Chelsea Szendi Schieder’s Co-Ed Revolution: The Female Student in the Japanese New Left and Naoko Koda’s The United States and the Japanese Student Movement, 1948-1973: Managing a Free World provide new insights into the postwar Japanese student movement.
Koda, a scholar of diplomatic history and international relations, situates student activism within the larger context of the Cold War. Among its historiographical contributions, Managing a Free World pushes back the timeline of the student movement’s origins to occupation-era policies, explores the role of subsequent American cultural diplomacy in combating the Marxist bent of major student organizations, and spotlights the particular importance of Okinawa in the development and ultimate neutralization of leftist activism in postwar Japan. Koda highlights the Kennedy administration’s “Kennedy-Reischauer Offensive” and promotion of modernization theory amongst intellectuals on the one hand and effective promotion of American democratic ideals in driving fissures in the New Left.
In contrast, Co-Ed Revolution focuses on the convoluted gender dynamics of the campus-based New Left. Schieder approaches this issue from a number of different angles, including the media-manufactured public memory of a number of important women activists such as Kanba Michiko, killed in demonstrations against renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and the “titillating and terrifying” figures of the so-called “Gewalt Rosas” of the student movement such as Kashiwazaki Chieko. In addition to these analyses of both individual thinkers and their transformation into manipulable media spectacles, Schieder also shows that the historiographical tendency to focus on the aggressive and violent masculinity of the New Left in the late 1960s not only minimizes the role of women in the campus-based New Left, but does so in a way that repeats the internal gender politics of the movement itself; the “masculine ideal of political action” justified and masked the way that women were relegated to support and care work.
These two books are part of a wave of recent scholarship reexamining the student movement and New Left in Japan from fresh angles, and seeing the campus protests of the 1960s as both a distinctly Japanese history and part of larger global currents.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.