Laura HeinApr 26, 2022
Political Culture in Kamakura after the Second World War
After Japan’s devastating defeat in World War II, by late 1945, local Japanese turned their energies towards creating new behaviors and institutions that would give young people better skills to combat repression at home and coercion abroad. They rapidly transformed their political culture – policies, institutions, and public opinion – to create a more equitable, democratic, and peaceful society.
Post-Fascist Japan: Political Culture in Kamakura after the Second World War (Bloomsbury, 2018) by Laura Hein explores this phenomenon, focusing on a group of highly educated Japanese based in the city of Kamakura, where the new political culture was particularly visible. The book argues that these leftist elites, many of whom had been seen as ‘the enemy’ during the war, saw the problem as one of fascism, an ideology that had succeeded because it had addressed real problems. They turned their efforts to overtly political-legal systems but also to ostensibly non-political and community institutions such as universities, art museums, local tourism, and environmental policies, aiming not only for reconciliation over the past but also to reduce the anxieties that had drawn so many towards fascism.
Crucially, Hein uses “post-fascism” to denote the worldviews of progressives and leftists who had experienced fascism, and therefore wanted to create a new political culture from its ashes. This is a form of “anti-fascism” but shaped by the experience of fascism, and different from how scholars in other contexts have used the term “post-fascism” to denote neo-fascist movements in different parts of the world.
By focusing on people who had an outsized influence on Japan's political culture, Hein's study is local, national, and transnational. She grounds her discussion using specific personalities, showing their ideas about ‘post-fascism’, how they implemented them and how they interacted with the American occupiers.
With authoritarianism undergoing a contemporary resurgence, Post-Fascist Japan reminds us of how local Japanese intellectuals and policymakers built institutions, crafted policies, and tried to imagine a world after fascism, following the deadliest conflict in human history.
Laura Hein is the Harold H. and Virginia Anderson Professor of History at Northwestern University. She specializes in modern Japan, and her research focuses on the history of Japan in the 20th century, its international relations, and the effects of World War II and the Cold War. She is the author of numerous books and articles, many of which have been translated into Japanese.
Shatrunjay Mall is a PhD candidate at the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He works on transnational Asian history, and his dissertation explores intellectual, political, and cultural intersections and affinities that emerged between Indian anti-colonialism and imperial Japan in the twentieth century.