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The Walls Have Ears

In the evening of 23 August 1878 (Meiji 11), a lower-level bureaucrat Home Ministry, NISHIMURA Oribe, at the closed day, felt the need to relieve himself as he approached the Kanda Bridge. He did so at a roadside public toilet. When doing so, he overheard the conversation of three enlisted me of the Imperial Guard standing outside his door, plotting to carry out a revolt, truly, an example of "the walls have ears". The three were planning to set a fire near the Imperial Palace ground and then cut down the high officials arriving to pay their respects to the Emperor. This is the same modus operandi plotted by YUI Shosetsu in the "Keian Incident" in the Tokugawa era (1651). Having secretly listening to the plan in his toilet stall, NISHIMURA turned back to the Home Ministry after the three men had left, and raised the alarm with the Chief Secretary. That was the beginning of Japan's first soldiers' revolt, which came to be known as the Takehashi Disturbance or the Takehashi Incident.

Having heard the news, Minister of the Right IWAKURA Tomomi told Justice Minister OKI Takato, who was also a Councilor, "I am not sure how true it is, but am quietly strengthening our forces." Although the plan to revolt had been found out in advance, it could not prevented from being carried out. In the end, at around 11:00 p.m. that same night, an artillery battalion of the Imperial Guard indeed carried out the revolt. The Incident was suppressed in early morning the next day; four people were killed, and fifty-five executed, more than the number of rebels executed in the 2.26 Revolt of 1936. This illustrates how great the shock was to the authorities.

IWAKURA Tomomi[portrait]
From "Kinsei Meishi Shasin.1"
("NDL Digital Collections")
OKI Takato [portrait]
OKI Takato
From "Kinsei Meishi Shasin.1"
("NDL Digital Collections")

Had NISHIMURA been caught eavesdropping, he would undoubtedly have faced the miserable fate of "being stuffed down the toilet." Nishimura's unexpected meritorious deed, however, did not show much result in his career. That could be because his achievement was hardly due to his own effort or resourcefulness.

While it almost sounds incredible, the fact that other similar incidents have happened shows history is not without its surprises. In April 1934 (Showa 9), General MASAKI Jinzaburo was conspiring over the phone about the successor to Army Minister HAYASHI Senjuro, when his conversation was overheard by a reporter from the Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, TAKAMIYA Tahei; MASAKI's maid had unwittingly allowed him into the room. It is frightening to think that this happened in one's own home. HARA Takashi in his Diary that describing a secret conference, he discovered a Governmental spy in an adjacent room, but let him slip out of his fingers. One never knows where the black holes of this world, may be with their mouth wide open.

Letter of IWAKURA Tomomi to OKI Takato 23 August 1878 (Meiji 11)Papers of OKI Takato, Letter #124-114

Letter of IWAKURA Tomomi to OKI Takato [image]
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