In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Toppamono: Outlaw. Radical. Suspect. My life in Japan’s Underworld
  • Manuel Yang
Toppamono: Outlaw. Radical. Suspect. My life in Japan’s Underworld Miyazaki Manabu Tokyo: Kotan Publishing, 2005. 480 pp., ISBN 0970171625, $26.95.

Toppa in Japanese means "breaking through" and mono "person," hence the cover flap of the English-language version of Miyazaki Manabu's autobiography defines toppamono as "a person with a devil-may-care attitude, who pushes ahead regardless." Mono is thus not a class but [End Page 174] an individual category. For Miyazaki toppamono is an honorable designation that carries with it a somewhat romanticized view of the outlaw, one who lives on the margin of extra-legality due to criminal activities and associations with the underworld.

Miyazaki amply demonstrates his credentials in earning the title: he grew up amidst the traditionally discriminated zai-nichi (Japan-born Koreans) and buraku (outcast) street urchins; his father was a small yakuza (Japanese mafia) crime boss and his mother came from a tough, professional gambling family; he actively participated in the 1960s radical student movement as an organizer of the rank-and-file shock troopers for the Communist-Party-affiliated youth organization Minsei at Waseda University; he worked as a "stray-cat reporter" for a weekly business paper little better than a scandal sheet; and then he inherited his family's demolition business swarming with petty violence, blackmail, and suds of surplus capital spilled from the hyperventilating land speculation bubble. As a crowning achievement of sorts, the police mistook Miyazaki for being the "fox-eyed" suspect who publicly and successfully blackmailed with boldly theatrical flair the Glico-Morinaga corporation.

Miyazaki deems his political opponents to be the institutions and ideological currents representing postwar Japanese democracy and civil society. Even if this may seem generally consistent with the ostensibly right-wing political outlook of the yakuza, how such a view sits well with his militant Communist student activist period may not make sense at first, for liberalism and Communism both defined the mainstream of Japanese postwar democracy, as opposed to the Trotskyism, Maoism, anarchism, and nonsectarian radicalism of the New Left. For Miyazaki, however, this was a logical development from his tutelage under an erstwhile Communist activist involved in the disastrous guerilla program that the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) briefly undertook in the 1950s, and he vividly recounts the climate of existential compatibility in illegality and violence that led him to link the traditional ethics of the yakuza with the fortitude of rank-and-file prewar Marxist activists who preferred the deed to the word:

I think what attracted me to the JCP was the amazing character of the prewar Communist activists, as well as the awesome resolve of an organization prepared to use illegal means to accomplish its goal of overturning society . . . I was also filled with the idea that leftists somehow represented a purified version of the rough and ready yakuza code of chivalry. Optimistically, I believed that Marxists and yakuza were one and the same and would march shoulder to shoulder in this brave new world."

(56; 77–78) [End Page 175]

This compatibility had historical resonances in other places, from the anti-capitalist streams of indigenous Japanese nationalism that, in the prewar period, actively cooperated with Chinese nationalists seeking a pan-Asian anti-imperialist internationalism, which eventually suffered cooptation into the imperialist "Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" of the militarized Japanese state, to the subsequent critical dialogues undertaken between the radical left and radical right, such as the work of Murakami Ichiro and Mishima Yukio's 1969 debate with the Zenkyoto students. For Miyazaki, however, it is not the radical interpretation of the emperor system in relation to the traditional Japanese peasantry, or even his perusal of Marx's Das Kapital as a guide to his class experience that furnishes the bonding agent for his ideological and practical metamorphoses; it is rather the ethics of confrontational violence in the streets. Indeed what fuels Miyazaki's antagonism against the postwar democrats, including the upper echelons of the Stalinist JCP, and civil society in general is their rhetorically facile denial of violence and fetishistic appraisal of peace as a political panacea...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 174-177
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.