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  • Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan: Childhood, Korea, and the Historical Avant-Garde by Samuel Perry
  • Richard E. Torrance (bio)
Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan: Childhood, Korea, and the Historical Avant-Garde. By Samuel Perry. University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 2014. xii, 228 pages. $49.00.

This volume is an admirable effort to rehabilitate the proletariat cultural movements affiliated with the Communist Party in pre–World War II Japan. [End Page 412] Samuel Perry’s main argument is: “proletarian culture in Japan was as rich and diverse as were the social experiences of its many participants, and it came into being within a history that gave a particular shape to its evolving aesthetic forms, critical consciousness, and social practices in Japan” (pp. 8-9). Perry purposely avoids discussion of the artistic canon of the proletariat arts movement—the substantial novels of Hayama Yoshiki or Tokunaga Sunao; the films of the Prokino group; or plays by Kubo Sakae or Fujimori Seikichi. Instead, he foregrounds three “marginal” aspects of the broader proletarian cultural movement: “proletarian practices involving children, the revolutionary genre of ‘wall fiction,’ and works of literature about Koreans” (p. 5). Perry emphasizes the constructive role, often overlooked, of the Japanese Communist Party in the 1920s and 1930s. These “marginal activities” probably reached a broader audience of working-class men, women, and children than the canonized proletarian literature and theory usually studied by scholars, and they bring to light new perspectives on the party’s opposition to Japanese imperialism, colonialism, and wars of aggression.

After an introduction that suggests several of the leading lights of the proletarian literary movement—Nakano Shigeharu, Yamamoto Senji, and Sata Ineko—were unconsciously enacting Leon Trotsky’s idea that the proletariat was establishing a culture built on the past that would dissolve itself in favor of a socialist future (p. 11), chapter 2 takes up the creation of an alternate revolutionary children’s culture. The impetus for the revolutionary education of children appears to have been the founding of the Kizaki Village Proletarian Farmers’ School in 1926 in Niigata Prefecture. After extended disputes between the local union of tenant farmers and landowners, the tenant farmers, distrustful of the prefectural and state authorities, with the assistance of leftist university students and Christian clergy, established schools to educate their children. Perry locates this short-lived experiment as the beginning of the effort to create a pedagogy that addressed “the practical needs of proletarian children, whose transformation into socialist adulthood represented for revolutionaries a hope for transformed humanity” (p. 68).

Perry describes the critiques of existing “nationalist” and “liberal” modes of education in Japan. Makimura Kusurō, Murayama Tomoyoshi, Kusaka Susumu, and others in organs such as the Hataraku fujin (Working women, 1932-33), Shōnen senki (Boys’ battle banner, 1929-31), Musansha shinbun (Proletarian news, 1925-32), and Shinkō kyōiku (New education, 1930-32) countered the romantic notions of the “purity and innocence” of children by authors such as Ogawa Mimei and Suzuki Miekichi, contrasting this bourgeois ideal with the lived conditions of working-class children. There was also criticism of the militarization of Japanese schools and of the idea that innate genetic abilities accounted for differences in academic achievement and thus for the status quo of social stratification. [End Page 413]

Perry notes foreign influences on Japanese children’s stories, but his main focus is children’s fiction by authors associated with cultural organizations associated with the Japanese Communist Party. His discussion of the stories and poetry of Maruyama Kazuko expands on their revolutionary content, tending to overread the political content of a simple poem about a walking, talking potato:

In the playful juxtaposition of the bulbous brown root and the dandy’s self-conscious attention to sartorial detail, Murayama offers a parody of the bourgeois subject that at the same time attempts to welcome its child readers/listeners into a particular way of seeing, and perhaps questioning, the world around them.

(p. 28)

The study examines fiction with more explicit political content created for older boys. The ABCs of writing for boys in Shōnen senki has the following injunctions: Russia is a fine country, a free country; monks are tools of...


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