Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan

Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan

Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan

Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan

Synopsis

Making Japanese Citizens is an expansive history of the activists, intellectuals, and movements that played a crucial role in shaping civil society and civic thought throughout the broad sweep of Japan's postwar period. Weaving his analysis around the concept of shimin (citizen), Simon Avenell traces the development of a new vision of citizenship based on political participation, self-reliance, popular nationalism, and commitment to daily life. He traces civic activism through six phases: the cultural associations of the 1940s and 1950s, the massive U.S.-Japan Security Treaty protests of 1960, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the antipollution and antidevelopment protests of the 1960s and 1970s, movements for local government reform and the rise of new civic groups from the mid-1970s. This rich portrayal of activists and their ideas illuminates questions of democracy, citizenship, and political participation both in contemporary Japan and in other industrialized nations more generally.

Excerpt

Here citizen does not mean the resident of an administrative
unit such as prefecture, city, town, or village. Nor does it
refer to a specific stratum such as the petit bourgeoisie.
Citizen means a spontaneous type of human shaped by a
“republican” spirit of freedom and equality. … of course,
citizenship is not a godlike existence. It is nothing more than
we ordinary people with all our joy and anger.

—Matsushita Keiichi, 1971

Who is a SHIMIN?

Who is a citizen and how is citizenship expressed? Is it all about qualification, or is citizenship just as much a performance—as much doing as it is being, to borrow from one of Japan’s great thinkers? For Matsushita Keiichi, a local government reformer and author of the above observation, democratic citizenship certainly depends on the robustness of institutions, but he also saw citizenship in a performative way, as a creation of ordinary people engaging in the public sphere and making politics their own. Such performative citizenship was especially important for Matsushita and others because its supposed earlier absence—or, at least, incompleteness—explained for them much of what had gone wrong in Japanese history from the mid-nineteenth century onward. It was at once a commentary on failures of the past (both individual and national) and a prototype for a new national community to be fashioned by ordinary citizens in the present and beyond. in fact, so important was this concept of performative citizenship for reformers that they gave it a name: shimin (citizen)—a word that spoke to some of the central aspirations of the Japanese people as they refashioned their nation into a modern liberal democracy in the wake of war and national humiliation.

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