We learn much about Hidechika Tazaki from the records of police interrogations, of court proceedings and from the document he himself presented to his interrogators to justify his act. All these were preserved conscientiously and were reprinted in full in Hakodate Shishi, a History of Hakodate.
Hidechika was a samurai from Akita Prefecture in the northeast of Honchu – the main island of Japan. In 1874 he was 23. Three years earlier he had joined a centre for the study of the ‘Great Way’ which had been established at Akita as part of the revival of the ‘truly Japanese’ Shinto religion. There he studied kogaku – a nationalistic discipline which involved the study of Shinto sacred texts, national history and literature. Kogaku idealised the emperor as the direct descendant of the sun goddess.
The essence of Shinto is the devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called ‘kami’ of whom there are myriads. Rituals at shinto shrines or in the home enable human beings to communicate with sacred spirits such as wind, rain, mountains, even prominent rocks. Humans become kami after they die and are revered as ancestral kami.
In the period before the Meiji revival Shinto had been considered obsolete and had been almost indistinguishably absorbed into Buddhism. The form in which it was revived towards the end of the 19th century remains a subject of controversy. One of the leading Occidental historians of Japan dismisses it contemptuously:
The so-called State Shinto which was developed for political ends from the turn of the 19th century is an invention resembling and indeed anticipating the National Socialist perversion of Teutonic mythology.
Used in this way, Shintoism served to consolidate the newly restored authority of the emperor as well as the position of the politicians responsible for the Meiji Restoration. It also helped to counter the spread of Christianity and to fuel the agitation against Buddhism which had been launched in 1867.
Religious conflict divided Hidechika’s own family, as his grandfather and his step mother stated when interrogated by the police. His stepmother Tsuru, was, in fact, his aunt - the sister of his real mother who had died when he was only eight.
Hidechika had become so absorbed in Shintoism for these 4 or 5 years. [He] even wanted to change the family religion. There were often discussions between mother and son to the displeasure of Tsuru. But it was the only subject of differences of opinion. Otherwise family life was fair and smooth.
This assessment of the grandfather does not tally entirely with that of the stepmother. She told the interrogators she had always had a lot of trouble with her stepson. On the day he left home he had persuaded her to go to the theatre. While she was away he had decamped, taking with him all the clothes she possessed. Later she had discovered he had pawned 16 articles for 13 yen.* .
The anti-Buddhist policies of the government were put into reverse around 1872. They had met with strong resistance from the public. In 1874 the Akita centre for the study of the Great Way was closed. This made Hidechika indignant. He blamed the recent introduction of Western scholarship and Christianity for the decline of kogaku.
A later interrogation was summarised by the judge who conducted it. Hidechika is quoted as fearing that kogaku would soon be abolished while Christian teachings would flourish . …
….students of the same mind, including him, got together with the teachers of the religious academy and talked very lamentably of the status quo. However his action [the murder] had been entirely conceived by himself. The others knew nothing about it. If he had revealed his intention and they had opposed it, he might have been denounced.
He was actuated by heedless thought… If he had deliberated, he would have noticed that he had disregarded the constitution and had lied to the government….It was a very regrettable deed, not to be borne.
This last is, of course, the opinion of the interrogator, not that of the assassin. Hidechika appears to have been ambivalent about Western scholarship. At one stage he had thought of going to Tokyo himself so as to study Western science. He would not have been the first nor the last student undecided about what to study. Eventually it was the poverty of his stepmother that had prevented his move to Tokyo. 
He left Akita without confiding his plans to his family. They had no idea what had happened to him until days later, when they were summoned for interrogation.
However he did leave a series of letters addressed to the priests at his kogaku academy. Apart from studying there he had also helped produce paper talismans. He informed them that he would ‘bolt away due to circumstances beyond his control’ and made his tutors gifts of several scrolls. These scrolls, he told them, “would surely satisfy your aesthetic mind.” Whether these scrolls contained paintings or calligraphy is not clear.
The tutors were also interrogated. The letter addressed to them was found to contain nothing suspicious. The tutors confirmed that Hidechika had been employed for producing talismans. They had met him daily and had become friendly…. Hidechika had greatly revered Michiaki [the priest who headed the academy] and others but “they did not [do] … more than keep in touch, even disdaining him behind his back”…… They had not involved themselves in discussing personal matters.
His fellow students strove even further in trying to distance themselves from him- he endeavoured to get on an intimate footing with them but they declined as he was a bad character, giving to drinking and gambling and frequenting brothels. As boys they had all gone to the same school. Neither they nor the teachers would ….have anything to do with him as he had always borne a bad character. [However] about a year earlier the murderer had suddenly changed his mode of life and become sober and steady, devoting all his time to the study of the Shinto religion and writings…. After he had been thus engaged for six months he endeavoured to renew his acquaintance with his school fellows and teachers, but they said they could not make sense of him.
The letter to his tutors – addressed as ‘Great Man Fujiwara-no-Michiaki” “Great Man Fujiwara-no-Hidetane” and similar said he was, that day, taking a boat to Shimonoseki – one of the ports close to Korea where Japan was then engaged in a military campaign. He did indeed mention that he wanted to kill foreigners, but he envisaged doing so in battle, as a soldier serving in the army.
I have long lived in vain, with nothing meritorious to do for my country:I wish to go to Taiwan and Korea to exterminate barbarians.
He then switched to a rhythmic, ritual style:
At my back - a sprig of the sacred tree,
plucked from the shrine of my town.
In my mind - truth and sincerity.
I strive my utmost.
If not serving the Great God,
What good would it be –
that sharp sword to slay ugly evildoers?
Had he really intended to go to Shimonoseki to enlist or was he simply trying to obscure his trail? Was it pure chance that he came across a boat headed for Hakodate and hence face to face with Haber? Following the murder Hidechika told his interrogators, that to combat the threat to Japan from foreigners and from the consequent ‘degeneration of Japanese society’ all foreigners should be killed.
With so many foreigners in our country, killing one person was nothing more than scooping a drop of water from the ocean. But he thought it would be a shame to leave things as they were and therefore he determined to kill foreigners to show his loyalty to his country.
He used the same image of scooping a mere drop of water from the ocean in several separate interrogations. He also repeated several times that he had no grudge against the man he had killed. This was not a matter of personal vengeance.
The junk he boarded took him to the northern port of Hakodate. As we have seen this was one of the few ports open to foreign ships. The von Brandt memoirs claim that, in addition to stealing from his step mother, he never paid the captain of the junk. This, as we have seen, was not true.
Reports of the murder published in Germany and in England put about simplistic accounts which suggested that the murder had simply been inspired by a dream the previous night. In fact, a plan to ‘exterminate barbarians’ had been on his mind for a long time. A dream was however involved. Hidechika said in evidence that the third night after his arrival at Hakodate, while asleep in a brothel, he had had a dream in which a kami – a Shinto deity – had appeared to him. This was repeated in a document he handed to the police when he surrendered himself. It was an invocation of the gods written in Shinto prayer style. It is worth quoting in full.
The Ise and Izumo shrines referred to in his document are the most revered in Japan. One of the Ise shrines was – according to tradition - built in the 4th century B.C. It is dedicated to the sun goddess, regarded as the progenitor of the Imperial family.
The two Great Gods in the god-wind blown Ise shrines!
The Great Gods of three great shrines in the eastern country!
The Great God of the revered Izumo shrine!
The Great God in the shrine of Akita and all the eight hundred myriad gods!
I, Tazaki Hidechika, deferentially state that Hidechika, instructed by Fujiwara Michiaki, priest at the Akita shrine, read Shinto scriptures and understood that in the very beginning all living things were created by the Gods.
Our country was kept peaceful. The ways [relations] of lords and subjects and the ways of men were beautifully observed. The country thrived.
[Now, however] here at Hakodate live heinous villains, foreigners who talk of dethroning the Great Power. [i.e. the Emperor].
In a dream last night I was told by the God that sits at the Kashiwara shrine that Hidechika [should] get rid of these heinous villains [but] without discussing the matter – neither with his compatriots nor with foreigners. Hidechika, though not deserving such a great favour, was very pleased with this command. He hoped to come across these heinous villains so that he could get rid of them, pacify the mind of the Founder God and let the light of Japan shine throughout the world. If he did not accomplish this, he would be tied to this task to the end of his life.
I pledge and beg with deep sincerity that my intention be fulfilled.
The document has its roots in a philosophy totally at variance with that of his victim. Haber, as we have seen, believed fervently in progress and in discarding what he considered to be outdated concepts – religious and social. If Tazaki Hidechika had ever managed to communicate with Haber, he might well have concluded that this Westerner was precisely the antagonist he wanted to eliminate.
After preparing this document Hidechika wandered the streets of the port city looking for foreigners to kill but did not find an opportunity. He spent a second night in a different ‘pleasure house’. The following afternoon, after drinking some sake, he went out again, reportedly merry from the alcohol, carrying his sword.
Samurai were known as ‘two sword men’ but the police inventory of his property lists only one real weapon - a ‘short sword.’ There is a second sword listed – a ‘holy sword’ - but this was merely a miniature talisman, not a deadly weapon.
In 1874 the wearing of swords by members of the warrior caste was still legal. It was only banned two years later. But even before the ban, the flaunting of swords in public was frowned upon. Since he did not want to arouse the suspicion of the other lodgers at his inn he had left his sword in the inn-keeper’s charge. On the day of the murder he took it back and hid it under his cloak.
The police inventory of Hidechika’s property also lists a fukusa required for the tea making ceremony. This suggests participation in a sophisticated culture. It is curious that he carried it on his journey.
Detailed and frequently overlapping notes were taken down by a number of different policemen. The constable on duty at the police station recorded that a little after five in the afternoon of August 11th, an unknown man with a sword at his waist entered and shouted “Hear me!” The constable describes this opening gambit as ‘hilarious’.
He narrated that he had killed a foreigner a moment ago and by way of verification produced a watch and a hat. Instead of relating this from beginning to end, he produced from his bosom an invocation and was about to read it when Shoji Yukishi took it from him and we perused it together……. He wished to borrow a brush. I handed it to him … and he put down his name and his official seal upon the invocation.
Again he stated that he feared “confounded foreigners” would abolish the rule of the Emperor.
The note taker – 2nd grade constable Ichihashi Katsuyoshi - together with one other – then rushed to the scene of the murder.
… I remained there, driving away the curious passers-by and ordered the house owner to shut the door….He [the house owner] told me he had seen a foreigner jump over the hedge and run into his property, seriously wounded, escaping he did not know what from. He ran this way and that, but finding both sides walled by briars, hesitated for a moment. A man ran after him and as he [the foreigner] had no way of defending himself he was slain to death in the vegetable garden. The murderer said he would report …. himself and left…. I myself could not bear [to look at] this heart-rending atrocity. I heard them [the house owner’s family?] say they had secretly peeped at the body.
One of the constables ordered to guard Hidechika reported:
We asked Hidechika (who was placed under our strict guard) if he was hungry. He said he … would gladly accept an offer of a meal. Having regaled himself with five or six bowls of rice he asked the favour of borrowing a brush and slate and on a piece of paper put down something of a waka poem and added a statement that he had done with one foreigner. He folded [the poem] and put it in his wallet and kept it in his bosom. 
The poem has not been preserved. Waka or tanka is a traditional form of poem consisting of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllables.
Other members of the local police were apparently not yet aware that the assassin had surrendered. They took steps to prevent his escape and that of possible associates.
I immediately took steps to suspend all ships from leaving the harbour as a measure for catching the culprit and on land dispatched constables to kamada gate to prevent flight. But as the culprit [has] surrendered I may remove control on outgoing ships.
The same officer rapidly came to the conclusion that
We found that he had committed this reckless act out of his misguided conception without any help from others……..[However] there is no assurance as yet that no unexpected things will happen….There are many former soldiers [samurai] converted [downgraded?] to plebeians in the prefectures and if special attention is not paid, any unexpected thing may happen…. Hidechika may….[remain] one of the followers … of the stubborn ‘Expel the barbarians, revere the Emperor’ [movement] who raised their voices … around 1853
The police knew that the down-graded and impoverished warrior caste represented a danger. Indeed, there were several samurai risings in 1874. All were put down comparatively easily. The Hakodate murder was, however, not part of such a rising.
The police placed guards on a second residence that Lady Parkes – the wife of the British ambassador - maintained at Hakodate. They also put patrols on the town’s beaches whenever foreign children were playing there.
A senior official, director-general Miyaki, was sent post haste to Tokyo to report to the authorities on the situation at Hakodate.
Police interrogated a large number of people who had had contact with the assassin: the owners of the inn where he had left his belongings, the captain of the boat that had brought him to Hakodate and the women in two brothels with whom he had slept. All confirmed that he appeared to have no fellow conspirators. Despite this the authorities of his home town, Akita, were ordered to keep a ‘close watch’ on the stepmother and grandfather as well as on his tutors.
Several further policemen made statements over the next day or two.
When delivering the culprit to the court we put handcuffs on his hands and another constable tied his waist with a rope. On his way up the Shimo-daikucho slope, Hidechika asked me if the shrine over there might be a Shokonsha shrine and when I answered in the affirmative, he said that all those enshrined there had died for the sake of the Imperial country and gave two bows before passing. Having arrived at the court, we were ordered to bring him straight to the place for examination on the white sand.
The assassin himself was interrogated repeatedly between August 11th and 17th and eventually was made to seal the interrogation documents with his thumbprint.
I myself, a former retainer of Akita province …. had nowhere to serve my country since the emperor’s army conquered its enemies in the north in 1868.
He was referring to the end of the brief civil war between supporters of the last shogun and those of the emperor.
I lived long months in vain and in chagrin. In order that I might perform a meritorious deed I put myself in January 1871 under the tuition of Onozaki Michiaki, Shinto priest, and lecturer at the secondary religious academy at Akita and studied kogaku…I buried myself in my studies, day and night, perusing scriptures from time immemorial and realised the greatness of Shintoism….. I found great pleasure and honour in revering the gods and in loving my country. In January  ….. the academy … began admitting students regardless of their social standing – over two hundred.
Hidechika may have seen this new policy of admitting members of the ‘lower’ orders as humiliating for a samurai. It was another blow to their status, like the military call-up of ‘plebeians’ to the new army.
More than a small portion consisted of kogaku students. In early June, however, these students were suddenly driven out of the academy [as a result of] a government circular that a religious academy and an ordinary [secular] school were to be kept apart. He rashly took this as a measure to encourage Western studies and to exterminate kogaku. He heard rumours that the teaching of Christianity would soon begin to influence this country……Students of Shintoism lost their way … and lamented the miserable time….All this came from the signing of our treaties ….. of friendly relations with foreign countries, which had brought about our great moral deterioration. I have been much displeased since the expulsion of the kogaku students…… There were many resident foreigners in three prefectures and five big ports…… I thought it a real shame to leave things as they stood. .. I was determined to kill a foreigner by my own will and to show my loyalty to my country….. I did not aim to kill a particular person. I loitered in the town for three days observing the behaviour of foreigners. Opportunities never visited me. …. On August 11 I was determined to carry it out that day. With an invocation in my bosom, which I had prepared under the pretence of having had a divine dream in which the Great God requested me to kill foreigners, I sallied forth……at about 2 p.m. with a sword at my waist….
It seems likely that the note taker’s preconceptions influenced some of the wording of this document. Would Hidechika unprompted have described his dream as a ‘pretence’. Similarly, would he himself have described his fear for the future of kogaku as ‘rash’?
I sallied forth at about 2 p.m. with a sword at my waist to call at a pleasure house owned by Kojima Jubee. After some drinks at his house I set out at about 5 p.m. to visit the Shokonsha shrine in order to offer prayers first and then to kill a foreigner…… I was at the foot of the stone steps to the shrine when all of a sudden I saw a foreigner walking ahead….. When I was within two metres behind him I threw my umbrella at him and the moment he turned back I struck my sword twice at his shoulder. Terror-stricken he bolted away. I followed him. ….I saw him run into the property of .. a farmer….. Finding himself at bay he put his hands together as if begging me to save his life but I was the more obdurate… I struck my sword upon his head. He fell down, deeply wounded but not yet dead. I gave him several further cuts from various angles…. Thus I attained my purpose…
At this most critical moment, Ludwig Haber’s talent for making friends with a great variety of people availed nothing, nor did his facility for languages. We can assume that he had by then learnt at least some Japanese.
I called at the police station…. While I was being examined I first knew the name of the victim…. As I did not know Mr. Haber [personally], grudges on my part did not exist.
A different hand added a paragraph to this document in red ink. Again it appears unlikely that it expressed Hidechika’s own views, unprompted. Could this have been obtained under torture?
I was obdurate and stupid. Not keeping abreast of the times, I firmly believed that the decline of kogaku came from the comings and goings of foreigners in this country. 
A communication from the chief judge at the Hakodate court, Inoue Yoshitake addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, does indeed suggest torture may have been used:
He stated that he would be truly sorry and would deserve death if he had compromised the constitution of the country. So far we could not make him confess the circumstances. We will inquire further and put him to torture to make him speak.
Since Hidechika had surrendered voluntarily, had handed over a document explaining his actions and had given several further statements it is difficult to see what more the chief judge wanted to hear. Perhaps he still hoped to elicit the names of fellow conspirators. Unlike the judge, the police interrogators had come to the conclusion quite early that Hidechika had acted alone.
Foreign consuls were, however, kept away from one interrogation, despite earlier promises to the contrary. This suggests that something was being hidden from them.
The consuls of the foreign countries were not fully satisfied with the account. They asked us to examine him in every minor detail. Whenever the accused was interrogated, they never failed to be present. Hidechika was in a state of fury and looked at them with hatred and anger….. he saw them as ugly foreigners and would not speak a word under their observation. If he were put on the rack, he would be even more adamant and keep silent. Accordingly we contrived a plan by which we brought him out of the house of detention early in the morning of 17th to the presence of the prosecuting officers and forced him to confess his true intent. When we had successfully obtained his confession, we sent him back. We accordingly informed the [foreign] consuls, not mentioning how we had obtained the information [but insisting] that we had got the whole truth out of Hidechika….. The consuls, however,… accused us of having broken our promise, demanding further joint examination. We….persuaded them to [come to a] mutual understanding.
What was “the whole truth”? Eusden, the British consul, writes in his diary notes later that same day - 17th August:
The judge said he had confessed he had five accomplices in Akita, giving their names, two were his teachers and one, 47 years old, dissuaded him from already (sic) committing the crime attempted as it was too early and would injure their plot.
This is at variance with all previous and later evidence. Could someone who tried to dissuade him from the murder be considered an accomplice? On the other hand, if this 47 year old had advised delay so as not to endanger a more elaborate plot, he would indeed be an accomplice. But no evidence for such a plot was ever found. How good was Eusden’s command of the Japanese language? Did he perhaps misunderstand the judge? He appears not to have used an interpreter. His notes, preserved in the British National Archives, show signs of having been scribbled in court.
At any rate investigators were sent to Akita. Hidechika’s tutors, his fellow students and his family were interrogated. All were found to be uninvolved and no charges were laid against any of them.
Was Hidechika sane? The naval doctors, commissioned by the German ambassador, said that in their view he was. Captain Will thought the same. However the evidence is conflicting. The constable to whom he first surrendered noted that
However, any man who had just cut another to pieces might well appear highly agitated.
The British consul’s court notes are also conflicting. On the day of the murder he notes:
The above was elicited by the prisoner stating in the calmest manner possible all that occurred. 
A later note the same evening appears to contradict this:
The judge told Hidechika he had ‘ brought disgrace to his country.’ The prisoner replied that our fine country has been ‘desecrated by the treaties’ [admitting foreigners]
‘On the contrary,’ said the judge, ‘our country has flourished since foreigners came here.’
Thereupon the prisoner went into ravings about the glorious days gone by of the tycoons [i.e. the shoguns] and began talking such nonsense that the examination was discontinued at midnight.
The British consul’s notes say that the judge had difficulty understanding the prisoner’s dialect. The notes continue –
Yesterday the sword was shown which the murderer used. It is 18” long and much indented. About the middle it is cracked and must have been very roughly used for it is so bent that it is impossible to force it altogether into the scabbard.
Eusden’s notes say that the prisoner had fought against the present government – presumably during the brief civil war between supporters of the shogun and supporters of the Emperor. Indeed, he spoke of the ‘glorious days of the tycoons’. This is puzzling since elsewhere Hidechika stresses his love for the emperor. He was perhaps not as level headed as some of the observers had thought.
He informed the court that he had hoped to join the Formosan expedition. This is contradicted by his letters to his tutors which say he was on his way to join the Korean campaign.
Questioned by the judge about his education he said he wrote and read ‘all sorts of Japanese characters’. In other words, he was literate – as samurai normally were. However he did not know any foreign language. He would have liked to have learnt a foreign language.
Judge: Would you not have done better to have waited until you knew something about foreigners before murdering them?
Prisoner (after a little hesitation :) Yes.
Hidechika stated that he had planned to commit sepukku – disembowelment – immediately after the murder. This would indeed have been expected behaviour. He had, however, decided against it as he feared the reasons for his action might then remain unknown. No doubt he hoped to encourage others to emulate his deed.
He knew he would be condemned to death but he welcomed martyrdom. His contempt for death is typical of the ‘way of the samurai’. An 18th century book on the samurai ethic writes
Your day must begin with a meditation upon death as the ultimate event. Every morning with a calm mind, form a picture in your head of the last moment of your life… Every morning be sure to take time to think of yourself as dead.
Ambassador von Brandt, not surprisingly, had little understanding of men like him.
…In most cases foreigners simply fell victim to acts of bestial brutality…..the perpetrators were evil and depraved fellows who had been guilty of many earlier
crimes against their own compatriots of which theft and robbery were probably the least.
As examples of this depravity he says that Hidechika stole from his family, spent his nights in ‘houses of ill repute’ and never paid his ship’s fare. As we have seen, he was wrong about the ship’s fare, but correct about the other charges.
Hidechika himself saw no reason to hide that he had spent two nights in ‘pleasure houses’. We are faced here by two very different attitudes to sexuality. Numerous occidental writers underline this difference in attitudes. To quote only one - a German scholar writing in 1911:
The Occidental looks at Japan through occidental glasses. He sees moral degeneracy where there is, in naked reality, nothing but unmediated joy of life and irrepressible joy for sexual matters combined with a lack of any kind of hypocrisy. 
But to return to the assassination. A report was published in the London Times. This came from a reader, ‘H. of Haverstock Hill’ - not from a professional journalist reporting for the paper. ‘H’ had received a letter ‘by today’s mail’. Like most of the foreign accounts this exaggerates the role of the dream. The assassin…..
… was said to be on his way to Edo to finish his education. It seems that this man had, while staying at Hakodati (sic) a dream in which he saw one of the kamis who prophesied evil to the Emperor through foreigners. The fanatical youth
thought it his duty to avenge the wrongs the kami had pointed out to him in his dream, but as he did not know where to find foreigners to sacrifice he went to a temple to ask the Gods to point out to him the right victim. It unfortunately happened …. poor Mr. Haber walked by quickly. The Japanese, to make sure of his victim being a foreigner, asked two women who were standing near if the man he saw was such, and on their replying in the affirmative, he tried to attract Mr. Haber’s attention by throwing his umbrella at him, but the latter, without noticing it, passed quickly on. The Japanese then … drew his sword and made a cut. His victim took alarm and fled through a house and garden and while climbing over a hedge was overtaken by his pursuer, who with his sword, hacked him literally into pieces…. The assassin, under threat of taking their lives, ordered some Japanese to throw water over the corpse of the victim; then the murderer went to a teahouse and there recounted his achievements with great complacency, after which he surrendered himself to the authorities.
The writer added his comments: Haber had fallen victim to the sword of a semi-lunatic or fanatic. This was a ‘melancholy example of the ease which the carrying of murderous weapons afforded the crazy or evil disposed to wreak their malevolent intentions.”
The comment shows little familiarity with the psychology of the disinherited samurai of that period.
After receiving approval from the authorities in Edo, sentence was pronounced on September 26th. Hidechika was stripped of his samurai status ….
It is an abominable deed, so shameful that according to the law against the taking the life of another person, the court declares that he be dispossessed of [his status as a member of] the soldier class and be beheaded.
While awaiting execution, was Hidechika ever informed about what was happening at the Imperial court at Edo? The German ambassador wrote:
The Japanese government were in a high state of agitation and sent Aoki, later Japanese ambassador in Berlin, to ask me what I demanded. My reply was “The punishment of the man according to law.” Soon thereafter Iwakura appeared and put to me the question what would be done in Europe in such a case. I replied that probably the head of state would summon the ambassador, express his regret
concerning the incident and request him to convey this expression to his government. An hour later I had an invitation for an audience with the Mikado and the affair proceeded as I had indicated.
A very formal exchange of courtesies is on record:
Emperor: We deeply sympathize with you and hope you will convey to your Emperor and government that we are deeply concerned and worried.
Ambassador: I shall immediately report your sacred words to the Emperor of Germany …. Regardless of this affair I hope our two countries will deepen our friendship still further.
It is perhaps ironic that the assassin believed he was protecting his emperor by slaying foreigners while the emperor and his advisers saw it so very differently.
The Japanese army, too, issued a statement to say that neither emperor nor army could tolerate such behaviour and demanded that provincial administrations exercise vigilance to prevent any repetition.
The Prime Minister, Sanjo Sanetomi sent similar messages to all prefectures denouncing “abominable deeds committed against foreigners” which offended against “the sacred promises of the Emperor and against the friendship with foreign governments.” He demanded that local officials keep themselves well informed.
A second circular from the Prime Minister announced that the death sentence had been passed:
In times before the penal reforms he would certainly have been gibbeted and exposed to the public, but today he will be beheaded according to the principles of criminal law.
Another prime ministerial edict followed shortly after. This said that the verdict was not to be announced until after the execution. Did the authorities fear stirrings of opposition?
If Haber had been a mere trader, it is unlikely that these high dignitaries would have become involved. After all, traders had very low status in traditional Japanese society. But Haber was a consul – even if confirmation from Berlin had not yet reached Edo. In Japanese eyes his status was that of a diplomat. One wonders whether such detailed records would have been kept and preserved if he had not had this rank.
Hidechika Tazaki was executed in the presence of the surviving foreign consuls in Hakodate – British, U.S. and Danish. His decapitation was badly botched. An eyewitness report was published in the Japan Daily Herald , an English-language paper which appeared at Yokohama. The details following are better skipped by the faint-hearted!
The prisoner was carried to the place of execution in a kago guarded by twelve policemen….. At one side sat the witnesses, consisting only of the three foreign consuls and several native officers…. In the middle was a trench about 6 inches deep and 3 feet in length. The murderer was brought in blind folded and made to kneel on a mat by the side of the trench. Two executioners stood by with their swords which were dipped in water. The first executioner advanced and struck, missing his aim and hitting below the neck; the body fell forward with the head in the trench, seeming to suffer much. A second blow was struck and then the assistant executioner advanced and delivered a heavy blow which, being unsuccessful, a fourth attempt to sever the head from the body was made but failed. One executioner then took the head by the hair and commenced to saw the head off with his sword in a most terrible fashion but was stopped by the chief officer. Water was thrown on the face in order to show the face to the witnesses, the head not being entirely severed, it was necessary to partially lift the body with it…. The time occupied by the decapitation was about two minutes.
Seppuku would have been less agonizing!
* A considerable sum at the time. A supply of rice to feed one person for one year cost 6.35 yen (Information from Dr. Takao Saijo).