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Kita Ikki's Theory of Revolution

  • George M. Wilson


Postwar Japanese scholarship, in its quest to explain Japan's modern history, has yet to deal adequately with the so-called right wing. Survey histories sometimes write it off as a lunatic fringe, or equate it simply with militarism and putschism. My purpose here is not to venture a total picture of the right but to present a microcosmic analysis of doctrines attributed to it through focusing on the theory of revolution formulated early in the Taishō period by Kita Ikki (1883–1937). Japanese writers regularly identify Kita as a leading rightist. Maruyama Masao refers to him as “the ideological father of Japanese fascism,” and his 1919 book on the “reorganization” of Japan (later published as Nihon kaizō hōan taikō) has been called by Kuno Osamu “the Mein Kampf of the Shõwa ultranationalist movement.”



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1 Cf. Sekai to Nihon, Vol. XII of Nihon no rekishi (Tokyo: Yomiuri Shinbunsha, 1963), p. 186; Mitsusada, Inoue, Nihonshi, 4th ed. rev. (Tokyo: Gakuseisha, 1965), pp. 339341.

2 Masao, Maruyama, Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics, ed. Morris, Ivan (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 28.

3 Osamu, Kuno and Shunsuke, Tsurumi, Gendai Nihon no shisō—sono itsutsu no uzu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1956), p. 165.

4 Pickles, W., “Left and Right,” A Dictionary of the Social Sciences, ed. Gould, Julius and Kolb, William L. (New York: Free Press, 1964), pp. 381384.

5 So is the usually liberal, moderate, and middle class-based center, according to Lipset's, Seymour Martin analysis in Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday-Anchor, 1963), pp. 127130. See also n. 48 infra.

6 Kita's youth receives detailed treatment in English at the hands of Martin, Harris Inwood, “The Early Life and Thought of Kita Ikki,” unpubl. diss. (Stanford University, 1959). There is a sound biography in Japanese: Sōgorō, Tanaka, Kita Ikki: Nihonteki juashisuto no shocho (Tokyo: Miraisha, 1959).

7 Kita's connection with the Kokuryūkai was apparently neither so intimate nor so enduring as some have surmised. If he ever formally became a member, he did not remain one for long. Tanaka, p. 143, says that “Kita went to Shanghai [in October 1911] as the first to be dispatched by the Kokuryukai.” However, as one of the official Kokuryukai histories notes, his relationship to the organization was that of a “guest member” (kyakfiubun) whose function in 1910–1911 was to edit the monthly publication, Jiji gekkan. Yoshihisa, Kuzuu, Toa senkaku shishi kiden, II (Tokyo: Kokuryūkai, 1935), 438. Kita soon ceased to share the interests of Kokuryūkai leaders Uchida Ryōhei and Toyama Mitsuru.

8 Kita Ikki chosakushū (Tokyo: Misuzu Shobō, 1959), II, ii (hereafter “KICSS”). The complete text of Shina kakumei gaishi appears ibid., pp. i–213.

9 J. S. Erös, “Revolution,” Dictionary of the Social Sciences, pp. 602–603.

10 KICSS, I, 344, 408; on “godkind” as the ultimate stage of evolution, ibid., pp. 203, 206.

11 Ibid., II, 20, 23.

12 ibid., I, 389.

13 Ibid., II, 162.

14 Ibid., I, 389.

15 Ibid., p. 246; cf. also ibid., pp. 350, 370–371.

16 Ibid., pp. 24–25 et passim. This and a number of other references come from Kita's 1906 book, which laid the groundwork for his evolutionary view of history and therefore underlies all his later writings. While I cannot fully accept his own contention, stated in 1926 (ibid., II, 360), that all his works are “unswervingly consistent” (ikkan fuwaku), I do believe that a thread of continuity in basic argument runs through his whole career. For that reason, occasional reference must be made to writings other than Shina kakuei gaishi in order to restructure his ideas intelligibly for the purposes of this article.

17 Ibid., p. 172.

18 Ibid., pp. 146–147.

19 Ibid., p. 34.

20 Ibid., pp. 131–132.

21 Ibid., pp. 7–8, 10.

22 “Had I been born in Russia,” he wrote in 1906, “I would have become an advocate of bombshells” (ibid., I, 388).

23 Ibid., II, vi.

24 Ibid., p. v.

25 Ibid., p. 16.

26 Ibid., pp. 1, 3, 26.

27 Ibid., pp. 20, 23, 32, 125.

28 Ibid., pp. 25–26, 33–34.

29 Ibid., p. 121.

30 Ibid., p. 136.

31 Ibid., pp. 74, 125, 158. Here Kita's reasoning became tortuous. He was searching China's history for an example of a distinctive form of “Eastern republicanism” comparable to the unique “Eastern monarchism” which he felt Japan's imperial institution represented. He thought he found it in the system by which the Mongol chieftains chose their leader. “China's republicanism … is based on the mandate of heaven and the people's will. … 'Eastern republicanism' means a republican form of government … such as that in which Ogotai Khan clearly became lifetime president (shūshin daisōtō), elected by all the khans assembled with their weapons before the gods” (ibid., p. 158).

32 Ibid., p. 172. Kita detested Yamagata as an arch-foe of the Chinese Revolution and an obstacle to progress in Japan. By 1921 he was calling him “the Rasputin of Odawara” (ibid., p. v).

33 Ibid., p. 11 et passim.

34 Ibid., p. 138. Other Japanese writers on the Chinese Revolution accept without hesitation the Shanghai Mixed Court's public evidence that Yüan and certainly Chao arranged Sung's murder. E.g., Sakuzū, Yoshino, Chōgoku kakumei shiron, Vol. VII of Yoshino Sakuzō Hakfise minshushugi ronshū (Tokyo: Shin Kigensha, 1947), pp. 32, 67–68.

35 KICSS, II, 360. Bunzo, Hashikawa remarks that Kita did manifest some of the traits Max Weber set forth in describing charisma: “Kita's case may fit halfway into the types of prophet and demagogue”; “Shōwa chōkokkashugi no shosō,” Chōkokkashugi, Vol. XXXI of Gendai Nihon shisō taikei (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1964), p. 35.

36 KICSS, I, 231–232.

37 Ibid., p. 247. Kita here credited Minobe with the idea of the emperor as an organ of the state, but he explicitly disagreed with Minobe in arguing that the “highest organ of the state” was not the emperor alone, but the emperor plus the Diet (ibid., pp. 231–234).

38 Ibid., p. 371.

39 Ibid., II, vi.

40 Ibid., I, 404.

41 Ibid., II, Nihon kaizō hōan taikō, especially Chs. i–vi.

42 Ibid., pp. ii–iii, vii, 90, 186–200.

43 Ibid., pp. 202, 212.

44 Ibid., pp. iii–iv, 203–204.

45 Kuno and Tsurumi, Ch. iv: “Nihon no chōkokkashugi—Shōwa ishin no shisō” (pp. 118–182); Osamu, Kuno, “Chōkokkashugi no ichi genkei—Kita Ikki no baai,” Chishikjjin no seisei to yakuwari, Vol. IV of Kindai Nihon shisōshi kōza (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1959), pp. 126154; Kōichi, Nomura, “Kokuminteki shimeikan no shoruikei to sono tokushitsu—ōkuma Shigenobu, Uchimura Kanzō, Kita Ikki,” Sekai no naka no Nikon, Vol. VIII of Kindai Nihon shisōshi kōza (1961), pp. 137173; Kazumi, Takahashi, “Kita Ikki,” Hangyakusha no shōzō, ed. Michio, Matsuda, Vol. XIII of Nijūsseiki 0 ugokashita hitobito (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1963), pp. 340414; Michio, Matsuda, “Nihon oyobi Rosha no shoki shakaishugi—Gerutsen [Herzen] to Kita Ikki,” Burujowa kakumei no hikaku kenkyū, ed. Takeo, Kuwabara (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1964), pp. 421434.

46 Osamu, Kuno, “Kita Ikki: kakumei no jissenka,Asahi jūnaru, V (June 23, 1963), 99.

47 KICSS, I, 433–434; II. 360.

48 Nor does Kita fit Lipset's category of “right extremism.” It is tempting to ask whether he can be subsumed under one of the other two categories of extremism Lipset describes—center or left. His background, after all, was middle-class, and members of his family had vocally supported jiyū minken ideas in the mid-Meiji period. He did oppose “big business, trade-unions, and the socialist state” (Lipset, p. 129) in the ordinary meanings of those terms. But by his own standards and within certain limits he never rejected any of them. Nor was he a spokesman for “small businessmen, white-collar workers, and the anticlerical sections of the professional classes”—the social base of both liberal and extreme centrism in Lipset's model (ibid.). At any rate, Japan was incapable of “center extremism” by Lipset's definition, since it was not a country “characterized by both large-scale capitalism and a powerful labor movement” (ibid., p. 135). Kita comes closer to “left extremism,” which for Lipset includes not only communist and anarchist movements but those of “nationalist army officers seeking to create a more vital society by destroying the corrupt privileged strata” (ibid., p. 130). Certainly his greatest impact as a thinker was on just such a movement. The young officers who took part in the February 26th Affair always professed great admiration for his ideas, however much they might disagree with some of them. Cf. Ikuhiko, Hata, Gun fuashizumu undōshi (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1962), pp. 18, 96–97; or Tahei, Suematsu, Watakfishi no Shōwashi (Tokyo: Misuzu Shobō, 1963), pp. 25, 91, 168. But I doubt that any of Lipset's labels contribute to our understanding of Kita's significance, since they are all misfits to one degree or another where he is concerned. It is precisely this sort of problem—the inapplicability of a given Western model—that gives rise to so many references to Japanese “eclecticism.”

49 Translated and quoted by Craig, Albert, Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), p. 63. Of course, Soraigaku is no more typical than any other particular school of thought, but many similar examples could be cited. Although the Tokugawa period was one of great intellectual diversity, ideas about society usually reflected “the variety of interests of a single class” (ibid., p. 126)—the samurai—rather than the conflicting interests of several classes. This is exactly the point: because Tokugawa thought sprang largely from a single class bent on balancing the multiple interests of society, modern Japanese thought has inherited a tendency to stress the same goal.

50 Kuno and Tsurumi, pp. 138–139, emphasize this point of similarity between Kita and Yoshino.

51 Tanaka, pp. 20–21, recounts that Kita was strongly influenced by the Mencius as early as his higher primary school days, when in addition to regular schoolwork he attended private lessons given by a famous Sado Confucianist, Maruyama Meiboku. In his first book Kita devoted much space to praise for Mencius as “the Eastern Plato” and a “fountainhead” of later socialism (KICSS, I, 411–419 passim).

52 Ibid., II, 219. The phrase “daidō danketsu” occurs frequently in the annals of modern Japanese history, and is particularly associated with Gotō Shōjirō's movement to unite the anti-government minken opposition in the late 1880's.

53 Cf. Johnson, Chalmers, An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964), pp. 118120; or, e.g., Kurzman, Dan, Kishi and Japan: The Search for the Sun (New York: Ivan Obolensky, 1960), pp. 9295, 117–118, on former prime minister Kishi Nobusuke's pronounced receptivity to Kita's ideas. The legacy of traditional thought may also help to explain why so many “leftists” experienced a “conversion” (tenkō) during the crisis-ridden 1930's.

54 This line of analysis forms the basis for an assessment of Taishō social thought in my forthcoming book on Kita Ikki.

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