Organized Panel Session
A persistent thread in Japan’s modern history, as in other nations, has been attempts by various actors to break free from the constraints of “politics” to establish new forms of protest, artistic expression, and social order. This interdisciplinary panel draws upon insights from political science, literature, philosophy, gender studies, and transnational history to investigate the role of “anti-politics” in modern Japan. Dayna Barnes uncovers how Japanese expatriates in early-20th-century San Francisco sought alternatives to party politics in the global anarchism movement. Patrick Noonan examines how, after two decades of vicious “politics and literature debates,” philosopher and critic Yoshimoto Takaaki sought to break Japanese literature free from ideology in the 1960s. Nick Kapur explores how a new strain of “non-political” protest in the 1970s and 1980s empowered women—particularly housewives—to seize leadership roles and pursue new strategies for social change. Finally, Seiko Mimaki examines a new form of de-politicized populism emerging in contemporary Japan, considering its origins in Japan’s postwar social contract and its potential evolution going forward.
The tenacity with which Japanese actors struggled to carve out a space for collective action outside the traditional bounds of politics speaks to how ideological conflict increasingly became anathema across the political spectrum over the course of Japan’s modern history. Insofar as Japanese politics are often described as staid and resistant to change, this may be because often the most truly political action—efforts to remake society, aesthetics, and human relationships—takes place outside of the usual ambit of activity deemed “politics.”