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  • The Subversive Activities Prevention Law of Japan: Its Creation, 1951–52
  • Wesley Sasaki-Uemura (bio)
The Subversive Activities Prevention Law of Japan: Its Creation, 1951–52. By Cecil H. Uyehara. Brill, Leiden, 2010. xvi, 456 pages. €155.00.

This book has been a long time in the making. Cecil Uyehara began his study for the book more than five decades ago when he was researching the Japan Social Democratic Party, and yet this is the first in-depth examination of the Subversive Activities Prevention Law (SAPL) in English except for a brief article by John Maki back in 1953 shortly after the law was promulgated. Part of the reason for this neglect is due to the fact that the law has hardly ever been invoked to prosecute groups or individuals, save for a few Japan Communist Party (JCP) members and some New Left radical students. However, the Aum Shinrikyō sarin gas attacks in the mid-1990s brought a reconsideration of the SAPL, and opposition to the use of the law led ultimately to the passage of a new bill to control organizations that have committed “indiscriminate mass murder.” What then is the importance of a law that has rarely been used?

Part of the answer is that the law came into being at an important historical cusp for Japan, the end of the postwar occupation. The process by which this law was created tells a great deal about the tensions and concerns felt by both government officials and opponents of the law. It originated at a time of high anxiety about international and domestic communism, and although the Japan Communist Party was never explicitly mentioned as the target of this law, state officials acknowledged that the goal was to further purge communists from any important public or private job and to force the party to disband. The communists had won in China, the Korean War had broken out, and the JCP had adopted its (short-lived) line of armed [End Page 390] resistance just prior to the drafting of the SAPL. Japan was on the verge of regaining its sovereignty and its military, albeit within the U.S. strategic framework of the cold war, and so the conservative government sought the political and administrative apparatus to deal with perceived threats to internal security.

The attempt to detain individuals and disband groups smacked heavily of the prewar and wartime Peace Preservation Law (PPL), despite repeated assurances that the postwar SAPL would protect the new constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and association. Opponents of the bill were justifiably concerned that former right-wing purgees from state organs had now been de-purged and assumed positions of power and advocacy for the SAPL, among other initiatives. Moreover, SCAP was in the process of disengaging itself from command and assuming a low-key consultative role as the occupation wound down. While strategically occupation officials might have wanted to disband and disperse the communists in Japan, they were reluctant to directly contravene the constitution they had helped create for Japan, and any directive that SCAP made would soon be invalidated when the peace treaty went into effect. In the course of discussing the drafting of the SAPL, Uyehara weaves in these larger political contexts. His section on the development of the prewar Peace Preservation Law system (pp. 95–118), for example, brings out how the state sought to control subversive elements even prior to the 1925 promulgation of the PPL and continued to expand the scope of the law into the 1940s. The discussion makes clear why the opposition to the postwar SAPL was so vehement. It was “based on a deep seated emotional experience stemming, in many cases, from personal experiences in the prewar years” (p. 99). In the course of working through the arguments over the specific language of the SAPL, Uyehara also clarifies why labor unions felt the law was directed at them and why the mass media raised concerns over provisions to shut down the publishing arms of organizations engaged in “violent, destructive activities” (p. 229).

The examination here also tells us important details about the legislative process and interactions with the civil bureaucracy. The book is...


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pp. 390-394
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