Are there any good English-language sources on dissent in World War II era Japan?
July 3, 2008 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Are there any good English-language sources on dissent in World War II era Japan?

I recently met a Japanese woman who grew up in a dissenting household during World War II. I also learned that some Buddhist leaders were jailed for dissent by the Tojo government. Now, if I had thought about it I'm sure I would've realized that dissent was just as widespread in Japan as it was in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. However, I never thought about it because I don't remember ever seeing it mentioned before. Can anyone point me towards good English-language books, articles or websites about dissent in WWII-era Japan? Or, in a pinch, summarize non-English sources?
posted by Kattullus to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There is book called Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki where that sort of dissent is discussed.
posted by Ponderance at 11:37 AM on July 3, 2008

You might want to look at Barefoot Gen. It's historical fiction but from what I understand it portrays a pretty accurate picture of dissent in wartime Japan.
posted by crios at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: Reading the Wikipedia page about Barefoot Gen I get the impression it's about Hiroshima and its aftermath. I'm specifically looking for dissent in Japan during WWII, not after. Does Barefoot Gen address that?

Barefoot Gen looks interesting, mind, I'll have to ask some manga-reading friends if they have it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:04 PM on July 3, 2008

Peasants, Rebels and Outcasts: the Underside of Modern Japan, while covering Japan from the Meiji Restoration to defeat in 1945, has some good stuff about resistance during World War II. It's a popular book in Pacific and Asian Studies, so check out your local campus used bookstore for a copy.

Japan at War: an Oral History covers pretty much everything about Japan at war, including recollections by Koreans recruited as slave labour, and sex trade workers.

I also searched Amazon using the keyword kempeitai; there are probably some books connected with that subject that talk about resistance in Japan during the war (although I must say that the word "kempeitai" is almost unknown to contemporary Japanese).

Not a lot of popular books have been written about resistance to the war in Japan. For one thing, there are not a lot of scholars who have an interest in this subject who also speak and read Japanese well enough to research a book about it.

Also, it's questionable about how much resistance there actually was in Japan during the war, and for that reason as well, few books have been written in English on the subject.

You may have to go to the periodical reading room at your local Pacific and Asian Studies Department and check out some journal articles.

I went to Japan in 1994 wanting to learn the "real history". I couldn't really find any English-language books about the subject either (both the books I've recommended were published nearly twenty years ago). I ended up having to learn Japanese so I could actually reads books in Japanese about the war.

War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War
, by John Dower, also provides an excellent backdrop on why there might not have been much resistance tot the war in Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you, KokuRyu, I'll have to check these out. What about religious dissent? I know that some Buddhists went to prison, has there been any sholarship on that?
posted by Kattullus at 6:36 PM on July 3, 2008

Barefoot Gen does address dissent in the 1st book. The father is a pacifist and believes the war is wrong and the family is persecuted for it. The bomb doesn't get dropped until the end of the first book. I would recommend the 1st book.
posted by crios at 6:42 PM on July 3, 2008

Best answer: If you read Japan at War: an Oral History, you'll probably discover that most of the people opposing the war in Japan were members of the communist party, so it might pay to research that a bit more if you can.

While not dissent, an interesting read might be Zen at War examines the supposed close relationship between Zen (although there are at least two different sects in Japan) and the military during the war. I lived in Fukui Prefecture (the birthplace of Soto Zen in Japan) and regularly visited a Buddhist monastery there. An American-born monk I was friends with, however, disputed the claims stated in "Zen at War"...

You could always check out the history of Christianity in Japan - Christianity was most certainly repressed in wartime.

A History of Japanese Religion remarks that Deguchi Onisabaro, founder of the Omoto Shinto "new religion" was imprisoned during the war, but mainly because Omoto, as a doctrine, was in conflict with State Shinto.

According to "A History of Japanese Religions", Tenrikyo was also suppressed during wartime, but once again, mostly for reasons of "lese-majeste": the beliefs of Tenrikyo, as well as Omoto and other "new religions" contradicted official State Shinto doctrine that the Emperor was indeed a living deity.

Anyway, I would argue that because of the relative youth of democracy in Japan and lack of a history of opposition politics, plus the general lack of mass media and the resulting unsophistication of most of the Japanese populace (versus the sophistication, as well as the means - radio, education system, government bodies - of the government to get its message out), and the sheer length - fifteen years - of the Pacific War, most of the opposition would be centred in the larger cities of Tokyo and Osaka, and by communist intellectuals, most of whom would have been rooted out over time. The second key group of resistors would be Koreans.

Anyway, good luck with your project.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:21 PM on July 3, 2008

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