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China correspondent Unosuke Ota

 Waseda University Archives
Mizuki Hiwa

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A young Unosuke Ota (courtesy of the Yokohama Archives of History)

From the Taisho era to post war Japan, journalist Unosuke Ota played an active role covering developments in Japan-China relations. Ota was born in what is now Himeji in Hyogo prefecture in 1891. In July of 1917 he graduated from Waseda University’s political science and economics program and began working at the Osaka Asahi Shimbun. Three months later he was transferred to Asahi Shimbun’s Beijing correspondence department and in 1919 became a Shanghai correspondent.  In September of 1929, Ota became the first director of the newly founded Shanghai office. Hotsumi Ozaki, a journalist who became famous during the “Sorge Incident” was among his subordinates. During his time as director, Ota witnessed the “Shanghai Incident” and the “Tenchosetsu Bomb Incident” of 1932. Following these incidents, he was appointed as China Chief Investigator of the Asahi Shimbun’s newly created East Asia Investigation Committee.

As the Japan-China War gained momentum, Ota was deeply involved in policy making related to China. In 1940 he was active at the China Expeditionary Army Headquarters and in 1943 was invited to become an economic adviser for the Reorganized National Government of China and the Jiangsu provincial government. Following the end of the war, Ota was active as a commentator on China related issues until his death in 1986 at the age of 95.

A photograph from 1922 with Sun Yat-sen surrounded by close associates. Unosuke Ota is sitting in the center of the front row.

Ota’s relationship with China began as a student. While living with author Kunikida Doppo’s younger brother, Ota gained favor with China’s royal family. In 1916 he received a request from the royal family to participate in the National Protection War (a civil war that occurred in China between 1915 and 1916). Reflecting his state of mind at that time, Ota once said, “I am willing to die for the sake of China’s revolution.” Ota traveled to Shanghai and worked as the royal family’s private secretary before returning to Japan in May of the same year.

During his time as a correspondent, Ota developed a close relationship with founding father of the Republic of China Sun Yat-sen. This relationship continued until Sun Yat-sen’s death in 1925. Ota was one of the few journalists allowed to interview Sun Yat-sen. When he passed away in March of 1925, it was Ota who reported this news to Japan.

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