Violence and democracy may seem fundamentally incompatible, but
the two have often been intimately and inextricably linked. In
Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists, Eiko Maruko Siniawer
argues that violence has been embedded in the practice of modern
Japanese politics from the very inception of the country's
experiment with democracy.
As soon as the parliament opened its doors in 1890, brawls,
fistfights, vandalism, threats, and intimidation quickly became a
fixture in Japanese politics, from campaigns and elections to
legislative debates. Most of this physical force was wielded by
what Siniawer calls "violence specialists": ruffians and yakuza.
Their systemic and enduring political violence-in the streets, in
the halls of parliament, during popular protests, and amid labor
strife-ultimately compromised party politics in Japan and
contributed to the rise of militarism in the 1930s.
For the post-World War II years, Siniawer illustrates how the
Japanese developed a preference for money over violence as a
political tool of choice. This change in tactics signaled a
political shift, but not necessarily an evolution, as corruption
and bribery were in some ways more insidious, exclusionary, and
undemocratic than violence. Siniawer demonstrates that the practice
of politics in Japan has been dangerous, chaotic, and far more
violent than previously thought. Additionally, crime has been more
Throughout the book, Siniawer makes clear that certain yakuza
groups were ideological in nature, contrary to the common
understanding of organized crime as nonideological. Ruffians,
Yakuza, Nationalists is essential reading for anyone wanting
to comprehend the role of violence in the formation of modern
nation-states and its place in both democratic and fascist
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