Genealogies of Politics and Thought in Modern Japan

Title: 1259 | Genealogies of Politics and Thought in Modern Japan
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Amin Ghadimi, Utsunomiya University, Japan (organizer, presenter)
Taro Tsuda, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, United States (presenter)
Jonas Rüegg, Harvard University, United States (presenter)
Jürgen Melzer, Yamanashi Gakuin University, Japan (chair)
Yoko Fukao, Osaka University, Japan (discussant)


This panel seeks to revisit the field of political history by bringing it into conversation with the newest methodologies and approaches in adjacent fields. Stretching across the full scope of Japanese modernity, from the late Tokugawa to the postwar era, and across various subfields of political history, including geography, thought, and institutional history, the panel hones in on critical junctures of the past to argue that the evolution of political thought and state institutions in modern Japan must be understood in a biographical sense through the networks of their creators.

Jonas Rüegg merges new thinking about the mid-nineteenth-century origins of Japanese imperialism with new attempts to examine the Tokugawa bakufu as an international actor to situate bakumatsu political ideology firmly within the Pacific region. Amin Ghadimi argues that the resurgence of intellectual history over the last decade, especially amid its 'turn to the global,' suffers without adequate attention to the state bureaucratic institutions within which ideas were generated. And Taro Tsuda points at longstanding entanglement between generations of Japanese leaders, shedding light on little-known loyalties and power dynamics in 20th-century Japan; he focuses on the case of one of Japan’s foremost postwar politicians to conceptualize the interplay of political elites and organizations over time. Yoko Fukao and Jürgen Melzer, senior scholars in the field, bring their critical expertise to bear on these new perspectives.

Panel Abstracts:
Bureaucratic History as Global Intellectual History in 1873 Japan
This paper examines the bureaucratic row between the Ministry of Justice of Etō Shinpei and the Ministry of Finance of Inoue Kaoru in 1873, a dispute that irrevocably split the Meiji government that year in what is known as the Political Crisis of Meiji 6. What began as a budgetary dispute exacerbated by domainal-factionalist rivalry quickly snowballed into a full-blown public political scandal, reported in the press, that involved the resignation and counter-resignation of leading Meiji bureaucrats—and eventually precipitated the defection from the government of some of its most important leaders. This paper makes two arguments about this political watershed. First, regarding Japan, it claims that the dispute inadvertently constituted a crucial origin moment of the concept of civil society: the idea of the independence of the people as an entity distinct from the government became a potent ideological force wielded by self-interested bureaucratic ministries intent on toppling their government rivals. Second, regarding the discipline of History, the paper argues that the modern history of Japanese bureaucracy must be a global intellectual history and that global intellectual history must be situated firmly with the history of political institutions. By paying particular attention to the ideas of Georges Bousquet, the French advisor in the justice ministry, the paper reveals how the seemingly parochial bureaucratic concerns of Etō and Inoue in fact turned on profound, globally traveling problems of state-society relations. The paper thus seeks to interpret the political history of 1873 as a history of global ideas.

Elite Politics and Party Stability: The Role of Former Prime Ministers in the LDP’s Golden Age
Former heads of government comprise an exclusive club of actors who wield unique forms of political leverage. This is true in any political system, including that of Japan, which has an entrenched tradition of elder statesmen, sometimes ostensibly retired from political life, exerting political power.This paper examines the role of former party heads and prime ministers in managing the affairs of Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The influence of elders in the LDP was limited in comparison to the Meiji or Taishō-era “oligarchs” or the elders of prewar political parties who played an outsized part in selecting party leaders, but they still often exerted considerable informal influence depending on their personal attributes and connection to other elites. Surveying several important figures in the heyday of LDP rule, this paper focuses on Satō Eisaku from the end of his premiership in 1972 to his death in 1975. While Satō’s career as retired leader was comparatively short, it is informative and relevant in several ways. After one of the longest tenures as prime minister, Satō’s post-premiership coincided with a time of unprecedented turbulence and transition within the LDP and Japanese politics more generally. It sheds light on why Satō, a controversial prime minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974, to date the only Japanese person to have achieved this feat. This study seeks to provide perspective on generational change among political elites in the Japanese context and beyond.

Envisioning Paradise: Late Tokugawa Politics and the Genealogy of Nanyō Ideology
In his ‘Secret Plan for Unification,’ Satō Nobuhiro in 1823 laid out a detailed plan for radical political reforms and aggressive expansionism that would make Japan the ruler over Asia and the Pacific. Often depicted as the inventor of the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, the proto-nationalist was exceptional in his ambitions, but by no means the only one to propagate early plans for maritime expansion. Long before Shiga Shigetaka coined the idea of the Nanyō as a Japanese lebensraum stretching from Polynesia to Southeast Asia, expansionists staked out geographical scopes for their ambitions in the Pacific.This paper discusses the emergence of new geopolitical discourses and changing perceptions of geography over the century leading up to the Meiji Reform. Beginning with a geographical emancipation from the continent in the late 18th century, Intellectuals in the tradition of Hayashi Shihei directed their colonial fantasies first to the Bonin Islands, then to the Pacific more broadly. This gave birth to new and purposefully vague geographical concepts such as Nankai or ‘Southern Sea’ to define the unknown maritime space. The appearance and disappearance of terminology reflected ever-changing geopolitical situations through which Japanese intellectuals found themselves in dialogue with an international discourse on geopolitics.Introducing a Japanese perspective on the construction of the Pacific World as a multilateral negotiation, this paper attempts to connect late Tokugawa debates to a globalizing discourse, and to seek an early modern genealogy for imperial Japan’s notions of geography

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