"Detective Novel", by Miyamoto Yuriko

For the workers of Japan, the summer of 1949 began with a battle for their very survival.

On July 4th, the national railway announced that 95,000 of its people would be laid off, and the union responded promptly with organized protest. The railway's head office struck back by filing suit against the union, demanding 20 million yen in damages caused by their strike from the 9th to the 11th of the month before. This sort of exercise of power had been used against such figures as John Llewellyn Lewis before, but it had never been seen in Japan.

The following evening, the radio broadcasters had some shocking news: the president of the national railway, Shimoyama Sadanori, had gone missing. Then, just after 5:00 in the morning of the 6th, the remains of a man who had been run over by a train were found under a railway underpass by Kosuge prison in Gotannominami-machi. They were Shimoyama's.

This news created a sensation across all of Japan. What had happened between 9:00 in the morning of the 5th, when Shimoyama had abandoned his car at the Mitsukoshi department store, and the eventual discovery of his remains? Almost ten days passed, and the crucial issue of whether the death was suicide or murder had yet to be clarified. No doubt there were some awkward details being kept hidden which were preventing this clarification. A detective novelist would probably have considered the most pressing issue to be ascertaining whether the incident was a suicide or a murder, and then unravelling its cause and the exact sequence of events. But, as a writer concerned with democracy, my interest in the incident came from a different angle.

Suicide or murder, Shimoyama's death was directly linked to the national railroad's massive layoffs. The events of the week and others weighed deeply on Shimoyama, an assuming engineer who had become president in June only to be faced with the need to fire 160,000 employees. Newspaper quotations like "It is painful, but I must do what I think is right" and "I am tormented with concern for our employees" let us feel his humanity. The newly-arrived Shimoyama's confused, disorderly appearance surely mirrored the turmoil in his heart, torn as he was between over a thousand pleading letters a day from the people and a rigid bureaucracy of power and authority.

Whatever the exact circumstances of his death, I believe we can say that Shimoyama, himself not even a politician, and the 160,000 employees later fired, were all victims of the Yoshida administration.

Close readers of the papers must surely have noticed that articles painting Shimoyama as a human being and expressing sympathy for his death were printed for only about a day. Despite the Japanese government's eagerness to create heroes who serve authority, and love of inspiring tales, the Shimoyama incident is being used solely to lead public opinion towards suspicion of criminal activity. The fact that whatever kind of incident it may have been, the government's head-cutting policies were its root cause; this moment of death -- people's attention has been and is still being drawn away from this. Why is this? Shortly after the incident, the prime minister announced an emergency statement; only the Yomiuri Shinbun printed it -- the other papers were busy arguing the suicide theory versus the murder theory -- but it laid the criminal angle on thick, and, despite the complete lack of evidence, included obvious attempts to tie the incident to the Communist Party and the unions. Even authors like Toshima Yotarō and Nii Itaru, who usually held progressive opinions, spoke as though someone in the Communist Party leadership itself had arranged a hit. Tanaka Kōtarō in particular should be held responsible for his remarks about the Communist Party, when the truth comes out.

On February 27th, 1933, one month after the Nazis came to power, Göring led them in plotting the Reichstag Fire. The man who set the fire, Van der Lubbe, admitted that he belonged to the Communist Party, and carried his card as though it were his passport to heaven. But at the trial, Van der Lubbe's role as a mere tool of the Nazis became obvious, and the German Communist Party leaders Torgler and Dimitrov were found not guilty. Van der Lubbe was sentenced to death.

The government and the National Public Safety Commission were at odds over National Police Agency Commissioner-General Saitō, as well, but when the commission stood their ground, and the government eventually backed down. This new incident is another failure of government, a mistake that someone tried to force --but the fact of failure itself seems to hint at something suspicious in relation to the death.

In the newspaper today, the 12th of July, I saw that the railway intends to begin the second round of layoffs -- 65,000 people -- starting from the 13th, and the labor unions have tried five rounds of talks. Thanks to the Shimoyama incident, the 160,000 layoffs are the talk of the town, and in this social atmosphere which has been made uneasy, they will go as planned. A good part of the concern for the tens of thousands of employees directly affected by the layoffs will be dragged into the mystery of the Shimoyama Incident, which deepens by the day. This is a truly superb example of mass psychological manipulation. Shimoyama's death not having been ruled suicide or murder is being used to draw people into undemocratic, anti-worker suspicions. The Reichstag Fire was not an isolated incident; the worldwide struggle of the people is constantly under attack by demagogues and provocateurs. Look at Japan's true history, and consider who has been behind the terrorism that has been carried out.

In an article called "Returnees" in the Mainichi Shimbun on the 10th, Kuwabara Takeo warned that although the government may have been surprised by people who return to Japan singing the International, to turn that surprise into a crackdown would be a mistake. We, too, must guard against surprise, lest it be used as a psychological weapon against the people.


『推理小説』 (Suiri shōsetsu), published July 1949, written by Miyamoto Yuriko (宮本百合子), 1899-1951.

Aozora Bunko version entered by Shibata Takuji (柴田卓治) and proofread by Iwarebiko (磐余彦).