The seminar's members, representing the full range of academic disciplines that bear upon the study of Japan and including Japan specialists from government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, meet regularly to discuss scholarly papers on all aspects of modern Japan, from history, literature, art, and the performing arts to politics, economics, social issues, and the US-Japan bilateral relationship.

Seminar: #445

Founded: 1960

Feb 9, 2008

March 7, 2008
Janis Mimura (SUNY, Stony Brook)

Modernity and Fascism in Interwar Japan

Like the idea of a German Sonderweg in the historiography of Nazi Germany, the view of wartime Japan as a “dark valley” (kurai tanima) has been severely challenged by scholars of Japan. A reflection of the Modernization School of the 1950s and 60s, the term suggests that interwar Japan represented a deviation from the “normal” trajectory of historical development culminating in parliamentary democracy and market capitalism. Since the 1980s, historians have shown how the wartime years represented a period of opportunity and bold experimentation for Japan’s elite. However, modified versions of the modernization approach continue to inform debates on Japanese fascism. Following the main interpretive line of Japan’s late emergence and resulting political backwardness, Japanese fascism is promoted or rejected on the basis of such factors as its lack of a mass leader and party, continuity of conservative, authoritarian rule, frustrated imperialist ambition, and the influence of the feudal and irrational agrarianism and Japanism of the reactionary right.
In this paper I seek to incorporate recent approaches toward modernity into the study of Japanese fascism by highlighting the importance of an interwar conjuncture and historical contingency. I examine the emergence after World War I of a new historical trend of “technocratic modernity” in which the major industrial powers responded to the dual challenge of the rise of technology and mass society. In the wake of the liberal crisis in the early 1930s, Japanese planners sought to combine technocratic planning with ethnic nationalism to implement controversial reforms and appeal to the masses. Leaders experimented with new strategies of planning and mobilization first in Japan-occupied Manchuria and later in Japan’s wartime regime. I argue that it was the specific combination of technocratic planning and cultural particularism in interwar Japan that constituted a new political innovation called fascism.
Discussant: Barbara Brooks (CUNY)