Oe and Millenarian Movements

I have spent the last few days working on a syllabus for a course titled “Anthropology of Social Movements,” and I figure I could use some help from our regular visitors of the Well.

One section of the class will be devoted to a reading of Oe Kenzaburo‘s The Silent Cry (Mannen gannen futtoboru). This book will be read in conjunction with E.P. Thompson‘s essay “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteen Century”(Past and Present 50:76-136).

Here’s where I need help. I am looking for one or two short pieces that might help fill out the historical background to the novel. Basically I am looking for a piece on Anpo and another on Tokugawa period peasant insurrections (ikki and uchikowashi). The pieces have to be in English, and I’d rather have them make sweeping unprovable claims about the historical significance of these events rather than have them stuffed with historical details.

If there is something out there that discusses Anpo and ikki in one broad stroke, that would be most ideal. But Anglophone scholars have only begun to explore that sort of post-Anpo New Left sensibility, perhaps most famously articulated by Yoshimoto Takaaki. Or maybe works do exist, and I’m sure they do in research on literature, so it would be great if someone could refer works here.

The entire course is designed as a long argument against analyses of social movements by economistic Marxism (or in the case of Japan, koza-ha Marxists) and modernization theory. The Silent Cry section will help students understand the “human consciousness” aspects of social movements and will come right after a section on millenarian movements around the world such as the cargo cults of Melanesia and the Ghost Dance movement of North America.


  1. Can’t think of anything off hand in article form, but for books, there is White’s “Ikki: The Social Conflict and Political Protest in Early Modern Japan” Perhaps an appropriate piece of it? It is a 1995 but perhaps its biblio will point the way?

  2. Just looking through my book collection (in Delicious Library software database) and you might plunder the bibs of Vlastos’ Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan, and while not on Tokugawa, Michael Lewis’ Rioters and Citizens: Mass Protest in Imperial Japan might have useful bib pointers.

    If you find good English-langauge stuff on Anpo I would like to hear about it too, I’m interested in the intellectual history aftermath of anpo and the turn to the right by many of its participants.

    The only thing in English I have read on it is by my former professor George Packard who taught at Columbia while I was there, and that only in pieces, “Protest in Tokyo: The Security Treaty Crisis of 1960 “

  3. Thanks, all these suggestions are great! The Packard piece on Anpo sounds like it might be what I’m looking for. I’ll scour through White (which I did not know about) and Vlastos (which I know about but have only flipped through). I’ll let everyone know when I come up with something.

  4. I haven’t figured out a short piece on peasant insurrections yet, but I found a good short piece on Anpo that I’m considering: a 30-plus page chapter from Yoshikuni Igarashi’s Bodies of Memory (Princeton UP, 2000), titled “From the Anti-Security Treaty Movement to the Tokyo Olympics: Transforming the Body, the Metropolis, and Memory.

    It doesn’t exactly do what I want (i.e., to give a general overview of Anpo from a “social movement” or millenarian perspective) but it actually might work nicely into Oe’s book, which also tackles issues concerning the body.

    By the way, Konrad, for your interest re: post-anpo apostasy (tenko), Igarashi mentions Shimizu Ikutaro. I think he was one of the main guys who tenko’ed…I’ll put this in a new post so we don’t run this into too long a tangent.

  5. Not sure how you got on, or if anyone else has mentioned Mikiso Hane for
    material on the peasant movements (uchikowashi, yonaoshi etc..including the blood tax
    riots (ketsuzei) that appears in Oe’s Dojidai Gemu) By the looks of it you want to look
    critically at the relationship between political/historical movements characterized in Oe,
    but focus mainly on the pre-Meiji and Anpo era. Actually, Oe’s political motivations and
    concerns with the emperor system go right back to the Kojiki/Nihon Shoki, and without looking
    at the connections and parallels he draws here you can only really provide a cursory understanding
    of what is happening in his work. Take for instance the appearance of Sarudahiko…an important name
    in The Silent Cry and in the Kojiki, immensely political and connected with the anti-Anpo uprisings.
    Hope the comments help.

  6. Thanks CJI! I just looked at Hane’s Peasants, Rebels, & Outcastes and couldn’t find anything suitable. There must be something shorter by him but I don’t know what’s around. Any hints?

    While I’ve had so many recommendations on Tokugawa period uprisings, I haven’t encountered much on Anpo.

    Go on about Oe’s use of Japanese ancient myths! I don’t know enough about these connections. The mythological references were somewhat clear to me in the Dojidai Game, but less so for me in the Silent Cry. I’d love to hear more about the Sarudahiko reference. Also if you know any good articles & books on Oe (English or Japanese), that would be great too.

    Unfortunately, though, teaching “The Silent Cry” will have to be, as you put it rightly, “cursory.” I think I’ll have to forgo Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. This is an anthropology class, not a Japan-focused class, and I only have three weeks to cover The Silent Cry.

    But you’ve made me think: hmmm…maybe I can design a class called “Myth and Politics in the Works of Oe Kenzaburo” or “The Silent Cry and The Cultural Politics of Postwar Japan.” But then, I’m not a literature person either.

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