May 15 incident

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Taking place on Sunday, May 15, 1932, the Incident was a coup, by junior military officers, which resulted in the assassination of Prime Minister of Japan Tsuyoshi Inukai. The assassins, after throwing a few bombs and leaflets, surrendered themselves to police. Inukai, who had taken over from the Hamaguchi government, was elected prime minister in 1931,and was succeeded by the government of Makoto Saito. It ended party government in prewar Japan.

The assassins confronted him and spke with him for a time. When accused of signing checks found in the safe of Chang Hsueh-Liang, he said, calmly, "All right, wait. You will understand if you talk with me a while. Let's go over there to my work room." Flight Lieutenant Mikami, who had tried to shoot him but found his gun unloaded, said "I decided that it would only be a warrior's mercy to him to listen to what he had to say in his last testament. I didn't have any personal grudge against him, but I had a tragic feeling. I tried to convince myself that we were straws in the wind of revolution. And so nothing changed my will to kill."

When a second group of assassins arrived, he was shot at approximately 5:30 PM. Inukai did not die immediately. [1] His personal physician had been in attendance, and two specialists were sent. Inukai's wounds did not seem serious." At 8 PM, the doctors gave him a small transfusion from his son, without cross-matching the blood, in what would be considered a dangerous procedure by modern trauma standards. Inukai died at 11:20 PM. [2]


With the advice of Koichi Kido and Nobuaki Makino, Hirohito decided to end party government and change to a centralized, bureaucratic cabinet advised by the Palace. The temporary Cabinet resigned. Rather than have the genro recommend a new Prime Minister, on May 19, Grand Chamberlain Suzuki gave Prince Kinmochi Saionji, who would act as the emperor's proxy, a list of Hirohito's "wishes" regarding a new Prime Minister. The wishes were drawn by Hirohito, Makino and Kido. [3]


One of the assassins regretted Inukai's death, but said he had to be "sacrificed on the altar of national reconstruction."[4]

While the event was obviously significant to Inukai, it had little national impact, other than creating support for more intense gekokoju such as the February 26, 1936 Incident. There were a large number of petitions for clemency. The courts were lenient, reflecting national sentiment. There was, however, Western criticism. [5] of the incident.


  1. David Bergamini (1971), Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, Morrow, pp. 499-500
  2. Bergamini, pp. 504-505
  3. Herbert P. Bix (2001), Hirohito and the making of modern Japan, Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0060931308, pp. 252-254
  4. John Toland (1970), Chapter 1: Gekokoju, The Rising Sun: the Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1935, vol. Volume 1, Random House, pp. 13-14
  5. "JAPAN: Murder, Muto & Manchuria", Time, 8 August 1932