Hanamori Yasuji and the politics of post-war Japanese culture
Professor Hirotaka Kasai of Tsuda College, Tokyo. (Photo: Catherine Schuknecht/ UCLA.)

Hanamori Yasuji and the politics of post-war Japanese culture

Hirotaka Kasai discussed the work of Japanese magazine editor Hanamori Yasuji and the politics of everyday life in postwar and contemporary Japan.

In his passionate advocacy of democracy, noted the speaker, Hanamori did not hesitate to denounce both nation-state politics and capitalism.

by Catherine Schuknecht

International Institute, February 26, 2014 — At a Teresaki Center event on February 11, speaker Hirotaka Kasai discussed Hanamori Yasuji’s postwar conception of kurashi (everyday life) in relation to World War II, democracy, and nuclear disasters — issues that remain relevant in Japan today.

A professor of political theory and cultural and intellectual history at Tsuda College in Tokyo, Kasai used his multidisciplinary expertise to examine the work of Hanamori, a magazine editor in Japan from 1948 until his death in 1968.

“Hanamori’s conception of kurashi illuminates how we should conceptualize the question of democratic politics today,” said Kasai, suggesting a link between the politics of Japanese culture in the 1970s and the post-Fukushima nuclear era of today.

The politicization of everyday life

In 1948, Hanamori founded Kurashi no Techō (Notebook of Everyday Life), which became one of the most influential cultural magazines for women in postwar Japan. It continues to be published today. The magazine conducted consumer product tests and published articles on a wide range of issues related to everyday life (e.g., clothing, food, and cooking) that were intended to better people’s lives.

However, Hanamori’s interest in everyday life went far beyond surface-level daily routine. “For Hanamori, to eat or to wear (was) political,” observed Kasai, explaining that the editor viewed everyday life as a “constitutive social arena” in which social consciousness and micropolitics could flourish.

The political undertone of the magazine was influenced by Hanamori’s involvement in planning mass advertisements for popular mobilization for the Taisei Yokusankai (Imperial Rule Assistance Association), a political party founded to promote the war effort in China by eliminating sectionalism in Japanese politics and the country's economy during World War II. In 1942, he wrote, “People who engage in politics must know about advertis[ing] techniques and people who engage in advertis[ing] must know about politics.”

Kurashi no Techō was carefully designed by Hanamori to evoke readers’ emotions, rationalize their lives, and foster social consciousness, said the speaker. The magazine’s design, however, was intended to serve the proliferation of democratic values and lifestyle in postwar Japan, in contrast to war-time techniques intended to mobilize the masses.

A call to resist nation-state politics and capitalism

During the 1960s, politics began to take precedence over cultural issues in the magazine, when the editor became primarily concerned with “defending everyday life against the violence of the modern nation-state and capitalism,” explained Kasai.

In 1968, Hanamori published a special issue of the magazine entitled “The Records of Wartime Life” that included stories from thousands of readers about the experiences of ordinary people during World War II.

In his passionate advocacy of democracy, noted the speaker, Hanamori did not hesitate to denounce both nation-state politics and capitalism. “If our life conflicts with the government’s policy, we overthrow the government. That is true democracy,” wrote the editor.

This call for resistance against nation-state politics was influenced in part by Hanamori’s personal experiences during the war, observed Kasai. The magazine editor had grown up during the fascist era and went to China as a soldier, and subsequently felt betrayed by his country.

“Hanamori dealt with the question of loyalty to the nation-state as a matter of social contract,” said Kasai, adhering to the argument of 17th-century English theorist John Locke. The latter wrote that a government could only be legitimate if it protected people’s lives and property; if it failed to do so, people had the right to resist.

In his essays, Hanamori implored his readers not to forget the suffering the government forced the nation to endure in defending their country. Interestingly, questions of Japanese imperialism and war responsibilities were completely absent from Hanamori’s denunciation of the government, said Kasai.

The editor also denounced the negative influence of rapid postwar economic growth and emerging mass consumption on Japanese social consciousness. Although he made a unique attempt to promote social subjectivity, he failed to recognize the potential of Japanese society to shift from the logic of social change to that of personal satisfaction, said the speaker.

Hanamori foreshadows the post-Fukushima era

Based on his examination of Hanamori’s texts, Kasai suggested that certain historical and psychological connections can be made between postwar Japan and the country today.

Japan of the 1970s can be interpreted as the pre-Fukushima (or pre-“3/11”) era, argued Kasai, referring to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and consequent spill of radioactive material on March 11, 2011.

During the earlier decade, Hanamori criticized the Power Source Development Laws that promoted the construction of nuclear power plants. These laws, which are still in effect today, laid the groundwork for the nuclear era in contemporary Japan.

He also took up issues such as nuclear disaster and environmental contamination, which he believed contributed to the erosion of everyday human and physical life. The question of everyday life remains urgent and unanswered in this post-3/11 era of radioactive contamination, concluded Kasai.

“Many people in Japan still seem to be in the safety net provided by the government and the so-called nuclear power village,” said Kasai, referring to Japanese pro-nuclear advocates.

The speaker also claimed that the political conditions for democracy in Japan have been worsening, noting the recent election of pro-nuclear candidate Yōichi Masuzoe as governor of Tokyo prefect.

Support for the extreme right wing is very strong in Japan today, especially among the younger generation, said Kasai, who considered this a very dangerous trend. In addition, significant political divisions leave many people without a party they trust to represent their interests.

Despite his pessimistic evaluation of the current political situation in Japan, Kasai suggested that Hanamori’s notion of politicized everyday life could be the basis of new political engagement in Japan.

Looking forward, he predicted that Hanamori’s concept of kurashi may once again become politicized to productively counter the censoring of alternative opinions and to promote social consciousness in Japan.

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