Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists: The Violent Politics of Modern Japan, 1860

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Violence and democracy may seem fundamentally incompatible, but the two have often been intimately and inextricably linked. In Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists, Eiko Maruko Siniawer argues that violence has been embedded in the practice of modern Japanese politics from the very inception of the country's experiment with democracy.

As soon as the parliament opened its doors in 1890, brawls, fistfights, vandalism, threats, and intimidation quickly became a fixture in Japanese politics, from campaigns and elections to legislative debates. Most of this physical force was wielded by what Siniawer calls "violence specialists": ruffians and yakuza. Their systemic and enduring political violence-in the streets, in the halls of parliament, during popular protests, and amid labor strife-ultimately compromised party politics in Japan and contributed to the rise of militarism in the 1930s.

For the post-World War II years, Siniawer illustrates how the Japanese developed a preference for money over violence as a political tool of choice. This change in tactics signaled a political shift, but not necessarily an evolution, as corruption and bribery were in some ways more insidious, exclusionary, and undemocratic than violence. Siniawer demonstrates that the practice of politics in Japan has been dangerous, chaotic, and far more violent than previously thought. Additionally, crime has been more political.

Throughout the book, Siniawer makes clear that certain yakuza groups were ideological in nature, contrary to the common understanding of organized crime as nonideological. Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists is essential reading for anyone wanting to comprehend the role of violence in the formation of modern nation-states and its place in both democratic and fascist movements.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Gamblers, ruffians, thugs, and yakuza have left a major imprint on contemporary Japanese politics and political style, and Siniawer tells their story well."—Journal of Asian Studies

"Siniawer's essential contention—that violence was a systemic, continuous feature of politics, which exerted a major impact on the nature of Japanese democracy—is demonstrated convincingly. Scholars inclined to emphasize the 'brighter side’ of Japan’s modern history may find this work troublesome. And that is a good thing."—Pacific Affairs

"In this important work, Eiko Maruko Siniawer argues very convincingly that violence, especially political violence, was a pervasive, highly influential, and nearly continuous force in Japan between the late Tokugawa age and the 1960s."—Japanese Studies

"This lively history of modern institutionalized practices of political violence in Japan, demonstrates how in one guise or another 'violence specialists' have been integral to the conduct of politics. Historians and political scientists inclined to view Japan as a consensus driven society, will do well to consider Siniawer's contrarian view."—Stephen Vlastos, University of Iowa, author of Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan

"Eiko Maruko Siniawer offers an alternative history of modern Japan written from the perspective of the micropolitics of violence. In this revealing book those who usually stay in the background come to the forefront. Political ruffians and other specialists in violence were indispensable for every political project, whether fascist or democratic. The degree of their historical involvement is striking."—Vadim Volkov, The European University at St. Petersburg, author of Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the Making of Russian Capitalism

"Eiko Maruko Siniawer's Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists abundantly demonstrates the political violence basic to the birth and development of modern Japanese democracy. In a carefully crafted study that manages at once to be sweeping, nuanced, and richly comparative, she surveys how political 'violence specialists' became as Japanese as cherry blossoms. In tracing the history of violent groups she not only demonstrates how they contributed to 'fascist violence' in prewar Japan, but also reveals how democratic ends emerged directly and indirectly from undemocratic actions before and after World War II. The insight is just one of many in this fascinating study of hooligans and fixers in modern Japanese politics."—Michael Lewis, Michigan State University

"Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists addresses a theme of great cross-regional and contemporary relevance: that democracy and violence, far from being incompatible, are intimately entangled. Eiko Maruko Siniawer advances the provocative thesis that the embrace of democracy does not displace violence from politics but merely transforms it. This is a book that deserves an audience well beyond Japanese history."—Michael A. Reynolds, Princeton University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801447204
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Eiko Maruko Siniawer is Chair of the History Department and Associate Professor of History at Williams College.

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Table of Contents

Political Violence in Historiographical Perspective
Violence, Violence Specialists, and Politics
Violence and Democracy
Approaches to Comparative History

Chapter 1. Patriots and Gamblers: Violence and the Formation of the Meiji State
Shishi: Assassins, Rebels, Patriots
Shishi Legacies in the Early Meiji Period
Bakuto: Outlaws, Robin Hoods, Local Leaders
Bakuto and the Meiji Restoration
Bakuto as Political Violence Specialists: The Freedom and People's Rights Movement

Chapter 2. Violent Democracy: Ruffians and the Birth of Parliamentary Politics
From Activist to Ruffian: Sōshi in the 1880s
Exporting Violence: Nationalist Tairiku Rōnin across Borders
Parliamentary Politics and the Professionalization of Sōshi
State Violence and the Second General Election

Chapter 3. Institutionalized Ruffianism and a Culture of Political Violence
The Jiyūtō Ingaidan and Its Bosses
The Seiyūkai Ingaidan in Party Politics
Cultures of Violence: Yakuza Bosses in Diet Politics

Chapter 4. Fascist Violence: Ideology and Power in Prewar Japan
Fascist Ideologies
Fascist Violence
The Nationalist Nexus in the Metropole and Beyond
Violence in the Decline of the Political Parties

Chapter 5. Democracy Reconstructed: Violence Specialists in the Postwar Period
The Decline of Sōshi and the Remaking of Ingaidan Violence
Violence as a Political and Discursive Weapon in Diet Politics
"Bōryokudan" Redux: Yakuza and the Conservative Nexus
1960: The Apogee of Postwar Violence Specialists
Coda: Political Violence after 1960

Violence and Democracy
Violence, Fascism, Militarism
Violence Specialists and History
A Contemporary Perspective on Violent Democracy


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