Useful Notes: Hideki Tojo

"It is natural that I should bear entire responsibility for the war in general, and, needless to say, I am prepared to do so."

Perhaps one of the most feared and at the same time ridiculed men in history, General Hideki Tojo was the Army Minister, and subsequently Prime Minister, of Japan during most of World War II. A hardcore militaristic nationalist with fascist leanings, Tojo led the Empire of Japan into war with the United States and Great Britain, leading to the eventual defeat and near total destruction of the nation he loved at the hands of the Allied forces.

Born in 1884 to Hidenori Tojo, a lieutenant-general in the Imperial Japanese Army, Tojo followed his father into the military. He was well-respected as a cadet, and served in a number of increasingly senior positions, becoming Bureau Chief of the Army as a colonel in 1928, Chief of the Personnel Department in 1933 as a Major-General, and commander of the 24th Infantry Brigade in 1934. In 1935 he assumed command of the Kampetei of the Kwangtung Army in Manchuria, where he earned the nickname ďThe RazorĒ for his iron will, and ability to make quick decisions.

A hardline nationalist with a strong xenophobic streak, Tojo was one of a clique of officers within the IJA and IJN who sought to make Japan a great power, with or without the support of the civilian government. After being promoted to Chief of Staff of the Kwangtung Army in 1937, Tojo increased Japanese penetration into Inner Mongolia, and following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident he ordered his forces into northern China. He was eventually recalled to Japan where he became first Vice-Minister of the Army, and then Inspector-General of Army Aviation.

It was in 1940, however, that Tojo entered the domestic political scene in a major way, when then-Prime Minister Prince Konoe made him the head of the Army Ministry in his second cabinet. Tojo was a strong supporter of Japanís alliance with the other Axis powers, and used his new position to further expand the war in China, while pushing Japan closer and closer to a confrontation with Great Britain and the United States of America. When Konoe resigned as Prime Minister in 1941, Tojo was appointed Prime Minister of Japan by Emperor Hirohito, much to his own surprise. Following the breakdown of negotiations with the USA, Tojo approved both Pearl Harbor, and the attempts by the IJA and IJN to seize the "Southern Resource Area" bringing Japan into WWII in a big way. In Allied propaganda, the bespectacled and moustachioed Tojo would quickly become a target of racist caricature, and was a favourite victim of mockery, being frequently represented as a monkey or a small boy.

From 1941-1944, Tojo was the dominant figure in the Japanese cabinet, holding the positions of both Prime Minster and Army Minister. He was, however, unable to fully control the Army, and the various factions within it, and had no control over the Navy Ministry. As Japanís defeats began to pile up, the other members of the military junta turned on Tojo, who resigned his position in 1944 after the loss of Saipan. When Japan surrendered to the United States, Tojo attempted to commit suicide, but failed, and was arrested by American troops.

Following the recovery of his health, Tojo was put on trial for war crimes. During his time as Chief of Staff of the Kwangtung Army, and as Army Minister and Prime Minister, Japanese ground and naval forces had committed numerous flagrant violations of The Laws and Customs of War. Somewhere between ten and thirty million Chinese civilians were murdered by Japanese troops, with some being subjected to grisly human experimentation by Ishii Shiroís Unit 731. Japanese troops gang raped thousands of women, abducted still thousands more to serve as "comfort women", and regularly tortured and killed Allied prisoners of war. Tojo, both as leader of Japanís armed forces, and as a shaper of military and foreign policy, not only refused to punish the perpetrators of such acts, but encouraged them, using Master Race propaganda, and the Imperial Cult to justify the wholesale butchery of Japanís enemies. With a death toll in the tens of millions, Tojoís actions put him in the running, alongside the likes of Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, and Adolf Hitler, for the title of "the twentieth centuryís worst human being." Tojo himself seemed to realize this; following his conviction for war crimes, Tojo accepted full responsibility for all of Japanís atrocities, apologised to the victims, and asked that the United States not do unto Japan, as Japan had done unto others. He was hanged on December 23, 1948.

In recent years there has been some discussion about whether Tojo took the fall for Emperor Hirohito, taking the blame for actions that the Emperor had in fact ordered. Given the opaque nature of the Empire of Japanís wartime politics, and the fact that in many cases, officers like Tojo had to interpret what the Emperor wanted, there is certainly a great deal of room for error in either direction, but in the end the most reasonable conclusion seems to be that there was plenty of blame to go around, and regardless of who wanted the war, it was undoubtedly Tojo who chose to wage it in the way that he did.

See Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for Tojoís Axis partners. See Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-Shek for his Allied enemies. See Imperial Japan, Katanas of the Rising Sun, The Second Sino-Japanese War, The Pacific War, and World War II proper for the nation and forces he commanded, and the wars that he waged.

Tropes applying to Hideki Tojo include:

  • Armchair Military: Tojo was a staff officer and had only seen actual combat once in his entire life.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: In more accurate portrayals and real life. He had a very deep, intimidating voice that actors have used to good effect.
  • Bald of Evil: Under that hat, Tojo is hairless.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Advocated this sort of attitude as part of the IJA's twisted bushido code, and tried to live up to it during his failed suicide attempt.
  • The Butcher: Nicknamed "The Razor" by those who had served under him. This should perhaps have been a warning sign that he was not a man who should be given power.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Upon becoming Japanese Prime Minister, Tojo had to try and manage a society that could best be described as "authoritarian factionalist". He had to negotiate the interests of the weak, but still present, civilian government, the imperial bureaucracy, the zaibatsu, the Army and the Navy (and the various factions within each), and The Emperor. In the end it was far too much, and Tojo ultimately lost control of the very military forces that he had helped to unleash in the first place. And then they fired him just before they all lost the war.
  • Chest of Medals: Just take a look at the page picture. Given that Tojo saw combat only once, how he earned those medals is rather questionable.
  • Commissar Cap: One of his trademark items in fiction. Probably because he wore it during photos.
  • Control Freak: As evidenced by his increasing list of titles, Tojo did not trust others to do their jobs and tried to run every Ministry at once. Given the fractured, factional nature of both Japanese politics and the military this was understandable, but it didn't do anything for the war effort, as it left Tojo completely overworked and unable to focus on any one Ministry.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Many historians have him as one to Emperor Hirohito from 1941-1944.
  • Driven to Suicide: Tried to kill himself in the closing days of WWII to avoid the disgrace of being captured by the Americans. It didn't work out for him.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Under Tojo the IJA revived the Chinese opium trade and exported thousands of tonnes of morphine to addicts in Manchuoko and China proper, both as a means of demoralising the enemy, and funding the war effort.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: The world that Tojo and his compatriots in the IJA and IJN were trying to build was an ugly one, with the rest of Asia enslaved to Japan in the so-called "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." While on the surface this was supposed to benefit all Asians, in practice the rest of East Asia was completely under the Japanse bootheel, with all their natural resources going to the Japanese home islands, the kidnapping and forced prostitution of thousands of comfort women, and the butchering of any population that didn't feel like kowtowing to the Japanese Master Race. About the only thing to recommend Tojo's world is that it isn't quite as Hellish as the one envisioned by his ally, Adolf Hitler.
  • The Empire: Tojo's actions throughout the thirties helped to further Japan's transformation into a repressive and expansionist militarist state with designs on most of East Asia, and hopes of rivalling Great Britain and the United States in the imperialism department. During his term as Prime Minister, the Empire of Japan would reach its greatest size, stretching from Manchuria to Indonesia and encompassing millions of miles of the Pacific Ocean, before its rapid decline and downfall.
  • Enfant Terrible: Allied propaganda often portrayed him as a small boy
  • Epic Fail: His suicide attempt, in which he was revived by American doctors, only to be hanged three years later.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: There are no indications that Tojo was anything but a dutiful husband and father.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Continued the Imperial Japanese policy of allowing Jewish refugees to enter Japan and refusing to extradite them to Nazi Germany.
  • Evil Chancellor: Tojo, and the rest of the Japanese military, are often viewed as this to the Emperor, and get treated accordingly in a lot of media.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Tojo faced his execution calmly, read a statement in which he apologized for Japan's war crimes, and asked America to be lenient with the Japanese people.
  • Face of the Band: Tojo never held absolute power in Japan the way that Stalin, Hitler, or even Mussolini did in their respective countries. At the height of his power, he was only first among equals in the civilian/military junta (or anarchy )that ran the government, and it was a shaky position at best. However, due in part to his prominence, and in part to his unique (and stereotypical) appearance, Tojo became the face of Imperial Japan to most of the West, and was generally treated as though he were an Asian Hitler in most Western media.
  • Fake Ultimate Villain: Most traditionalist historians peg him as the de facto Big Bad of The Pacific War, and he's often positioned as part of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Adolf Hitler (Mussolini is a distant third) for World War II as a whole. In truth, Tojo was a respected hardliner with a talent for speaking, but he was just chosen to be a "spokesman" and mediator for a whole mess of often-competing Japanese militarists and their cliques. At least until he wasn't and he was dismissed by his rivals without really changing much. He had a lot of power at his height, but Japan didn't really have a standout leader, let alone Big Bad, on Hitler or even Mussolini's level.
  • Fall Guy: It is hotly debated among historians whether he became a willing one of these.
  • Family Values Villain: Believed strongly in family and teamwork between the Japanese, as well as having six children.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Tojo was never able to fully control the Army or Navy, let alone the zaibatsu or the various other factions within the Imperial government, leaving the Japanese war machine floundering.
  • The Fatalist: Felt that conflict with the United States was foreordained, which is one reason he did so little to try and avoid what he thought was the inevitable.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Tojo's round glasses are the Iconic Item associated with him, and he was, without a doubt, a very bad man.
  • The Fundamentalist: Tojo seems to have been a true believer in the State Shinto/Zen Buddhism inspired Imperial Cult, which advocated the divinity of the emperor, the superiority of the Japanese race, and a deeply twisted warrior ethic.
  • General Failure: Tojo was not necessarily a bad officer, but a lifetime spent in the General Staff divorced him from the needs of the soldiers in the field. A man of limited strategic vision, who had never looked beyond the immediate needs of the Army Ministry, he was overwhelmed by the task of being Prime Minister, and was unable to control the Army, let alone the Navy Ministry, leading to further chaos and complications within the system, and an eventual breakdown in strategic planning. And that's without getting into the fact that IJA and IJN doctrine (which he fully endorsed) refused to accept the concept of a tactical withdrawal, resulting in countless soldiers being left to pointlessly fight to the death.
  • General Ripper: With "Enemy X" being anyone who wasn't Japanese.
  • The Generalissimo: As a five star general turned military dictator, Tojo is one of the iconic inspirations for the trope, with his Commissar Cap, Chest of Medals, and reliance on the IJA to maintain his position.
  • Generation Xerox: His granddaughter Yuko was almost as radically militarist as he was. Fortunately she wasn't taken very seriously by the Diet.
  • Government Conspiracy: Tojo was a member of a cabal of militarists and nationalists within the IJA and IJN who aimed to take power away from the civilian government and place it in the hands of the military. During the course of the 1930s and 40s, this junta succeeded in its goals, invading China without government consent and transforming Japan into a bureaucratic/military state, ruled by several different military and imperial factions, each with its own agenda, but all at least nominally answering to Tojo and the Emperor. We say nominally, because in practise neither Tojo nor Hirohito could gain control over the numerous political agendas and conspiracies within the IJA and IJN, to the severe detriment of the war effort.
  • Heel Realization: If his Famous Last Words can be taken at face value, Tojo realized that Japan had committed some very serious wrongs shortly before his execution and accepted that he deserved to be punished for them.
  • Henpecked Husband: Believe it or not, Tojo was apparently driven to distraction by his domineering wife.
  • Insane Admiral: Frequently played this way in Allied propaganda.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Tojo's attempt at killing himself might not have worked immediately, but it would have killed him in the long run without the intervention of US medical personnel.
  • Interservice Rivalry: A serious problem for the Japanese war effort in general, with the IJA and IJN viewing one another as the bitterest of rivals. It got so bad that the IJA was developing its own light carriers, while the IJN created its own ground forces that rivalled those of the Army in size; both had their own amphibious warfare units and subordinate air forces. When Tojo became Army Minister he landed right in the middle of this dispute, and found himself wrangling with the Navy Ministry for scarce resources. After becoming Prime Minister, Tojo discovered that even with his considerable powers he could not force the Army and Navy officers who made up the junta to cooperate with each other..
  • Just the First Citizen: Tojo never declared himself supreme generalissimo, gave himself a title like "Fuhrer" or "Duce" or anything of the sort. He was just Prime Minister to Emperor Hirohito, which was more than enough.
  • Katanas of the Rising Sun: Was a staff officer and secret policeman in the Imperial Japanese Army, before becoming first Army Minister and then Prime Minister, putting him in charge first of the IJA and then of all Imperial Japanese military forces.
  • Laughably Evil: Most depictions of Tojo in Allied media made him a figure of comedy, using racial stereotyping and a high, screechy voice to characterise him. In reality Tojo was known as a very serious, very dignified, and very severe figure by those who actually knew of him, earning the name The Razor for his sharp mannerisms.
  • The Laws and Customs of War: Tojo never respected these—not when he served with the Kwangtung Army, not when he was in the Army Ministry, and not when he became Prime Minister. The result was a whole lot of dead civilians in China, the regular massacre, torture, and/or enslavement of POWs, and the gang rape of thousands, if not millions, of women by IJA soldiers. It got to the point where Americans refused to accept surrender from those Japanese troops who wanted to give up because the IJA had frequently used false surrenders as a way to kill more Americans.
  • Leave No Survivors: Japanese soldiers flagrantly disregarding The Laws and Customs of War, killing prisoners, and generally acting like utter bastards was an established custom for some years by the time he came to power, but his instructions to the army to this effect resulted in a whole lot more Rape, Pillage, and Burn in both the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, with
  • Maniac Monkeys: In many, many Allied political cartoons.
  • Master Race: Tojo believed—as did many of his fellow officers—that the Japanese were an inherently superior race, and therefore deserved to rule all of Asia in place of the British, French, Dutch, and American empires. It was this belief that fuelled Japan's abysmal treatment of the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Burmese, and Manchurian peoples they conquered, as well as their refusal treat Allied soldiers as human beings. Under Tojo's Prime Ministry this belief reached its xenith, as he promoted it to fuel the war.
  • Military Brat: Tojo's father was a lieutenant general in the IJA. Tojo grew up around the military and ultimately followed his father into it.
  • Moral Myopia: The US sanctions against Japan? Cruel and unusual. Japan's inhumane treatment of China, Korea, and other subject nations? The cost of empire. It was only at his trial and execution that Tojo seemed to comprehend how other nations saw Japan, and that wrong was wrong, regardless of who did it.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Tojo was willing to cross any lines, so long as it resulted in Imperial Japan becoming the world's next superpower...
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: ...and Emperor Hirohito becoming the greatest ruler in Japanese history. Tojo's loyalty to the Emperor is the one thing about him that cannot be questioned. Whatever Hirohito ordered, Tojo would do.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: A common treatment by those works that actually deal with him or Imperial Japan in general, particularly those that do a Palette Swap and leave it at that. In reality while both Nazism and Tojo's ideals were racist, murderous, imperious, and authoritarian-to-totalitarian there were a number of non-insignificant differences.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: He was a staff officer and only saw combat once.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Suffered from a virulent case of nationalism and promoted it throughout Japan.
  • Police State: Not only ran Japan as one, but propped up similar puppet states in Manchuoko, Inner Mongolia, Wang Jingwei's Republic of China, and the Empire of Vietnam, among others.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: A xenophobic Japanese nationalist who saw the Japanese as the Master Race and advocated enslaving or killing off other races.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Avoided going to war with the Soviet Union (in spite of his rabid hatred of Communism) because he did not believe that Japan could fight both the USA and the USSR at the same time.
  • President Evil: Prime Minister of Japan, and a scary, scary guy. Made easier by the fact that he did not have to be elected, but was offered his position by Emperor Hirohito.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Tojo's influence, in both the Kwangtung Army, and in Japanese politics helped to transform the Imperial Japanese Army into a force that practised these sorts of tactics on a regular basis.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: In most propaganda he is portrayed with a high pitched screechy voice when in reality one of the things that made him so influential was his deep, penetrating voice. Of course some of this may have been simply for humorous purposes.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Tojo accepted the post of Prime Minister only reluctantly, and at the Emperor's urging. Once he had power, he went out of his way to consolidate it in his hands, controlling the Army Ministry, the Education Ministry, and numerous other posts, while also serving as Prime Minister and Chief of Staff of the Army.
  • The Rival: Of Navy Ministers Admiral Yoshita Zengo and Admiral Okikawa Kushiro during his time as Army Minister. Even after becoming Prime Minister, Tojo discovered that the Navy could still frustrate his designs.
  • Secret Police: Headed them up in Manchuria prior to becoming Army Minister and then Prime Minister.
  • The Social Darwinist: Like many of his contemporaries, Tojo held that nations had to grow or be contained and destroyed. This notion governed his actions as Army Minister and Prime Minister, eventually leading to confrontation with the USA.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: A strong promoter of traditional Japanese values, which held that women had to stay at home and out of the public view. This is particularly ironic in light of his own wife's apparently domineering personality.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Claimed to be acting on behalf of Pan-Asian unity, with the goal of liberating colonial nations from European oppression and leading them into a better future, but in reality was out to enslave the colonies to newer, and even more ruthless, masters in Tokyo. The fact that he may not have even realized there was any contradiction hammers it home.
    • In addition, his advocation of suicidal attacks, militarism, and especially his twisted view of Bushido BIG time. Not only was he an armchair general who was out of shape even by reservist military standard, but his cowardly hiding and his pathetically failed attempt of committing suicide by use of pistol (despite the fact that traditional bushido doctrine stated painful suicide via disembowelment with a knife or sword) angered even hardcore conservatives who still wanted to continue the war and made him lose what credibility he had left in the eyes of the Japanese citizenry. For someone who tried to brainwash a generation of young men into thinking death in battle is glorious and boasted militarism, he didn't even take a single step in walking the talk.
  • Suicide Attack: Encouraged the use of various suicidal methods of attacking the allies, including the infamous kamikazes, as well as various antitank weapons that were guaranteed to kill the user.
  • Take Over the World: The meaning of the slogan "Hakko Ichiu", meaning- more or less- "All the Directions of the world under One Roof." More specifically to Tojo, he at least intended to take over a huge chunk of the world to carve out a "Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.
  • Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: Tojo was Prime Minister, Army Minister, Education Minister, Home Minister, Foreign Minister, Minister of Commerce and Industry, and Chief of Staff of the Imperial Japanese Army by 1944.
  • Underestimating Badassery: An interesting example. Tojo knew that Japan could not expect to win a long war with the United States. What he underestimated was not America's strength, but her willingness to stay in the fight and see things through to the end.
  • Undying Loyalty: More recent studies have demonstrated that Tojo, whatever his other flaws, was deeply loyal, both to Emperor Hirohito personally, and to the Japanese state as a whole.
  • Villainous Valour: Say what you will about Tojo, but his willingness to accept responsibility for all of Japan's war crimes and to take the rap was a brave thing to do. Though it is diminished by how he'd have been screwed anyway even if he did differently.
  • We Can Rule Together: It was during Tojo's term as Prime Minister that the Japanese and German foreign ministries worked out their plan for the division of the world at the Urals, with Japan controlling Asia, Germany Europe, and Italy (by then Germany's junior partner) getting Africa.
  • We Have Reserves: Japan didn't have reserves, but Tojo fought as though they did, regularly denying the right to retreat to defeated units, ordering pointless offensives, investing in suicide weapons like the kamikazes, and forcing soldiers to survive on "spirit" rather than rations as shortages got worse and Japan's economy neared collapse. As one history of the IJA and IJN notes, Tojo and the other members of his clique should have been arrested for crimes against their own soldiers, if nothing else.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Subverted. Tojo claimed that he was acting to liberate Asia from white colonial oppression, but in practise he and his fellow Japanese soilders treated the local populations far more brutally than traditional Chinese hegemony had, let alone the British, French, Dutch, or Americans.
  • Yellow Peril: Regarded as the personification of it by the West, with most representations of him in Western media turning him into a caricature of the archetype.
  • You No Take Candle: Allied propaganda, such as this poster usually portrayed Tojo in this light.

Works featuring Hideki Tojo include:

  • The ultranationalist Japanese film Pride has Tojo as its hero, portraying him as a good man forced into war by the treacherous United States of America.
  • The 1970s Japanese film, The Militarists, portrays Tojo as a ruthless tyrant, and being an alternate history, has him remain in power until the end of the war, making life even worse for the Japanese.
  • He appears in the 2012 film Emperor, where he is one the men on trial for war crimes, and one of those who is questioned about whether Emperor Hirohito should be tried as a war criminal.
  • Asao Uchida plays him in the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, where he appears at regular intervals during the planning of the war against the USA.
  • Tetsuro Tamba plays him in 1982's Dai Nippon Teikoku, in one of the more positive/neutral portrayals of him, although this was mostly due to Executive Meddling, as Ryuzo Kasahara was forced by Toei exes to nix an earlier draft portraying him and Hirohito as far more sinister.

  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar saga, Tojo survives The Race's nuclear bombing of Japan, and goes on to lead the Japanese war effort against the alien invaders, treating The Race as brutally as he had treated his American enemies. By the time of Colonization, he is still Prime Minister, and attends the funeral of US President Earl Warren at the age of eighty-two.
  • In Days of Infamy Tojo appears briefly at the start, where he authorises the invasion of the Hawaiian Islands.
  • In The War That Came Early, Tojo does not appear, but is mentioned frequently. He becomes Prime Minister a year early, in 1940, and leads the Japanese into war with America following the successful campaign against the Soviet Union.

Newspaper Comics
  • David Low's political cartoons (collected post-WWII as Years of Wrath) used Tojo to represent Japan, often rendering him as a bespectacled, pigdin English speaking monkey.

Western Animation