11 episodes

This podcast seeks to challenge the commonly held assumptions about Japan as harmonious, homogeneous, and traditional by recasting its history as a history of conflict and change, as the history of class struggles, from anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and intersectional perspectives.

Against Japanism Against Japanism

    • History
    • 4.4 • 14 Ratings

This podcast seeks to challenge the commonly held assumptions about Japan as harmonious, homogeneous, and traditional by recasting its history as a history of conflict and change, as the history of class struggles, from anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and intersectional perspectives.

    The Proletarian Gamble: Uno Kōzō's Theory of Crisis & Korean Workers in Interwar Japan w/ Ken Kawashima

    The Proletarian Gamble: Uno Kōzō's Theory of Crisis & Korean Workers in Interwar Japan w/ Ken Kawashima

    Kota is joined by Ken Kawashima, author of The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan and translator of Theory of Crisis by Japanese Marxist economist Uno Kōzō. 
    We begin the interview by discussing Uno’s methodology in analyzing capitalism called Sandankairon, or three-steps theory. The first step involves elucidating the fundamental principles of capitalism. The second step involves tracing the historical development of capitalism in stages. The third step is the conjectural analysis of capitalism in the present. 
    Through the analysis of fundamental principles, Uno argued that the crisis under capitalism is not an accident, but necessarily built into its cyclical movement through three phases: prosperity, crisis, and depression. Unlike other Marxist theories of crisis which identified its cause in the spheres of production or circulation, Uno argues that the crisis originates in the intersection of production and circulation: the commodification of labour power. Since labour power is the only commodity that can produce value, as much as the workers are reliant on wage for their subsistence, capitalism is equally reliant on the continuous commodification of their labor power for its survival. However, capitalism’s drive toward infinite growth meets its own barrier as the supply of labour power of human beings cannot be increased at will to meet the demands of expanding production. As a result, capitalist production comes to a stand-still. Uno therefore calls the commodification of labour power the fundamental contradiction of capitalism or its Archille’s Heel.
    Since capitalism is unable to readily produce human beings as things, it creates what Marx called relative surplus populations, a mass of unemployed workers considered surplus or excessive in relation to capitalist production, whom it can bring back into production once the cycle re-enters the phase of prosperity and capitalism resumes its expansion...in theory. However, while this repetition indicates the inevitability of crisis under capitalism, the ways in which the crisis happens changed with the development of capitalism from liberalism to imperialism. Under imperialism, capitalism no longer follows the clearly demarcated phases, but stagnates in the chronic state of depression and relies on the pool of chronically unemployed surplus populations, often located in (semi-)colonized countries.
    In the second half of this interview, we apply Uno’s Theory of Crisis to the historical stage of imperialism and the concrete struggle of Korean workers in the interwar period, who jumped out of the flying pan of agrarian poverty in the Korean countryside into the fire of post-WWI industrial recession and the Great Depression. We discuss the book’s title “Proletarian Gamble," how the struggle of Korean workers was intertwined with their struggle as tenants, how the rise in unemployment during the post-war recession and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, as well as the Korean Independence Movement in 1919 led to the reorganization of policing in the Japanese Empire. We conclude our interview by discussing how the struggle of Korean workers continued during and after WWII, and the struggle of migrants in Japan today and what this history tells us about capitalism and the necessity of communism.
    Intro Music: Cielo by Huma-Huma
    Outro Music: Flying Pan by Sugar Brown  
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    • 2 hr 26 min
    Ghost in the Machine: The Emperor System & Anti-Revolutionary Thought Policing in Interwar Japan w/ Max Ward

    Ghost in the Machine: The Emperor System & Anti-Revolutionary Thought Policing in Interwar Japan w/ Max Ward

    Kota sits down with Max Ward to discuss his book about the Japanese state’s effort to suppress revolutionary movements and ideologically convert their participants through the Peace Preservation Law in the 1920s & 30s. 
    We begin our interview by discussing the elusive concept of “Kokutai” (national polity or national essence) through a metaphor of Ghost in the Machine, the ideology of imperial sovereignty that animated the Japanese state and its application of the PPL.  While the law was intended to criminalize anybody who sought to “alter the kokutai,” because of the term’s ambiguity,  the legislators and state officials had to interpret it on a case by case basis. The previous scholars have interpreted this ambiguity as a problem that should not have been brought into the legal rationality of the law.  However, Dr. Ward argues that it was this very ambiguity that constituted the logic of imperial sovereignty and imperial ideology which stipulated that Japan shall be governed by “a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal.” 
    We then trace the change in the applications of this law from outright suppression of anarchists, communists, and anti-colonial activists to their “rehabilitation” and ideological conversion, known as "Tenkō" (literally "falling over" or "changing direction") where tens of thousands of activists renounced revolutionary politics and declared their support for Japanese imperialism and fascism as loyal imperial subjects, while reinforcing the image of the imperial sovereign’s supposed benevolence towards its wayward subjects.  He challenges the claim that this seemingly benign use of ideology to rehabilitate political criminals suggests a “janus faced” character of the prewar criminal justice system. Rather, it shows that power operates through both coercion and manufacturing of consent, as many converts supposedly chose to convert on their own volition through guidance and assistance by community groups like the Imperial Renovation Society which acted as what Louis Althusser calls Ideological State Apparatuses. By citing a similar program used against a group of Somali American men in the mid-2010's, he argues that how the PPL was applied is by no means unique to Japan, but universal in how power operates through both repression and ideology. 
    We discuss how the notion of “Japanese Spirit” and the supposed uniqueness of Japanese culture were mobilized in the mass conversation of JCP activists.  We ask whether the party grappled sufficiently with the national question, as shown in the conversion of its leaders Sano Manabu & Nabeyama Sadachika into “socialism in one country,” an appropriation of Stalin’s argument for defence of the Soviet Union into a type of national socialism, as well as how some historians reproduced this discourse.  We discuss how the law was applied in the colonies, what its history tells us about the rise of fascism in Japan and its relationship with liberalism, and how the Japanese state sought to popularize tenkō as part of the mass mobilization during WWII 
    We conclude our interview by discussing topics such as how the legacy of thought policing influenced the development of police power in post-WWII Japan, the representation of tenkō in Endo Shusaku’s novel Silence and its film adaptation by Martin Scorsese, the similarity between tenkō and the rightward drift by former leftists today as seen in the online discourse about “red patriotism,” and how the emperor system works in contemporary Japan.

    Intro Music: Cielo by Huma-Huma

    Outro Music: Parabola Divanorium by Paraj Bhatt

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    Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/againstjapanism)

    • 2 hr 15 min
    Solidarity with the Palestinian Resistance w/ May Shigenobu

    Solidarity with the Palestinian Resistance w/ May Shigenobu

    Kota sits down with a Palestinian-Japanese journalist Shigenobu May to talk about Palestine.

    May is the daughter of Shigenobu Fusako, a former member of the Japanese Red Army and a political prisoner in Japan. She is currently based in Lebanon, and since Lebanon is a country underdeveloped by imperialism, the availability of electricity and internet connectivity are very limited. As a result, I interviewed her on two separate occasions and combined them into one episode. 
    In the first segment of this interview recorded in June 24, we begin our conversation by discussing how her experience growing up in the Palestinian refugee camps shaped her views of Israel, US imperialism, and Palestinian human rights, including the right to resist. We critically examine the myths that Israel is a peace-loving country and that it is the “only democracy in the Middle East” despite the increasing international recognition to the contrary that it is a highly militarized settler colonial apartheid state that has violently murdered, displaced, and segregated the indigenous Palestinian people since its creation in 1948 remembered by Palestinians as al-Nakba (the Catastrophe). 

    In the second segment of this interview recorded in July 21, we focus on the history of Japan-Israel relations, beginning in the 1930s when some officials within the Japanese state influenced by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (an anti-Semitic text that associates Jewish people with money and other conspiracy theories) sought to settle Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the territories occupied by Japan in a belief that they will bring financial support to Japanese imperialism. After World War II, Japan was one of the first countries to recognize Israel and maintain friendly relations with it until the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 and the Arab states’ oil embargo led to an economic crisis in Japan. This led Japan to take a more cautious approach as a “neutral” party and maintain diplomatic relations with both Israel and the Arab states, as well as Iran. However, Japan moved toward rapprochement with Israel in 2014 and this led to increased economic, technological, and military cooperation between the two states, making Japan’s claim to neutrality in the so called “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” increasingly dubious. 
    We then discuss the history of solidarity between the Japanese left and the Palestinian struggle starting in the 1970s when Fusako traveled to Lebanon to cooperate with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  However, after the Lod Airport Massacre in which three members of the Japanese Red Army allegedly opened fire and killed twenty six civilians, the subsequent repression forced the Shigenobu family and other members of the JRA underground.  We discuss the misconceptions surrounding this incident and the change in the orientation of Japanese solidarity with Palestine towards a more legal and humanitarian direction led by NGOs, as well as the present day social movements such as the BDS movement. We also discuss the international dimension of the Palestinian struggle, the accusation of antisemitism against pro-Palestinian activists, the media representation of Palestine, and the role of social media in pro-Palestinian activism.

    Intro song:  Cielo by Huma-Huma

    Interlude song: Palestine [Freestyle] by MC Abdul

    Outro song:
    Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/againstjapanism)

    • 2 hr 29 min
    Women in the Japanese New Left w/ Chelsea Szendi Schieder

    Women in the Japanese New Left w/ Chelsea Szendi Schieder

    Kota is joined by Chelsea Szendi Schieder to discuss her latest book Coed Revolution: The Female Student in the Japanese New Left.

    Women in the Japanese New Left played a vital role in building up the militant student movement against Japan’s new capitalist education system and its complicity with the US imperialist aggression in Southeast Asia. However, the gender dynamic and patriarchal tendencies within the movement undermined their effort and led to the movement’s demise. This weakness was further compounded by the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of revolutionary women as vulnerable, ridiculous, or threatening, while silencing their own voices and political convictions. 
    We discuss the case of Kanba Michiko, a 22 year old student activist who died on June 15, 1960 during the mass protest against the US-Japan Security Treaty. Despite her own philosophical outlook as a dialectical materialist and political commitment as a revolutionary communist, she was portrayed by the media as a passive victim of police violence or innocent bystander, as a “maiden sacrifice for postwar democracy.” 
    Another important figure of this period was Tokoro Mitsuko, an activist and theorist who critiqued the masculinism she saw as inherent in capitalism. As an alternative, she proposed the logic of care and nurturing, and horizontalism and “endless debate” as a form of direct democracy that reflects this supposedly feminine logic.  While Tokoro’s characterization of this logic as “women’s logic” is undeniably essentialist, her philosophy was a product of its time when women’s work was devalued not only by Japan’s revitalized capitalist economy, but also within the student movement itself where women performed most of the care work such as cooking and cleaning, while men took the leadership positions and engaged in militant confrontations with the police. We discuss this tension within the framework of the debate between prefigurative and instrumental politics and the question of gendered division of labour within the leftist spaces today. 
    We then move on to discuss the patriarchal tendencies within the Japanese New Left’s cultural production such as the valorization of the figure of “Mama” as a de-politicizing figure and the popularity of yakuza films among the student militants, as well as the use of sexual violence as a political allegory in the films of Oshima Nagisa and Wakamatsu Koji. 
    We talk about the role of political violence in bringing about social change and how its misuse and mass policing that sought to establish grassroots community relations led to the New Left’s alienation from the masses and its subsequent demise. We address the question of how the Japanese left can overcome the negative legacy of inter-sectarian violence, and the gruesome internal purge of the United Red Army that seems to have discredited the leftwing militancy altogether. We specifically discuss the figure of Nagata Hiroko who was portrayed by the media in sexist terms as dangerous and irrational, and blamed for this intra-organizational violence more than her male comrades. 
    We conclude our interview by discussing what the ascendancy of bourgeois feminism reflected in the state-led initiatives such as “womenomics" catered towards upper and middle class Japanese women, and Japan’s neocolonial policy in the Global South and its exploitative immigration policy mean for feminism in Japan today, as well as the possibility of working class and non-Japanese women emerging as a revolutionary subject of their own. 

    Send your feedback, criticism, & inquiries to againstjapanism@gmail.com 

    Intro Music: Cielo by Huma-Huma

    Outro Music: Parabola Divanorium by Paraj Bhatt   
    Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/againstjapanism)

    • 1 hr 47 min
    The History of Marxism in Japan w/ Gavin Walker - Part 2

    The History of Marxism in Japan w/ Gavin Walker - Part 2

    Against Japanism presents Part 2 of an interview with Dr. Gavin Walker about the history of Marxism in Japan, focusing on the postwar period starting in the late 1940s.  
    First, we discuss the reason behind the Japanese Communist Party’s re-emergence as a mass party in the immediate postwar period. As mentioned in Part 1, in the 1920s and 30s, the JCP was a member of the Communist International or the Comintern (also known as the Third International) headquartered in the Soviet Union. Throughout its existence, members of the Comintern, who were representatives from communist parties from around the world, debated the meaning of fascism and how communists should respond to this rising far right movement. 
    As capitalism went into a series of crises during this period, they initially adapted a position that capitalism was in its final days and revolution was inevitable, and saw reformist social democracy as the primary enemy of the working class blocking the path to proletarian revolution. This was called the thesis on social fascism, equating social democracy and fascism as two sides of the same coin. However, with the rise of the Nazi Party to power and the subsequent anti-communist repression in Germany, the Comintern shifted its anti-fascist strategy to seeking broad based alliance with non-communist forces. This period of the Comintern’s existence is known as the Popular Front period. 
    While this debate was also taking place in Japan, it was cut short due to the intense state repression culminating in the Com Academy Incident of 1936 and the Popular Front Incident of 1937 (The former was a mass arrest of the Koza-ha Marxists and the latter the Rono-ha despite its renunciation of the Comintern and underground organizing). It was not until the 1945-1947 when the Japanese left experienced a brief moment of relative freedom under the US-led Allied Occupation that the JCP was really able to put the Popular Front policy into practice in the form of “democratic people’s front” (which was however largely rejected by its rival Socialist Party of Japan controlled by right wing social democrats). 
    Seeing the resurgence of militant labour movement in Japan and confronted with the spectre of communism in Asia, the US reversed its previous de-fascisization policy to turn Japan into a bastion of anti-communism. In doing so, they severely restricted civil liberties and workers’ rights on the pretext that social movements and labour unions are a hotbed of communist organizing, while releasing the wartime fascist leaders from prison and restoring them to power. Once again driven underground, the JCP turned to armed struggle in 1951. 
    We discuss how the Chinese Revolution and Maoism influenced the JCP of this period and the Japanese New Left, and how the JCP’s abandonment of armed struggle in 1955 and subsequent turn to reformism shaped the political landscape of the 1960s and 70s. We also discuss how the postwar Japanese left grappled with the questions of nationalism and internationalism. Finally, we conclude our interview by discussing how we can study and write history differently, not to idealize or trivialize the past, but to critique the present in the service of class struggle and revolution. 

    Intro Music: Cielo by Huma-
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    • 55 min
    The History of Marxism in Japan w/ Gavin Walker - Part 1

    The History of Marxism in Japan w/ Gavin Walker - Part 1

    In this two part series, Kota sits down with Gavin Walker to discuss the history of Marxism in Japan.  Instead of simply narrating the facts of this history chronologically, we focus on particular theoretical and political questions that animated the Japanese communist movement before and after the Second World War. 

    We begin our conversation by discussing what the history of Marxism in Japan tells us about “Japan” as represented by the Eurocentric and Orientalist conception of the world, and the importance of the national question, the ways in which Marxists address issues related to nationhood, nationalism, and internationalism.
    We then zoom in on the debate on Japanese capitalism during the 1930s that divided the Japanese communist movement between the Koza-ha (Lecture Faction) and the Rono-ha (Labour Farmer Faction). 

    This debate was centred around the question of what the Meiji Restoration of 1868 meant for the development of capitalism in Japan, specifically the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and whether capitalism in Japan during the 1930s was sufficiently developed to pave the way for a socialist revolution. 
    On the one hand, the Koza-ha held that the fascistic nature of the Japanese state  was a product of the remnants of feudalism that persisted in the countryside after the Meiji Restoration and held back the development of capitalism in Japan. Thus, they argued for a two stage revolution in which the completion of a bourgeois democratic revolution (including the abolition of the emperor system) precedes the socialist revolution. On the other hand, the Rono-ha argued that capitalism was fully matured by then, and hence what Japan needed was a one stage socialist revolution. We also discuss the theory of Uno Kozo who came out of the Rono-ha tradition, but charted an independent path in the postwar period and made a retrospective contribution to this debate. 
    While both Koza-ha and Rono-ha produced a vast amount of literature about Japanese society, and contributed to the dominance of Marxism among Japanese intellectuals that persisted into the postwar period, both were relatively silent about the role of imperialism and colonialism in the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Japan. We delve into the question of why this was the case and the link between the rapid development of capitalism in Japan, and the colonization of the Ainu homelands and the Ryukyu Kingdom, as well as Korea, Taiwan, South Pacific Islands, and northeastern China.
    We conclude the first part of this interview by discussing how this debate on Japanese capitalism influenced the strategies and tactics of the Japanese communist movement in the prewar period, as well as the role of arts and culture in popularizing Marxism. 
    Part 2 will cover topics such as the impact of the Chinese Revolution and Maoism on the Japanese left, and the questions of nationalism and internationalism in postwar Japan.

    Gavin Walker is Associate Professor of History at McGill University. He is the author of The Sublime Perversion of Capital (Duke, 2016) and the forthcoming Marx et la politique du dehors (Lux Éditeur, 2021), the editor of The End of Area: Biopolitics, Geopolitics, History (Duke, 2019, with Naoki Sakai), and The Red Years: Theory, Politics, and Aesthetics in the Japanese ’68 (Verso, 2020) as well as editor and translator of Kojin Karatani’s Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility (Verso, 2020). He is widely published in critical theory, social and political thought, modern intellectual history, and Marxist theory. Among other projects, he is now writing a short book on the national question. 

    Follow this podcast on Twitter & Instagram @againstjapanismpodcast
    Send your feedback, criticism, & inquiries to againstjapanism@gmail.com
    Intro Music: C
    Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/againstjapanism)

    • 1 hr 11 min

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
14 Ratings

14 Ratings

Goodnight Cassie ,

Excellent and important work

It’s so rare to find works of any kind actively dealing to dismantle- what i agree with the host to be - japanism.

As a Japanese teacher , it’s really hard to eliminate orientalism and some deluded ideas people have about Japan. This podcast openly strives against Japanese imperialism and fascists movements , a most necessary work.

I have learnt a lot from this show and i look forward for more.

Japan is not a perfect place , nor are they just the pacifist projection they have currently. It’s great to see someone openly analyzing a more holistic approach of Japan from the left.

Jtfritchie ,

Fascinating and Needed

Rare is the opportunity to get a materialist understanding of Japan in English. So excited to find this. Gary Leupp from Tufts University might be a great person to hear here, FYI.

ibrosia ,

looking forward to more!!

i just binged the first two episodes and i’m so excited for more. i really appreciate kota’s perspective on jpn history, which is much different than the little i learned through american schooling and movies. the most recent episode with kaz and andrew was also equally fun and insightful, i hope they can return as well!

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