Okunomiya Kenshi (奥宮健之)

Kenshi OKUNOMIYA (December 27, 1857 - January 24, 1911) was a social movement activist in Japan, who played an active part during Jiyu Minken Undo (the Freedom and People's Rights Movement). He was one of the twelve people who were executed in the Kotoku Incident.


He was born at Nunoshida Village, Tosa County, Tosa Province. His father, Zousai ZOU, was a top-grade Yomeigaku (neo-Confucianism) scholar in the domain as well as a jiko (teacher) to Yodo. Kenshi went to Tokyo at about eleven or twelve years of age and mastered English studies. Around 1881 - 1882, he entered the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu (financial clique) but resigned from it to join the Jiyuto (Liberal Party) when the party was formed. Together with Tatsui BABA, he was called the two geniuses of Tosa Province.

In 1882, in order to confront the Omeikai, he joined BABA, Masami OISHI, and Gendo NISHIMURA to organize the Kokuyukai. Since Kenshi was banned from making a public speech within Tokyo Prefecture because of the speech he had made at the Asakusa Imura-ro hall, he obtained a lecturer's license to appear at a vaudeville hall under the stage name "Senseido Kakumei" and advocated freedom and people's rights through his oral storytelling, but he was punished along with the host of the vaudeville hall and was sentenced to brief imprisonment, one month in jail, for violating the Public Assembly Law. After that, he organized the Shakaito (Rickshaw Men's Party) to rally rickshaw (a taxi-like vehicle pulled by a man) men. Focusing on rickshaw men who lost their jobs after the Tokyo Horse Tramway was laid, he persuaded Tsuna TAKEUCHI's rickshaw chauffeur and leader of rickshaw men, Kamekichi MIURA, to use his power for his campaign, and by distributing leaflets saying that participants could enjoy as much sake as they wanted, he gathered many rickshaw men at a get-together party held within the precincts of the Kanda-Myojin Shrine on October 4, 1882. Over 300 people gathered. Although one or two of such a get-together party followed, Kenshi did not attend. This was because he was in Ishikawajima Prison for alleged assault on a police officer.

Because of Kenshi's imprisonment, the Shakaito went into a state of dissolution. In 1883 he was released, and, on the way to Kagoshima Prefecture when he stopped by Nagoya City, he got involved in the Nagoya Incident. In Aichi Prefecture, some Liberal Party members had been incited by Taisuke ITAGAKI's speeches and Toru HOSHI's canvasses and were running around madly with a plot to overthrow the government. It was August 1884 when he committed a robbery at a millionaire's home to obtain the war funds. His attempt failed, however, and clashed with policemen on his way back, slashing a few of them. In October, while Kenshi was away for a Liberal Party convention in Osaka, his comrades cut their way into the Okusa-mura village office in broad daylight and robbed the office of national tax money. The comrades were arrested one after another, and Kenshi was moving from place to place eluding the authorities, but he was caught in Tokyo in January 1885 and was sent to Nagoya. Under detention pending trial he attempted to escape from the prison.

In the court decision made in May 1887, the case was judged not as a political offense by the group but as a murder-robbery case, and a few of the members received a death sentence while Kenshi was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was transferred from the Kosuge Prison (located at the site of the present Tokyo Detention House) to the Miyagi Prison, and then to the Kabato Prison in Hokkaido in the fall of 1889. He attempted to escape from there as well. Prior to that, ITAGAKI, Kenkichi KATAOKA, Yuzo HAYASHI and others, deploring their exclusion from the amnesty granted upon promulgation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, had been heading a campaign to receive amnesty as political offenders, and when ITAGAKI took a position as Minister of Home Affairs in the second ITO cabinet in July 1896, Kenshi and his comrades were finally released. He was sentenced to death for his involvement in the Shusui KOTOKU Incident and executed on January 24, 1911. His grave is at the Somei Reien Cemetery, operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, in Toshima Ward, Tokyo.