countries . . . prove to be invulnerable
against the attacks of the White Races. May Asia surpass England, Europe and

Pan-Asianism was not a homogeneous phenomenon. There were many diverse movements in Japan
with different motivations and philosophical foundations. See Koschmann, ‘Asianism’s ambivalent
legacy’, 81–110.
OM, 12 June 1924.
OM, 5 June 1924.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 167

America. May the Asiatic banner flutter over the whole world . . . May the
Empire of Asia, like a sleeping tiger suddenly awakened, spring roaring into
the arena of the world’s politics.91
The western media, also attentive to Tagore’s movements, bristled under such threaten-
ing rhetoric. In an editorial sarcastically entitled ‘Asiatic unity’ the New York Times criticized
‘the distinguished Bengal poet’ who ‘extended the sympathy of the people of India to the
people of Japan now chafing under the “indignity” of our own exclusion bill.’ He questioned
the assertion of a common cultural heritage between Japan and India, charging that
Japan’s modern civilization was based not on Oriental civilization but on the ‘Occidental
virtues’ of ‘military strength, aggressiveness, materialism, organization, “hustle.”’92
New Pan-Asian activists took no heed and continued to organize activities to raise public
consciousness of Asian unity. In mid-June, the Women’s International Association formed
a new group known as the Federation of Far Eastern Races. They planned to dispatch
members to China, India and Persia in order to ‘propagandize’ Asian unity. The
women elected the esteemed colonial administrator Gotō Shimpei in-absentia as presi-
dent for the Japanese arm of the organization and resolved to ask Tagore and Sun Yat
Sen to serve as presidents for India and China.93 Later in the month, a group of Tokyo uni-
versity students formed the Students’ Great Asiatic Peace Union.94 Overseas, Japanese
residents in Shanghai formed an Asia Society with support from Chinese, Filipinos and
Indians.95 One large new group in Osaka, the League of Far Eastern Peoples, planned a
10,000-person parade to mark what became known as ‘National Humiliation Day’
(Kokujokubi) on 1 July, the first day the new legislation would take effect.96

National Humiliation Day and the Turning of the Tide

On 1 July, numerous groups across the country planned solemn events to mark National
Humiliation Day. For the first time in 50 years, all flags in Kyoto flew at half-mast.
University students across the country declared a day of abstention from alcohol and
‘Dry Day parades’ were held in Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities.97 A mood of
decorum and national dignity reigned over these events. Whether the general public
was exhausted or had merely grown bored by protest, an editorial remarked how the
people had ‘passed the stage of making noise . . . They simply remember, remember,
remember how they have been insulted by Americans.’98
A minor incident on this day of mourning, however, the stealing of the US Embassy
flag, acted as a final solvent of the overtly anti-American mood, providing a means for
reconciliation with America. The thief, 22-year-old Okada Rihei, had entered the
embassy compound, lowered the flag and run away. The hapless culprit was apprehended
the next day in Osaka.99 This simple act resulted in an establishment response entirely out
of proportion with the nature of the offense committed. Diet members immediately

OM, 17 June 1924.
NYT, 12 June 1924.
OM, 12 June 1924.
JA, 26 June 1924, in Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 182.
JA, 1 August 1924, in Markela, ‘Japanese attitudes’, 182.
OM, 24 June 1924.
OM, 1 July 1924.
OM, 2 July 1924.
168 Nancy Stalker

bewailed this ‘affair of a serious nature.’ Home Minister Wakatsuki Reijirō vowed immedi-
ate investigation and retribution. An ‘urgent cabinet meeting’ was called to discuss how to
deal with the emergency. Despite the US State Department’s insistence that the flag
incident was no more serious than other anti-American demonstrations taking place in
Japan, the media also dramatically overreacted, expressing ‘unspeakable sorrow’ for
this work by a ‘crank,’ a ‘lunatic,’ a ‘stain that spoils the whole cloth.’100 In short, the
thief had ruined the party; the refined and dignified comportment planned to mark the
day of national dishonor.
After a final article on a protest rally held on 4 July in Osaka, in which the once-again
orderly crowd ‘deprecated rash actions of retaliation, such as the insult to the American
flag,’ the entire set of anti-American issues—Japanese racism in America, the boycotts,
the secession of Christian churches—disappeared from the newspapers overnight for
unknown reasons, but likely due to pressure by the Home Ministry.101 Headlines were occu-
pied instead by the Osaka street car strike and Japan’s chances in the upcoming Olympics.

In June 1924, waves of anti-American activity washed over Japan. Direct participation in
protest movements came from many quarters of society, not only patriotic societies and
young men’s reservist associations, but students, merchants, housewives, Christians, geisha,
doctors, theater-owners and others rose against the humiliating injustice of American white
supremacy. The protests touched hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.
The actions they undertook were privately sponsored and popularly supported. The
state did not condone overt anti-Americanism. Indeed, the tentacles of the bureaucracy
stifled popular protest at many turns—prohibiting public dancing, quashing the movie
boycott and denouncing the consumer goods boycott. Izumi Hirobe argues that the
exclusion law played a prominent role in the deterioration of US –Japan relations
between the 1920s and 1940s and served as a ‘principal cause’ in the outbreak of hos-
tilities in 1941.102 He describes Japanese officialdom’s ‘split attitude’—personally
indignant and even advocating war with the US while outwardly calm and advocating
good relations. Yet it is impossible to truly measure the extent to which resentment
towards America remained a part of popular or official consciousness or to draw
cause-and-effect conclusions about the outbreak of war. For some Japanese, the
memory of the racial insult no doubt helped generate support for the war and for ideo-
logical constructs like the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Privately held feel-
ings do not, however, generally account for war.
Perhaps a better route for historicizing the response to exclusion is within the context
of imperial democracy and Japanese popular protest in the early twentieth century.
Protest had similarly erupted in a sustained and sometimes violent manner on numer-
ous occasions, including the 1905 Hibiya Riots and the 1918 Rice Riots. In each the
public protested the actions or inactions of the state bureaucracy. Organized protest
was a primary forum for democratic participation in imperial Japan, providing catharsis

OM, 3 July 1924.
Although the Home Ministry had the authority to prohibit sales of newspapers beginning in 1909, they
did not readily exercise this right. Keen competition between dailies meant ignoring many bureaucratic
warnings. Yet under direct pressure, most dailies would capitulate to government wishes rather than
risk losing sales. See Kasza, The State and Mass Media in Japan, 1988.
Hirobe, Japanese Pride, 1.
Response to the 1924 US Immigration Exclusion Law 169

for crowds unable to express political opinions through voting, as universal manhood
suffrage would not be enacted until 1925. The ‘dispute culture’ engendered by labor
movements, beginning in the 1890s but intensifying around 1917, spilled into other
aspects of social life.103 The Rice Riots during the summer of 1918 were the largest
popular demonstrations in modern Japanese history, with over a million people protest-
ing the high price of rice and other domestic policies. In contrast, both the 1905 and
1924 movements were about the international arena and the betrayal of popular expec-
tations therein. The Hibiya riots occurred in response to a lenient treaty following the
Russo-Japanese War, disappointing the popular hope for more territory or war booty.
The 1924 protests, however, were not focused on material gain in the popular mind,
but rather on the issue of international stature and respect.
While most individual protestors did not focus on material gains, many of the groups
and individuals who organized or supported various forms of protest stood to benefit
from anti-American activity, directly or indirectly. The role of newspapers was
crucial to publicizing the boycotts and sub-movements that emerged on a daily basis
in June 1924. The newspapers also stood to gain from publishing the most sensationa-
listic stories possible, as the industry had become highly competitive. It was through
newspaper reportage that the suicide of the ‘unknown patriot’ was transformed into
a mnemonic site symbolizing national strength of character in the face of international
humiliation. In sum, an emerging dispute culture, increased popular sensitivity to
Japan’s international stature, media competitiveness and private interests coalesced
in generating a brief but potent wave of anti-American activism.

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