How Young Nicholas II Was Nearly Killed in Japan

The last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, hated everything about Japan. And he had a good reason to. When only 23, he was on a friendly journey to Japan that ended in disaster. One of the Japanese guards hit him with his saber that nearly killed him. The event had a profound impact on Nicholas and possibly helped start the Russo-Japanese War in 1904.

Le Crime d’Otsu, Le petit Journal (30 May 1891).

The Eastern Journey

The purpose of the eastern trip was to attend the opening ceremony of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Vladivostok. The Tsarevich was accompanied by his cousin Prince George of Greece and Denmark. They arrived on the Russian Pacific Fleet and visited the towns of Nagasaki, Kobe and Kyoto on their way. They took a rickshaw from Kyoto to a small town of Otsu. After having a nice meal at the governor’s house, they were ready to get going.

The whole trip had gone smoothly – Nicholas was interested in Buddhism, he bought some souvenirs and had himself made a dragon tattoo. His visit was particularly important to Japan because Japan needed good relations with the powerful Russian empire that was aggressively moving eastward by means of railway and sea. The Crown Prince was greeted with politeness but also with deep suspicion.

The Ōtsu Incident

11 May 1891. While taking a rickshaw through the small town of Ōtsu and greeting the crowd and the policemen that had crowded the street, suddenly something horrible happened. One of the escorting guards, namely Tsuda Sanzō jumped over to the Tsarevich and waved a massive blow to his head with his sabre.

The second blow was miraculously parred by prince George with his bamboo cane that he had purchased earlier that day. The prince hopped off his vehicle and tried to catch the guard. Nicholas was holding his head in panic and running through the crowd that showed no enthusiasm to intervene. In an overall confusion, there were two rickshaw drivers – Mukaihata Jizaburo and Kitagaichi Ichitaro who finally caught the assassin.

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Nicholas had a 9 cm wound on his right forehead. He was hastily carried to the nearby kimono fabric shop and, according to the legend, was treated by the famous Doctor Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, who happened to be around.

The wound was not too serious. Nicholas was quickly rushed back to Kyoto and he broke his visit to Japan. The Japanese were deeply confused about the incident and feared that Russia might use it as a pretext for war. Therefore Emperor Meiji personally drove all night to pay an honourable visit to Nicholas. The majority of the Japanese were sympathetic to Nicholas sending him over 10,000 telegrams.


The motives of Tsuda Sanzō remain unclear to this day. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder. After the Home Minister and Foreign Minister had resigned and the Emperor apologized, Russia was also content but Nicholas personally never forgave the Japanese. His hatred for them was so deep that it almost certainly had a great impact on his decision to wage war against Japan 13 years later.





  • My great grandfather was the pilot of the ship that transported the czar on his trip. After the incident, my great grandfather Paul Andreas Dithlefsen was awarded a jewelled scarf pin by the czar’s purser and I have the document stating such. It was in appreciation for whatever role my great grandfather had in protecting the czar.


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