Fumiko Kaneko (金子 文子 Kaneko Fumiko, January 25, 1903 – July 23, 1926) was a Japanese anarchist and nihilist. She was convicted of plotting to assassinate members of the Japanese Imperial family.
Together, Fumiko and Park published two magazines which highlighted the problems Koreans faced under Japanese imperialism (though they were never directly a part of the Korean independence movement) and showed influences of their radical beliefs. The articles Fumiko wrote for these publications were probably her most obvious activist activity. Sometime between 1922 and 1923, they also established a group called “Futei-sha (Society of Malcontents),” which Fumiko identified as a group for direct action against the government. These activities soon brought Pak and Fumiko under government scrutiny. In September of 1923, the hugely destructive Great Kantō earthquake led to massive public anxiety, with many people concerned that the Koreans, who were already agitating for independence from Japan, would use the confusion to start a rebellion. The government therefore made a number of arrests, mostly Koreans, on limited evidence, and among those arrested were Pak and Fumiko.
After lengthy judicial proceedings, Fumiko and Pak were convicted of high treason for attempting to obtain bombs with the intention of killing the emperor or his son. They confessed to this crime, and it appears that at least Fumiko made herself appear guiltier than she actually was, possibly with the intention of sacrificing herself for her cause. During the trial, Fumiko wrote the story of her life as a way of explaining “what made me do what I did,” and this memoir is the main source of information about her life, along with court documents. Pak and Fumiko, who had been romantically involved for most of their time together, were legally married a few days prior to their sentencing, which historian Hélène Bowen Raddeker identifies as a move to “underscore the obvious irony in the fact that the Japanese state had united them legally in life before uniting them legally in death.” Pak and Fumiko were initially given the death sentence, but an imperial pardon commuted that sentence to life imprisonment. Instead of gracefully accepting this pardon, Fumiko tore it up and refused to thank the emperor for his kindness. While Pak survived his time in prison and was released years later, Fumiko committed suicide in her cell in 1926.
Though Fumiko considered the belief systems put forth by the Salvation Army group and the Socialists, she eventually settled on nihilism as her guiding philosophy. Her perception of nihilism changed over time, as is indicated by a statement she made to the court in 1925. She stated, in reference to the strictly negative version of nihilism she originally pursued, that “formerly I said ‘I negate life’… [but] my negation of all life was completely meaningless… The stronger the affirmation of life, the stronger the creation of life- negation together with rebellion. Therefore I affirm life.” However, she also takes care to define what this affirmation of life means for a nihilist, which she expects to be very different from the perspectives of the officials: “Living is not synonymous with merely having movement. It is moving in accordance with one’s will… one could say that with deeds, one begins to really live. Accordingly, when one moves by means of one’s own will and this leads to the destruction of one’s body, this is not a negation of life. It is an affirmation.” Her suicide can potentially be seen as the logical end of this philosophy, since she acted on her own will and took control away from the government officials, who intended to keep her alive in accordance with the special pardon granted to her by the emperor.
The anarchist cause that she eventually followed was supported ideologically by her rejection of nationalism and the idea of the emperor, as well as a pessimistic belief about the nature of revolutions. In her testimony at her trial, she explained that she and Pak “thought of throwing a bomb [at the emperor] to show he too will die like any other human being,” and rejected “the concepts of loyalty to the emperor and love of nation” as “simply rhetorical notions that are being manipulated by the tiny group of privileged classes to fulfill their own greed and interests.” Initially, this rejection of the emperor system may have led her to believe in an alternative political system, but after seeing the way members of other groups behaved, she came to believe that any leader, whether the emperor, or other government officials, or a completely new government under socialists, would equally abuse power dynamics and oppress the people. For her, “[revolution] simply means replacing one authority with another,” and since she believed that no system of authority could or would operate without oppression, it is logical that she eventually directed her activities towards abolishing all authority. Though she believed, in line with nihilistic thought, that it was not possible to cure the evils in the world, her actions as an anarchist reflect her belief that “even if we cannot embrace any social ideals, every one of us can find some task that is truly meaningful to us. It does not matter whether our activities produce meaningful results or not… this would enable us to bring out lives immediately in to harmony with our existence.”
While Fumiko did not formally associate herself with any sort of women’s movement, she clearly held strong beliefs about the need for equality between men and women. When her great-uncle repeatedly tried to persuade her to abandon the idea of education and “marry a working merchant,” she insisted that she could “never become the wife of a tradesman.” Though she does not appear to have fully verbalized her reasoning to her great-uncle, she states in her memoir that she wanted to be independent, “no longer… under the care of anybody.” Fumiko also expressed concerns that schools specifically for women did not provide equal opportunities, and committed to pursuing her own education only at co-ed schools. Finally, some of the hypocrisy she was most concerned about in the socialist groups had to do with their treatment of women in general, and her in particular. For instance, she broke off a relationship with a fellow socialist, Segawa, after he brushed off a question about the possibility of their relationship leading to pregnancy. She “expected him to take some responsibility,” and saw that she “was being toyed with and taken advantage of.” Within this context, she challenged the double standard that allowed men to participate in casual relationships without repercussions while women were expected to bear full responsibility for the possible consequences. Additionally, she saw this behavior as further evidence that these men were not truly committed to the ideas they espoused, as real socialism would require a greater level of equality.