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  • Anarchist Modernity: Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan by Sho Konishi
  • Joseph P. Ferguson (bio)
Anarchist Modernity: Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan. By Sho Konishi. Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass., 2013. xiv, 411 pages. $49.95.

Sho Konishi’s book, Anarchist Modernity, opens a rich trove of historical material about a movement that has been overlooked by many historians and casual observers of Japanese-Russian relations. Konishi explores cooperation and exchange between Japanese and Russian intellectuals (something he terms “cooperative anarchy”) from the Meiji Restoration to the early decades of the twentieth century. What makes this even more interesting is that the intellectual exchange took place in a time of tremendous political tension between the two nations. At the end of the nineteenth century and during the first two decades of the last century (the focus of this work), cultural contacts between Japan and Russia saw a period of flowering that has never been surpassed in the history of their bilateral relations. The subtitle “Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan” belies the breadth and focus of this work. Konishi explores cultural relations to their fullest. He reaches beyond a typical exploration of literature, drama, or art and closely examines religion, language, natural science, and antistate movements.

Although it is widely known that the two governments were (and remain) strategic rivals in Northeast Asia, there was a profound mutual admiration and fascination among the peoples of the two nations in the early twentieth century. Naturally, this admiration was primarily concentrated in the educated and elite urban classes, but it was a strong and deep-seated feeling. One of the few volumes that have taken on this subject is the series of essays in A Hidden Fire: Russian and Japanese Cultural Encounters, 1868–1926, edited by J. Thomas Rimer (Stanford University Press, 1995). In this book, Rimer writes: “Culture is not independent of politics, but it does have a life of its own, and in nations like Russia and Japan, where cultural accomplishment is esteemed, it can cast a strong and persistent shadow” (p. 8). As Konishi points out in his introduction, “It would be difficult for any student of modern Japanese intellectual life to overlook the immense Russian cultural presence in Japan” (p. 5), comparing it during the Meiji period with the Chinese influence on the intellectual life of Tokugawa Japan and with the U.S. influence on the intellectual life of Japan after World War II.

Japan and Russia, as nation-states, have much more in common than is generally assumed. The territorial dispute, dating from the early post-World War II years, is what most casual observers consider when they ponder [End Page 385] Japanese-Russian relations. This topic has been covered extensively in English, Japanese, and Russian. Nevertheless, as developing and modernizing nation-states, both Japan and Russia looked to “catch up” with the West. Additionally, since the early eighteenth century (in the case with Russia) and the late nineteenth century (in the case with Japan), both nations have assumed an uneasy middle ground between East and West and have been racked by political and intellectual debates about where the societies and nation-states belong. Although the focus of Konishi’s work is the intellectual (and cultural) interaction, the larger themes of national identity and modernization should be kept in mind while reading this work. And in the case of the Japanese populace, a deep fascination for Russian art, intellectual history, and culture has persisted since the earliest days of bilateral relations.

Konishi’s description of “cooperative anarchy modernity” (regarding Russian intellectual influences in Japan) is that of a movement free from Marxist conceptions of determinism as the material basis for historical developments. For Konishi, anarchism is not opposed to modernity. In the case of Japanese-Russian intellectual relations, anarchism is not a political movement against the state but a cultural, intellectual, and social movement. The discourse and networking among Japanese and Russian intellectuals may have been anarchic, but the cultural and intellectual development arising from this anarchy led to concrete results. Konishi discounts any description of Russian intellectual influence in Japan as “Western” and...


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pp. 385-389
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