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
"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)

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