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In Session: The Rural as Method: Culture, Politics, and Society beyond the Cities in 20th Century Japan
3: Embracing the kyōdōtai Yamashiro Tomoe’s cultural practice for Democracy in post-war rural Japan
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
In the aftermath of the Pacific War, rural communities immediately became a central site for top-down democratic reform. For many policy makers, intellectuals, and activists at that time, the agrarian “village community” (sonraku kyōdōtai) became the epitome of anti-modern and anti-democratic social organization, a bulwark of conservatism and reactionism that needed to be eradicated in order to rebuild Japan as a “Nation of Culture” (Bunka Kokka) founded on peace and democracy. While governmental institutions and cultural elites were pushing for a modernist discourse that entirely rejected the "old," "feudalistic," and "dark" kyōdōtai in pursue of a "new," "modern," and "bright" komyuniti, rural activist and writer Yamashiro Tomoe (1912-2004) headed towards a different direction. In fact, she turned to that very kyōdōtai as a reference to elaborate her own original cultural practice of democracy in Hiroshima's countryside. This translated into the adoption of a method that did not refer to Western philosophy or social sciences, nor Soviet Russia’s thought, nor literary Socialist Realism, which were all popular currents among progressive intellectuals and activists at that time. Instead, Yamashiro turned ‘inward’ to the local tradition of oral cultural creation: namely, "fairy tales" (otogibanashi) and "folk tales" (minwa). Although Yamashiro's approach was criticised by some as too "weak" to incite a true revolution of consciousness among the rural populace, I argue that it was precisely through that ‘weakness’ that Yamashiro managed to reach and involve the ‘weakest’ in the community, and to bring their voices to the wider society.