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Hard Times in the Hometown

Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan

Martin Dusinberre
Copyright Date: 2012
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    Hard Times in the Hometown
    Book Description:

    Hard Times in the Hometowntells the story of Kaminoseki, a small town on Japan's Inland Sea. Once one of the most prosperous ports in the country, Kaminoseki fell into profound economic decline following Japan's reengagement with the West in the late nineteenth century. Using a recently discovered archive and oral histories collected during his years of research in Kaminoseki, Martin Dusinberre reconstructs the lives of households and townspeople as they tried to make sense of their changing place in the world. In challenging the familiar story of modern Japanese growth, Dusinberre provides important new insights into how ordinary people shaped the development of the modern state.Chapters describe the role of local revolutionaries in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the ways townspeople grasped opportunities to work overseas in the late nineteenth century, and the impact this pan-Pacific diaspora community had on Kaminoseki during the prewar decades. These histories amplify Dusinberre's analysis of postwar rural decline-a phenomenon found not only in Japan but throughout the industrialized Western world. His account comes to a climax when, in the 1980s, the town's councillors request the construction of a nuclear power station, unleashing a storm of protests from within the community. This ongoing nuclear dispute has particular resonance in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis.Hard Times in the Hometowngives voice to personal histories otherwise lost in abandoned archives. By bringing to life the everyday landscape of Kaminoseki, this work offers readers a compelling story through which to better understand not only nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan but also modern transformations more generally.15 illus., 2 maps

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6112-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    • 1 The Silk Road of the Sea: A Beginning
      (pp. 3-16)

      In days past, visitors to Kaminoseki arrived by boat, sailing into the town’s gentle bays on the back of prosperous winds and tides. Kaminoseki was then just another port, one of many that punctuated the journey from Shimonoseki to Osaka through the glorious scenery of Japan’s Inland Sea.

      My own journeys to Kaminoseki, starting in September 1998, were somewhat more prosaic, involving a train, a bus, and a group of high school students whose early morning inquisitiveness tested my otherwise sunny demeanor. Our route took us twenty kilometers down the mountainous Murotsu peninsula to the southern extreme of Yamaguchi prefecture,...

    • 2 Edo Period Riches
      (pp. 17-36)

      In December 1860, the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune (1812–1880) found himself on a steamship heading westward through the Inland Sea. Japan had only been “opened” by the West some six years previously, and theEnglandwas one of the first foreign commercial vessels allowed to navigate these waters.

      Southeast of Kaminoseki, as theEnglandheaded into the Bungo Suido channel, a storm struck. In hisNarrative,published three years after the event, Fortune maintains a calm tone as he describes how Captain Dundas turned the ship away from the storm and sought shelter. Yet the relief at what captain...


    • 3 Murotsu and the Meiji Revolution, 1868
      (pp. 39-52)

      In February 1864, three men attacked theKatoku-maruas it lay in port in Befu, to the west of the Kaminoseki straits. The men beheaded the ship’s principal merchant, a Satsuma native by the name of Ōtani, and set fire to his cargo. As the ship burned the attackers returned to their base in Murotsu. Later, two of the men traveled on to the Minami-Mido temple in Osaka, where they displayed Ōtani’s head for all to see and then committed ritual suicide. The third made his way to Saihōji temple in Murotsu, where he too disemboweled himself.¹

      In the wider...

    • 4 The Political Culture of the Meiji Village
      (pp. 53-66)

      In the summer of 1968, as universities throughout Japan were gripped by unrest, a team of students led by the historian Irokawa Daikichi discovered an extraordinary set of late-nineteenth-century documents in a derelict storehouse in Fukasawa hamlet, some sixty kilometers west of Tokyo. The documents included “a draft of a people’s constitution consisting of 204 articles.” In addition, “we discovered a petition urging the early establishment of a national assembly; . . . we found several hundred books that showed how excited the people [in Fukasawa] were about learning and politics. . . . Through these materials we learned that...

    • 5 Ritual Culture and Political Power
      (pp. 67-80)

      August 1948, and the islanders of Iwaishima are preparing for a festival. Not the annual autumn celebrations that start at the Miyato Shrine and spill down onto the main beach, where the excitable youths of East Hamlet and West Hamlet charge their portable shrines into each other and the day ends up with (fairly) good-natured fisticuffs; rather, the preparations now taking place under the blazing summer sun are on an altogether bigger scale.

      In the fallow fields of East Hamlet, men gather to construct a temporary shrine, some twenty meters by seventeen. Under the supervision of a master carpenter, they...


    • 6 Overseas Migration at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 83-98)

      One of the most extraordinary aspects of Kaminoseki’s modern history is also one of its least studied. From the late nineteenth century onward, hundreds of men and women left the town to earn money abroad, in Hawai‘i, Korea, Taiwan, Canada, the South Seas islands, the mainland United States, Karafuto, Manchuria, China, Brazil, and Peru. Some stayed for many years or even their whole lives in their new host cultures; others worked overseas temporarily, for three or four years, in what seems to have been an international extension of the Edo period pattern of off-season outmigration. Today, however, only the vestiges...

    • 7 The Transnational Hometown: Zenith and Decline
      (pp. 99-116)

      One sunny day sometime in 1939, some forty of Iwaishima’s great and good assembled in the island’s elementary school playground: among their ranks were the district head (kuchō), post office master, school principal, doctor, head of the Farming Cooperative, and priests from the temples and the main Miyato shrine. Almost all the men were dressed in emblazoned kimonos and doffed their homburg hats as they watched Matsuoka Jinta (in a three-piece morning suit) and his eldest son Yoshitetsu (in high school uniform) officially unveil a bronze statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a legendary medieval warrior. (See Fig. 7.1.) The statue stood...


    • 8 Bridging the Postwar Divide
      (pp. 119-135)

      The billing was enthusiastic, if perhaps somewhat over the top: in April 1969, the residents of Kaminoseki town were invited to an event designated “The achievement of the century, the realization of our dreams: the celebrations to mark the completion of the Kaminoseki Great Bridge.”¹

      To bridge the hundred-meter-wide straits between Nagashima and the mainland had indeed been a dream of town planners for many years. The earliest mention of it in theKaminoseki Town News(Kaminoseki kōhō), published by the town office and distributed to all households in the municipality, came as early as August 1959, just eighteen months...

    • 9 Furusato Boom, Kaminoseki Bust
      (pp. 136-148)

      Thus began a front-page article in theTown Newsedition of 20 November 1971, some six months after the election of the new mayor, Kanō Shin. In part, the article is of interest because of the language of “cultural assets” (bunkazai): whereas in the mid-1950s, cultural discourse in Kaminoseki had been tied to the desired “improvement” of everyday living conditions and to the construction of a “culturally new” municipality, by the early 1970s, it instead looked back to the “old” (furui) times of the past. But exactly what should be preserved from that past and in what form it should...

    • 10 Nuclear Decision
      (pp. 149-168)

      In the early 1980s, a new player emerged in the life of the Kaminoseki hometown. With time, the presence of Chugoku Electric Power Company would seep into the everyday consciousness of townspeople. The company’s branch offices on the main road into Murotsu; the bright green, three-storied Museum of the Future (Mirai-kan), adjacent to the former site of the Chōshū domain’s administrative offices (bansho); the published tide schedules that fishermen consulted morning and night; the sponsorship signs on the Bōchō buses; the monthly newsletters delivered to every household; the small apartment complex for company employees just down from Jōyama Hill: by...


    • 11 Atomic Power, Community Fission
      (pp. 171-188)

      One of the best views of Tanoura Bay, the site of the proposed nuclear power station, is from the stone steps leading up to Iwaishima’s Miyato Hachimangū shrine. On a still day, the bay can feel almost in touching distance from the low, densely clustered houses that form Iwaishima village. Contrary to the residents of Nagashima island, for whom Tanoura may be considered out of sight and out of mind, the residents of Iwaishima thus see the nuclear site as they go about their everyday lives. If the pronuclear lobby in Nagashima can be characterized as Definitely In My Back...

    • 12 The Silk Road of the Sea: An Ending
      (pp. 189-202)

      In the predawn darkness of 21 February 2011, six hundred employees and subcontractors of Chugoku Electric descended on Tanoura Bay. At 8:30 a.m., workers began dropping huge boulders into the sea from five of the thirty-two ships circling the site. The stones marked the first foundations of a 140,000-square-meter land reclamation project, part of the proposed 330,000-square-meter reactor complex. Around 130 antinuclear activists from Iwaishima and farther afield gathered to voice their protest. But after years of legal challenges and months of sea skirmishes between company security guards and Iwaishima fishermen, the construction of Japan’s newest nuclear power plant was...

    (pp. 203-204)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 205-228)
    (pp. 229-240)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 241-249)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 250-251)