This project reconsiders progressive thought and activism in postwar Japan through the lens of Asia. It explores the tortured process of deimperialization, evolving debates on the region, and Japan’s expanding transnational grassroots engagements in East Asia, especially from the 1970s onward. Scholars of East Asian politics have long been sensitive to the shaping role of the region in contemporary Japanese political, economic, and social development. Only recently have historians started to pay attention to the country’s postwar history in the context of Asia. Contributing to these new directions, this project shows how, similar to the West, Asia has been both a critical lens and a geographical space for Japanese intellectuals and activists to grapple with questions of identity and history. To borrow from the sinologist Takeuchi Yoshimi, Asia has served as a “method” for postwar Japanese progressives on multiple levels: for facing the aporias of national identity, for addressing the tasks of deimperialization, for reformulating civic movement praxis, and for imagining new visions of regional community. Indeed, as this project reveals, we cannot fully understand the development of postwar progressive thought and activism in Japan without taking into account the multiple encounters and deep entanglements of Japanese with their regional neighbors. We might understand this as a process of “grassroots regionalization” in postwar Japan. Furthermore, nor can we completely explain the influx of the new norms of global civil society into Japan without recognizing the critical mediating role of activism within the region. Overall, the project shows how postwar Japanese thought and activism have been far more regionally-connected and regionally-fashioned phenomena than previously assumed.
Project location: Australian National University
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