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  • From the “People” to the “Citizen”: Tsurumi Shunsuke and the Roots of Civic Mythology in Postwar Japan
  • Simon Avenell (bio)

What could be more emblematic of postwar Japanese democracy than the spontaneous birth of the “citizen” (shimin) in the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty struggle (Anpo tōsō) of 1960? As the story goes, it was during Anpo that thousands of ordinary citizens came out to oppose the politics of Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke and his supporters in the conservative Liberal Democratic Party. Organizing into egalitarian, nonideological groups, these shimin protestors apparently laid the foundation for a new autonomous form of activism and, for some, represented the first real sparks of popular democratic consciousness in the postwar period. Once a signifier of everything petit bourgeois and self-interested, now the shimin reemerged as the vehicle of social change, the watchdog and enemy of the state, and the guardian of democracy. Roused by the massive outpouring of popular dissent, shimin advocates at the time declared the birth of a new “civic consciousness” [End Page 711] (shimin ishiki) and a “vigorous civic spirit” (yakudō suru shimin seishin).1 The philosopher Kuno Osamu famously announced “the formation of a citizen ethos” (shiminshugi no seiritsu)2 and his colleague, political scientist Takabatake Michitoshi, pointed to a new form of “civic resistance” (shiminteki teikō).3

Such characterizations of this 1960 moment were not all exaggeration. Groups such as the Voices of the Voiceless Association (Koe naki koe no kai) pioneered a form of conscientious civic protest during Anpo that can be traced to the later anti–Vietnam War movement and subsequent grassroots initiatives throughout Asia. Moreover, the theoretical work of political scientist Matsushita Keiichi and others in the Research Center on Tokyo Administration (Tokyo tosei chōsakai) during and soon after Anpo connected directly to later local government initiatives for citizen participation and the establishment of civil minimums. To this extent, the Anpo struggle did indeed represent a crucial — and perhaps formative — moment in the development of Japan’s budding postwar civil society (shimin shakai).

But although the spontaneity of citizen-led protest during Anpo may be beyond doubt, we should bear in mind that there was nothing at all spontaneous about the reemergence of the shimin idea or the subsequent meanings advocates attributed to it. Indeed, rather than the progeny of an impulsive democratic outburst, the shimin is better understood as part of an earlier project among intellectuals in Japan to find legitimacy for the Japanese people in the wake of ignominious defeat and humiliation and within the context of a democratic and progressive postwar national imaginary. As early as the mid-1950s, for example, advocates of Mass Society Theory (Taishū shakai ron) such as Matsushita Keiichi were beginning to disassociate the shimin from its pejorative petit bourgeois roots, linking it instead to the more noble idea of shimin shakai. Moreover, in the protests over proposed revisions to the Police Duties Law (Keishokuhō) in 1958, opponents were already encouraging people to “rise up” as shimin.4 Contrary to later mythologies about Anpo, such precedents suggest that the shimin was an idea that had been brewing for some time and in a variety of intellectual contexts. In fact, we need not limit our purview to the late 1950s to understand the rise of shimin and its mythology and, in fact, obscure much of the complexity in postwar civic thought by doing so. It is my contention that progressive intellectuals [End Page 712] had already begun to imagine the shimin — or what would become the shimin — years before the term entered the activist lexicon.

Here I want to reexamine this history with an eye to its impact on later imaginations of the shimin and civil society. Specifically, I want to show how ideas about the ethnic nation (minzoku) and daily life (seikatsu) became key elements in the ethos and thought of prominent shimin advocates and their organizations and how these ideas may have complicated or shaped later civic discourse. This approach will hopefully open the way to a revision, or at least a reconsideration, of what I see as an overtly romanticized mythologization of the shimin since its appearance in the summer of 1960. In this...


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