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The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan

Jonathan Abel

Publication Year: 2012

At the height of state censorship in Japan, more indexes of banned books circulated, more essays on censorship were published, more works of illicit erotic and proletarian fiction were produced, and more passages were Xed out than at any other moment before or since. As censors construct and maintain their own archives, their acts of suppression yield another archive, filled with documents on, against, and in favor of censorship. The extant archive of the Japanese imperial censor (1923-1945) and the archive of the Occupation censor (1945-1952) stand as tangible reminders of this contradictory function of censors. As censors removed specific genres, topics, and words from circulation, some Japanese writers converted their offensive rants to innocuous fluff after successive encounters with the authorities. But, another coterie of editors, bibliographers, and writers responded to censorship by pushing back, using their encounters with suppression as incitement to rail against the authorities and to appeal to the prurient interests of their readers. This study examines these contradictory relationships between preservation, production, and redaction to shed light on the dark valley attributed to wartime culture and to cast a shadow on the supposedly bright, open space of free postwar discourse. (Winner of the 2010-2011 First Book Award of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University" ).

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Asia Pacific Modern


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

During my graduate work at Princeton, I was lucky to find support, stimulation, and encouragement from several advisors. Richard Okada and Christine Marran taught me to read anew. Eduardo Cadava and Michael Wood helped hone my argument and thinking ...

Note on the Translation

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: Archiving Censors

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pp. 1-20

Censorship destroys texts, removes them from sight, places them beyond reach. Even worse, it can render entire avenues of thought off limits. The realms of discourse entirely obliterated by censorship can never be known; our only access to the deep havoc inflicted by censors is what remains after they have done their work. ...

Part I. Preservation

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1. The Censor’s Archives and Beyond

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pp. 23-43

Engraved in charcoal gray concrete above the book pickup desk at the National Diet Library (NDL) in Tokyo, an epigraph beckons to all whose eyes might wander while waiting for the vacuum tubes and conveyor belts of the archive to bring forth desired books: 真理が我らを自由にする; a translation, though nowhere attributed, of John 8:32: ...

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2. Indices of Censorship

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pp. 44-60

The years after the Great Kantō Earthquake brought a rise both in the absolute number of bans on print material and in a particular mode of documenting censorship: the list or catalog of censored books. These two trends were not simply coincidental. ...

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3. Essaying the Censors

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pp. 61-86

When is the censor no longer a laughing matter? Who imagines the death of the censor? Why write that censors kill texts? The rhetorical strategies of essays documenting the phenomenon of censorship reflect, recast, and occasionally resist the modes of suppression they target. ...

Part II. Production

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4. Seditious Obscenities

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pp. 89-111

If censors wrote, what kind of fiction would they produce? In protest against the unfairness of censorship, writers have long entertained this thought experiment. Would the work of the censor be clean, innocuous, pure, and legally sanctioned, or maybe tantalizingly salacious, or perhaps boldly seditious? ...

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5. Literary Casualties of War

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pp. 112-140

There is no absolute boundary between wartime and peacetime, no special mode of wartime censorship that is not already, in some sense, preemptively deployed in the peacetime economy. However, war has the effect of making itself appear wholly unprecedented, bringing to the surface that which may have gone unnoticed or been long submerged. ...

Part III. Redaction

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6. Epigraphs

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pp. 143-153

This eloquent epigraph, an epitaph for unknown thoughts eradicated from the battlefield of discourse, conveys a commonsense notion of censorship: censorship obliterates words. The unwritten words evoke, in a language clear enough, the results of the violence of censorship at its most extreme: ...

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7. Redactionary Literature

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pp. 154-193

Censorship systems haunt literature long after the last moments of suppression. First published in the January 1935 issue of the journal Kaizō as part of “Shiroi asa no kagami” (The mirror of a white morning), the above scene, which would later become a pivotal moment in Kawabata Yasunari’s classic novel Yukiguni (Snow Country, 1948), ...

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8. Beyond X

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pp. 194-216

The myth that imperial censorship in Japan was always marked and that deletions became unmarked or “silent” during the Occupation serves a range of contemporary ideological functions, all of which paint imperial and Occupation censorships with a broad brush. ...

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9. Unnaming and the Language of Slaves Coda

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pp. 217-250

The political and ethical implications of redaction are complex. Redaction, as a function of signification, cannot be fully explained by or contained in modes of apprehension such as historicizations and typologies that reductively force events into categories and classifications that may not have held for specific historical readers. ...

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10. Redaction Countertime

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pp. 251-266

This book has suggested that stories of preservation, production, and redaction under censorship drawn from a brief period of Japanese history are instructive for a broad range of issues outside of that moment and place, and that the Japanese case is illustrative of something that exceeds the particular yet will never approach the universal. ...


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pp. 267-308


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pp. 309-344


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pp. 345-356

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 376-377

E-ISBN-13: 9780520953406
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520273344

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Asia Pacific Modern
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OCLC Number: 810414729
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Redacted

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Censorship -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Japanese literature -- Censorship -- History -- 20th century.
  • Expurgated books -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Prohibited books -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
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