Fuse Tatsuji (布施辰治, November 13, 1880 - September 13, 1953) is a native of Ishinomaki City (石卷市), Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県), in northeastern Japan who is widely known as a civil-rights lawyer or social activist. On the homepage of his hometown Ishinomaki City, he is included on the list of famous figures the city has produced, and described as the 'Japanese Schindler,' "a lawyer known for saving many Koreans during the colonial era."
Fuse Tatsuji was born as the fifth and youngest child of a farming family in Miyagi Prefecture. As a young man, he was exposed to, and influenced by, Leo Tolstoy's humanitarianism and adopted it as the guiding principle of his life. Even after he became a lawyer, he remained devoted to humanitarianism for the rest of his life, helping those in need and advocating social movements in his practice of law.
After graduating from Meiji (明治) University in 1902, Fuse Tatsuji became a probationary judicial officer (prosecutor) and was assigned to Utsunomiya (宇都宮) District Court. However, when a woman turned herself in after a failed attempt to commit suicide with her child and he had to indict her for attempted murder, he saw loopholes in the law and felt doubts about the improper exercise of legal power. He eventually resigned, and became a lawyer in 1904.
As mentioned earlier, Fuse Tatsuji was heavily influenced by Leo Tolstoy's humanitarianism. In his hometown, he already encountered the Greek Orthodox Church. In April 1899, he left his home for Tokyo, not to pursue worldly success but to study philosophy. In August of that year, he became a student at Nikolai Cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church in Kanda (神田). In other words, while studying law at Meiji University, he was also experiencing the Greek Orthodox Church-style democracy and a religious responsibility to help the people.
In 1905, not long after he began to practice law as a lawyer, Fuse Tatsuji married Hirasawa Mitsuko (平沢光子), who was a devout believer in Nichiren Shoshu (日蓮正宗), a branch of Nichiren Buddhism, and went on to have a heavy, religious influence on him. What allowed him to embrace both the Christian thought of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Buddhist thought of Nichiren Shoshu? It was not only that these religions taught the doctrines that were on the side of the people, but also that Fuse Tatsuji had an exceptional ability to absorb and assimilate these doctrines, and his devotion to the people also helped him open his heart to these religions.
In 1906, Fuse Tatsuji defended the case of the unrest that arose as the citizens of Tokyo rallied against higher subway fares. This was the first of the similar cases of social movement he went on to defend later: the Tokyo subway strike case (1911); the case of the rice riots that erupted across the country after the World War I (1918); and major labor-related cases like the Kamaishi (釜石) mine/Ashio (足尾) copper mine/Yahata (八幡) steal mill strike case (1919).
Other cases he defended, such as the military communization case (1921), the first communist party case, the Kameido (龜戶) case at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake, and the March 15 case and the April 16 case, both being the cases of massive persecution of the Japanese Communist Party, were concerned with the freedom of thought.
Japanese were not the only people who needed Fuse Tatsuji's defense. After Korean students declared their nation's independence from Japan in Tokyo on February 8, 1919, about sixty of them were arrested by the Japanese police, nine of whom prosecuted for violation of the publication law. And Fuse Tatsuji defended them pro bono. To reveal the truth about the massacre of innocent Koreans in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake, he risked his life and fought against the power of the state. He also defended the Korean independence activist Park Ryul (朴烈) and his Japanese wife Kaneko Humiko (金子文子) indicted with the charge of 'high treason' plotting to assassinate the Japanese royal family in 1926. There were also cases he went all the way to Korea and Taiwan to defend, such as the Righteous Brotherhood case (1923), the Korean Communist Party case (1927), and the riot case of Taiwan's farmers association (1927).
Fuse Tatsuji wasn't just active as a defense lawyer. He also organized a campaign to help Korean flood victims and a protest against the high school military training that supposed a riot of Koreans. He was both a civil-rights lawyer and a social activist, active in Korea and Taiwan as well as in Japan. In other words, he treated the peoples of Korea and Taiwan equally with the Japanese people.
Throughout his life as a civil-rights lawyer and a social activist, Fuse Tatsuji treated everyone equally regardless of their ethnic group, thought, wealth, or social status. But it didn't mean to say that he took pity on them. To him, only justice was the highest good. He was a lawyer of justice who was on the side of the people.
Fuse Tatsuji was an intellectual who put up an all-out fight as he lived through the dark period of Japanese imperialism. Twice in his legal career, his licence to practice law was taken away and then restored. He was also imprisoned twice. To add to this suffering, his third son died while imprisoned for violation of the maintenance of security law.
As his title of president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation suggests, he was on the side of workers. He was also a friend to the people, striving for enlightenment movement through the launch of such magazines as Toward Society Rather Than Court (法廷より社会へ) and Life Movement (生活運動). He was also a politician who campaigned for the introduction of universal suffrage, and, once it was granted, ran for (but lost) a race for his lower house seat. As the initiator of the Japan Lawyers Association for Freedom, he was also the icon of conscientious lawyers who stood up against injustice.
Above all else, he was the one who worked harder than anyone else toward the liberation and independence of Korea as a Japanese colony and contributed to the foundation of the Republic of Korea. The Republic of Korea awarded him the Order of Merit for National Foundation (National Medal) not because he was a Japanese who helped the people of Korea as a Japanese colony, but because he lived with the people of Asia and died for the people of Asia. His epitaph, which read "(He) Lived with the People and Died for the People (生きべくんば 民衆と共に, 死すべくんば 民衆のために),” sums up the life of Fuse Tatsuji.