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Komatsu Kiyoshi and French Indochina

Komatsu Kiyoshi et l’Indochine française
Vĩnh Sính
p. 57-86


De Komatsu Kiyoshi (1900-1962), on connaît surtout le travail concernant la littérature française – il est le principal traducteur des œuvres d’André Malraux en japonais –, mais son travail d’activiste en Indochine française pendant la Seconde guerre mondiale et ses relations proches avec de nombreux personnages de premier rang de la scène politique vietnamienne depuis le début des années 1920 et durant quatre décennies sont demeures mat connus. Cette étude tente d’offrir une image cohérente de l’implication en Indochine d’un rônin, une sorte d’activiste made in Japan. Elle décrit d’abord les années formatives de ce personnage fascinant à Kôbe, puis examine ses contacts avec les Indochinois de Paris dans les années 1920 et l’influence des oeuvres et de l’activisme de Malraux. Ensuite, elle tente de déchiffrer les raisons du désir de Komatsu de se rendre en Indochine et les activités auxquelles il y participa entre 1941 et 1946. En conclusion, le sens de son engagement en Indochine est évalué dans le contexte du Japon et du Vietnam modernes.

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1The term tairiku rônin (lit., “wanderers, or adventurers, on the Continent”) has come to be used to designate a group of Japanese civilians who were active on the East Asian mainland, especially in China, from the late nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War. “They were people who carried on activities as private individuals to consolidate Japan’s position in Asia, and aspired to contribute to the shaping and execution of Japan’s foreign policy.” Their goals, however, were not necessarily limited to furthering narrowly Japanese interests. Although “the activities of these enthusiasts were varied, there were those among them who possessed political ideals”—mostly of a pan-Asianist character—“that could be either aggressive or amicable” (Okabe 1993: 603). Notable among the idealist tairiku rônin was Miyazaki Toten (1871-1922), a close associate of Sun Yat-sen, who worked passionately for the cause of the Chinese Revolution of 1911.

  • 1 The Japanese at the time, Komatsu included, used the term “Futsuin” (an abbreviation of Futsuryil (...)
  • 2 It should be noted that though at the time French Indochina (in Vietnamese, Đông Phàp, an abbrevi (...)

2One such Japanese activist on the Asian mainland occupies a special position. He was Komatsu Kiyoshi (1900-1962), and I have come to believe that we may appropriately call him a Vietnamese version of a tairiku rônin—or perhaps, more accurately, a “French Indochina1 rônin,” as the territory of that is now Vietnam was part of France’s East Asian empire when Komatsu was there.2 Until now, Komatsu has been mainly known as a specialist in French literature—in particular, as the principal translator of Andre Malraux’ writings into Japanese—but his work as an activist in French Indochina during the Second World War and his close association with numerous significant figures in the Vietnamese political scene for four decades from the early 1920s have been largely neglected. This essay is thus an attempt to provide a coherent picture of Komatsu’s relationship with French Indochina.

3First, as background, I will look into the making of this fascinating French Indochina rônin, tracing his story back to his early years in Kôbe. I will then consider the connections that Komatsu had with the Indochinese in Paris, and his exposure to Andre Malraux’ writings and activism. This will be followed by a discussion of the reasons why Komatsu wanted to go to French Indochina and the activities that he was engaged in while he was there between 1941 and 1946. In the concluding part, I will present an assessment of the significance of Komatsu Kiyoshi’s engagement with French Indochina in the context of modern Japan and Vietnam.

The Making of an Adventurer (Rônin)

4Komatsu was born in 1900 in Kôbe, Hyôgo Prefecture. Although he was brought up in this city, Komatsu nonetheless felt a strong attachment to Awajishima—a small island of some 593 square kilometers southeast of Hyôgo in the Inland Sea, where Komatsu’s parents and ancestors had been living for generations—such that he would consider himself, like them, a “product of Awajishima.” The natives of Awajishima, according to Komatsu, were highly realistic, on the one hand, yet, strangely, were romantic people by nature, on the other. Among the “numerous men out of ordinary” born on this tiny island, Komatsu’s favorites were Takataya Kahee (1769-1827) and Iwano Hornet (1873-1920), because both these men dreamed of the northern sea and were daring men of action, risking their lives in order to fulfill their “beautiful and grand dreams” a thousand miles away. While Komatsu himself admitted that he would be longing for Awajishima to the last days of his life and would hope that his bones would be buried somewhere on the island, he seems to have nourished a romantic and adventurous dream of a life in a foreign land since his youth (Komatsu 1941: 1-2).

5After completing his primary school and advanced primary school (kôtô shôgakkô) in the old section of Hyôgo, Komatsu moved on to study at the Prefectural Commercial (Junior High) School located in the modern Kôbe city. The atmosphere in Kôbe was quite cosmopolitan. At the turn of the twentieth century, Kôbe was one of a few Japanese cities that boasted a large community of foreigners, whose presence was noticeable on the streets. During his first year at that school, Komatsu had an excellent native English teacher (a highly unusual fact for this level at the time), through whom he developed a serious interest in the English language. Thanks to this instructor and the private lessons that he took at the Kôbe YMCA, Komatsu was able to gain confidence in his spoken English. His progress in English must have been quite remarkable, judging from the fact that Komatsu was selected by his English teacher to play Shylock in Shakespear’s The Merchant of Venice in his second year and Iago in Othello in his third year. This is an early piece of evidence for Komatsu’s ability to respond to the fascination of foreign languages and cultures.

6Aoki Shigeo, the biographer of Kornatsu’s early career and also his close friend during the postwar years, notes that “although Komatsu received the strict education of the government schools from his early childhood, for some reason, he did not have much of the feeling of ‘revering the Emperor’ (tennô sûhai). A number of explanations are offered by this biographer: “Perhaps it was partly because Komatsu grew up breathing the liberal atmosphere of port cities like Hyogo and Kôbe, partly because he felt more or less bitter on account of the distress that he suffered from the examinations that followed one after another, from primary school to advanced primary school and junior high school. Or perhaps because he was so fascinated with the study of the English language, and in the process he adopted a cosmopolitan outlook. He even liked to speak quite often of ‘iconoclasm’ (guzô hakai), a new term which began to gain popularity among the public around that time. Then, out of a rebellious spirit, he would at times secretly wonder ‘What is the Emperor?’’ It is worth adding, however, that although, at first glance, Komatsu might appear to have been exceptionally radical, his radicalism was understandable in the context of the Taisho era in which he grew up, when there was a great call for democracy and individual rights.

  • 3 Materials about Komatsu’s early years are extremely limited; for the information used in this par (...)

7Once, in a regular class on “Principles of Sociology,” Komatsu and another student stood up and made a speech in defence of Kôtoku Shûsui (1871-1911), a radical socialist executed in 1911 on a charge of treason of which he was innocent. The instructor in charge is said to have been frightened, as discussion of such a subject in classrooms at this level was a taboo at the time. It is worth noting that Oyama Ikuo (1880-1955), long an active leader of the social and democratic movement in Japan, and Nosaka Sanzo (1892-1992), a leader of the Japanese Communist Party, had also been students of this Prefectural Commercial Junior High School (Komatsu 1954b: 7; Aoki 1959: 28-34).3

8Komatsu’s family had been, since before his birth, running a rice business, quite successfully until the 1910s, during which there were two incidents that inflicted severe damage upon the family’s financial condition. First, a plague of mice struck his parents’ store in 1913. Then, five years later, while his family’s finances and morale had not yet recovered from this incident, the Rice Riots took place (summer of 1918). As Kornatsu’s family was still one of the biggest rice dealers in the Kôbe area, his home became a target for the rioters, who broke in and took the last grain of rice that they found in the containers. The loss that his family suffered was irreparable.

9In the spring of 1919, Komatsu was admitted to the prestigious Prefectural Commercial Senior High School (now the University of Kôbe), in recognition of his linguistic gift, but by this time he had shifted his interest from commercial studies to literature. As a result, at the end of the first year, he failed his examinations. It was around this time that Komatsu began to write short stories and served as an editorial member of Ashiato (Footprints), a literary coterie magazine. It is believed that because of Kornatsu’s story “Hikari naki donzoko” (The Lower Depths Without Light), seen by the Security Police as too radical, Ashiato received a warning from the authorities and was discontinued shortly afterward. After some eighteen months at the Prefectural Commercial High School, Komatsu asked the Principal to permit him to leave the school, following a clash with his commercial accounting teacher, in which he declared to the class that “Commercial accounting is simply a tool for capitalist oppression!” (Komatsu 1954b: 45).

10Aspiring to become a social activist, Komatsu went to Tôkyô, where he joined the Kensetsusha Dômei (League of Builders), a student socialist organization at Waseda University. For a year, he lived in the same dormitory with people who later played important roles in the socialist movement in Japan, such as Asanuma Inejiro (1898-1960), General Secretary of the Japanese Socialist Party in postwar Japan.

11In Japan at the time, as surveillance over socialist organizations and individuals was strictly carried out by the authorities, Komatsu always had police after him whenever he returned to Kôbe. One day, when he was listening to a speech given by Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960), a well-known Christian social activist, at a meeting in Kôbe, and was about to take a defiant attitude toward Kagawa’s brand of socialism, Komatsu was arrested by the police and was hustled off to a police cell. He was released after a short while, but his father was greatly shocked when the news of his son’s arrest was publicly reported in a Kôbe newspaper (ibid.: 47-48).

12Returning to Tôkyô, Komatsu began to consider seriously the possibility of going to the United States or to Europe. Going to the West was, of course, a romantic dream commonly found among many Japanese youth, and it must have strongly appealed to Komatsu. In particular, Aoki suggests that Komatsu was also anxious to look for “a genuine brand of socialism” (ibid.: 48-49), something that was not to be sought for in Japan but only abroad. Komatsu was able to gain admission to the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago, and was granted a passport. But on the day of his departure by train from Tôkyô to Kôbe, we are told, those who saw him off at the Tôkyô station, carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, sang militant songs in a loud voice. As a result, Komatsu’s trip was cancelled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which saw a report of the incident in a newspaper, and considered it inappropriate to allow such a radical student as Komatsu to go to the United States. At last, through the help of his uncle, Komatsu managed to obtain permission from the authorities to go to study in France, as the monitoring of students wishing to go there was apparently far more relaxed (ibid.).

13Writing in his autumnal years for the column “Seishun no zangeroku” (Confessions of One’s Youth) of the Shûkan Yomiuri about the motives behind his journey to France, Komatsu seems to have downplayed the ideological aspect and simply recalled: “Often I have been asked about the purpose of my going there. There was no particular clear-cut aim. I simply wanted to go abroad so much – that is probably the closest answer. Undoubtedly, there might have been the attraction of democracy and socialism that began to appeal to the youth at the time, but I think what moved me much more strongly was the youthful spirit of romanticism. I thus jumped into the rushing stream from an intense desire to escape from Japan and single-handedly conduct an adventurous and dangerous life in a foreign land” (Komatsu 1958: 60).

Komatsu’s Encounters with the Vietnamese in Paris

14Komatsu arrived in Paris in September 1921. It is significant to note that within less than a month after his arrival, he met Nguyen Ai Qudc, the widely-known Vietnamese anti-colonial activist, who had come there from London in 1917. This meeting, Komatsu later recalled, marks the beginning of his “connections with Vietnam and the Vietnamese independence movement” (Komatsu 1950: 49). Different accounts of this intriguing encounter and the subsequent eighteen-month association between the two in Paris were provided by Komatsu at various times.

  • 4 One of the first politically independent composite journals in Vietnam, founded by the cultural r (...)
  • 5 For the most complete version of his association with Nguyễn Ái Quốc, see Komatsu’s semi-autobiog (...)

15The first such account was written as early as in 1944 when Komatsu was in Hanoi, as part of a non-fictional story entitled “Cuộc tái ngộ” (A Reunion), serialized in the Vietnamese weekly Trung Bắc Chủ Nật (Central and Northern Sunday)4 from June 1944 to early 1945. In this account, Komatsu refrained from mentioning Nguyễn Ái Quốc’s name explicitly, probably owing to his concern over his delicate position vis-à-vis the French and Japanese authorities in Hanoi at the time, both of which could have been alarmed at the mention of such a prominent Marxist figure. Nonetheless, the identity of Nguyễn Ái Quốc will be obvious to anyone who has read Komatsu’s other writings in Japanese on the same subject, published after his return to Japan in 1946 (see Komatsu 1950: 46-53; 1951: 3-4, 7).5 By putting together the information in these accounts, a sketch of the story of Komatsu’s encounter with Nguyễn Ái Quốc can be attempted.

16Their first meeting took place in late October 1921 at a public gathering held by the socialists and radicals at the Salle Wagram, near the Arc de Triomphe, on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrant workers who were to be sentenced to death by the Massachusetts High Court. Komatsu knew of this meeting through an appeal in L’Humanité, the organ of the French Communist Party, which he had subscribed to and read with a dictionary ever since his arrival in Paris. In the midst of the meeting, an Oriental man with prominent cheek bones and blazing eyes sitting behind him asked him, “Are you Chinese?” “I’m Japanese”, replied Komatsu. After the meeting, the two went to a nearby care and got to know each other. The man turned out to be Nguyễn Ái Quốc, an Annamese (as the Vietnamese were known then), who by that time had become committed to the communist cause, acting as a member of the Committee on Colonial Issues within the French Communist Party. After that evening, Komatsu and Nguyễn Ái Quốc met quite often. Nguyễn lived in Ménilmontant and made a living by doing photographic work. In his spare time, he wrote for L’Humanité on colonial questions, especially Indochinese affairs. Komatsu, living in Montparnasse, on the opposite side of Paris, was commuting to a foreign language school in the Quartier Latin to learn the basics of the French language. As his French was still inadequate at the time, Komatsu would use English to speak to Nguyễn on complicated subjects. When Nguyễn visited Komatsu at his attic room in Montparnasse for the first time, he gave Komatsu a collection of his articles in L’Humanité in pamphlet form.

17While Komatsu felt that his philosophy of life and his view of art greatly differed from those of Nguyễn Ái Quốc, the two were bound, according to Komstsu’s account, by “a strong friendship, which might have sprung from their impoverished life and loneliness” (Komatsu 1954a: 183). Komatsu saw himself at the age of twenty as a “typical romanticist,” and his ideas “were those of a communist;” nonetheless, his “brand of communism, when one probed into it a bit more carefully, had roots by and large originating from Tolstoy and not from Marx” (ibid.: 181-183). Komatsu said that he “wanted to write only for a minority group, i.e., the intellectuals;” in contrast, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, a devoted Marxist political activist, “would write for the majority” (Komatsu 1944a: No. 225, 17). The difference between Komatsu’s aspiration to become an artist and Nguyễn Ái Quốc’s to become a revolutionary has also been revealed in the widely-read biography of Hồ Chì Minh by Jean Lacouture (1968: 22-23). Lacouture gives an account of the last conversation that Komatsu had with Nguyen in November 1923 before the latter left Paris for Moscow: “Come to Moscow with me,” said the Vietnamese, “At last I’m to become acquainted with the birthplace of the Revolution.” The Japanese said he would rather devote himself to art and literature, and Paris suited him better for that purpose. “What kind of art can you practice in this rotten society?” retorted Ho. “We will make the revolution, and then you can write for the free men in a classless society!” (ibid.).

18The information in Vietnamese sources also adds to our knowledge of the association between Komatsu and Nguyễn Ái Quốc in Paris in the early 1920s. In Thới thanh niên của Bác Hố (Uncle Ho’s Youth), for example, Hồng Hà—an expert on Nguyễn Ái Quốc/ Hồ Chí Minh—wrote: “On March 14, 1923, Nguyen moved to stay in the office of the journal Le Paria (an anti-colonial journal published by Nguyễn and his colleagues in Paris in the early 1920s), carrying with him a single bed and a suitcase, which, when inspected, had only books. The process of monitoring Nguyễn in Paris was intensified when the Ministry of Colonies created a new agency to keep track of the Indochinese in France. Foreigners living in Paris, who corresponded or maintained direct contacts with Nguyễn, also became the subjects of investigation. Included in the list were a certain Russian student called Mikhail Petroff, the Indian patriot Alitaba Godor, the Irish patriots living on the third floor of 12 boulevard des Capucines, and the Japanese writer Komatsu Kiyoshi, who rented a room with the painter Sakamoto” (1994: 160). According to Komatsu, the renowned painter Sakamoto Hanjirô (1882-1969) had been on the same boat with him from Japan to Marseilles, and together with Sakamoto and another painter whom Komatsu simply identified as “I.,” he found an apartment at 18 rue Ernest Cresson, near Montparnasse cemetery (see Komatsu 1958: 60).

19While still living on the rue Cresson, Komatsu wrote a letter to Nguyễn Ái Quốc, asking him how to obtain a membership card in the French Communist Party. In this letter, Komatsu expressed a desire to go to the south of France—Cannes, Menton, or Nice—for his health. He proposed to earn his living as a worker. “I must learn by working,” he declared (in English). Komatsu felt that such an experience was essential for anyone responsible for building a new society like that of Russia (Komatsu to Nguyễn Ái Quốc, 19 November 1921, AOM, SPCE, c. 364).

20Another Vietnamese author, Thu Trang, in her study of Nguyễn Ái Quốc during his stay in Paris from 1917 to 1923, provides further information on the basis of the documents of the French Surete: “According to secret reports, during the first half of 1922, Nguyễn Ái Quốc received many letters from people from different parts of the world..., including one from a Japanese called Komats [sic]” (1991: 172). Komatsu’s own accounts indicate that by 1922 he had gone to work on a farm in southern France, so that his letter to Nguyễn would presumably have been written from there.

21Although he found his life philosophy ultimately incompatible with that of Nguyễn, Komatsu appears to have held high respect for Nguyen’s determined commitment and selfless dedication to the struggle against colonial rule in his country. It was in his attic room in Montparnasse that Komatsu heard from Nguyễn, for the first time, about Annam’s national independence movement. In his semi-autobiographical novel, Vetonamu no chi, Komatsu recalled that through “the anger and hatred that overflowed Nguyễn’s face,” something about that “unknown world” that he “had hitherto understood only conceptually, suddenly became so immediately convincing.” Nguyễn then said to him: “In order to maintain the splendor and the high culture of this Paris, what a sacrifice the peoples in the French colonies have to make! [...] As an Asian yourself, you should go to Indochina to see with your own eyes the conditions under which my compatriots have to live” (Komatsu 1954a: 184).

22In addition to Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Komatsu met in Paris another Vietnamese who likewise helped to shape his outlook on French Indochina. Nguyễn Giang (1910-1969) was the son of Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh, an eminent figure in the intellectual circles and a key person in the movement to popularize quổc ngữ (the romanized Vietnamese alphabet) in Vietnam from the 1910s to the mid-1930s. Like Komatsu, Nguyễn Giang’s first love was painting. He enrolled in the same painting school with Komatsu in Montparnasse when he first arrived in Paris in the late 1920s. Being heedful, however, of the advice of his father, Nguyễn Giang gave up his dream of becoming a painter to succeed to his father’s literary endeavor. Indeed, Nguyễn Giang later became a well-known literary figure on his own in Vietnam. He was a poet, a Literary critic, a publicist, and the translator of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Racine’s Andromaque, and Hugo’s and Baudelaire’s works into Vietnamese. Although Komatsu did not mention Nguyễn Giang’s name as often as he did Nguyen Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Nguyễn Giang would play a significant role as a mediator between Komatsu and Vietnamese culture when the two coincidentally met again some ten years later in Hanoi, as will be mentioned later.

Exposure to Andre Malraux’ Writings and his Activism

23While there is no doubt that, through his association in Paris with the Vietnamese, such as Nguyễn Ái Quốc and Nguyễn Giang, Komatsu gained some approximate ideas about the conditions in French Indochina and began to feel an attachment to its people, there were other factors that would eventually lead him to engage himself totally as an activist in French Indochinese affairs. One of these was certainly the notion of activism that he drew from Andre Malraux (1901-1976) and his writings.

  • 6 Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev (1878-1927), a Russian prose writer whose works were noted for thei (...)

24Komatsu heard of Malraux’ literary reputation for the first time when he was still working in his atelier at Saint-Cyr-Lapopie in southern France in the summer of 1929, but it was only in the following year, when he moved back to Paris, that he began to read Malraux’ Les conquérants (The Conquerors, 1928). The book was recommended and lent to him by a fellow apprentice painter. Finding it so refreshing, Komatsu read through the book in an overnight stretch (Hayashi 1994: 7-15). A few days later, he took time to read it again. He was deeply moved by the “active humanism” (humanisme de l’action) that he found in it, that was completely absent in the works of writers such as Nietzsche and Artsybashev,6 which he had been reading around that time. “Activism,” rendered by Komatsu into Japanese as kôdôshugi (abbreviated from kôdô no hyiûnenizutnu, i.e., “active humanism”), is quite vague, but by and large can be broadly defined as “the idea of engaging oneself in adventurous and bold actions against absurdity to re-establish human dignity, without being bound by any established ideologies.” It is interesting to note that, as an admirer of Iwano Hornei, a writer of the previous generation and also a native of Kôbe, Komatsu felt that the French “activism” literature had more in common with Hornei’s writings than with contemporary Japanese literary works (Aoki 1959: 80).

25Komatsu immediately jotted down his fresh impressions after reading Les conquérants and sent them to Malraux. A few days afterward, he visited Malraux, who was at the time Head of the Arts Division of the NRF (Nouvelle Revue Française), at his office; and as Komatsu later admitted, the meeting made a decisive impact upon his career. To Komatsu, Malraux was nothing short of a living model, demonstrating to him the possibility of combining the essential elements of a political activist and an artist at a high level, something Komatsu had always been striving for (ibid.: 79). It was from this time that Komatsu began to shift his interests from painting to writing as a career. In October 1931, soon after Komatsu returned to Japan after ten years of sojourn in France, Malraux arrived in Kôbe via Peking and Tientsin. Komatsu was the main host for Malraux’ visit and their friendship seems to have further consolidated afterward (see Photo 1).

Photo 1.

Photo 1.

From left: Clara, André Malraux, unknown person, and Komatsu in Kôbe during the Malraux’ visit to Japan in 1931 (André was then writing Man’s Fate)

  • 7 Komatsu translated La condition humaine (1933), Les conquérants (1934), and La voie royale (1936) (...)

26Following the success of Les conquérants, Malraux published La voie royale (The Royal Way, 1930), then La condition humaine (Man’s Fate, 1933) that won him the Prix Goncourt. According to Lacouture, the real model for the central character Kyo in La condition humaine was Komatsu, and not Chou En-lai as some would think – Komatsu Kiyoshi was known to his French friends as Kyo Komatsu; Lacouture 1975: 146). Through Malraux’ good offices, Komatsu became the Far Eastern Correspondent for the NRF. In this position, he could devote himself wholeheartedly to the task of introducing Malraux, Gide, and other French writers to Japanese readers, and in effect became the most outspoken advocate of activism in the Japanese literary circle.7 To the youth who were caught between rising ultra-nationalism and ideological Marxism, activism was indeed a viable alternative (Aoki 1959: 87).

27During 1936-1937, Japan was struck by a violent storm of militarism, with the attempted military coup by young army officers on February 26, 1936, and the outbreak of the total war between Japan and China on July 7, 1937. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Spanish Civil War had erupted, and Komatsu’s friend and mentor Malraux had immediately flown to Madrid to organize an international air squadron fighting against Franco. Komatsu wanted badly to join Malraux in Spain. “How could I possibly go on living in this cramped Nippon,” Komatsu later recalled his feelings at the time, “living in such an obscure and desperate fashion like this? […] I felt an urgent need to fight where it would be most worth the struggle and where I could use my abilities to their maximum. And this made my desire to journey to Spain even greater...” (Komatsu 1960: 118-119).

28In August 1937, Komatsu boarded a Japanese steamer and headed for France. Soon after his arrival in Paris, he met Malraux, who had just returned temporarily from Spain. Malraux promised to write for him a letter of introduction so that Komatsu could obtain a visa to proceed to Spain to join him. In late October, having seen Malraux off again to Spain, Komatsu called on Gide at the latter’s apartment. This was the first time that the two met, although Komatsu had published translations of Gide’s writings in Japan previously. Komatsu considered his meeting with Gide as “a sacred experience,” comparing his feelings on visiting Gide to those “of a pilgrim visiting a Holy Place” (ibid.: 127-128). While understanding well the viewpoints of both Malraux and Gide, along with their differences—Gide had made clear his anti-Stalinist stand, and Malraux, who tried “to add to the mission of the intelligentsia that of active leadership,” at the time was taken as “a supporter of Stalinism”—Komatsu’s own position was quite clear-cut. As he put it: “I can respect the view of both. I have ties of the heart with both” (ibid.: 127-139).

29As it turned out, Komatsu never made it to Spain. Even with a letter of recommendation from Malraux, who was responsible for the International Volunteer Air Force, the Spanish Republican authorities refused to grant Komatsu a visa. The reason for this refusal, given by an officer in the Spanish Embassy in Paris, was quite shocking to Komatsu: A faction in his government in Madrid would assume that “all Japanese are militarists and fascists” and supportive of Franco (ibid.: 142). Even after having been told so, Komatsu said that he made his antifascist position clear to the officer: “Well, let me say that I am deeply grateful for all your assistance thus far. And furthermore, this has not changed my support of the Spanish Republic. The only thing I would like to add is this: even if Japan should become totally fascist, all Japanese will not be fascists. And I shall keep myself an anti-fascist Japanese to the end...” (ibid.: 143).

30In April 1938, he left Paris for a three-week trip to Italy to see ancient works of art, ignoring the fact that the Mussolini regime was in power there. He went to visit museums in Florence, Rome, Milan, and Turin, and was profoundly impressed by what he saw. Like Malraux, Komatsu displayed extraordinary interest in art, [or he saw art as the highest form of action and believed that aesthetic ideas should form, along with activism, an essential part in man’s response to his destiny.

  • 8 Komatsu’s diaries were later published in one volume entitled Chinboku no senshi. Senji no Pari ( (...)

31Following the fall of Poland in September 1939, France, the country that Komatsu dearly loved and considered to be “his second homeland,” was soon under the onslaught of Nazism. He recounted that the thought of leaving France to return to Japan struck him many times, but his conscience did not allow him to do so, considering the cultural debt that he owed to this country and the friendship that he had with Malraux, Gide, and others. So Komatsu went on to stay in Paris, sending his daily diaries to Japan as correspondence.8 He eventually had to leave Paris in June 1940, when France fell to Nazi Germany.

Komatsu and French Indochina, 1941-1946

The Call of French Indochina

  • 9 The Takarazuka Girls Operetta Troupe in fact visited Vietnam in late 1941.

32The Japan that Komatsu found upon his return from France was under the sway of militarism. As freedom of speech was no longer respected, many of his former friends in Tôkyô had been arrested. He contemplated the possibility of leaving Japan again. Finally, he managed to take off for French Indochina in the spring of 1941, when he somehow succeeded in obtaining an assignment to canvass the possibility of sending the Takarazuka Girls Operetta Troupe on a tour around Vietnam.9 Komatsu apparently simply saw it as an opportunity for him to travel to Indochina and obtain first-hand information about this French colony. He seems to have had his own long-term agenda from the outset, judging from what he wrote upon his return to Japan from this initial trip.

  • 10 In China, Malraux met, it is believed, Mikhail Borodin who was the Russian advisor to Sun Yat-sen (...)

33To put things in perspective, there might have been three reasons why Komatsu wanted to go to Vietnam at this juncture and why he later felt committed to the fate of this country. Firstly, Malraux, Komatsu’s mentor, had gone to Indochina and China in the I 920s. In Saigon, Malraux organized the Young Annam League, which some believe to be the precursor of the Communist-led Yiệt Minh (Vietnam League of Independence), and founded a newspaper called L’Indochine enchaînée (Indochina in Chains).10 It is significant that what Malraux had previously done in Indochina during the 1920s seems to have been constantly in Komatsu’s mind later, during his sojourn there. Secondly, Komatsu had met and befriended the Vietnamese living in Paris, notably Nguyễn Ái Quốc and Nguyễn Giang, when he was there. Through this friendship, he must have gained some approximate ideas about the conditions in Vietnam and apparently, he had become interested in going there one day. And thirdly, the demand for Japanese who had proficiency in French increased along with the Japanese expansion in French Indochina. This is because even after Japan’s occupation of southern Indochina in July 1941, she maintained the policy of seihitsu hoji (maintaining tranquility), which in practice implied that the French governing system was to be retained as much as possible, even while Indochina was being integrated into the Daitôa Kyôeiken (Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere).

34As the attempt to make the Japanese language a lingua franca for all countries in the Co-Prosperity Sphere did not work in Vietnam, the Japanese authorities adopted French, however unwillingly, as the working language. As a result, those Japanese fluent in French were in great demand in Indochina. As Nasu Kunio, who was then working in the Japanese Embassy in Saigon, testified: “Indochina at the time resembled a catchment area for all the Japanese who spoke French. They might be working in the military or in the embassy; they might be important executives or part-time employees of private companies. To those who had some knowledge of French, Indochina was indeed heaven; they would have free access to food and alcohol, they could watch French movies, a bit outdated ones, and read French books, or just pass the time sitting on a terrace and having a friendly chat with Frenchmen whom they knew through their works. The atmosphere was as if it were peacetime” (Nasu 1963: 42).

35Komatsu had spent fourteen years altogether in France (ten years from 1921 to 1931, and about four years from 193 7 to 1 940). Not only fluent in French, Komatsu was thoroughly at home in French culture. With this background, he would not have had much difficulty in dealing with the French in Indochina, as well as with the Vietnamese elites, who were also educated in French. At the same time, as a citizen of Japan, he represented the country that was gaining the actual power in French Indochina. Thus, he seems to have concluded that French Indochina was precisely the stage waiting for him to act on.

Vision of a Vietnam within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

  • 11 A term used by Admiral Decoux, Governor-General of French Indochina at the time (see Thompson 194 (...)

36In Futsuin e no michi (The Path to French Indochina), published in December 1941, i.e., a few months after his return to Japan from his first trip to Vietnam, Komatsu wrote not only about what he had observed during his trip, but also about what should be done by Japan. It should be kept in mind that by the time Komatsu was traveling in French Indochina (April-June 1941), the region had been declared by Japan’s Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke to be a part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (August 1940; the phrase had been coined by Matsuoka himself), and a military accord between Tôkyô and the Vichy government had been concluded (September 1940), allowing Japan to station troops in Tonkin. A few days after the conclusion of the Tôkyô-Vichy accord, Japan entered into a military alliance with Germany and Italy. Matsuoka, a forceful advocate of this Tripartite Pact, hoped that the Pact would serve to further weaken Britain and to isolate the United States more than ever while Japan moved south. Matsuoka was also the key person behind Japan’s “forced arbitration”11 in the Thai border dispute with Cambodia and Laos, that provided Japan with an initial opportunity to gain a military foothold in Cochinchina (southern Vietnam).

  • 12 The other “hero” was Li Kil Ran (her real name was Yamaguchi Yoshiko), a singer who sang Greater (...)

37In a marked departure from his previous liberal kôdôshugi stand, Komatsu singled out in Futsuin e no michi the erratic Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke as one of the “two heroes of modern Japan.”12 He wrote:

[In Vietnam] in the eyes of the patriots and the intelligentsia, Matsuoka-san was a prophet of the emancipation of East Asia and the hero who holds its banner. I was asked by them time and again about his background. When I told them that Matsuoka-san came from a common background, studied in the United States under difficult conditions to obtain a university degree, and so on, their eyes would beam in admiration” (Komatsu 1941: 94-96).

38There is no doubt that Komatsu shared the admiration he described. Matsuoka’s credentials as a self-made man and his strokes of policy on the international scene might well have made him represent for Komatsu an ideal “man of action.”

  • 13 Abe-no-Nakarnaro, a renowned ancient literary figure, was sent by the Nara court to China to stud (...)

39It is important to note that, in Futsuin e no michi, Komatsu showed that he was now willing to collaborate in Japan’s war effort as an active participant. Feeling inseparably attached to this French colony in East Asia, Komatsu imagined that he would be a modern version of Abe-no-Nakarnaro (A.D. 698-770), linked with the Vietnamese people by a flesh-and-blood destiny (ibid.: 2).13 Komatsu seems to have been moved both by national pride and the belief in Japan’s promise to emancipate East Asia (Tôa kaihô)—particularly during 1941-1942, when Japan’s military prospects seemed glorious. No less important, he was impelled by his very temperament to seek an active part on the French Indochina stage. As Nasu Kunio, one of his wartime acquaintances, has aptly remarked: “What Komatsu most gloried in was his self in action. Like Malraux’ central characters who saw the Chinese Revolution as simply a situation that fuelled the impulse of their existence, so also to Komatsu the war was no more than a situation that provided him with the opportunity to grapple with the Vietnamese issue, an issue with which he had been preoccupied for some time” (Nasu 1963: 44).

40For this reason, while displaying genuine concern for Vietnam’s problems under French rule and presenting a most perceptive interpretation of her culture, Komatsu seems to have regarded Vietnam as essentially a part of Japan’s Greater East Asia. His concept of an independent Vietnam in Futsuin e no michi, and in his other wartime writings for that matter, was a Vietnam independent from French (i.e., Western) colonial power, but comprised within the framework of the Toa Kyoeiken (East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) under Japan’s leadership.

41What made Komatsu’s vision of the Tôa Kyôeiken unique was that he seems to have had the utmost sympathy for the Indochinese living under colonial rule, and he retained this sympathy throughout the war years. At the same time, while opposing colonial rule in Vietnam, Komatsu displayed no enmity toward France and the French. The sentiments toward France and Vietnam expressed by Wada Noboru, a character in Komatsu’s semi-autobiographical novel, Vetonamu no chi (The Blood of Vietnam; 1954), modeled after Komatsu himself, seems to have reflected those of the author: “France is my second home. Spiritually speaking, France is indeed my birthplace. My indebtedness to France is incalculable. For Vietnam, my tender sentiments are as if it were my native land. I have never become so strongly attached to a country as such” (1954a: 335-336).

42Futsuin e no michi reads in parts like a suggested plan for integrating French Indochina into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In Komatsu’s view, Indochina was Japan’s vital line of defense (seimeisen) in the south (Komatsu 1941: 139). He was evidently disappointed with the way French Indochina was treated in the Japanese newspapers and magazines. In his opinion, everyone in Japan was talking about the need to exploit natural resources and expand Japanese industries, and was highly critical of the French colonial rule in Indochina, but rarely would anyone say anything about what Japan was supposed to do for the Indochinese people.

43Komatsu maintained that, although the French had had to conclude a military alliance with Japan for the defense of Indochina in their own interest, the Japanese hitherto had “catered too much to the desires of the French,” and there were occasions on which they “displayed too much sympathy for French feelings and sentiments.” “In terms of the real power and responsibility for defense” in Indochina, Komatsu argued, “Japan clearly occupies the leading position. Japan should make her military and cultural leadership obvious” (ibid.: 4-13).

Translation of The Tale of Kiếu

  • 14 The most influential figure behind this language and culture reform movement was Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh (...)
  • 15 More popularly known in the present-day Vietnam as Truyện Kiếu.

44Culture was Komatsu’s chosen sphere of activity, and he presented himself as an expert on bunka kôsaku (cultural operation) in French Indochina. In his opinion, following Japan’s military expansion in Indochina, bunka kôsaku would be all the more important because Japan ought to bring in something to substitute for, for example, the British and American plays, films, and propaganda pictures (ibid.: 240). According to him, many in Japan knew of Indochina simply through French books and were not aware of the fact that a new consciousness had begun to emerge among the young Vietnamese, and that there was a whole new movement of Annam nouveau (New Vietnam) in search for a new identity in this French colony (ibid.: 148).14 In carrying out bunka kôsaku overseas, in Komatsu’s view, the first thing that one should know was the technique of grasping “the inner workings of the psychology of the other people.” To him, “the key to the puzzle of Vietnam” and her culture is to be found in The Tale of Kiếu (Kim Van Kieu),15 a poem of more than 3,000 verses written in the early years of the nineteenth century, depicting the life of a beautiful and talented lady named Kiếu, who was helpless in the face of her tragic fate.

45Komatsu described his excitement when he first read The Tale of Kiếu in a French translation:

It was with extraordinary passion and emotion that I read, as in a dream, each line of this love poem. I was captivated by the unfolding of its eventful story and by its highly-flavored dramatic atmosphere. I was almost intoxicated by the beauty of its elegant expressions. If even in its French translation it held such fascination for me, what would it do, I wondered, if I read it in the original? (ibid.: 160.)

46But in addition to bringing him under its spell by its poetic qualities, The Tale of Kiếu also appealed to Komatsu’s intellectual curiosity. He explained: “In this work, what might be called a panorama of the ways of thinking, the sentimental and social life of the Vietnamese people is superbly depicted” (ibid.: 160-161). “For travelers,” he declared, “this tale would be far more useful than the travel accounts of French Indochina, which read like superficial guide books for tourist bureaus” (ibid.: 162).

  • 16 His translation was published in October 1942 (see Komatsu 1942). The second Japanese translation (...)

47As a man of action, what struck Komatsu most was the acceptance of fate seen in Kim Van Kiếu as well as among the Vietnamese at large. He also observed, not without reason, that the influence of The Tale of Kiếu among the Vietnamese was so great that even in those who had been educated overseas, its imprint was still conspicuous. Komatsu maintained that the translation of The Tale of Kiếu into Japanese would be as difficult a task as the translation of Shakespeare, or Dante, or Racine, but such a translation would be a “concrete expression of love and respect for the Vietnamese” (ibid.: 163). In fact it was nobody else but Komatsu who carried out the first translation of The Tale of Kiếu into Japanese. That it took Komatsu only six months to complete his Japanese translation should be considered remarkable and a reflection of his determination to rise to the challenge, in spite of the fact that Komatsu’s translation was in prose, not in verse like the original. It was to “Matsuoka Yosuke-sensel” that he dedicated his translation.16

48While in Hanoi, Komatsu coincidentally met Nguyễn Giang again after some ten years of separation since they had last seen each other in Paris in 1931, and it was Nguyen who took care to introduce Komatsu to a group of energetic and reform-minded Vietnamese writers, critics, journalists, and artists working around Annam nouveau. It was also Nguyen who introduced The Tale of Kiếu to Komatsu as a clue to Vietnamese culture. In fact, the Japanese translation of The Tale of Kiếu by Komatsu was mainly based upon the French translation by Nguyễn Giang’s father, Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh, who was a principal drive behind the Annam nouveau movement. Nguyễn Giang remained one of Komatsu’s closest associates for the entire period of his sojourn in Indochina from 1943 to 1946.

49Ironically, on December 8, 1941, a few days before Futsuin e no michi was published, Komatsu had been arrested by the local police authorities in Tôkyô as a “dangerous person” on three counts: as “a liberal” (jiyushugisha) behind the Popular Front, a propaganda man for the Spanish Republic during 1936-1937, and a translator and friend of Malraux (see Komatsu’s letter to Malraux, n.d.; Hayashi 1993: 256). In prison, Komatsu said, he carved the sentence “One day I shall go South!” with his nails on the wall of his solitary cell. At times, he even wished to be drafted as a member of the press corps of the army. With his friends’ help, he was finally released on suspension of indictment after four months of imprisonment. During the twelve-month period after his release until his departure for French Indochina in April 1943, Komatsu completed his translation of The Tale of Kiếu, which was published in July 1942, and seems to have spent a great deal of time on work related to French Indochina.

Komatsu and Marquis Cướng Để

  • 17 For a study of the Dong Du Movement, see Vĩnh Sính 1988 and Phan Bội Châu 1999.

50Soon after his return to Japan from Marquis Cướng Để om his first trip to French Indochina in the summer of 1941, Komatsu approached Marquis Cướng Để (1882-1951; see Photo 2). Marquis Cướng Để was the nominal leader of the Đông Du (Go East) movement that had brought Vietnamese youth to Japan to study from 1905 to 1909, while conspiring against French rule in Vietnam.17 Under pressure from the French government in Indochina, Japanese authorities dissolved the Dong Du movement, and as a result Cướng Để and others moved on to south China to conduct their anti-colonial activities from there. In 1915, however, Cướng Để returned to Tôkyô, where he received regular subsidy from Inukai Tsuyoshi (1855-1932), a major figure in Japanese politics, who entertained pan-Asian ideals until his assassination in 1932. After Inukai’s death, Cướng Để continued to receive support from Japanese pan-Asianists, most notably General Matsui lwane of the Dai-Ajia Kyokai (Greater Asia Society), the ultra-nationalist Toyama Mitsuru, and the radical nationalist ideologue Ôkawa Shurnei (Komatsu 1955: 212). Acting as Cướng Để’s deputy in Saigon was the businessman Matsushita Mitsuhiro, director of the Dainan Koshi (Đại Nam Công Ty), who established contacts with pro-Japanese intellectuals and subsidized their activities.

Photo 2.

Photo 2.

From left: Komatsu, Marquis Cướng Để, Ngô Dình Thúc (Ngô Đình Diệm’s elder brother), and Ngô Đình Diệm in Tôkyô, August 1950.

51Together with Tashiro Shigenori (later to become Japan’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to French Indochina in November 1942) and Mizushima Haruo (a sympathizer of the pro-Japanese Phục Quổc party that carried out the abortive Lạng Sơn uprising against the French in September 1940), Komatsu organized an association in support of Cướng Để’s cause. In September 1944, General Matsui even made an extra effort to travel to Saigon to lay down a plan for Cướng Để’s accession to the throne in place of Bảo Đại following a Japanese military coup. After the actual coup on March 9, 1945, which practically immobilized all French armed forces in Indochina, it was widely touted that Cướng Để would make a triumphant return to Vietnam to replace Bảo Đại on the throne.

52The idea, however, was strongly opposed by Lt. General Tsuchihashi Yuitsu, who was actually commanding the coup in March 1945. Twice before the coup, when the Imperial Headquarters in Tôkyô asked Tsuchihashi to receive Cướng Để in Saigon, Tsuchihashi had flatly rejected the proposal, replying that if Cướng Để were to return to Saigon, he would send him directly to Poulo Condore prison. Tsuchihashi said that he had no special attachment to Bảo Đại, but his principle was not to interfere in Vietnam’s domestic affairs; so, “even if Bảo Đại were an worthless emperor, his fate should be decided by a formal institution in Vietnam, such as her national assembly,” and he “did not wish to see him to be dethroned by Japan” (Tsuchihashi 1980: 528-530).

53According to Tsuchihashi, “feeling sorry for Cướng Để, who had lived forty years in exile,” and for the Japanese who had been supporting him, after the coup, he had an audience with Emperor Bao Dai to see if the latter would be prepared to welcome Cướng Để in Hua. Bảo Đại said that he would be ready to offer Cướng Để the title of Grand Duke (Dai Cong) and appoint him President of the Privy Council (Cơ Mật Viện), Apparently, Cướng Để was agreeable to the terms, as Tsuchihashi would soon receive a telegram from Tôkyô indicating that Cướng Để was to return to Vietnam at the beginning of August. A farewell reception for Cướng Để was held in late July at the Imperial Hotel in Tôkyô, but Cướng Để would never make it to Vietnam (ibid.: 531-532).

  • 18 Until the coup on March 9, 1945, Indochina was the only region in Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Pr (...)

54Until Japan’s defeat on August 15, it is said that, every day, Cướng Để went to Haneda airport, waiting for a military plane from Saigon that never came. “Was that because the Japanese government would be hindered in its anticipated acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, if it allowed Cướng Để to return to Vietnam at that time?” For Komatsu, this remained a puzzle. Nonetheless, in his opinion, at the time of the coup of March 9, what “led the Japanese military to let Bao Dai declare Vietnam’s independence was not justice (taigi meibun)—i.e., the recognition of the independence of the only people who were still being oppressed in the entire East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere18—but rather the consequence of military expediency based on tactical considerations on the Japanese part,” in face of a possible landing by US forces in Indochina and increasing reluctance on the part of the French authorities in Indochina to cooperate with the Japanese. Therefore, in the eyes of those who had fought for independence, Komatsu maintained, the retention of Bảo Đại on the throne and the formation of a cabinet “which consisted, with the exception of Prime Minister Trần Trọng Kim, only of those who have been either pro-French or French collaborators, and none of whom has been in the independence movement,” were evidence that the promised independence of Vietnam existed only on paper (Komatsu 1955: 236-242).

55In retrospect, from the moment Komatsu pledged his support for Marquis Cướng Để, his vision of a Vietnam independent from French rule was of a country under Cướng Để’s leadership and a part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. This vision laid down, in practice, the direction of Kornatsu’s activities as a “French Indochina rônin,” Komatsu remained a loyal and strong supporter of Cướng Để until the latter died in obscurity in Tôkyô in 1951. It should be added that Komatsu was quite forthright about Cướng Để’s weaknesses, as well as about their mutual relationship, which, in his words, was “one linked by the passion for Vietnam’s independence, i.e., a political passion, rather than one connected by human sentiments, or intellectual appeal” (ibid.: 28-29). Komatsu later provided an account, at times with some fictional elements, of his ten-year association with Cướng Để in Vetonamu (Vietnam), published in 1955, a few years after Cướng Để’s death. According to him, this book was written to serve three purposes: first, as a testimony of his “fateful connection” with Vietnam during her most critical period, and of his “participation in the independence movement in this country for a number of years;” secondly, as a memorial to Marquis Cướng Để; and thirdly, as a truthful record of “the historical link” between Japan and the national independence movement in Vietnam, with both Japan’s “breach of trust” (hai’nin) and her contribution (kiyo) (ibid.: 259-260).

56The passage in this book that discusses the role of the Japanese who assisted Sun Yat-sen of China, Aguinaldo of the Philippines, and other Asian revolutionaries in their nationalist movements reads very much like Komatsu’s defense of his “activism” and his “pan-Asian” internationalism (a term used by Benedict R. O’G. Anderson, see Anderson 1961) in assisting Cướng Để’s cause:

  • 19 Chì sĩ in Vietnamese. It is not clear why Komatsu seems to have considered this term “disrespectf (...)

What attracts our attention is that these Japanese at great personal risk helped the nationalist movements in various Asian countries. Many people nowadays would refer to these men, disrespectfully, as tsiriku ronin (adventurers on the continent), or shishi (men of high spirit), 19or by some rightist names. But what drew them to the Asian nationalist movement should be called their sympathy, as fellow Asians, for national independence and their solidarity for their fellows who were resisting Western imperialist and capitalist encroachment. What moved them to act was an Asian patriotism, not an intention to be the spearhead of Japanese imperialism as a substitute for Western hegemony. They were probably romantic characters, but certainly not the henchmen of the Japanese militarism that would later badly affect Japan [...]. They might have been men who possessed the naivety and the dreams of the shishi, but they would have had nothing in common with the dishonest and calculating mind of a place-hunter. (Komatsu 1955: 79.)

A Rônin in Action, 1943-1946

  • 20 The Japanese Cultural Center was controlled directly by the Ministry of Greater East Asia (Daitoa (...)

57Komatsu returned to Vietnam (Saigon) in April 1943 as “a private adviser” to Minister Tashiro Shigenori. During his eventful sojourn in Vietnam, Komatsu seems to have avoided taking any official position. When Tashiro was transferred to Hanoi as Head of the Hanoi Office of the Japanese Embassy (June 1944), Komatsu also moved his base to Hanoi where he soon assumed the title of “adviser” to the Japanese Cultural Center (Nippon Bunka Kaikan).20 Apparently, he preferred this kind of informal position, as it was not only fitting to his “anti-establishment” nature and “mob psychology” (Nasu 1963: 43-44), but it would also give him more freedom in his activities (see Photo 3).

Photo 3. Portrait of Komatsu Kiyoshi by himself, late 1940s

Photo 3. Portrait of Komatsu Kiyoshi by himself, late 1940s

58It is worth noting that the Head of the Center was Minister Yokoyama Masayuki (also known as Ambassador Jean-Marie Yokoyama), a veteran diplomat who later would act as Supreme Adviser to Bảo Đại after the March 9, 1945, coup, while the person who ran the actual business of the Center was its General Secretary Ômiya Komaki (1894-1965), a Sorbonne-educated and socialist-minded labor law specialist, a writer and critic of French literature. Ômiya had become a well-known figure in the literary circle in Japan and a founder of a movement called Tanemaku Hito (Men Who Sow), before being recruited by the Compagnie lndochinoise de Commerce et d’Industrie (CICE) to go to Hanoi in 1937.

  • 21 Yokoyama was a senior of Ômiya during their junior high school days (Komaki 1965: 162).

59Komatsu and Ômiya had known each other when both took part in the “activism” literature movement in Tôkyô in the mid- I 930s. They met again during Komatsu’s first visit to Vietnam in 1941. Like Komatsu, Ômiya was very at home with French culture; he had gone to France to study when he was sixteen and only returned to Japan ten years later. The French that Ômiya spoke, according to Komatsu, was “a uniquely tasteful blend of academic fluency and Montmartre slang” (Komatsu 1954a: 132-133), making a sharp contrast with the French with a Corsican accent spoken by many French residents in Indochina at the time. While there were fascinating parallels in their backgrounds and both men seem to have had genuine and intelligent interest in Vietnamese independence, their temperaments were quite contrasting: Komatsu, passionate and fiery like “a high wave of a raging sea,” Ômiya, more low-keyed, “burying himself under the sea in his friendship with others” (Nasu 1963: 47). Despite these differences, their association went on after their repatriation to Japan. Working together at the Cultural Center, they apparently had the tacit blessing of Minister Yokoyama for their association with local Vietnamese intellectuals and political activists. Yokoyama stayed mostly in Saigon and, as a career diplomat, was discouraged from having any overt connections with the Vietnamese engaged in anti-colonial activities.21

  • 22 Better known by their pen names, Nhất Linh and Khái Hưng, respectively. Information on these writ (...)
  • 23 Information on the association between Komatsu and Ômiya, the differences in their temperaments, (...)
  • 24 Ômiya’s friendship with Nhu and his wife continued well into the postwar period.

60Although having many acquaintances, Ômiya maintained a low profile. He recalled that he began to take an interest in the question of Vietnamese independence only after he met Nguyễn Tường Tam and Khái Húng,22 the writers who founded the weekly magazine Ngày nay (Today). “I found the Konnichisha (a Japanese translation for Ngày nay) literary movement was just like [our] Tanemaku Hito movement,” wrote Ômiya, “so I immediately felt close to them” (see Komaki 1965: 156). Ômiya showed sincere interest in activities related to the education and welfare of local Vietnamese, and came to be affectionately known to them as “Père Ômiya.”23 Trần Trọng Kim, who later became Prime Minister in the short-lived cabinet after the Japanese coup, was one of Ômiya’s friends; and according to Ômiya, the man was “not well liked” by those in the Japanese military circle (Komaki 1965: 164). So far as Ngô Đình Diệm was concerned, Ômiya first met him in 1941; he probably made the acquaintance of Diệm’s younger brother Ngô Đình Nhu before that. In reading Ômiya’s autobiography and other writings related to his period in Indochina, one has the impression that he was somewhat closer to Nhu than to Diệm. It was “on Nhu’s suggestion” that, prior to his repatriation to Japan in May 1946, he donated all the materials in the collection of the Japanese Cultural Center to the École française d’Extrême-Orient (ibid.: 200).24 Among the Japanese residents in Hanoi, Ômiya’s acquaintances appear to have been confined mainly to the economic, diplomatic, and intellectual circles, although at times he was drafted by the military as their interpreter.

  • 25 Komatsu mentioned their names now and then in his writings during the postwar period (see, e.g., (...)

61While Ômiya, as well as Komatsu, had an unusually large number of acquaintances across the French, Japanese, and Vietnamese communities, Komatsu appears to have been more energetic in establishing contacts with people, especially those in the Japanese military. Lt. General Mikuni Naotomi, commander of the 21st Division, who arrived in Vietnam in 1943, held Komatsu in high respect, and after the Japanese takeover, they would meet almost nightly to discuss the course of events in the aftermath of the coup (see Nitz 1984: 123-124). Volunteering as Komatsu’s bodyguards was a group of regular Japanese sailors responsible for the military transportation between Hainan lsland and the port of Haiphong—Komatsu nicknamed them “kaizoku”, i.e., pirates—who would travel to Hanoi when they were off duty. They looked to Komatsu as their mentor. Among the Japanese diplomats in Vietnam, Komatsu’s closest ally was unquestionably Minister Tashiro, but he seems to have been also in good terms with a number of other diplomats, who more or less shared his pan-Asian ideals, including Consul General Minoda, Consul Miwa, and Vice Consul Iida in Saigon.25

  • 26 According to Nasu Kunio, Komatsu was introduced to Ngô Dình Diệm by “a veteran member of the cler (...)
  • 27 Mart’s information was based upon his interview with Hồ Hữu Tường in Saigon on March 3, 1967.

62So far as Komatsu’s Vietnamese acquaintances were concerned, understandably, his greatest affinity was with those belonging to pro-Japanese nationalist groups (i.e., those against French colonial rule but non-Communist), most notably the Đại Việt and the Phục Quổc, and individuals such as Ngô Đình Diệm.26 But Komatsu was never one to follow a conventional course of action: He also associated himself with non-partisan figures such as Hoàng Xuân Hãn, and even outright leftwing Vietnamese who had serious doubts about the vision of an independent Vietnam within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Among these last was Tạ Thu Thâu, a leading Trotskyist during the 1930s in Cochinchina. Some time after the Japanese military takeover, Komatsu traveled with Thâu to Hanoi, it is said, and discussed with him the possibility of forming “an anti-French national united front,” should Tôkyô surrender to the Allies, and in that event he expressed hopes that “some Japanese like himself could take Vietnamese citizenship and participate in resistance to French re-colonization” (Marr 1995: 136-13 7).27

63Most significantly, Komatsu recalled on numerous occasions that his “closest friends” in wartime Indochina were two leading members of the Communist-led resistance in Cochinchina. One of those was Dr. Phạm Ngọc Thạch, a man of great ability and sophistication who at the time was not yet known to be a member of the Indochinese Communist Party. Komatsu seems to have enjoyed immensely the mutual friendship and trust that he had with Thạch, who treated him “like a brother” (Komatsu 1954a: 19). Thạch was the type of friend with whom Komatsu felt that he could open his heart and talk. This bond of trust seems to have been founded on a meeting of personalities and intellectual sophistication, something lacking in his association with Marquis Cướng Để and many others. In the new Hồ Chì Minh government, Thạch was Minister of Health and adviser to Ho on foreign affairs. In turn, his bond of trust with Komatsu could have contributed to Thạch’s excellent relations with Komatsu’s political allies in Saigon, such as Minoda Fujio, who was promoted to Governor of Cochinchina after the March coup, and Iida, delegated by Minoda to develop the paramilitary Vanguard Youth (Thanh Niên Tiền Phong) to counter Maurice Ducoroy’s Youth and Sports Movement. The Vanguard Youth was soon placed under Phạm Ngọc Thạch’s leadership, and was instantly transformed into a vigorous regular army. All this, according to Komatsu, was thanks to Thạch’s “superb organizational power,” his “training,” and his “spirit” (ibid.: 136-13 7). Following Japan’s surrender, the fact that the Japanese authorities in Saigon, which had been the headquarters of the Japanese Southern Army, agreed to hand over power and arms peacefully to native authorities, without bloodshed, was indeed remarkable. The role that Thạch and his associates, and indirectly Komatsu, played in it has not hitherto been sufficiently appreciated.

64It is difficult to provide a fully-documented account of Komatsu’s activities in Vietnam from 1943 to 1946. His story cannot be found anywhere in the archival files in France, Japan, and Vietnam that I have attempted to go through. As a result, the only recourse left is to rely mainly on his writings—including some occasional pieces that he published in Vietnamese magazines during the wartime, and on the reports that he wrote for Japanese newspapers and magazines during the postwar years—and to check these documents against what has been written about him by others. Patching such sporadic information together, one can relate just a few anecdotes that may help to reveal the range of Komatsu’s versatile activities in Vietnam.

  • 28 “Cuộc tái ngộ” was later published by Trung Băc Tân Văn in book form.

65In the cultural sphere, as a foreign resident in Vietnam, Komatsu seems to have been quite ingenious in making use of the Vietnamese-language media. In Trung Bắc Chủ Nhật, originally founded by Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh in 1915, he published his non-fictional story “Cuộc tái ngộ” (A Reunion), which was serialized from June 1944 to early 1945. This piece was translated from the French into Vietnamese by Giang Nguyễn, presumably none other than Nguyễn Giang, the friend that he had had since his days in Paris. Part of the story deals with Komatsu’s encounter with Nguyen Ài Quoc, who, as mentioned previously, here remained anonymous. The story also contains intriguing observations on the differences in the relationship between the individual and the state in Japan and Vietnam.28

66In the spring 1944 issue of Tân Á (New Asia), a journal founded in October 1942 by the Japanese Information Center in Saigon for the promotion of Japan’s Greater East Asia, Komatsu contributed an article in which he reiterated his view that The Tale of Kiếu was a mirror of the Vietnamese mind, for both its qualities and its limitations. Komatsu’s article prompted a response from a reader signing himself T.S., who argued that “Whoever says that The Tale of Kiếu reflects the mind of the Vietnamese, that person has not yet understood this people.” One might have hoped that a lively discussion on The Tale of Kiếu would follow, but T.S.’ argument amounted to little beyond an expression of his patriotic emotions (see Komatsu 1944b, T.S. 1944).

67In the December 8, 1943, issue that “commemorated the second anniversary of the Greater East Asia War,” Komatsu contributed a two-page poem entitled “The Song of Greater East Asia.” In this poem, he called upon the peoples of East Asia “to throw away the degrading blanket [undoubtedly a metaphor for ‘colonial rule’] by which they have been covered for so long” in order to follow the call of the children of the Yamato race and sing in a loud voice: “Asia is ours! Asia is ours! All of Asia is one Great Asia!” (Komatsu 1943: 14-15).

68On a more direct form of action, on the evening of March 9, 1945, Komatsu led a group of Vietnamese and his kaizoku in an attack on the French guards at the Hanoi prison and freed all Vietnamese political prisoners (see Nasu 1963: 48; Oshima 1962). General Mikuni is said to have “highly praised Komatsu’s attempt to isolate the Vietnamese soldiers of the French Indochinese Army from the French officers” (Mikuni 1965, cited in Nitz 1984: 127). For what Komatsu had done to the French authorities that evening, following Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, he had to go into hiding in Hanoi lest the French should arrest him. Then, receiving word that Phạm Ngọc Thạch was among the leaders of the provisional government in Saigon, he led a “caravan” of one truck and several passenger cars carrying some thirty Đại Việt members, whom Komatsu felt obliged to protect from the Việt Minh, and headed for Saigon. Before leaving Hanoi, Komatsu convinced General Mikuni, a “respectable military man,” to “avoid fighting against the Việt Minh in any way” (Komatsu 1954a: 16-19). Once the safety of his nationalist associates had been secured in Saigon, Komatsu went back to Hanoi with his driver.

  • 29 In Ômiya’s and Komatsu’s accounts, this Frenchman of White Russian origin was identified as Solov (...)
  • 30 Author of Duel Rouge (1977). Missoffe was the French Ambassador to Japan in the mid- 1960s.

69In the meantime, Omiya had been released from a Chinese (Nationalist Party) detention camp through the mediation of one of his close French friends.29 He was then asked by Francois Missoffe,30 a Navy captain working for Commissioner Jean Sainteny, to help him in his negotiations toward an accord in Indochina. According to Ômiya, both the French and Vietnamese sides were anxious to reach a peace settlement, so that the Chinese, who came to disarm the Japanese in the North, would have no choice but withdraw their troops. Missoffe explained to Ômiya that “the French were in the process of negotiating with the Vietnamese side, which in actuality is not a single unit but consists of Hồ Chì Minh’s Việt Minh, the Việt Nam Quổ’c Dân Dảng, and the Đai Việt [...] and it is difficult to bring about a settlement through the negotiations.”

  • 31 Komatsu gave a detailed description of this dangerous situation in his Vetonamu no chi.

70When asked about what the French were going to do with Komatsu, Missoffe said: “I know that Komatsu has had frequent contacts with the [Japanese] military, but he is quite a capable man, and I also heard that he loves France. Where is he now? Let bygones be bygones; whenever we can locate him, we want him to cooperate, too” (Komaki 1965: 184-185). In view of this, when Omiya was able to meet Komatsu, the two agreed to take an active part in working toward a peace settlement between France and Vietnam. They divided their roles: Komatsu was to work with the Việt Minh and the Đai Việt, and Ômiya with the Việt Nam Quổ’c Dân Dảng. But as soon as “they began their work, their physical descriptions were circulated around and their lives were seriously threatened by the rightists,” who were furious, condemning them as “having been bribed by the French [...] or taken sides with Hồ Chì Minh” (ibid.: 187).31

71The March 6, 1946, agreement between France and Vietnam, for which Komatsu and Omiya had done their part, did not last long, for as soon as Admiral d’Argenlieu returned to the Indochinese scene, the agreement was openly ignored, and the first Indochina War began late that year. This notwithstanding, in Komatsu’s mind, as indeed in Ômiya’s, the contribution toward an accord between France and Vietnam was something in which to take great pride. In fact he later wrote the book Vetonamu no chi (The Blood of Vietnam) as an account of the events in which he took part during the two month-period prior to the March 6 agreement. In May 1946, Komatsu returned to Japan, along with Ômiya, on a repatriation ship, ending his eventful three years in Vietnam.

Komatsu’s Engagement with Vietnam: An Assessment

72On looking back at Komatsu’s engagement with Vietnam during the Second World War, it appears that, from the moment he decided to collaborate in Japan’s war effort as an active participant, he placed himself in a self-contradictory and acutely frustrating situation. In his self-appointed role as a “French Indochina activist”—in effect, a Futsuin rônin, although he might not have accepted the term—Komatsu wished to promote the independence of Vietnam from colonial rule, and he lent his support to Marquis Cướng Để as the nominal leader of that cause. There can be no doubt about Komatsu’s passionate affection for Vietnam and her culture and his genuine sympathy for the Vietnamese people under French rule. But at the same time, Komatsu was a champion of Japan’s pan-Asianism. Therefore his vision of an “independent” Vietnam under Cướng Để entailed placing the country within the framework of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under Japan’s tutelage. It is true that Komatsu’s brand of pan-Asianism, with its internationalism and emphasis on “co-operation” rather than on “exploitation,” was very different from the self-serving pan-Asianism advocated by many wartime Japanese leaders. But for that very reason, he was bound to be disappointed by the inadequacy of Cướng Để and the sheer expediency displayed in his own government’s treatment of French Indochina.

73Above all, it seems that, being somewhat carried away by his implicit faith in Japan’s self-appointed role in the emancipation of East Asia and in the safeguard of “Asia for the Asians,” and by his characteristic drive to plunge into action, Komatsu failed to recognize the critical divergence between his notion of dokuritsu (independence) and the independence that the vast majority of the Vietnamese populace was looking for. Komatsu’s vision of an independent Vietnam that was free from French colonial rule but comprised within Japan’s Greater East Asia was essentially incompatible with the ideals of most Vietnamese: The independence that they were looking for was not only from France but also from any form of foreign rule.

74It is perhaps true that there were also many pan-Asianist aspirants in Vietnam who had been profoundly impressed by Japan’s modern transformation following the Meiji Restoration and her victory over Russia. Should Japan’s grand motto “Asia for the Asians” materialize, these Vietnamese were looking, unconsciously perhaps, for a kind of equal and peaceful Asian confederation. But owing to Japan’s expediential policy of “maintaining tranquility” in Indochina, the French colonial regime was left intact until almost the very end. For this reason, the question that would have occurred to a patriotic Vietnamese at the time was: “Why does Japan profess to liberate East Asia on the one hand, yet on the other hand retain the colonial government?” The adoption by the Japanese authorities of French as the working language in Indochina made the situation all the more awkward. In retrospect, it looks as if the gap between Komatsu’s perception of an independent Vietnam and that of many Vietnamese became wider and wider as the course of Japan’s war effort went from bad to worse and Vietnamese nationalism grew more intense than ever. Comparing Komatsu during his years in Vietnam with T.E. Lawrence, Nasu Kunio, one of Komatsu’s wartime Japanese acquaintances, made the following remark: “Like Lawrence who, in pursuing his vision for a union of the Arabs, rushed into military operations and political maneuvers, without recognizing not only the intentions of the British but also those of the Arab leaders; so Komatsu pursued his dream of Vietnam’s independence” (Nasu 1963: 46).

75In the final analysis, the Japanese occupation, along with the French colonial regime in Vietnam, had, paradoxically enough, lent support to Hồ Chì Minh and the communist-led Viet Minh in their rise to power by giving them their raison d’être. After all, they were the ones who had consciously and effectively converted the craving for independence of the Vietnamese populace into a formidable force. In his semi-autobiography, Komatsu gave the following lively account on the conditions in Hanoi after the Việt Minh’s takeover in late August 1945: “During the two or three months after the end of the war, on the streets of Hanoi, from early morning until late at night, there was no time when one did not hear Việt Minh songs. It seemed as if everybody, old and young alike, like people intoxicated or suffering from fever, kept on singing and singing. Even when there were no songs to be heard, I had the illusion that I could hear the refrains of these songs. It seemed as if that delusive sensation could not got out of my head. So powerfully, one might say, had the passion for independence captivated the masses” (Komatsu 1954a: 210). It should be added that, in the perception of complete independence held by Hồ and many Vietnamese, the main thing was driving out the foreign powers, and all other issues were secondary to that and could be postponed. Yet, a temporary triumph over a foreign power did not seem to provide Vietnam with a complete and long-lasting independence, as the history of Vietnam in the postwar period has amply indicated.

76Reading what Komatsu wrote about his activities in French Indochina, one has the impression that he was at his happiest when he could serve as an international activist, without being constrained by the rhetoric of imperial Japan’s pan-Asian ideology. He was most in his element when in the company of people like Phạm Ngọc Thạch, who could transcend ideologies to meet him on the same level, or when he was actually risking his life to work as a mediator in the March 6, 1946, peace agreement between France and the communist-led Việt Minh during the last stage of his sojourn. But as this agreement was soon ignored by the French, Komatsu’s “remarkable” (Komaki 1965: 186) contribution to this short-lived peace settlement fell into oblivion, overshadowed by the nine-year war that ended only with the collapse of France’s last colonial onslaught on the peninsula.

  • 32 Similarly, Patti identifies Komatsu as “a propaganda agent” (Patti 1980: 64).

77It is indeed regrettable that, in the memoirs by a few Vietnamese about that time, Komatsu should only be mentioned as a representative of imperial Japan’s ambition or a mere agent of her wartime propaganda. In his account of life in Hanoi after the Japanese coup, for example, Doàn Thêm (a ranking official in the Ngô Đinh Diệm government of South Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s) alluded to Komatsu in this fashion: “If you are on good terms with people like Komatsu, Konagaya..., you will be promoted to become a big boss” (Doàn Thêm n.d.: 34). Even worse, in socialist Vietnam, Komatsu’s activities in French Indochina during the Second World War were simply regarded as those of a thoughtless enemy. The following remark by Học Phi in his memoir was typical: “The journal Tri Tan... was encouraged by the propaganda machine of Japanese fascists led by Komatsu” (Học Phi 1985: 138).32 In wartime Indochina, the differences between the activities of Komatsu as a rônin practicing his philosophy of kôdôshugi and those of a devoted agent of Japan’s war effort must have been too subtle and intricate for many Vietnamese to recognize and appreciate.

78Such dismissals of Komatsu’s career in Vietnam should not be allowed to blind us to the special value of his insights into the situation around him. As a sophisticated intellectual, acquainted at first hand with numerous parts of the world, Komatsu was able to make observations about Vietnam and her culture, which attain a depth rarely found in the writings of his contemporaries. These observations are among the most penetrating that we possess—very sympathetic, but highly critical at the same time. Moreover, it feIl to his lot to witness at first hand a decisive period in Vietnamese history. Among the Vietnamese whom Komatsu met between the early 1920s the late 1950s were the key players in modern Vietnamese history; to mention just some representative names, more or less in chronological order: Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Cướng Để, Ngô Đinh Diệm, Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Phạm Ngọc Thạch, Tạ Thu Thâu, Vu Hồng Khanh, Phan Kế Toại, and Hồ Chì Minh. His remarks about some of these personalities are astonishingly candid and insightful, adding new clarity and perspective to our picture of these historical figures. Though Komatsu’s notion of Vietnamese independence may have been confused and his attempts at activism in Vietnam largely futile, he nevertheless succeeded, through his writings, in making a permanent contribution to a country for which he had the most profound sympathy.

VĨNH Sính, 1988, Phan Bội Châu and the Đông Du Movement (ed.), New Haven, CT: Yale International and Area Studies.

VĨNH Sính, 1996, “Một nhà văn Nhật viết về Nguyễn Ài Quốc” [A Japanese Author Wrote on Nguyễn Ài Quốc], Xưa và Nay, No. 27, May.

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AKIYAMA Tokio (trans.), 1996, Kin Ungyo (a Japanese translation of Tale of Kiếu), Tôkyô: Kodansha Shuppan Sabisu Senta.

ANDERSON, Benedict R. O’G., 1961, Some Aspects of Indonesian Politics under the Japanese Occupation, Ithaca: Cornell University, Interim Reports Series.

AOKI Shigeo, 1959, “Komatsu K.iyoshi,” in Seishun to boken !Youth and Adventure], Kôbe:

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DAUDlN, Pierre, 1965, “Un Japonais à la Cour des T’ang: Gouverneur du Protectorat d’Annam, Abe-no-Nakarnaro alias Tch’ao Heng (698-770)”, Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinoises, Nouvelle Serie, XL (3): 215-280.

DOÀN Thêm, n.d., Những ngày chúa quên [The Days That Are Not Forgotten] Yeti, Saigon: Nam Chi Tùng Thư.

HAYASHI, Takashi, I 993, Andore Marurô no ‘Nihon’ [The Japan of Andre Malraux], Tôkyô: Chuo Koronsha.

HỌC Phi, 1985, “Đóm lửa ban đầu” [The Initial Flake of Fire], in Một chặng đường văn hoà [A Cultural Milestone], Hanoi: Tàc Phẩm Mới.

HỒNG Hà, 1994, Thờ thanh niên của Bác Hồ [Uncle Ho’s Youth], Hanoi: Thanh Niên.

HUỲNH Sanh Thong (trans.), 1984, Tale of Kiếu, New Haven: Yale University Press. JAMIESON, Neil J., 1993, Understanding Vietnam, Berkeley: University of California Press. KOMAKl Ômi [Ômiya Komaki], 1965, Aru gendaishi [My Contemporary History], Tôkyô: Hosei Daigaku Shuppansha.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1941, Futsuin e no michi [The Path to French Indochina], Tôkyô: Rokkô Shôkai Shuppanbu.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi (trans.), 1942, Kin Ungyô (a Japanese translation of The Tale of Kiếu), Tôkyô: Tôhô Hakkôsho.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1943, “Bài ca Đại Đông” [The Song of Greater East Asia], Tân À, No. 26, pp. 14-15, 8 December (Issue Commemorating the Second Anniversary of the Greater East Asia War).

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1944a, “Cuộc tài ngộ” [A Reunion], Trung Bắc Chủ Nhật, Nos. 223, 224, 225 (October 22).

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1944b, “Tâm hồn Việt Nam trong Truyện Kiếu” [The Vietnamese Mind in The Tale of Kiếul, Tân À, No. 28 (Spring).

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1950, “Ho Chi Min ni au no ki” [An Account of a Meeting with Hồ Chì Minh], Asahi Hyôron, 5 (3), March.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1951, “Etsunan (Vetonamu) no shishitachi” [The Men of High Purpose of Vietnam], Bunsen, No. I, August.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1954a, Vetonamu no chi [The Blood of Vietnam], Tôkyô: Kawade Shobe. KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1954b, “Watashi no dokusho henreki” [My Reading Pilgrimage], Nihon Dokusho Shinbun, October 25, No. 7.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1955, Vetonamu [Vietnam], Tôkyô: Shinchosha.

KOMATSU Kiyoshi, 1958, “Pari no yane ura” [An Attic Room in Paris], Shûkan Yomiuri, February 16, No. 60.

KOMATSU Kyo [Komatsu Kiyoshi], 1960, “A Japanese Franc-Tireur Talks with Gide and Malraux”, transl. and edited by Wesley R. Fishel & Midori H. Scott, The Centennial Review, 4 (1).

LACOUTURE, Jean, 1968, Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography, transl. from the French by Peter Wiles, New York: Random House.

LACOUTURE, Jean, 1975, Andre Malraux, transl. from the French by Alan Sheridan, New York: Pantheon Books.

MARR, David, 1995, Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power, Berkeley: University of California Press.

MIKUNI Naotomi, 1965, “Futsuin no Kornatsu-san” [Mr. Komatsu in French Indochina], Maruka News, No. 35, 5 September.

MISSOFFE, Francois, 1977, Duel Rouge, Paris: Ramsay.

NASU Kunio, 1963, “Daitôa Kyôeiken-ka no Betonamu: Komatsu Kiyoshi o megutte” [The Vietnam in the Co-Prosperity Sphere: The Case of Komatsu Kiyoshi], Shisô no Kagaku, No. 21, December.

NITZ, Kiyoko Kurusu, 1984, “Independence Without Nationalists? The Japanese and Vietnamese Nationalism During the Japanese Period, 1940-45”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, XV (1).

OKABE Makio, 1993, “Tairiku rônin” [Continental Adventurers], in Nihonshi daijiten [Great Dictionary of Japanese History], Tôkyô: Heibonsha, vol. 4.

ÔSHIMA Chikamitsu, 1962, “Betonamu no aikokusha: Komatsu Kiyoshi o shinobu” [A Patriot in Vietnam: In Memory of Komatsu Kiyoshi], Tochigi Shinbun, June 27.

PATTl, Archimedes, 1980, Why Vietnam: Prelude to America’s Albatross, Berkeley: University of California Press.

PHAN Bội Châu, 1999, Overturned Chariot: The Autobiography of Phan Bội Châu, transl. by Vĩnh Sính & Nicholas Wickenden, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

TAKEUCHI Yonosuke, 1985, Kin Ungyo (a Japanese translation of The Tale of Kiếu), Tôkyô: Daigaku Shorin,

THOMPSON, Virginia, 1941, “Japan in Indochina”, Far Eastern Survey, X (23), 1 December.

THU Trang, 1991, Nguyễn Ái Quốc tại Paris, 1917-1923 [Nguyễn Ái Quốc tại Paris, 1917-1923], Hanoi: Viện Văn Hoá Nghệ thật Việt Nam.

T.S., 1944, “Người Việt Nam và Truyện Kiếu” [The Vietnamese and The Tale of Kiếu], Tân Á, No. 49, 20 December.

TSUCHIHASHI Yuitsu, 1980, Cunpuku seikatsu yonjiinen no omoide [Recollections of Forty Years in Military Uniform], Tôkyô: Keisô Shuppan Sâbisu Sentâ.

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Note de fin

1 The Japanese at the time, Komatsu included, used the term “Futsuin” (an abbreviation of Futsuryil lndoshina) to refer to French Indochina in general, or more narrowly to Vietnam.

2 It should be noted that though at the time French Indochina (in Vietnamese, Đông Phàp, an abbreviation of Đông Dưo’ng thuộc Phàp] encompassed Cambodia, Laos, Cochinchina, Tonkin, and Annam, the sphere of Komatsu’s activities was mainly the last three regions, i.e., what is now Vietnam.

3 Materials about Komatsu’s early years are extremely limited; for the information used in this part I am indeb-ted to Mr. Aoki’s pioneering work and the insight into Komatsu Kiyoshi’s career that he generously shared with me when I met him in Kôbe and Kyoto in 1997 and 1998.

4 One of the first politically independent composite journals in Vietnam, founded by the cultural reformer Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh (1882-1936). This serialized article seems to have been a translation from the French.

5 For the most complete version of his association with Nguyễn Ái Quốc, see Komatsu’s semi-autobiographical novel Vetonamu no chi (The Blood of Vietnam, 1954a). The information in this work, however, has to be verified from non-fictional sources for authenticity. Further details on this subject are available in my 1996 article (pp. 19-21).

6 Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev (1878-1927), a Russian prose writer whose works were noted for their extreme pessimism and amoralisrn.

7 Komatsu translated La condition humaine (1933), Les conquérants (1934), and La voie royale (1936) into Japanese. To promote activism, together with Funabashi Seiichi and others, Komatsu founded the journal Kôdô (Action) in 1933, and translated Lamon Fernandes’s “An Open Letter to Gide” and wrote articles such as “Futsubungaku no ichitenki” (A Turning Point in French Literature; in the October 1934 issue of Kôdô) to introduce the voices opposing fascism among the French intellectuals.

8 Komatsu’s diaries were later published in one volume entitled Chinboku no senshi. Senji no Pari (A Quiet Combatant. Paris under Siege) in 1940.

9 The Takarazuka Girls Operetta Troupe in fact visited Vietnam in late 1941.

10 In China, Malraux met, it is believed, Mikhail Borodin who was the Russian advisor to Sun Yat-sen and later to Chiang K’ai-shek.

11 A term used by Admiral Decoux, Governor-General of French Indochina at the time (see Thompson 1941: 269).

12 The other “hero” was Li Kil Ran (her real name was Yamaguchi Yoshiko), a singer who sang Greater East Asia songs, such as “Shina no yoru” (China’s Nights).

13 Abe-no-Nakarnaro, a renowned ancient literary figure, was sent by the Nara court to China to study. Being a great admirer of T’ang culture, he remained in China to work for the T’ang court. During his long career as a Chinese official, Nakamaro was once appointed to Annam as a Chinese Protector-General; but this part of Nakamaro’s career had been virtually unknown until the publication of Sugimoto Naojiro’s study, Abe-no-Nakamaro, a massive work of some 850 pages published in 1940, the year that saw Japan’s expansion into Indochina. During the war years, Nakamaro’s name was mentioned in almost every publication dealing with French Indochina as a pioneer of Japan’s destiny on this peninsula, much in the same way that Yamada Nagamasa (?-1603) was seen as a pioneer of Japan’s presence in Thailand. For a detailed account of Nakamaro’s career in a Western language, see Daudin 1965: 215-280.

14 The most influential figure behind this language and culture reform movement was Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh (1882- 1936), father of Nguyễn Giang, Komatsu’s close friend in Paris.

15 More popularly known in the present-day Vietnam as Truyện Kiếu.

16 His translation was published in October 1942 (see Komatsu 1942). The second Japanese translation of The Tale of Kiếu is also in prose (see Takeuchi 1985). A Japanese translation in verse was done by Akiyama Tokio (see Akiyama 1996). For an excellent English translation, see Huynh Sanh Thong, trans. The Tale of Kiếu (Huynh 1984); an insightful discussion of the “Historical Background” of this Vietnamese masterpiece by Alexander Woodside is also included in this volume.

17 For a study of the Dong Du Movement, see Vĩnh Sính 1988 and Phan Bội Châu 1999.

18 Until the coup on March 9, 1945, Indochina was the only region in Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere where Western colonial rule was left intact.

19 Chì sĩ in Vietnamese. It is not clear why Komatsu seems to have considered this term “disrespectful.”

20 The Japanese Cultural Center was controlled directly by the Ministry of Greater East Asia (Daitoa-sho).

21 Yokoyama was a senior of Ômiya during their junior high school days (Komaki 1965: 162).

22 Better known by their pen names, Nhất Linh and Khái Hưng, respectively. Information on these writers may be found in Jamieson 1993.

23 Information on the association between Komatsu and Ômiya, the differences in their temperaments, and the sphere of their activities can also be found in Komatsu 1954a, Komaki 1965, and Nitz 1984.

24 Ômiya’s friendship with Nhu and his wife continued well into the postwar period.

25 Komatsu mentioned their names now and then in his writings during the postwar period (see, e.g., Komatsu 1955: 220).

26 According to Nasu Kunio, Komatsu was introduced to Ngô Dình Diệm by “a veteran member of the clerical staff” of the Japanese Embassy in Saigon. The date of the first meeting is not clear.

27 Mart’s information was based upon his interview with Hồ Hữu Tường in Saigon on March 3, 1967.

28 “Cuộc tái ngộ” was later published by Trung Băc Tân Văn in book form.

29 In Ômiya’s and Komatsu’s accounts, this Frenchman of White Russian origin was identified as Solovieff. This is probably the same person as Stephane Solosieff, a Soviet representative in Indochina, described in Patti 1980: 178-181.

30 Author of Duel Rouge (1977). Missoffe was the French Ambassador to Japan in the mid- 1960s.

31 Komatsu gave a detailed description of this dangerous situation in his Vetonamu no chi.

32 Similarly, Patti identifies Komatsu as “a propaganda agent” (Patti 1980: 64).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1.
Légende From left: Clara, André Malraux, unknown person, and Komatsu in Kôbe during the Malraux’ visit to Japan in 1931 (André was then writing Man’s Fate)
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Titre Photo 2.
Légende From left: Komatsu, Marquis Cướng Để, Ngô Dình Thúc (Ngô Đình Diệm’s elder brother), and Ngô Đình Diệm in Tôkyô, August 1950.
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Titre Photo 3. Portrait of Komatsu Kiyoshi by himself, late 1940s
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Vĩnh Sính, « Komatsu Kiyoshi and French Indochina  »Moussons, 3 | 2001, 57-86.

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Vĩnh Sính, « Komatsu Kiyoshi and French Indochina  »Moussons [En ligne], 3 | 2001, mis en ligne le 11 mai 2021, consulté le 29 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Vĩnh Sính

The author is Professor of History at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and a specialist in modern Japanese intellectual history, and cultural and intellectual interactions between Japan and Vietnam. He has published Phan Bội Châu and the Đông Du Movement (editor), 1988; Overturned Chariot: The Autobiography of Phan Bội Châu (co-translator), 1999; and Vietnam and Japan. Cultural Interactions (in Vietnamese, 2001).

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Les contenus de la revue Moussons sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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