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  • The Cultural Evolution of Postwar Japan: The Intellectual Contributions of Kaizō’s Yamamoto Sanehikoby Christopher T. Keaveney
  • Edward Mack (bio)
The Cultural Evolution of Postwar Japan: The Intellectual Contributions of Kaizō’s Yamamoto Sanehiko. By Christopher T. Keaveney. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2013. xii, 254 pages. $95.00.

The publisher and politician Yamamoto Sanehiko (1885–1952) was without a doubt a man who had a great impact on the cultural and intellectual trajectory of Japan, in ways that Christopher T. Keaveney’s monograph lays out in greater detail than ever before in English. Although most readers of the Journal of Japanese Studieswill know of Yamamoto as the founder of the publishing company Kaizōsha and of its flagship periodical, Kaizō, they might be less familiar with his interest in Chinese literature, his sponsorship of visits to Japan by international luminaries, or his on-again, off-again political career. Keaveney provides us with an account of not only each of these areas of Yamamoto’s activity but also of their historical circumstances and significance. By so doing, he shows the multiple spheres that were impacted in prewar Japan by the publishing company Kaizōsha, with Yamamoto at its helm.

In depicting Yamamoto’s career and exploring the details of these various activities, Keaveney faced an obstacle that might seem counterintuitive, given the visibility of both Yamamoto and his company: the paradoxically small body of sources available about this major publishing company, which went into rapid decline after its founder’s death in 1952. Keaveney has consulted most of the best-known resources, including those produced by two of the four scholarly research groups active on this topic in the last two decades. It is a matter of unfortunate timing that he was not able to use all of the newest work, which has approached the study of Kaizōsha with a higher level of rigor than was applied in the past. Many of the earlier sources were produced by Yamamoto or by individuals who had worked directly with him and bear the marks of those personal or professional relationships.

This received history was probably best summarized by the author Matsubara Kazue (1916–2011), in her 2000 book Kaizōsha to Yamamoto Sanehiko. Published by Kagoshima-based (Yamamoto’s home prefecture) Nanpō Shinsha, this “very readable standard biography” (p. 12) draws on the limited pool of sources to create a comprehensive narrative of Yamamoto’s life and his achievements. Keaveney’s narrative relies heavily on Matsubara’s work, which comprises nearly one in five of his monograph’s scrupulous citations. To his credit, Keaveney has used his Chinese-language ability to augment the basic sources, but the impact is limited to one portion (chapter 5) of the book. Unfortunately, both works fall short in corroborating or [End Page 427]triangulating the primary sources, often taking decidedly interested material at face value; it is this tendency that the latest research is attempting to address, though the difficulty of that task has been significant.

This is not to say that new scholarship will overturn the basic empirical facts that form the core of Keaveney’s study. No one will challenge the fact that Kaizōsha made tremendous contributions to the intellectual milieu of Japan prior to World War II: launching the journal Kaizō, which became a central forum for intellectual debate of all kinds; orchestrating visits from such luminaries as Margaret Sanger, George Bernard Shaw, and Albert Einstein; publishing many of the most influential fiction and nonfiction texts of the period, often in formats that dramatically increased their visibility and availability; and enabling increased exchange between Chinese and Japanese writers. (Some errors of fact have entered the English narrative, so care must be taken; it is not the case, for example, that prior to the Showa period “only after becoming a member of a publisher’s club would a customer be able to purchase books from the publisher” [p. 89].)

Given these well-documented contributions, many will readily acknowledge Kaizōsha’s significance without finding it necessary to determine Yamamoto Sanehiko’s precise role in these events, nor the motivations behind his actions, and less still the specific impact he...


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