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Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan

Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan

Daniel V. Botsman
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan
    Book Description:

    The kinds of punishment used in a society have long been considered an important criterion in judging whether a society is civilized or barbaric, advanced or backward, modern or premodern. Focusing on Japan, and the dramatic revolution in punishments that occurred after the Meiji Restoration, Daniel Botsman asks how such distinctions have affected our understanding of the past and contributed, in turn, to the proliferation of new kinds of barbarity in the modern world.

    While there is no denying the ferocity of many of the penal practices in use during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), this book begins by showing that these formed part of a sophisticated system of order that did have its limits. Botsman then demonstrates that although significant innovations occurred later in the period, they did not fit smoothly into the "modernization" process. Instead, he argues, the Western powers forced a break with the past by using the specter of Oriental barbarism to justify their own aggressive expansion into East Asia. The ensuing changes were not simply imposed from outside, however. The Meiji regime soon realized that the modern prison could serve not only as a symbol of Japan's international progress but also as a powerful domestic tool. The first English-language study of the history of punishment in Japan, the book concludes by examining how modern ideas about progress and civilization shaped penal practices in Japan's own colonial empire.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4929-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    If you wander around the antiquarian bookstores of Tokyo’s famous Jimbochō district looking for material on the history of punishment, you are bound to discover copies of an old picture book called Tokugawa bakufu keiji zufu (An Illustrated Guide to the Punishments of the Tokugawa Shogunate).¹ Compiled in 1893 by an artist named Fujita Shintarō, the guide contains some sixty color drawings, divided into three main sections. The first section depicts a range of crimes supposedly typical of the Tokugawa period (1603–1867). There are drawings of thieves and bandits, corrupt merchants and gamblers, and—in what undoubtedly constitutes evidence...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Signs of Order: Punishment and Power in the Shogun’s Capital
    (pp. 14-40)

    One of the standard tropes scholars have used to discuss the history of punishment in Tokugawa Japan posits a gradual but steady alleviation of cruelty over a period of several centuries.¹ The height of barbarity, we are told, was reached in the sixteenth century, when the old structures of centralized rule were hacked to pieces by hundreds of local warlords. These men (they were always men) engaged each other in fierce struggles for territory and power, but they also faced continual threats from their own allies and followers. Treachery was rife, and the gap between usurper and lord was often...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Bloody Benevolence: Punishment, Ideology, and Outcasts
    (pp. 41-58)

    Violent executions and dramatic displays of mutilated bodies, veiled laws and brutal interrogations are all things that, at some level, we might expect of a warrior regime. Yet, viewed within the broader context of Tokugawa period ideas about government, they also present us with something of a paradox. While warrior power clearly had its origins in the ability to orchestrate mass slaughter, brute force alone could not guarantee political or social stability over an extended period of time. As the “great peace” of the seventeenth century endured, therefore, the new regime and its supporters began crafting an elaborate ruling ideology...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Power of Status: Kodenmachō Jailhouse and the Structures of Tokugawa Society
    (pp. 59-84)

    Given the place that outcasts occupied in Tokugawa society and the ongoing discrimination that their descendants have faced, it is not difficult to understand why scholars have sometimes compared their situation with that of African Americans in the United States or to so-called untouchables in India.¹ Yet, just as the full significance of race in an American context, or caste in an Indian context, cannot be understood by focusing solely on the experiences of those who have been most adversely affected by it, so too is it important to acknowledge that the status system in Tokugawa Japan was about more...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Discourse, Dynamism, and Disorder: The Historical Significance of the Edo Stockade for Laborers
    (pp. 85-114)

    The first three chapters of this book have examined some of the broad principles that governed Tokugawa penal practices in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In general, these principles remained consistent over time, but Japanese society in the centuries preceding the Meiji Restoration was hardly static. As social conditions changed, new problems and tensions emerged, helping in turn to give rise to new ideas and critical discourses. This chapter begins by examining some of the critiques of the existing punishment system that were developed over the course of the eighteenth century. In addition to the important arguments of Ogyū...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Punishment and the Politics of Civilization in Bakumatsu Japan
    (pp. 115-140)

    As the forces of Western imperialism began to make their presence felt in East Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century, criticisms of the existing order of things in Japan were invested with a new sense of gravity. Initially, the Bakufu was able to ensure that the effects of foreign incursions were felt only in limited circles, but with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s gunboats in 1853 the parameters of domestic political discourse shifted irrevocably. With the need for some kind of reform widely acknowledged, a range of competing visions (and ambitions) for the future emerged, helping to...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Restoration and Reform: The Birth of the Prison in Japan
    (pp. 141-164)

    It did not take the Meiji leaders long to begin dismantling the system of punishments they inherited from the Tokugawa. Within a month of announcing the “Restoration of Imperial Rule” they had already ordered the compilation of a new set of provisional penal regulations (kari keiritsu) for use in areas under their direct control, and in December 1868, just weeks after the last significant pockets of military resistance to their authority had finally been crushed, Iwakura Tomomi (1825–83), the court noble who had come to play a central role in the new regime, petitioned the throne with a call...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Punishment and Prisons in the Era of Enlightenment
    (pp. 165-200)

    If the execution of Etō Shimpei in 1874 provides us with a valuable reminder of the persistence of older strategies of punishment and power in the years immediately following the Restoration, the two decades that followed his death were to see the completion of Japan’s penal revolution. This, of course, is not to imply that all change suddenly stopped in 1895. Japan’s current penal code was not issued until 1907. Its current prisons law followed in 1908, and, as in other wealthy, capitalist nations, its penal system ever since has been characterized by a continual series of experiments and debates,...

  14. CONCLUSION Punishment, Empire, and History in the Making of Modern Japan
    (pp. 201-230)

    When first confronted with descriptions of the Tokugawa Bakufu’s arsenal of brutal punishments, it is difficult to imagine that the Meiji period transition to a penal system based on the modern prison could have constituted anything other than a clear-cut example of human progress. One of the aims of this book, however, has been to challenge and complicate such straightforwardly Whiggish interpretations of the results of Japan’s encounter with Western modernity.

    There is, of course, no denying the bloody nature of Tokugawa punishments, and it is certainly not my intention to advocate a return to public floggings, burnings at the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 231-280)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-302)
  17. Index
    (pp. 303-319)