Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Yanagawa Heisuke (1879–1945)

Japanese army general who occupied cabinet posts in his country's government during the war. Born in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, on 2 October 1879, Yanagawa Heisuke graduated from the Military Academy in 1900 and was commissioned in the cavalry. He participated in the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War as a first lieutenant. He graduated from the Military Staff College in 1912 and was an instructor there between 1915 and 1918. He was then an instructor at the Chinese Military Staff College (1918–1920). From 1920 to 1923, he was in Geneva as a member of the Japanese delegation to the League of Nations. On his return to Japan, Yanagawa was promoted to colonel and assigned to command the 20th Cavalry Regiment. Between 1925 and 1927, he was chief of the Maneuver Section of the Army General Staff. Promoted to major general in 1927, he commanded a cavalry brigade (1927–1929) and then became the director of the Cavalry School (1929–1930). During 1930 and 1931, he was inspector general of cavalry. Following his promotion to lieutenant general in 1931, Yanagawa served as vice minister of war (1932–1934). He commanded the 1st Division (1934–1935) and the Taiwan Army (1935–1936) and then served on the General Staff.

In the early 1930s, two competing groups emerged within the Japanese army: the Kodo-ha (Imperial Way) group, which advocated the importance of character building through rigid mental and physical discipline, and the Tosei-ha (Control) faction group, which emphasized the importance of military modernization. Both groups struggled for power. Yanagawa was a member of the Kodo-ha. Both factions were in agreement, however, that Japanese political and social systems had to be reformed by a strong military government. On 26 February 1936, a number of young army officers attempted a coup d'état, which failed. Yanagawa sympathized with the plotters and was slated to be vice minister of war if the coup had succeeded. With its failure, however, Yanagawa was placed on the reserve list.

Only a year later, in October 1937, Yanagawa was reactivated and assigned as commander of Tenth Army, sent with his army to China to fight in the Sino-Japanese War. When Tenth Army landed at Hangchow Bay to support Shanghai Expeditionary Army, Chinese forces were already in retreat toward Nanjing (Nanking). Yanagawa insisted on a pursuit of the Chinese forces. Troops under his command and those of General Asaka Yasuhiko committed widescale atrocities in the Japanese occupation of Nanjing.

In 1940, Yanagawa became minister of justice; the next year, he was made minister of state in the second and third cabinets of Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro. He retired from public service in October 1941 and died in Tokyo on 22 January 1945.

Asakawa Michio


Further Reading
Dorn, Frank. The Sino-Japanese War, 1937–41: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor. New York: Macmillan, 1974.; Sugawara Yutaka. Yamato Gokoro: Fukumen Shogun Yanagawa Heisuke (Recollections of General Yanagawa Heisuke). Tokyo: Keizai-Oraisha, 1971.; Yamamoto Masahiro. Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.
 

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