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Hard Times in the Hometown

A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan

Martin Dusinberre

Publication Year: 2012

Hard Times in the Hometown tells 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 Hometown gives 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

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. ix-x

Notes on Terms

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book could not have been written without the generosity of Kaminoseki townspeople. For welcoming me as family, I would like to thank Kawaguchi Kaneji and especially Reiko, and Hamamura Eiji and Yaeko. Kimura Tsutomu; Awaya Shigenori, Kayoko...

Part I: Good Fortunes in Kaminoseki

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pp. 1-36

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1. The Silk Road of the Sea: A Beginning

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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...

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2. Edo Period Riches

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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 the...

Part II: Living with a Changing Polity

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pp. 37-80

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3. Murotsu and the Meiji Revolution, 1868

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pp. 39-52

In February 1864, three men attacked the Katoku-maru as 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...

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4. The Political Culture of the Meiji Village

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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...

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5. Ritual Culture and Political Power

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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...

Part III: Living with a Changing World

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pp. 81-116

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6. Overseas Migration at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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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,...

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7. The Transnational Hometown: Zenith and Decline

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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...

Part IV: Living with the Bright Life

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pp. 117-167

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8. Bridging the Postwar Divide

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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...

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9. Furusato Boom, Kaminoseki Bust

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pp. 136-148

Thus began a front-page article in the Town News edition 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...

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10. Nuclear Decision

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pp. 149-167

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...

Part V: Dying for Survival

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pp. 169-201

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11. Atomic Power, Community Fission

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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...

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12. The Silk Road of the Sea: An Ending

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pp. 189-201

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...


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pp. 203


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pp. 205-228


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pp. 229-239


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pp. 241-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861124
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835248

Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Kaminoseki (Japan) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Kaminoseki (Japan) -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Kaminoseki (Japan) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Kaminoseki (Japan) -- History -- 19th century.
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