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Torajiro Satō (1864–1928)

by D. C. S. Sissons

This article was published:

Torajiro Satō (1864-1928), pearler, was born on 15 June 1864 at Motoizumi, in the province of Musashi, Japan, third son of Tahei Mogi, a local landowner, and his wife Kichi. After briefly teaching at the local primary school he was apprenticed to Kamezen, one of the large firms engaged in the international silk trade at Yokohama. In 1885 he went to the United States of America to study and graduated in law at the University of Michigan in 1890. He returned to Japan in 1891 and, on marrying Oku, daughter of Chōmei Satō of Takaike, Wakayama prefecture, was adopted into the Satō family.

Satō arrived at Thursday Island on 21 December 1893, bringing with him both capital and labour. By the end of 1895 his assets there amounted to 20,000 yen (about £3100) and included thirty-seven pearling luggers and a general store. That year he was ousted from the presidency of the Japanese Residents' Association by a group who saw as a threat to their wages the increased immigration that he was promoting.

In 1897 (having first received assurances from the Japanese Foreign Ministry that he could on returning to Japan readily resume his Japanese nationality) Satō applied, unsuccessfully, for naturalization, in an attempt to forestall legislation prohibiting the acquisition of pearling-luggers by non-Britishers. In 1899 the Queensland government, attempting to put an end to Asian immigration, rejected an application by Satō, made on behalf of various local pearlers, to introduce fifty Japanese crewmen to replace the hundred lost in the recent Cape Melville cyclone. Largely to resist these discriminatory policies, the Japanese Residents' Association was re-established with Satō as president, and under his vigorous leadership several petitions were addressed to the Japanese Diet and to Japanese ministers.

Satō was badly hit by the falling yields that followed the over-expansion of the pearling industry. In March 1900 he became unable to meet his obligations and, in the liquidation that ensued, his unsecured creditors (including a number of Japanese crewmen who had deposited their savings with him) received only ten shillings in the pound. In July 1900 in the midst of these misfortunes his wife died. In January 1901 he returned to Japan and severed his links with Australia.

In Japan Satō became active as a publicist and issued several lengthy tracts urging that Japan increase her armaments, assume the leadership of the non-white races and force the Western Powers to withdraw from China and the Pacific. The first of these tracts was written during his last months at Thursday Island. He made a substantial donation to Prince Konoye's Kokumin Dōmeikai, a society advocating a strong stand against the extension of Russian influence in Manchuria and Korea. In November 1901 he was appointed managing director of the daily newspaper, Yokohama Shimpō.

In 1903 Satō was elected to the Diet as a candidate of the Seiyūkai. Later that year he married Aka, daughter of Iemon Daigo of Tenjin-mura, Chiba prefecture. He was re-elected in 1904 and 1908. In 1909, in a famous political scandal, Satō was among twenty politicians found guilty of receiving bribes from the Dainippon Sugar Refining Co. to support the passage of legislation favourable to that company. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment but successfully appealed against his conviction.

In 1910, following the annexation of Korea, Satō transferred his energies there and became a large landowner. On 28 April 1926 in Seoul his car was waylaid by two Korean assassins who mistook him for the governor-general. Satō received several stab-wounds but survived. He never, however, fully regained his health and died in Seoul on 6 September 1928.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Sato, Taiheiyosaku (1901)
  • T. Sato, Shina Keihatsu Ron (1903), T. Sato, Shin Seikei (1903)
  • Kaigai no Nippon, 1, no 4, 1911, p. 129
  • above references reproduced in National Library of Australia, mfm 0-1314
  • Japanese Foreign Ministry, file MT (National Library of Australia, mfm G16178, G4975).

Citation details

D. C. S. Sissons, 'Satō, Torajiro (1864–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sato, Torajiro

15 June, 1864
Motoizumi, Musashi, Japan


6 September, 1928 (aged 64)
Seoul, Korea

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.