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Assassination of Inejiro Asanuma

On 12 October 1960, Inejirō Asanuma (浅沼 稲次郎, , chairman of the Japan Socialist Party, was assassinated at Hibiya Public Hall in Tokyo. During a televised debate, a 17-year-old right-wing ultranationalist named Otoya Yamaguchi charged onto the stage and fatally stabbed Asanuma with a wakizashi (a type of traditional short sword).

The assassination weakened the Japan Socialist Party, inspired a series of copycat crimes, and made Yamaguchi an enduring hero to the right wing in Japan.

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Otoya Yamaguchi, the son of a high-ranking officer in the Japan Self-Defense Forces, had joined Bin Akao's Greater Japan Patriotic Party in his mid-teens after being radicalized by his older brother. During the Anpo protests, he had participated in a number of the group's right-wing counter-protests and had been arrested and released 10 times over the course of 1959 and 1960.

According to his later testimony to police, Yamaguchi claimed that over the course of the Anpo protests, he became further radicalized and disillusioned with Akao's leadership, which he felt was not radical enough. In May 1960, he resigned from Akao's group in order to be free to take more "decisive" action.

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On October 12, 1960, Asanuma was participating in a televised election debate at Hibiya Public Hall in central Tokyo, featuring the leaders of the three major political parties. Also scheduled to participate were Suehiro Nishio of the Democratic Socialist Party and prime minister Hayato Ikeda of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The debate was sponsored by the Japanese Elections Commission, the Alliance for Clean Elections and national broadcaster NHK, which was also televising the event. There was also an audience of 2,500 people in the hall.

Nishio spoke first, and at 3:00 p.m., Asanuma advanced to the podium and began his speech. Immediately, right-wing groups in the audience began loudly heckling him, and the television microphones and reporters sitting in the front row could not hear him, forcing the NHK moderator to interrupt and call for calm. At 3:05 p.m., as the audience finally calmed down and Asanuma resumed speaking, Yamaguchi rushed onto the stage and made a deep thrust into Asanuma's left flank with a 33-centimetre samurai short sword (wakizashi) that he had stolen from his father. Yamaguchi then tried to turn the sword on himself but was swarmed and detained by bystanders.

Asanuma was immediately rushed out of the hall and to a nearby hospital. Initially, Asanuma was believed to have not been seriously wounded because no external bleeding was visible. However, Yamaguchi's deep stab had punctured Asanuma's aorta. He died within minutes from massive internal bleeding before he reached the hospital.

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The Ikeda administration had been riding high going into the election debate. Ikeda's newly announced Income Doubling Plan had proven popular, and polls showed his party in a strong position heading toward the election. However, on the night of Asanuma's assassination, approximately 20,000 protesters spontaneously flooded the streets of Tokyo calling for the entire Ikeda cabinet to resign in order to take responsibility for failing to ensure Asanuma's safety. Ikeda and his advisors worried that a new protest movement might arise that would be the second coming of the Anpo protests that had toppled the cabinet of his immediate predecessor, Kishi Nobusuke.

To respond to the crisis, Ikeda took the unusual step of delivering a memorial speech at a plenary session of the Diet on October 18. The Socialist Party Diet members vocally opposed the speech. Despite Ikeda's reputation as a poor public speaker and the expectation that he would give a short boilerplate speech, Ikeda surprised the crowd by delivering a lengthy oration in which he offered an eloquent and generous assessment of Asanuma's love for his country and the Japanese people as well as his hard work ethic.[6] This speech would go on to become one of the most famous given to the Diet of the postwar period, and was reported to have moved many members to tears.

Ikeda's party went on to win the election, increasing its number of seats in the Diet, although Asanuma's Japan Socialist Party also fared well.

Following the assassination, Yamaguchi was arrested and imprisoned awaiting trial. Throughout his imprisonment, he remained calm and composed and freely gave extensive testimony to police. Yamaguchi consistently asserted that he had acted alone and without any direction from others. Finally, on November 2, he wrote "Long live the Emperor" and “Would that I had seven lives to give for my country” (七生報国, shichisei hōkoku) on the wall of his cell using toothpaste, the latter a reference to the famous last words of 14th-century samurai Kusunoki Masashige, and hanged himself with knotted bed sheets.

 
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