Denzaburō Akazaki (1871-1946) hailed from Kumamoto. At the end of the Meiji era, he moved 11,000 kilometers away to Madagascar, an island off the southeastern coast of Africa, and made a fortune as a hotelier. (…) After carefully digging through weathered historical documents, I discovered that there had even been a popular song about Mr. Akazaki. He had put down roots here.

The Surprising Story of an Early Japanese Entrepreneur in Africa

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Chapter I

Nguyễn Ái Quốc, born in the village of Kim-Lien in Indochina, moved to 9 Villa Compoint Street in Paris in 1921, after leaving 56 Monsieur Leprince Street where he initially settled upon arriving from London (1). During this period, he was known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc, “Nguyen the Patriot,” because he took advantage of the Treaty of Versailles to gather signatures in support of the oppressed peoples of the French colonies, particularly the Annamites (from Annam, the old name for Vietnam in French Indochina) (2). He joined the Human Rights League and became a Freemason in June 1922.

Monitored by the French police (3), this resourceful young man shared his accommodation with another immigrant, the Malagasy World War I veteran Ralaimongo (4). From the early days of the French Communist Party, he collaborated with his roommate Nguyễn , the future president of Vietnam who would later be known as Ho Chi Minh, in editing a newspaper aimed at raising awareness among the colonial peoples.

Returning to Madagascar in 1924, Ralaimongo settled in Diego-Suarez where in 1927 he launched a newspaper, l’Opinion, aiming to draw closer to the realities of Madagascar. The northern town of Madagascar, an early French concession and military base, became a hotbed of colonial regime dissenters (5). Particularly, the former VVS members who were released from Nosy Lava after the arrests in 1915.

Inspired by the Protestant Pastor Ravelojaona’s articles published in 1913 on the Meiji era titled “Japan and the Japanese,” 7 young Merina students from the School of Medicine in Antananarivo created the secret society Vy Vato Sakelika (6). They were soon joined by a wide network of merchants, workers, and school teachers all opposing colonial oppression, much like the Menalamba generation earlier (7).

Around 1912, in Diego Suarez, a Japanese man reported the maneuvers of the Russian naval army to his consul based in Bombay (8). This notable figure, who ran a Hotel-Restaurant-Cinema, was highly regarded by the citizens of Diego-Suarez, who even composed a song in his honor, Denzaburo Akazaki. 

Considering that Minister Ravelojaona never visited Japan but was reportedly inspired by his readings on the Meiji period, and given that Denzaburō Akazaki was highly esteemed by everyone in Diego-Suarez for 25 years, it raises questions : Did their paths ever intersect? What dynamics in the northern town of Madagascar fueled the activism (VVS, Railomongo, …) that ignited the uprisings of 1947?

to be continued… Chapter II There has indeed been a paradigm shift


sources links





(5) Jean Ralaimongo (1884-1943), ou Madagascar au seuil du nationalisme, Jean-Pierre Domenichini

Outre-Mers. Revue d’histoire  Année 1969  204  pp. 236-287





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