AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 31

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Session 31: Re-Constituting the Social Body: Popular Conservatism in Occupied and Post-Occupation Japan

Organizer: Hajimu Masuda, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Chair: J. Victor Koschmann, Cornell University, USA

Discussants: Wesley Sasaki-Uemura, University of Utah, USA; J. Victor Koschmann, Cornell University, USA

This panel proposes to explore various forms of grassroots conservatism in occupied and post-occupation Japan, which pointed to restoring visions of political, social, and cultural order, functioning as mechanisms of integration and exclusion in a process of reconstituting the “order” of an imagined and idealized “Japan.” Masuda challenges the conventional notion of a Washington-directed “reverse course,” instead describing it as a social grassroots politics, which was adopted locally and served to restore a familiar order. Bullock examines the conservative backlash against women’s rights—new rights extended during the occupation—paying particular attention to the role of the media in reflecting and shaping public opinion. Bukh looks into early grassroots movements for the restoration of Soviet-occupied territory and explores the rather complex relationship between the Japanese government and irredentist movements. Seraphim investigates vigorous citizens’ campaigns for the release of Allied-convicted war criminals and traces Japanese efforts toward social reconstruction and the management of public memory, which evolved in conjunction with the Allied practice of transitional justice in the Cold War context. Taken together, these four panelists offer a view of social activism and trends of this historical period, emerging at the intersection of Allied occupational policy and domestic social politics. Furthermore, each panelist addresses the complex power relations of mobilization and participation, seeking to go beyond the conventional dichotomy of “top-down” and “bottom-up” histories. Commenting on the panel’s papers will be Wesley Sasaki-Uemura and Victor Koschmann, who have been studying on intellectual history and social and political movements in postwar Japan.

Women Ruining the Nation: The Conservative Backlash Against Women’s Rights in Postwar Japan
Julia C. Bullock, Emory University, USA

After Japan’s defeat in World War II, American authorities extended to women a host of new rights that chipped away at the authority of the prewar, paternalistic household (ie) system. In the early 1950s, as the Occupation ended and Japanese re-evaluated the American attempt to restructure its society according to “Western” conceptions of equality and modernity, conservatives argued for a repeal of many of the more progressive legal reforms. In this heated debate between conservative and progressive camps, the “problem” of new roles for women in Japanese society featured prominently. Men fretted that their wives had become “scary” for failing to behave with due deference toward the household patriarch. Girls who competed successfully for admission to elite universities, now open to them under the postwar system of coeducation, faced resentment from colleagues and criticism from pundits who worried that such educations would be “wasted” on future housewives. An influx of women into the workplace incited heated debates over women’s “traditional” obligations to the domestic sphere. This paper will examine these three prominent debates of the early postwar period as examples of the conservative backlash against women’s rights, with particular attention to the role of the mass media—primarily large-circulation magazines and newspapers—in reflecting and shaping public opinion. Such media served as a crucial site of discursive negotiation as the general public struggled to cope with changing women’s roles, and the resulting “threat” they posed to masculine subjectivity, family structure, and distinctions between public and private spheres.

“No Reform Anymore”: The Reverse Course As a Social Grassroots Phenomenon
Hajimu Masuda, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The “reverse course” has been widely considered part of Washington’s cold war strategy. The conventional view maintains that, because of the intensification of the cold war, Washington took a tougher anti-communist stance, thus, abolishing reform-oriented policies, accepting the release of former-regime bosses, pressuring Tokyo to re-arm, and conducting purges of “reds” in schools, newspapers, and companies. Based on this framework, discussions of the “reverse course” have largely been confined to the examination of high politics, asking whether such shifts were a really “reversal” or not. Few scholars, however, have explored grassroots participation and modification. This paper investigates the “red purge” and opposition to it in 1950 as a case study of the “reverse course,” focusing on who purged who to what purpose. Viewed up-close, the formula of a Washington-centered “reverse course” does not hold water. In fact, most dismissals were carried out through thousands of ordinary employers’ own decisions; most of those expelled were not fifth column; and many were fired due to disturbing the “order” of their workplaces. Moreover, opposition to the red purge was drowned out among the majority of the population, who adopted the cold war worldview and chose to say: “no reform anymore.” In short, this paper challenges the conventional view of a Washington-directed “reverse course,” arguing that the phenomenon might be better understood as a social grassroots phenomenon, meant to restore and maintain order, corresponding with images of a “harmonious” society that actually never existed. Most importantly, its real carrier was countless ordinary people.

"How to Show Sympathy to the War-Convicted": Release Movements for War Criminals in the 1950s
Franziska Seraphim, Boston College, USA

Contrary to conventional interpretations, the Allied war crimes trials did not simply vanish from Japanese public life or pass into memory after the execution of the seven Class A war criminals in December 1948. As the remaining convicted Class A war criminals settled into a quiet life in one wing of Sugamo Prison, Class B/C war criminals serving out their sentences became active advocates for their early release through study groups, publishing ventures, and the cultivation of connections with supporters outside the prison gates. Indeed, there was hope when SCAP’s Review Board revisited all trial judgments and instituted a clemency and parole procedure along American judicial lines, before handing the management of Sugamo Prison over to Japanese authorities in April 1952. Japanese government officials, however, were not able to negotiate general amnesties with the Allied Powers involved in the trials. In response, vigorous citizens’ movements campaigning for the release of the “war convicted” formed around the widows of prominent executed war criminals, already released prisoners reentering public life, and in hometowns of those still incarcerated. This paper explores such social activism as a key to understanding how an issue of criminal responsibility for the war came to be reframed as a social and humanitarian problem of continued imprisonment that bore upon the reconstitution of citizenship and the reestablishment of national sovereignty in the Cold War context. It links Allied practices of transitional justice with Japanese efforts at social reconstruction and the management of public memory.

Early Grassroots Movement for the Return of the "Northern Territories"
Alexander Bukh, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

This paper joins the debate on the nature of Japan’s postwar social movements by examining the political agenda of the early grassroots movement for the return of the Soviet-occupied territory. The territorial dispute between Japan and the USSR over the four islands known in Japan as the “Northern Territories” has been one of the most popular research topics among the students of Japan’s postwar politics and foreign policy. Few scholars however have paid attention to the grassroots movement for the return of the territories that emerged on Hokkaido almost immediately after the Soviet occupation of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands in August and September 1945. Arguably one of the reasons for this lack of attention is the widely shared assumption that the movement’s agenda is merely a reflection of the governmental policy structured around the demand for the return of “inherent territory.” Before its gradual absorption by the government in the 1960s, however, the relationship between the government and irredentist movements, which consisted of a number of organizations with at times conflicting agendas, was rather complex. Drawing on the insights of the previous scholarship on Japan’s civil society as well as the studies of the ideational structure of postwar Japan, this paper seeks to fill this gap by examining the documents produced by the local authorities, SCAP and the irredentist movement itself. The paper intends to explore the influence of the international and the domestic discourses on the agenda of the movement as well as its relationship with the government.