Book Review: Dissenting Japan by William Andrews


A common perception abroad is that Japanese society is docile. This is partly thanks to Western writers who tried to create a single profile of the Japanese in the early to mid-20th century, such as Ruth Benedict in her 1946 book “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.” Today, this dangerous myth of consensus is still propagated by similar outside observers — and welcomed by Japan’s right.

British-born translator William Andrews combats this myth in “Dissenting Japan,” his recent history of the postwar Japanese left. This much-needed book addresses a range of groups engaged in revolutionary politics, radical protests and counter-culture. In doing so, it provides a perspective on Japanese society that is rarely covered in English.

Andrews begins in the chaotic postwar period, when radical views were pervasive, and proceeds chronologically, singling out key figures and events as he weaves his way to the present. These individuals include Tsurumi Shusuke, a philosopher who advocated abandoning kanji for latin script, political scientist Maruyama Masao, who wanted to dethrone the Emperor, and a host of communists that worked to overturn capitalism. Andrews highlights how U.S. Occupation forces initially encouraged liberalization, but soon sided with the center right after the onset of the Cold War. As Japan regained its footing in the 1950s, the political establishment gradually promoted nationalism, reinstated the “Chrysanthemum Taboo” (the Imperial family) and strengthened capitalism. Read more

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