Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists

Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists: The Violent Politics of Modern Japan, 1860–1960

Eiko Maruko Siniawer
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists
    Book Description:

    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 political.

    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 movements.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6185-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Eiko Maruko Siniawer
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Violence has been an enduring force in the history of modern Japanese politics. The very birth of the modern Japanese state was violent. In the 1850s, the early modern Tokugawa regime (1600–1868) faltered when threatened by ominous foreign gunboats that appeared off its shores, and in the 1860s was forced to its knees by rebel assassins and armies of defiant domains. The fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868 has been described by many historians as peaceful, with the new Meiji emperor declaring the abolition of the old order in January and the last Tokugawa shogun surrendering the capital...

  5. 1 Patriots and Gamblers: Violence and the Formation of the Meiji State
    (pp. 11-41)

    Standing before an overflowing crowd on the grounds of a local shrine, Tashiro Eisuke announced himself president and commander of the assembled and christened them the Konmingun (Poor People’s Army).¹ This fighting force of farmers and other members of rural society wore headbands, had their sleeves rolled up, and stood ready with bamboo spears, swords, and rifles.² On this first day of November in 1884, they converged in the Chichibu District of Saitama Prefecture and then launched a rebellion against those they deemed responsible for their poverty and powerlessness: rapacious lenders and the Meiji state. As its members murdered usurers,...

  6. 2 Violent Democracy: Ruffians and the Birth of Parliamentary Politics
    (pp. 42-73)

    On February 11, 1889, the Meiji Constitution was promulgated in a carefully orchestrated ceremony intended to exhibit Japan’s emergence among the politically “civilized” nations of the late nineteenth-century world. In a historical moment intended to symbolize enlightened politics, the Emperor Meiji, outfitted in military uniform, stood in front of his European-style throne to pronounce the Constitution of the Empire of Japan before a small audience of foreign and Japanese dignitaries adorned in formal Western dress.¹ This scene, crafted to epitomize regal and gentlemanly politics, optimistically portended political stability and order in a new era of constitutional and parliamentary government.


  7. 3 Institutionalized Ruffianism and a Culture of Political Violence
    (pp. 74-107)

    In mid-February 1922, the economic daily Chūgai shōgyō shinpō ran a three-part series to herald a “new era of brute courage and tenacity” in politics. Entitled “Biographies of Brave Diet Members,” the articles stressed the importance of physical strength in political life and applauded those politicians who were skilled at fighting, be it in Diet-floor brawls or in martial arts such as judo. Spotlighted in two of the articles were Diet members known for their physical prowess, such as: Tsunoda Koreshige from Nara Prefecture who was rumored to make 10,000 enemy soldiers cower just by unsheathing his saber; Ayabe Sōbei...

  8. 4 Fascist Violence: Ideology and Power in Prewar Japan
    (pp. 108-138)

    In his 1943 book Government by Assassination, retired Japan correspondent Hugh Byas observed of prewar nationalist groups:

    In Japan . . . professional patriotism and professional crime drew together and blended in a way that made patriotism a stink in the nostrils. The big patriotic societies were only the one third of the iceberg that shows above water; below, in the depths, a whole underworld of criminals hunted their prey under a mask of patriotism just as Dick Turpin robbed the highways wearing a mask of crepe.¹

    The nationalist organizations that Byas so evocatively described were a rapidly growing phenomenon...

  9. 5 Democracy Reconstructed: Violence Specialists in the Postwar Period
    (pp. 139-174)

    In late May 1946, the Yomiuri shinbun ran an editorial that declared violence the enemy of democracy. As part of the effort to build a foundation for a new and peaceful country, the Japanese people were urged to embrace democracy as a force against the remnants of “feudal,” violent thinking. Prewar terrorism and military tyranny were evoked as reminders of how violence could run amok, with utterly devastating consequences.¹ The Yomiuri shinbun was not alone in its condemnation of violence; the editorial in a mass-circulation daily newspaper was but one expression of a common postwar refrain about the incompatibility of...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 175-182)

    For much of Japan’s modern history, violence and democracy have coexisted in an uneasy, complicated, and tense relationship. In Japan, as elsewhere, violence and democracy were drawn into a tenacious embrace that endangered each without destroying the other. Violence did not single-handedly extinguish democratic politics, and democracy was far from being a panacea for violent politics.

    Indeed, at the very heart of Japan’s violent democracy was a tension: democratic politics attracted the very kind of violence that was often undemocratic in its consequences. In the 1890s, the promulgation of a constitution, the establishment of a parliament, and general elections for...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 183-184)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-230)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-270)