Book Announcement: Zen Terror in Prewar Japan: Portrait of an Assassin

Brian Victoria's picture

I wish to inform colleagues of the publication of Zen Terror in Prewar Japan: Portrait of An Assassin (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020). This book explores the profound influence of Zen Buddhist–linked terrorism in modern Japan. It follows a band of Zen–trained adherents, headed by Inoue Nisshō, who ardently believed in their allegedly “compassionate” mission to carry out political assassinations in the 1930s. Japanese and foreign scholars alike have long been mistakenly identified Inoue as a Nichiren sect adherent when, in reality he was a Zen-trained lay disciple of Sōtō Zen master Azuma Soshin and, later, Rinzai Zen master Yamamoto Gempō, abbot of Ryūtaki-ji temple.   
   The assassinations carried out by Inoue and his band, popularly known as the Blood Oath Corps Incident (J. Ketsumeidan Jiken), facilitated Japan’s transformation into a totalitarian state and set the stage for Pearl Harbor. Zen Terror in Prewar Japan is the third volume of a trilogy exposing how the centuries-long relationship between Zen and the samurai class in Japan surfaced in modern times linked not only to Japanese military aggression but also ultra-right-wing assassinations, including the May 15, 1932 assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. Inukai’s assassination brought an end to Taishō democracy in the form of political party-based cabinets, setting the stage for the creation of a totalitarian society at home and military aggression abroad.  
   The book makes sobering reading for those who still see Buddhism, especially in its Zen form, as a religion of peace, posing the question of whether wartime Zen leaders completely abandoned Buddhist ethics. It will also be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the chilling relationship between religion and terror. Further, those interested in the events leading up to Japanese participation in WW II (aka Asia-Pacific War) will be drawn to its description of the heretofore little known links between Japan’s ultra-rightwing leaders and Japanese military and government officials, including Emperor Hirohito. 

About the Author
Brian Daizen Victoria, a fully ordained Sōtō Zen priest, is a senior research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. His major publications include Zen at War and Zen War Stories. Zen Terror in Prewar Japan is the third and concluding book of the trilogy.