Sanzo Nosaka

Sanzo Nosaka
Sanzo Nosaka
JapanMember of the House of Representatives
In office
April 11 1946 – June 6 1950
Constituency Tokyo 1st district
JapanMember of the House of Councilors
In office
July 8 1956 – July 3 1977
Constituency Tokyo district
JapanChairman of the Japanese Communist Party
In office
Preceded by Kyuichi Tokuda
Succeeded by Kenji Miyamoto
JapanHonorary Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party
In office
Personal details
Born March 30, 1892(1892-03-30)
Hagi, Yamaguchi
Died November 14, 1993(1993-11-14) (aged 101)
Political party Japanese Communist Party
Spouse(s) Ryu Nosaka
Alma mater Keio University

Sanzo Nosaka (野坂 参三 Nosaka Sanzō?, March 30, 1892 – November 14, 1993) was the co-founder of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) in 1922. He co-founded the party in 1922 but was much later expelled from it after being indicted on charges of being an informant for the Soviets. He was outspoken about Chinese Communism and Mao Zedong, and often argued with Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida over political matters.

Nosaka joined the faculty of Keio University, and was one of many prominent communist intellectuals active in Japanese academic institutions in his time. He was notable for organizing riots. In 1958 Nosaka became Chairman of the JCP, a position he held until retirement at the age of 90, after which he was declared Honorary Chairman.[1] He was one of the main theoreticians of the JCP, and professed a desire to work towards a communist government through peaceful means.[2] Outside of the Party, Nosaka was generally well-liked for his gentle demeanor, good manners, and conservative sense of style, "just like a British gentleman". He was widely idolized among left-wing intellectuals before the fall of the USSR exposed unsavory aspects of his relationship with Stalin's regime.[1]



Early life

As a young man, Nosaka first became interested in communism after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the same year that he graduated from Keio University. As a student he had joined the labour organization "Yuaikai" ("The Friendly Society"), founded by Suzuki Bunji.[3] After his graduation, he studied political economy abroad, at London University. Like many British intellectuals at the time, Nosaka was introduced to Marxism, was indoctrinated, and became a confirmed communist at the university.[1] While in London he became active in communist circles, and helped to found the British Communist Party in 1920.[4]

Nosaka was deported from Britain in 1921, and travelled to the newly formed Soviet Union. In Russia, with the help of friendly contacts in the communist hierarchy, Nosaka became very influential within the Communist Party. Nosaka was suspected of being either a British or Japanese agent; but, because of of his contacts among high-ranking Finnish and Russian leaders, Nosaka was never purged.[1]

Nosaka returned to Japan and helped to found the Japanese Communist Party in 1922.[4] After returning to Japan, Nosaka worked as a trade unionist and editor of the JPA's official newspaper, Musansha Shimbun.[2] Although he was a confirmed communist, Nosaka supported the Japanese imperial family. He advised Joseph Stalin to replace Emperor Hirohito with Crown Prince Akihito if Soviet forces were ever able to occupy Japan.[1]

Because of his political agitation, Nosaka (like many communists in Japan) was arrested twice,[2] interrogated, and tortured by the Japanese kempeitai, but he was released after short periods both times. The short lengths of Nosaka's arrests aroused suspicion among other Japanese communists that Nosaka had given important information to the Japanese secret police, but these suspicions were never acted upon.[1]

Nosaka was first arrested in 1923, and released within a year. After his release, Nosaka became more active within the Japanese labour movement.[3] In March 1928, the Japanese police began a campaign to harass and destroy the JCP,[5] beginning with the May 15 Incident.[3] After his second arrest, in 1929, Nosaka spent two years in jail. He was released in 1931, on the grounds of "illness", and put on probation.[6]

Comintern agent

Upon his release, Nosaka secretly returned to the Soviet Union as a representative of the JCP,[3] where he served in the Comintern as an executive member.[2] Most of his colleagues active in the JCP, who were not able to go abroad, were subsequently arrested by the kempeitai.[7]

One of Nosaka's friends was Kenzo Yamamoto, a "legendary" Japanese spy who had been in the Soviet Union with his common-law wife, Matsu, since 1928.[4] Yamamoto had a reputation as a great womanizer; and, when rumors circulated that Yamamoto was engaged in an affair with Nosaka's wife, Ryu, Nosaka wrote a confidential letter to the KGB (dated February 22, 1939) indicating that he believed Yamamoto and his wife were likely Japanese spies in the pay of the kempeitai. On Stalin's orders, both Yamamoto and Matsu were arrested as spies. A firing squad executed Yamamoto, and Matsu died in a gulag. Both Yamamoto and his wife were formally rehabilitated after their deaths by Khrushchev on May 23, 1956, recognizing the lack of any evidence that the two were actually spies.[1] In his autobiography, Nosaka later wrote that he had tried to save Yamamoto's life.[4]

In 1934, Nosaka secretly traveled to the West Coast of the United States, where he became involved in intelligence work on behalf of the Comintern against the Imperial Japanese government. Nosaka's activities included disseminating information to communists still active in Japan, infiltrating and making contact with the Japanese communities active in the United States, and establishing a number of communist front organizations in Seattle, Los Angeles, and other cities on the West Coast. Nosaka worked to gain funding from the Comintern International Liaison Department for his activities, and attempted to have other Japanese Communists secretly relocated to America. He planned to recruit American and Japanese agents, and to send them to Yokohama to establish a shop which would then operate as a communist front organization. Because the records from this period are incomplete, historians cannot be certain to what extent Nosaka's efforts in America were successful. Nosaka worked as a Comintern agent in America until 1938, when he returned to Moscow. In 1940, the Comintern ordered Nosaka to to aid communist forces in China.[6]

Activities in China

From March 1940 to the end of 1945, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Nosaka resided at the Chinese Red Army base in Yan'an, in Shaanxi Province, where he headed the Japanese People's Emancipation League (JPEL). The JPEL engaged in the "re-education" of numerous Japanese prisoners of war and created propaganda on behalf of the Chinese Communists. Japanese troops captured by the Communists would then be used by the Communists in various civilian and military roles, and were especially valued because their level of technical expertise was generally greater than that of most Chinese soldiers. "Re-educated" Japanese troops were instrumental in a number of Communist victories after World War II, including the 1949 Pingjin Campaign, in which most of the artillery fielded by the Communists was manned by Japanese gunners. In general, the method of "re-education" devised and employed by Nosaka was highly effective.[8]

Initially, the CCP was a purely guerilla force without the facilities to imprison POWs. The policy of the Eighth Route Army was to interrogate prisoners and then release them. After reports surfaced that the Japanese were punishing Japanese prisoners after they returned, the CCP policy gradually changed to one of retraining POWs, and the Red Army began to implement this policy after Nosaka arrived in Yan'an.[9]

By the time of its war with China, the Japanese army was educating its officers and common soldiers to die rather than surrender. Injured soldiers were easily captured, and made up the bulk of CCP POWs. Captured Japanese believed that they would be killed, but were instead fed and clothed, and began to develop a rapport with their captors.[9]

Besides Sanzo's regimen of psychological indoctrination, there were several reasons that Japanese POWs chose to join the CCP. CCP guerillas took care to develop an early rapport with their prisoners by treating them well. Captured Japanese soldiers were generally moved when they learned of the terrible conditions the war inflicted on the Chinese people, a perspective that they had not been exposed to before their capture. Closer to the end of the war, the growing possibility of defeat created anxiety among the Japanese army. Because of the Japanese military's policy to never surrender, Japanese soldiers never received any training about how to act as POWs: upon returning to Japanese ranks, many would face disgrace, punishment, and starvation. Many Japanese soldiers committed suicide after their capture, but those who chose to live generally came to sympathize with the Chinese. The Japanese army was aware of the existence of Nosaka's Communist Japanese soldiers, and feared the phenomena out of proportion to their actual threat.[9]

An American who met Nosaka in Yan'an wrote that Nosaka was "the Japanese national who undoubtedly contributed the most in the war against Japanese militarism". The Japanese army attempted to use numerous spies and assassins in order to eliminate Nosaka (who used the name "Okano Susumu" for the duration of the war), but were unsuccessful. Nosaka maintained a network of agents throughout Japanese-occupied China, which he used to gather information about events within the Japanese Empire and about the war.[10]

Nosaka's Japanese "prisoner converts" fought freely for the Chinese communists once their re-education was complete. In Yan'an, the Japanese lived normal lives without guards, owned a cooperative store, and printed their own news bulletins and propaganda. Visiting American officers used Nosaka's Japanese soldiers to critique and improve their own methods of anti-Japanese psychological warfare.[11]

Shortly after Japan's surrender in 1945, Nosaka began to march with approximately 200 other Japanese Communists across northern China. They arrived at the coast after picking up hundreds of other Japanese along the way. Demanding immediate repatriation from the first Americans they found, they declared their intention to return and work "for the democratization of Japan and the establishment of peace in the Far East". Although there are no records of the exact number of Japanese "re-educated" by Nosaka who elected to remain in Communist-occupied China after 1945, it is estimated that "the number must have been considerable".[12]

Nosaka's contributions to the CCP were not forgotten by the leaders he had worked with in China. In 1965, on the twentieth anniversary of Japan's defeat, Nosaka was publicly praised by name by the highest-ranking general in China at the time, Lin Biao.[13]

Japanese political career

Nosaka returned to Japan in January 1946, and received a hero's welcome by the JCP. He returned to China as a recognized protege of Mao Zedong, and enjoyed the informal recognition as a "roving ambassador" for Japanese communism.[14] After his return to Japan, Nosaka worked to organize Japanese communists. In the general elections of 1946, he and four other members of the JCP were elected to the Diet,[4] and the party received 4% of the popular vote.[14] The JCP made progress infiltrating Japanese labour associations and socialist parties; and, in the general elections of 1949, the JCP gained 10% of the popular vote. In May 1950, shortly after the United States entered the Korean War with the support of the United Nations, the Cominform criticized the JCP's gradualist policies, and directed the party to actively disrupt the American occupation.[15]

Throughout the 1950s, Nosaka's efforts were challenged by American occupying forces, as part of a broader effort to suppress leftists.[2] In 1949, a Communist-led general railroad strike led to several attempted derailments, and Sadanori Shimoyama, the president of Japanese National Railways, was found lying across a set of train tracks in Tokyo with his arms and legs cut off.[16] These and other incidents of "terrorism" were received poorly by the Japanese public, and cost the JCP most of its popular support.[15] The American commander of occupied Japan, Douglas MacArthur, declined to to outlaw the JCP, but held the Party's leaders responsible, and, in June 1950, ejected Nosaka and the other Communist legislators who were elected in 1946.[16] After losing his seat in the Diet, Nosaka disappeared from public life and was forced to work underground.[2]

After Nosaka went underground, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reported that he had temporarily returned to China.[17] His strategy of "peaceful revolution" was criticized by the Cominform, and the Party temporarily endorsed violent revolution until 1952.[18] After working covertly for several years, Nosaka re-emerged in 1955 as the First Secretary of the JCP. Nosaka was briefly arrested after he resurfaced, but quickly released.[19]

In 1958, Nosaka became the chairman of the Central Committee. He played a part in organizing a series of riots that lasted from May-June 1960 in opposition to the US-Japan Security Treaty.[1] These demonstrations forced the American President, Dwight Eisenhower, to cancel a visit to Japan, and forced the Japanese Premier, Nobusuke Kishi, to resign, but failed to achieve their main goal of seriously disrupting US-Japan relations. In Japanese public opinion, the demonstrations were received as a national embarrassment, and the JCP received only 3% of the popular vote in the 1960 elections.[20]

The US-Japan Security Treaty was opposed by both ultra-rightists as well as ultra-leftists. In an attempt to stop the bill from being passed, an ultra-nationalist member of the Diet, Otoya Yamaguchi, rushed the stage and stabbed a wakizashi into the stomach of the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, Inejiro Asanuma, as Asanuma was giving a speech in support of the bill. After his arrest, Yamaguchi told police that he had hoped to assassinate Nosaka as well.[21]

Nosaka attempted to keep the JCP neutral during the Sino-Soviet Split of the 1960s, though the CIA interpreted that Sanzo's party remained somewhat more friendly with the Chinese.[22] On Nosaka's seventieth birthday party in 1962, Nosaka received extravagant praise from Beijing. Deng Xiaoping praised Nosaka as an "outstanding fighter of the Japanese people and comrade-in-arms of the Chinese people". The Soviets sent Nosaka a matter-of-fact confirmation of his status within the JCP, and within a month sent the JCP another letter scolding the Party for not adequately supporting Soviet positions.[23] The Soviets' cool praise of Nosaka was consistent with earlier Cominform criticism of Nosaka's political theories, which advocated a peaceful transition into communism.[3]

After his re-entry into public life in 1955, Nosaka was elected as a member of the House of Councilors, a post that he held until 1977.[3] Nosaka remained the JCP's chairman until 1982, when he stepped down at the age of 90, taking the role of "Honorary Chairman".[1]


On September 27, 1992, two Journalists working for the magazine Shukan Banshun, Akira Kato and Shun-ichi Kobayashi, publicly revealed evidence of Nosaka's involvement in the deaths of Kenzo Yamamoto and his wife. On a trip to Moscow, Kobayashi and Kato had managed to purchase a number of KGB documents, which had been kept secret since the Stalinist era. Among these documents was the letter that Nosaka had written in 1939 denouncing Yamamoto and his wife.[1]

The revelations of Nosaka's involvement in Yamamoto's death shocked the JCP, already reduced to six seats in the Diet after the 1991 elections. Akahata ("Red Flag"), a prominent communist newspaper, sent a team of journalists to Moscow to investigate the allegations, and they confirmed the authenticity of the documents.[1]

After the allegations against Nosaka became widely known, he checked himself into Yoyogi Hospital in Tokyo (a common tactic of Japanese politicians facing scandal). When a team of investigators sent by the JCP visited him,[1] Nosaka confessed that the letter was his, but refused to discuss the matter further.[24] The JCP ordered Nosaka to be present for a general Party meeting on December 27, 1992. After some deliberation, the party that Nosaka helped found expelled him by unanimous vote. Nosaka, when asked if he had any reply to the charges against him, would only state: "I have nothing to say".[1]

One year after being expelled from the Japanese Communist Party, Sanzo Nosaka died in his home of old age. He was 101 years old.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kirkup
  2. ^ a b c d e f Universalium
  3. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopedia Britannica
  4. ^ a b c d e Pace
  5. ^ Taylor 1
  6. ^ a b "Spy Against Japan"
  7. ^ Ariyoshi, Beechert, and Beechert 123
  8. ^ Gillin and Etter 511
  9. ^ a b c Inoue
  10. ^ Ariyoshi, Beechert, and Beechert 123–125
  11. ^ Ariyoshi, Beechert, and Beechert 126
  12. ^ Gillin and Etter 512
  13. ^ Lin
  14. ^ a b Taylor 3
  15. ^ a b Taylor ii
  16. ^ a b Whitney 105-106
  17. ^ Taylor 28
  18. ^ Taylor 13-14
  19. ^ Taylor 19
  20. ^ Taylor iv
  21. ^ Lucas
  22. ^ Taylor 54-61
  23. ^ Taylor 75, 79
  24. ^ Associated Press
  25. ^ The Baltimore Sun


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