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Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan

Childhood, Korea, and the Historical Avant-garde

Samuel Perry

Publication Year: 2014

Recasting Red Culture turns a critical eye on the influential proletarian cultural movement that flourished in 1920s and 1930s Japan. This was a diverse, cosmopolitan, and highly contested moment in Japanese history when notions of political egalitarianism were being translated into cultural practices specific to the Japanese experience. Both a political and historiographical intervention, the book offers a fascinating account of the passions—and antimonies—that animated one of the most admirable intellectual and cultural movements of Japan’s twentieth century, and argues that proletarian literature, cultural workers, and institutions fundamentally enrich our understanding of Japanese culture.

What sustained the proletarian movement’s faith in the idea that art and literature were indispensable to the task of revolution? How did the movement manage to enlist artists, teachers, and scientist into its ranks, and what sorts of contradictions arose in the merging of working-class and bourgeois cultures? Recasting Red Culture asks these and other questions as it historicizes proletarian Japan at the intersection of bourgeois aesthetics, radical politics, and a flourishing modern print culture. Drawing parallels with the experiences of European revolutionaries, the book vividly details how cultural activists “recast” forms of modern culture into practices commensurate with the goals of revolution.

Weaving over a dozen translated fairytales, poems, and short stories into his narrative, Samuel Perry offers a fundamentally new approach to studying revolutionary culture. By examining the margins of the proletarian cultural movement, Perry effectively redefines its center as he closely reads and historicizes proletarian children’s culture, avant-garde “wall fiction,” and a literature that bears witness to Japan’s fraught relationship with its Korean colony. Along the way, he shows how proletarian culture opened up new critical spaces in the intersections of class, popular culture, childhood, gender, and ethnicity.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Something extraordinary happened in Japan several years ago when I first began writing this book. A proletarian novel written by a young Japanese communist in 1929 captured the attention of an entire nation. A story about collective struggle on a fishing boat sailing off the coast of Soviet Russia, Kobayashi Takiji’s Kani kōsen (Crab cannery boat) sent bookstores stocking their shelves with more than half a...

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Chapter 1: Introduction: Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan

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pp. 1-11

Let us begin with that unforgettable image: Yanase Masamu’s red hand, adorning the frontispiece of this book, which stretches out from a page of the Musansha shinbun (Proletarian news) in a gesture of solidarity, strength, and reassurance. Yanase’s artistry is impeccable if self-consciously crude, different shades of red and black ink brought together with such meticulous craftsmanship that...

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Chapter 2: Fairy Tales on the Front Line: Reading Childhood, Class, and Culture

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pp. 12-69

Published in the march 1932 edition of the magazine Hataraku fujin (Working women), Arai Mitsuko’s story “Shōkichi’s Tears” is a tale about a group of urban children whose game of cops and robbers slowly evolves into something all too real. A carefully crafted work of realist fiction, Arai’s story asks the reader to identify with a working-class fifth-grade boy named Shōkichi, who is captured by...

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Chapter 3: Writing on the Wall: Kabe shōsetsu and the Proletarian Avant-garde

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pp. 70-123

In February 1931, the Japanese proletarian arts journal Senki (Battle flag) published a two-page short story titled “Food in the Cafeteria” (see Figure 6), written and illustrated by two women, Sata Ineko and Arai Mitsuko.1 This was the first incarnation in East Asia of what would become a distinctive, though short-lived, genre of the proletarian literary movement: kabe shōsetsu. These works of “wall fiction...

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Chapter 4: Comrades-in-Arms: Zainichi Communists, Revolutionary Local Color, and the Antinomies of Colonial Representation

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pp. 124-170

on december 8, 1932, 638 people squeezed into the Tsukiji Theater in Tokyo, filling it well beyond its 450-person capacity. Another 300 late arrivals were left standing on the street waiting to get inside.1 On the stage that night was to be a festival of Korean-language skits, music performances, film screenings, dances, and poetry recitations. It was the most highly attended event ever organized...


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pp. 171-200


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pp. 201-216


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pp. 217-228

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780824840228
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824838935

Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 876088606
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Working class writings, Japanese -- History and criticism.
  • Japanese literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Children's literature, Japanese -- History and criticism.
  • Experimental fiction, Japanese -- History and criticism.
  • Proletariat in literature.
  • Koreans in literature.
  • Politics and literature -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
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