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  • Dissenting Japan: A History of Japanese Radicalism and Counterculture, from 1945 to Fukushima by William Andrews
  • Carl Cassegård (bio)
Dissenting Japan: A History of Japanese Radicalism and Counterculture, from 1945 to Fukushima. By William Andrews. Hurst Publishers, London, 2016, xxvi, 356 pages. £40.00.

This is a book I'd like to recommend to anyone wishing to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the tumultuous revolts taking place globally around the year 1968. Although presenting itself as a history of Japanese radicalism and counterculture from 1945 to Fukushima, its prime focus is on the 1960s and 1970s, the heyday of the New Left radicalism and counterculture. As many as 10 out of the book's 14 chapters (not counting the introduction and conclusion) are devoted to these decades. Furthermore, it's with an obvious sense of fascination that it describes the actions and the counterculture of this time.

Williams's aim is to debunk the common Nihonjinron stereotype of Japan as characterized by harmony and deference to order. He reaches this aim admirably. The stereotype in question was hardly true even in the 1980s, a decade of self-congratulatory conservative triumphalism, but it was blatantly untrue during preceding decades, when the country was rocked by protests. Today, as we are getting used to mass protests gathering in Kasumigaseki and Nagata-chō, it may well be time to dust off our knowledge of the little-known history of Japanese radicalism and counterculture, and here Williams's book will come in handy.

The reader should be warned that this is not a theoretical book. It doesn't contain much explicit engagement with previous research, except discreetly in the footnotes. Furthermore, the book is not a history of social movements per se, but only about "ideas and movements that challenged the social fabric in radical and extreme ways" (p. 4). Such radicalism existed on both the left and the right. Large parts of the book in fact deal with far-right extremism, and the resulting juxtaposition of left and right radical activism works well to bring out the interaction between them. Tracing this interaction between adversaries is not all that common in social movement studies and the fact that Williams has chosen to do so should be lauded. Another laudable effect of this juxtaposition is that it puts the ghastly image of leftist "terrorism" in perspective. As Williams shows, rightist acts of extremism were in fact as deadly and numerous as those of the Left.

The book proceeds narratively and chronologically to tell us the story of radicalism beginning with iconic events during the early postwar period such as the 1946 Shibuya incident or the 1952 Bloody May Day and early anti-U.S. military base protests. We get an extensive treatment of the Anpo [End Page 395] struggle and the emergence of the Japanese New Left, a detailed account of the radical New Left sects during the 1960s, and the climactic actions of 1968–69 including the Shinjuku Riots and the campus struggles at the University of Tokyo and Nihon University. The fate of the Red Army Faction and its successor groups as well as the actions and the interfactional fighting (uchigeba) of far-left factions such as Chūkaku-ha and Kakumaru-ha are chronicled in detail. A colorful and, frankly, very entertaining chapter is devoted to the Sanrizuka (Narita Airport) protest movement. Among many other subjects, the book also covers anti-Vietnam War movements, the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front bombings, hippies and communes, the development of far-rightist activism up to today's hate groups, and the activities of artists like Shūji Terayama and Genpei Akasegawa in the avant-garde and underground art scene.

The final three chapters deal with more recent activism set against the background of Japan's recent "lost decades." An exception to the general trend of leftist decline after the 1970s was the emergence of freeter activism and the precarity movement in Japan, with the first Freeter May Day rally held in 2004. As Williams correctly observes, freeter activism invented new forms of protest free from the taint of the New Left and "cannot be disparaged as non-radical—it is...