The Prime Minister of Japan during World War II, Hideki Tojo is best known for being the person who authorised the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which led to the United States entering World War II and arguably altering the course of modern history in doing so.
He was a strong proponent of Japan as world power, which influenced his aggressive military decisions.
Let’s have a look at this intriguing historical figure’s most interesting facts.
Hideki Tojo Interesting Facts
1. His family was in the samurai caste
Hideki Tojo was born in 1884, the third son of Hidenori Tojo, a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army. Although the caste system had been abolished in 1871, this was so recent that the societal divisions persisted and ensured that those from the former samurai caste had prestige and some privileges. As Tojo’s father was a samurai turned Army officer and his mother was the daughter of a Buddhist priest, his family was very prestigious, in spite of being poor, an interesting fact about Hideki Tojo.
2. He was trained to embrace war
Tojo grew up in Meiji era Japan, when the young boys’ education was aimed at preparing them to be soldiers first. They were taught that war was beautiful and that it would be a great honour to die for the Emperor while defending their country.
Girls were taught that the biggest honour was to bear sons who would die in war, too.
3. Tojo was not a particularly intelligent student – but was a hard worker
As a student, Tojo displayed average intelligence, but compensated for this with being willing to work very hard. An interesting fact about Hideki Tojo is that he was very stubborn and had no sense of humour, got into fights with the other boys and was very competitive.
He was known to say that he possessed “no shining talents” but owed his success in life to his “capacity for hard work and never giving up.”
4. He was married to the job
Tojo himself bragged about how he had no other hobbies but his own work. He would bring paperwork home and work into the night, showing no interest in social or family life.
In spite of having three sons and four daughters, he never helped raise his children, whom he perceived to be a distraction and a woman’s work. He was stern, humourless, and obsessed with following etiquette.
5. He was fond of slapping people
This was quite common for Japanese officers of the era, but looks quite strange today. Tojo saw face slapping as a “means of training” for the men under his command in the army. Having come from the samurai caste, he considered this to be an effective way to train discipline, as he believed that those coming from the other castes didn’t see the way of war as a second nature.
6. He had a strong dislike for Western culture
Hideki Tojo disliked any Western cultural influence on Japan, especially more liberal attitudes like having public displays of affection, a fun fact about Hideki Tojo. He saw this as “Western decadence” leading to what was called the ero-guro-nansensu movement (“eroticism, grotesquerie and nonsense”). In his view, Western influence undermined the traditional values required to maintain order and the national identity of Japan.
7. He admired Stalin and Hitler
Tojo clearly admired the symbol of the strong leader and dictatorship. He was a member of the Toseiha (“Control”) faction in the Army, favouring expansionist foreign policy and a dictatorship under the Emperor at home. They saw the United States as a future enemy and approved of using assassination to achieve their goals.
8. He was not just Prime Minister…
During his term as Prime Minister of Japan, Tojo continued to hold his former position of Army Minister, as well as serving as Home Minister, Foreign Minister in September 1942, Education Minister in 1943, and also Minister of Commerce and Industry in 1943.
This is just an indication of how he saw the best way to lead a country – through centralised, totalitarian leadership.
As Education Minister, he had a policy of nationalistic indoctrination in schools, also putting the military on a pedestal, as he had been taught himself. As Home Minister, he was known to make quite a few eugenics policies, including the elimination of those “mentally unfit.”
9. He suffered from “victory disease” and made massive territorial demands
During the first part of World War II, Tojo and his commanders were gripped by optimism and a false sense of invincibility as they saw Japan secure victory after victory. This led to a general feeling that they couldn’t lose, which has been dubbed “victory disease”.
An interesting fact about Hideki Tojo is that he approved a set of non-negotiable demands that he would put to the Allies at the end of the war, including claims over the following territories: Australia, British India, modern Sri Lanka, New Zealand, the Canadian province of British Columbia and the Yukon territory, the American states of Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras, and many other Central and South American territories.
10. He tried to commit suicide before being arrested
After Japan’s surrender, US General Douglas MacArthur ordered the arrest of forty alleged war criminals, Tojo among them. At this point, Tojo had resigned as Prime Minister and was surrounded at home by American soldiers. To avoid being captured, he shot himself in the chest but missed his heart, and therefore was rescued and taken to prison.
This is the reason that, thereafter, the US Army brought medical personnel with them to arrest other Japanese war criminals, who were expected to attempt suicide as well, as the ultimate honour act.
He was sentenced to death and executed by hanging in December 1948.
Hideki Tojo was a product of a very specific type of education in the Meiji-era Japan, valuing military careers and war above all else, and with a strong dedication to the samurai style of honour. His legacy lives on, with perhaps the biggest contribution being that his actions led to the American involvement in World War II.
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