AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 544

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Session 544: Puncturing the Postwar: Violence and Politics in late 20th Century Japan

Organizer: Mark Pendleton, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

Chair: Setsu Shigematsu, University of California, Riverside, USA

Discussant: Lisa Yoneyama, University of Toronto, Canada

The ‘peace’ of postwar Japan has been repeatedly punctured by instances of extreme violence. The street riots against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the USA (Ampo) in 1959-60 and the student demonstrations of the 1960s and 70s represent two well-known examples. This interdisciplinary panel takes the question of ‘violent politics’ as its theme in considering a later period – the last several decades of the twentieth century. In what forms did violence manifest in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s? How does political violence relate to broader forces of nationalism and capitalism or the legacy of Japanese militarism and imperialism? What have been the social, political and cultural responses to this violence? The panellists approach these questions using methodologies drawn from history, cultural studies and critical theory. Mark Winchester explores the decade of Ainu violence that emerged in the aftermath of the Centenary of Hokkaidô Development in 1968. Setsu Shigematsu examines the relationship between Women’s Liberation and the members of the United Red Army in the 1970s. Gavin Walker re-reads Imamura Hitoshi’s influential 1980s writings on violence that emerged from the decline of the 60s student movements. Mark Pendleton rethinks the meaning of Aum Shinrikyô’s violent turn in the 1990s through the writings of ex-Aum leader Noda Naruhito. The presenters each question in different ways the notion that the ‘long Japanese postwar’ was anything but violent, both in the manifestations specifically dealt with in this panel and in the quotidian negotiations of daily life.

Preserving Violence: Historicism, the Ainu, and 1968
Mark J. Winchester, Hitotsubashi University, Japan

The state-led celebrations of a Century of Hokkaido Development beginning in 1968 sparked a decade of Ainu-related political violence in Japan. This paper will argue that, despite claims to be highlighting the “ideology of progress” inherent in such celebration, supposedly legitimizing the Japanese “invasion of Ainu Moshir”, the Ainu-related violence of the late 1960s-1970s in fact shared the historicist lacuna of all modern Ainu policy and history writing. For the purpose of this political violence, the Ainu were still construed as somehow “not yet” equal members of Japanese society and in fundamental contradiction with the ideals of postwar Japanese democracy. Secondly, this paper will argue that the raw and blatant display of political violence during these years served, not only to enable a disassociation between the progressive Left and Ainu politics as they became entrenched within the growth-bound “construction state” policies of local redistribution, but also as a useful symbolic function for the later shift to a clean and technocratic political system of governance from which all conflict – other than that necessary to sustain such a system – is effectively eliminated. Finally, the paper will suggest that the spectacle of such violence and the state’s response, ultimately drowned out something potentially far more politically violent – the work of a number of Ainu activists who not only attempted to suspend the historicist premises for their redemption, but also strived for a kind of political subjectivity that might finally do away with the debilitating effects of modernity’s schemes of alterity.

Feminist Ethics and Political Violence: A Japanese Feminist Response to the United Red Army
Setsu Shigematsu, University of California, Riverside, USA

The United Red Army (Rengo Sekigun) was an extreme example of the political violence that characterized the early 1970s in Japan. This group formed as an offshoot of the Japanese Red Army and has been widely regarded as Japan’s most violent domestic revolutionary group. The internal violence within the United Red Army in the early 1970s, which involved the murder of fourteen of its own members, has been represented as a disturbing and tragic set of events that marked the breakdown of the Japanese New Left. The causes and effects of this violent internal purge have haunted many of those involved in the political movements of this era. This paper examines the relationship between activists of the Japanese women’s liberation movement and how they responded to the women in the United Red Army in the wake of what became known as the internal lynching incidents. Activists of the Japanese women’s liberation movement – known as ûman ribu – engaged in various support activities on behalf of the women of the United Red Army. Even though the ûman ribu activists rejected the United Red Army’s use of violence as fundamentally misguided, they responded in a complex manner as an expression of their radical feminist politics. Through an analysis of how these feminist activists engaged with the United Red Army, and particularly its female leader (Nagata Hiroko), I argue that their support constituted a form of “critical solidarity” that offered an alternative feminist approach to the vexing problem of political violence.

On the Politics of Violence: Force and Origin in Imamura Hitoshi
Gavin Walker, McGill University, Canada

The question of violence can never be resolved by understanding it as a simple rupture with the existing situation. That is, precisely because non-violence only appears anterior to the existence of violence itself, it is never an “exception,” but always rather a form of normality, a splicing of the situation in which continuity is paradoxically secured and guaranteed by means of discontinuity. Violence is the sustaining mechanism of the body of society, not a pathological disturbance of its normal operation. Imamura Hitoshi’s work, particularly his influential theoretical texts of the early 1980s, extensively discussed this problematic by focusing our attention on the foundational moment of violence, what he referred to as “cosmic formative violence,” taken in two aspects: the violent ground of the basic social mechanism of the modern world – the state – and the self-effacing, cyclical violence of the basic social relation of the modern world – capital. It is no accident that this moment follows on from the period of the eclipse of the line of armed struggle among certain Japanese political groupings after 1968. In questioning the empirical history of the politics of violence, we ought to refuse the simple moralistic condemnation of this line in favor of theorizing more closely the problematic of violence itself. In order to think the limits and boundaries of the history of the “strategy of violence” in relation to violence’s own tendency to masquerade as a pure internality with no outside, a reexamination of Imamura’s grasp of this conceptual genealogy can be instructive.

Capitalism’s Alarm Call: Re-thinking the Violence of Aum Shinrikyô
Mark Pendleton, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

The violent events associated with religious sect Aum Shinrikyô permeated much critical thinking in Japan from the mid-1990s. Critics on the left argued that this violence emerged from a Japanese society in which individuals were atomised and alienated by the forces of capitalism. Voices on the right pointed to the incident as a manifestation of the ‘emasculation’ of postwar Japan and the need for a more strident nationalism. Both sets of explanations relied on national histories of war loss and postwar economic development. These two positions have been recently complicated by others that have re-evaluated the meaning of Aum’s violence in a continually shifting and increasingly destabilised national economic and social context situated at a temporal distance from the war and in an increasingly tenuous relation to the ‘postwar’. This paper explores one of these voices, ex-Aum leader Noda Naruhito, who recently published a volume called Revolution or War: Aum’s Alarm Call for Global Capitalism, tying Aum’s violence and organisational structure to global capitalism. Drawing on Noda and other recent writings, I problematise the idea that the emergence of Aum represented a nationally contained spontaneous eruption, instead arguing that violence, from quotidian labour exploitation to erratic street stabbings, marks the very nature of a post-bubble Japan that is struggling with underlying structural changes resulting from global forces. I ultimately raise the question of how to orient to political violence in a time of an economic decline that exposes the inequalities and everyday conflicts at the heart of contemporary capitalist societies.