Tokutomi Sohō

Tokutomi Sohō bigraphy, stories - Japanese writer

Tokutomi Sohō : biography

14 March 1863 – 2 November 1957


Sohō was born in Minamata, Higo province (present day Kumamoto prefecture to a samurai- ranked family just before the Meiji Restoration. He studied Eigaku (English studies) at the Kumamoto Yogakko, and later at the Doshisha (subsequently Doshisha University) in Kyoto. He left school without graduating, but later wrote of his gratitude to the school’s principal, Joseph Hardy Neesima.

Following a period back in Kumamoto, where he started a local newspaper, Sohō moved to Tokyo. In 1887, he established the Min’yusha publishing company, which printed Japan’s first general news magazine, the Kokumin no Tomo ("The People’s Friend") from 1887-1898. This magazine was highly influential in the politics of Meiji period Japan. In addition to this news magazine, the Min’yusha also published a magazine of family issues, Katei zasshi ("Home Journal", 1892–1898), an English language version of the Kokumin no Tomo, ("The Far East", 1896–1898), and an influential newspaper, the Kokumin shimbun (1890–1929).

Sohō was initially a champion of liberal democracy and populism, as he felt that a free, open and democratic social and political order in emulation of the western nations in general, and the United States in particular would enable Japan to modernize and strength itself in the shortest possible time. His newspapers and magazines were a thorn in the side of the government during the first administration of Matsukata Masayoshi, criticizing the numerous corruption scandals of the time. However, following the First Sino-Japanese War and the Triple Intervention, his political views moved to the right of the political spectrum. By the second half of the 1890s, he came to be regarded as a conservative champion of the Meiji oligarchy, and was a close confidant of Prime Ministers Yamagata Aritomo and Katsura Tarō. By 1905, the Kokumin Shimbun was regarded as a government mouthpiece, and as such, its offices were targets of protesters during the Hibiya riots.

In 1910, Sohō founded the Keijo Nippo, one of the major Japanese newspapers in Korea under Japanese rule.

While overseeing these publications as general editor, Sohō contributed some 350 articles, on diverse subjects ranging from international affairs, to history, biography and literature. He also compiled Kinsei Nihon Kokumin shi ("A History of Early Modern Japan"), which was published in 100 volumes over a period from 1918-1952. He was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1943.

Sohō was viewed with suspicion by the American occupation authorities, and was held under arrest during the occupation of Japan from December 1945 to August 1947 as a Class A War Criminal. The charges never came to trial (partly because of his age—he was 82 at the time), and he spent the time under house arrest at his villa in Atami. He continued to live in Atami until his death.