A Japanese Lawyer Who Defended the Rights of the Korean People

Fuse Tatsuji

Fuse Tatsuji was born in Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture in Japan on November 13th, 1880. Since he was little, he had a deep interest in Mohism (an ancient Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought and science) and at one time attended a seminary but dropped out after only 3 months. In addition to Mohism, Fuse received a lot of influence from Tolstoyan. He graduated from Meiji University and was appointed as a public prosecutor in Utsunomiya city located in the northern Kanto region of Japan.

However, during his career as a public prosecutor Fuse became skeptical about a defect in the law which prosecuted a woman as an attempted murderer in a case where an attempted mass suicide resulted in a son dying but the mother coming back to life and ultimately stepped away from prosecution and became a lawyer instead.

In 1911, Fuse wrote an article called ‘Respects to the Korean independence movement’ which specified the Japanese annexing of the Korean peninsula as an invasion and voiced his support for the Korean independence movement. Fuse once quoted “The Korea problem is not a problem limited to just Korea. The Korea problem is an Eastern Balkan problem. Korea is the influencing key to the world’s peace and disorder. It is the world’s problem and a humankind problem.” This led him to become subject to investigations by Japanese police.

From here, Fuse mainly took the up the defense of anti-Japanese independence activists. In 1919, he defended the subjects of the 2.8 Independence Proclamation such as Choi Pal-yong, Song Gye-baek and claimed their innocence on suspicions of rebellion as well as defended Kim Si-hyun and Hwang-oak who were charged as secret agents in 1923. In 1924, when someone threw a bomb into the Tokyo royal palace, Fuse took up their defense as well.

Among the many cases he undertook, the most famous example was the defense of Park Yeol and Kaneko Humiko. The two had solidified a plan to blow up the emperor but were arrested on suspicion and made to stand in court. The case drew large interest in all of Japan due to its high profiling. Fuse claimed the two’s innocence and not only defended them but ended up giving the two the formalities of marriage while in prison. In addition, when Humiko died a suspicious death, he handled the remains and even worked to get them buried in Park Yeol’s hometown of Kyungsangbuk-do Munkyeong.

In 1928, Fuse ended up running as a representative of the Farmer-Laborer Party at the 16th general election for the House of Representatives but lost the election. In 1932, with the suppression of communist party powers, the communist party strongly criticized the suppression in courts and received disciplinary action through evidence of violation of the courts and the lawyers, including Fuse, were disbarred. Even after this, they went through recovery and deprivation of their law licenses 2 more times and Fuse ended up serving two consecutive jail sentences.

In 1945, after Japan’s defeat in World War II and the end of Japanese occupation of Korea, he gained his lawyer license again and took on the cases of Koreans living in Japan as well as several labor movement cases. In 1946, he even decided to draft a founding constitution for Korea. However, in 1953 on September 13th at age 72, he passed away.

Throughout his life, Fuse defended Korea’s independence movement and through his service and efforts, became the first Japanese to receive the Order of Merit for National Foundation in 2004. As Fuse Tatsuji was already deceased himself, his grandson Oishi Tsutsumu was there to receive the award in his stead.

However, Fuse has continued to garner a level of criticism. Even though nobody doubted his achievements, the fact that he was a Japanese and participated in socialist movements has made it difficult in garnering adequate recognition as an independence activist and he is still only briefly introduced in East Asian textbooks.

In a time where his opinion of the colonization of Korea was not a widely shared one, Fuse stood on the side of justice and worked to protect the rights of the poor and disadvantaged. Fuse once famously said “If you have to live, do it with the people. If you have to die, do it for the people.”

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