Equally certain is the fact that Morihei’s was profoundly affected by the disastrous consequences of Japan’s defeat in World War II. He turned his focus inward even as the war was in full progress with his retirement to Iwama in 1942 to enter a period of deep reflection. This phase of Morihei’s life has a great deal to do with significant changes in the Founder’s thinking, and the evolution of the philosophy underpinning modern aikido.
The writings of Japanese authors–especially Morihei’s son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba–and those who have based themselves on their published works, have treaded very lightly in treating the subject of Morihei’s wartime involvement. While calling attention to Morihei’s abundant associations with Japan’s power elite, there is no hint of his being complicit in any way in any of the irreproachable actions committed during this tumultuous period. As if to counterbalance his involvement in such activities, there is only a brief reference to Morihei’s participation in an unsuccessful, secret peace initiative instigated by Prince Fumimaro Konoe, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister twice during the period of 1937-1941.
Morihei is said to have traveled to the continent–meaning China–together with Tsutomu Yukawa, one of his students, at some unspecified time shortly after Japan invaded Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The purpose of this trip was to enter secret peace negotiations with Chinese authorities. Unfortunately, the brief description of Morihei’s trip, though tantalizing, is very vague. Konoe had already resigned in October 1941 and his political clout was greatly diminished due to his inability to rein in the Japanese military.
Morihei is known to have made a trip to Manchukuo-the Japanese puppet government of Manchuria–in the summer of 1942, accompanied by Tsutomu Yukawa. Whether this is the occasion referred to is uncertain, but Konoe’s influence is, at that point, questionable. Without additional research, it is difficult to make any conclusive statement about Morihei’s supposed part in this peace tentative.
With this brief introduction as a backdrop, I would be very interested in getting the reaction of the aikido community concerning Morihei’s military-related activities in the prewar period. Would knowledge of an extensive involvement on his part affect your current view of his philosophy of aikido? I know we have some very smart, articulate people in our readership, and I would love to hear your opinions on this sensitive issue.