From Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo

Tonghak as a religion underwent vast transformation between its founding by Ch’oe Che-u in 1860 and the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910. Particularly, it saw shifts in its socio-political aims and its spiritual doctrine, made possible by the legalisation of the movement and wider influences upon its makeup. Carl F. Young traces these developments in his work Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way (2014) in part of a broader narrative which saw the movement become a viable platform for nationalist voices by the 1919 March First Movement. As part of this transformation, the most apparent change is in the organisations “rebranding”, a change in name from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo, announced in late 1905. This change in name is reflective of the wider developments Young traces, particularly within the religious sphere.

Firstly, the change in name from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo is representative of the movements desire to separate itself from the negative image it acquired during the 1894 rebellion, which was neither promoted nor led first by official Tonghak leadership, but began as a reaction to local economic concerns. Most involved were of lower social status,  of which Tonghak initially attracted due to the centrality of folk religious elements in its early meetings and worship. Tonghak is described by Young as an almost hybrid or union of Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and native Shamanism – involving aspects of Buddhist meditation and Confucian ethics – and those native folk elements, for example Che’-u’s supposed healing power, or the healing power of the yŏngbu (talisman) were among reasons why many were initially attracted to Tonghak. [[1]] The detachment from its folk elements and practices we see later in the spiritual and doctrinal developments of the religion can be viewed as a response to the 1894 uprising; an attempt to control how it was perceived by the masses. It too indicates a shift in its target audience, from peasant masses it once attracted before and during the 1894 rebellion towards the attraction of those from educated classes, alienated by the Confucian system but attracted by the preaching of its virtues. Young Ick Lew argues that this is what attracted Chon Pong-Jun, leader of the first 1894 rebellion, to Tonghak. [[2]]  Carl F. Young makes the case that a tension between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures – folk elements conflicting with Confucian values – may have contributed to divisions within the movement. [[3]] Ultimately, it seems these ‘high cultures’ were deemed a greater necessity to the long term survival of the organisation (something of utmost importance to its highest leadership) due to its appeal to those alienated educated classes who were to assume leadership roles and ensure the continuation of Tonghak dissemination and expansion.

Young applies Benedict Anderson’s concept of ‘imagined communities’ to the reorganisation of Tonghak into Ch’ondogyo, claiming it to be a ‘reimagining and refocusing of the parameters that held together the religious community that had been founded by Che-u’. [[4]] It can be argued that the refocusing of doctrinal aims in the detaching itself from folk religious practices ‘refocused the parameters’ of the movement in terms of its makeup, shifting the extent of its influence but in turn preserving the community. Further consolidation of this occurred in the establishment of Ch’ondogyo’s official teaching: In nae ch’on. This principle emerged officially in 1907 – translated as ‘humans are heaven’- and claimed that the divine resides within humans and pervades all creation. Anyone could attain full contact with the divine regardless of learning or social rank, allowing for potential widespread appeal, while also calling for proper ethical behaviour as a way of showing respect for heaven. The ethical and moral implications of the doctrine may have appealed to those more educated who were attracted to Tonghak due to its promotion of Confucian virtues and ethics. In nae ch’on presented Ch’ondogyo as a rational religion, in contrast to what was perceived as ‘irrational’ folk practices, and served as the foundation for social action the movement promoted.

Finally, the change in name from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo can perhaps be seen as a reflection of the organisation’s involvement and interaction with foreign ideas via the Japan’s intellectual scene. Its initial name ‘Tonghak’ translates as ‘eastern learning’, a deliberate choice as opposed to ‘western learning’ (Sohak). Here, it presented itself as a ‘national’, Korean alternative to the Christian mission present in Korea in the early twentieth century. The movement was to provide the moral foundations for a transformed Korean society, and fill the apparent spiritual vacuum caused by the ‘discrediting of traditional neo-Confucianism and a weakened Buddhism’. [[5]] The adoption of ‘Ch’ondogyo’ translated as ‘teaching of the heavenly way’ removes the distinction between east and west, a distinction perhaps not needed nor desired following interaction with reformist thinkers in Japan and acceptance of western intellectual currents, political and social thought. Young claims that it was this western political and social thought encountered in Japan via its leader Song Pyong-jun and the movement’s involvement with the Ilchinhoe that allowed for the ‘systematisation and rationalisation of Tonghak ritual and doctrine’, and moved Ch’ondogyo away from aspects which tied it to the 1894 rebellion and negative image. [[6]]

Overall, tracing the development and shift from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo is interesting in the study of how foreign ideas came to influence religion in Korea, and how its leaders responded to pressures to keep the movement alive and well regarded. We see that the shift allowed for a more universal audience, as indicated in its new meaning. Too, its new doctrine allowed for a new duality, appealing to both those who valued  the teaching of Confucian ethics and virtues but also those who desired a new religious community which allowed anyone to attain contact with the divine. This new apparent widespread appeal is arguably what made Ch’ondogyo a viable but also successful platform for nationalist voices later in the decade.


[[1]] Carl F. Young, Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way: the Tonghak and Ch’ondogyo movements and the twilight of Korean independence (Honolulu, 2014) pp. 8-9.

[[2]] Young Ick Lew, ‘The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising: A Reappraisal with Emphasis on Chon Pong-jun’s Background and Motivation’ in The Journal of Korean Studies 7 (1990), pp. 149-180.

[[3]] Young, Eastern Learning, p. 18.

[[4]] Ibid., p. 114.

[[5]] Ibid., p. xix.

[[6]] Ibid.



The Value of Education: A Comparison of Confucianist and Anarchist Objectives

A common element of Anarchism and Confucianism is the value both philosophies place upon education, and the role education held, whether theoretically or in practice, in propagating their objectives. In their chapter ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Choson Korea’, Deuchler explores the role of literature for ‘indoctrination’ in promoting Neo-Confucian ideals and virtues among elite women which proved to ensure the stability of the domestic realm, and subsequently the stability of the state and society functioning under Confucian hierarchy. Through exposure to works such as Elementary Learning (1189), Illustrated Guide to the Three Bonds (1432), and Instructions for Women (1475), virtues and morality were to be transplanted into the household, and women were to act as ‘the guardians of Confucian norms in the inner realm’ in Korea.[1] Too, Tocco in their ‘Norms and Texts for Women’s Education in Tokugawa Japan’ discusses the extent of women’s education within Tokugawa Japan, and provides example of a woman’s education as accessed through moral guides and texts whose foundations lay in Neo-Confucian ethical precepts which stressed the importance of filial piety and kinship. Both Deuchler and Tocco illustrate well how the education of women in preparation of their managerial and ethical domestic responsibilities came to play a role in the upholding of a Confucian hierarchical society and ideals of filial piety.

A direct comparison between Confucianism and Anarchism can perhaps be made in their conflicting objectives; the Confucian upholding of hierarchy versus the anarchist aims to dismantle hierarchy and those social institutions which serve it, namely state institutions, and familial structures. The value of education therefore is found and placed in competing goals.

Dirlik in Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (1991) emphasises the perceived importance of education among early twentieth century anarchists in achieving revolutionary change. Education is presented as an ‘instrument of revolution’, a tool to create a self-awareness/revolutionary consciousness which would in turn allow for a successful, conscious uprising to dismantle those institutions.[2] Education within anarchist philosophy is also presented as the equivalent of revolution, for there is no distinction made between process and goals of revolution: revolution is a necessary condition for the possibility of anarchist education, but revolution cannot be achieved without education. An anarchist education therefore taught truth and public-mindedness – freedom, equality, and the ability for self-governance – as the means and ends of anarchist revolution.

Kanno Sugako (1881-1911), a central figure in the early Japanese anarchist movement, clearly voiced the need for women to develop self-awareness, and is reflective of wider anarchist ideas on the importance of education in achieving this social consciousness:

‘For us women, the most urgent task is to develop our own self-awareness […] women with some education and some degree of social knowledge must surely be discontented and angry about their status.’[3]

Here she also suggests how education may allow for women to think critically of their status within society. Kanno implies the importance of education in achieving self-awareness, and suggests that this self-awareness of women’s status in society is not recognised to a great extent. Yet, she also suggests that some degree of education must be enough to make one critical of their status – perhaps even one of a Confucian grounding. This seems to conflict slightly with one argument presented by Deuchler, that Japanese women, through their ‘indoctrinating’ education, were complicit in and ‘contributed to the perpetuation of the Confucian system’ which in turn served to promote hierarchy and uphold patriarchy.[4] While this may be true on a macro-scale, their use of the term ‘indoctrination’ suggests those educated women themselves were uncritical, and it is this implication I find dubious. With little evidence written by women themselves proving as a limitation in their work, no outright rejection of a system which suppressed the visibility of women at this time does not necessarily mean there was no critique or ‘self-awareness’. Rather, it serves as a reflection on the success of the patriarchal system in limiting women’s purpose to the domestic realm.

Despite the value of education being found competing goals, both philosophies emphasised the importance of moral teaching. The moral aims of Confucian education however were confined within the family, and were to ensure good Confucian household and the teaching of children Confucian moral values, whereas moral education among anarchists aimed to achieve a public revolution of morality as to achieve its humanitarian goals. This apparent divergence from private teaching of filial piety towards a public revolution promoting equal respect across humanity is interesting, and raises the question of whether the popularity of anarchist ideals within China and Japan was viewed as, or came as a rejection of traditional values of Confucianism.


[1] Martina Deuchler, ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Chosón Korea’ in Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush and Joan R Piggot (ed.) Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea and Japan (Berkeley, 2003), p. 152.

[2] Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley, 1991), p. 90.

[3] Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Pre-war Japan (Berkeley, 1993), p. 53.

[4] Deuchler, ‘Propagating Female Virtues in Chosón Korea’ in Women and Confucian Cultures, p. 165.

Were the Ilchinhoe justified in their support of the Japanese, 1909-1910? A look at collaboration in a colonial setting

In December 1909, the Korean organisation the Ilchinhoe proposed a Japanese-Korean ‘merger’ that they believed would instil new life in Korea as a nation with Japan as its saviour.[1] Instead, the merger is attributed to starting the chain of events that led to Korea’s brutal annexation by the Japanese that lasted thirty-five years.

Yumi Moon’s article ‘Immoral Rights: Korean Populist Collaborators and the Japanese Colonisation of Korea, 1904-1910’ explores the idea that the Ilchinhoe, who are remembered in Korean history as ‘notorious collaborators’, need to be considered in a colonial context so that their actions may be explained.[2] This blog post will consider if Moon’s article provides justification to the Ilchinhoe’s support of the Japanese in the lead to up the annexation of Korea in 1910.

To understand why the Ilchinhoe collaborated with the Japanese, Moon urges historians to avoid contemporary moral views as it becomes a ‘major hindrance’.[3] Historians need to consider the setting and conditions of those who are being colonialised so they can grasp why certain groups chose to work with those who are doing the oppressing.

 So, for the context of Korea and the Ilchinhoe, Moon places a great emphasis on the point that the Ilchinhoe movement was populist. She quotes Margaret Canovan, writing, ‘Populists claim legitimacy on the grounds that they speak for the people: that is to say, they claim to represent the democratic sovereign’.[4] Therefore, the Ilchinhoe were doing what they believed was best for the Korean people. They viewed Korea as a ‘backwards’ nation while Japan was a “civilising’ empire’ that could protect Korea’s prosperity.[5]

Looking at the Ilchinhoe’s view with a contemporary mindset will result in a negative judgement of the group. However, using Moon’s argument that the colonial context must be considered allows for one to see that the Ilchinhoe genuinely believed they were doing what was best for Korea. Their logic was ‘Independence through dependence’, and that Korea needed to understand what it was and wasn’t capable of so that Japan could guide them as a ‘friendly ally’.[6] The Ilchinhoe always advocated for the rights of Korean people and did not wish for Korea to lose its independence; what they wanted was for Japan to revitalise their government.

In the end, the Japanese used this to their advantage and were able to annex Korea with ‘relatively little bloodshed’ thanks to the Ilchinhoe’s collaboration efforts.[7] Moon’s final argument urges an understanding that the Ilchinhoe, the colonised, had no agency or control over how the Japanese, the colonisers, acted. Ultimately, the Ilchinhoe may have had good intentions that they believed represented what the Korean population wanted but were misguided in trusting the Japanese. Japan ended up ignoring what was proposed in the merger and used it as proof that Korea was not able to be independent at all which led to the annexation.  So did Moon’s article justify the Ilchinhoe’s actions and shed a more positive light on their organisation? That depends on how naïve one would believe the Ilchinhoe were in thinking the Japanese wouldn’t take complete control over Korea. However, Moon does provide substantial evidence that suggests their collaboration was in the Korean people’s best interest.

[1]Carl Young, ‘Eastern Learning Divided: The Split in the Tonghak Religion and the Japanese Annexation of Korea, 1904-1910’ in Belief and Practice in Imperial Japan and Colonial Korea ed. Emily Anderson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), p.93

[2] Yumi Moon, ‘Immoral Rights: Korean Populist Collaborators and the Japanese Colonisation of Korea, 1904-1910‘, The American Historical Review 113:1 (2013), p.20

[3] Ibid. p.22

[4] Ibid. p.27

[5] Ibid. p.33

[6] Ibid. p.32

[7] Ibid. p.42

An Internalised Pure Land: Haijime Kawakami and the Imprisonment of Self.

Haijime Kawakami was an economist and one of Japan’s first Marxist philosophers, born in the late 20th century. He published articles which aimed to educate workers in Marxist theory and provided the introduction for the Japanese translation of Marx’s Das Kapital.[1] His activity with the Japanese Communist Party led to his imprisonment in the 1920s, which was formative in his engagement with the Buddhist philosophy of Pure Land. Kawakami’s engagement with the Pure Land is significant, as he belonged to a new generation of secular Pure Land philosophers who aimed to identify and reconfigure the Pure Land independent of religious tradition. Alongside Miki Kiyoshi and Ienaga Saburo, Kawakami used his Marxist background to discuss the potential of the Pure Land as a tool for the liberation of the masses from the state.[2]

Kawakami’s Prison Ramblings, written in 1937 after his arrest because of his involvement in the Japanese Communist Party, reveal his adoption of Pure Land philosophy.[3] This is synthesised with Marxist ideas to create a new sphere in which to propagate a utopian Japanese vision of the future. Consequently, in this work, Kawakami contributed to the reconfiguration of the Pure Land as something accessible and mouldable in the secular sphere. Primarily, Kawakami speaks of a ‘consciousness of consciousness’. He believed that in order to gain a true understanding of ourselves (which was needed in an age of repressive state techniques and the blanket identity of Japanese modernisation) we must examine our own consciousness in an extraordinary way.[4] This acts as an internal reconsideration which places our thought processes beyond the present and extracts us from accepted contemporary thought. Kawakami’s process of reimagining the Pure Land is based on an internalisation of thought which leads to an expansion of the mind beyond traditional peripheries. As such, it is a process of negation that eliminates all thoughts in order to provide access to a sphere of personal realisation, an ‘estranging image’.[5] This is what gave Kawakami’s Pure Land the power against the state. It removes reality in order to lead to an internalised realisation which, in turn, resituates Kawakami in the here and now. This implies an entirely empty vision which extracts the mind from restrictive structures of the state and the physical possibility of the Pure Land and locates Kawakami’s thought in the abstract. It is a positive discovery of the internalised conscience.

The internalisation of thought can be traced to Kawakami’s experience in prison. tenko, or ideological conversion, was a popular technique for confession or release of a prisoner.[6] Kawakami’s attempts, as a secular man, to draw on Buddhist philosophy are therefore surprising due to this attempted suppression and coercion. However, the internalised nature of his thought suggests a physical and mental withdrawal from any association with the state and their narrative of conversion and suppression. Just as the Pure Land itself gave internalised liberation, the actual process of Kawakami’s philosophy and writing of his Prison Ramblings liberated him from the horror of the present moment. As such, the very process of modern Pure Land thought was just as significant as the Marxist ideology behind it. Kawakami’s thought in prison created a space which the state could not access and therefore gave him the freedom that Pure Land advocated. It allowed him to create a solution to tradition, and from the very entrapment of his prison cell, force liberation and globalisation of philosophy. Kawakami’s Pure Land was a product of his Marxist thought- a rejection of the structures of state which literally surrounded him in prison, and emphasis on the individual. A connection with others philosophical liberation grounded him in the Marxist ideal of a communal victory for the masses, whilst his Pure Land remained abstracted within the self.

Kawakami’s Pure Land was revolutionary. He used Marxist theory to reject the structures of the state and remove the need for a centrally controlled paradise. His Pure Land was accessible only individually, through the internalisation of thought and negation of the constrictions of the present world. This was Kawakami’s way of waging revolution on the Japanese government when he was physically restricted in the present world. It was also a philosophical revolution in the sense that Kawakami had no Buddhist background. He uprooted Pure Land philosophy from its traditional religious sphere and opened it up as a possibility for secular philosophers and ordinary people. Both these revolutionary aspects reveal Kawakami’s desire to create a Pure Land which was accessible to the masses, via their own resource of the inner mind. The internalisation which Kawakami advocated can be seen as a philosophical representation of his tangible experiences in the present world. Imprisonment, coercion, and his end of life in the days after World War Two, where briefly, the possibility of a globalised world had become apparent. Kawakami’s internalised Pure Land was a modernist and globalised vision which sought to project this philosophy into the future.

[1] Melissa Curley, Pure Land, Real World: Modern Buddhism, Japanese Leftists and the Utopian Imagination (Honolulu, 2017), pp.86-87.

[2] Curley, Pure Land, Real World, p.84.

[3] Curley, Pure Land, Real World, p.89.

[4] Curley, Pure Land, Real World, p.97.

[5] Curley, Pure Land, Real World, p.29.

[6] Curley, Pure Land, Real World, p.92.

Kuki Shūzō and Nishida Kitarō – Fascists or Subjects of Ideological Manipulation?

Christopher Goto-Jones makes the convincing argument that Nishida Kitarō did not promote facist ideologies, but instead that he expressed opposing political views with philosophical language. Goto-Jones argues that Nishida employed orthodox vocabulary in his political texts from the 1930s and 1940s in order to ensure that his texts would be published and also to avoid punishment from the increasingly totalitarian government.1 Nishida is often regarded as the founder of the Kyoto School, however unlike other groups of thinkers who are unified by an academic institution or an official organization, the Kyoto School can be used to loosely group together a diverse set of thinkers who did not formally organize.2 Although historiography on the Kyoto School is varied, the dominant view is expressed by James Heisig, who defines the school in terms of three central contributors: Nishida, Tanabe Hajime, and Nishitani Keiji.3 Although these figures may all be thought of as belonging to the Kyoto School, their philosophical thought differed greatly. This had adverse effects on Nishida in particular, the oldest of the three scholars, whose words were quoted out of context, thereby “manipulating his linguistic and ideological conventions into forms that resonated much more closely with the ultra-nationalist orthodoxy.”4 The language used by Nishida, necessitated by security concerns due to an overbearing government, created the possibility for ideological manipulation which resulted in Nishida’s thought being viewed as fascist.

The framework that Goto-Jones uses to exonerate Nishida from claims that he supported Japan’s brutal imperialism is a useful tool which can be instrumentalized in a discussion about Kuki Shūzō to show how the representation of Kuki’s ideas as fascist resulted from a lack of contextualization. Kuki is described as having been on the fringe of the Kyoto School, probably due to his teaching position at Kyoto Imperial University more so than due to similarities in philosophical orientation.5 Despite the fact that Kuki is not considered a central figure in the Kyoto school, and that his philosophy was markedly different than Nishidas, his ideas were also taken out of their original context and used to support facist ideologies. Similar to the process of de-contextualization of Nishida’s works which Goto-Jones describes as contributing to the false classification of this scholar as a fascist, Kuki’s writings have been taken out of their original context in order to support the claim that he was an active supporter of the fascist policies of the Japanese government.

In the case of Nishida, this ideological manipulation was undertaken by his fellow Kyoto School scholars, whereas in the case of Kuki it was done by scholars such as Leslie Pincus. Pincus argues that “By the late 1930s, Kuki had enlisted the tripartite structure of iki in the service of an ultranationalist imperial state.”6 In this view, Kuki’s vision of the aesthetic style of pre-Westernized Japan which he saw as a signifier of Japan’s capacity to excel in the modern world, as described in Iki no kōzō, provides an philosophical basis for Japanese domination in East Asia. As Yukiko Koshiro observes, Pincus’s failure to include Kuki’s other philosophical works in her study “dilutes the overall validity of her analysis.”7 Similar to the way in which Nishida’s works were taken out of the political context in which he wrote them to demonstrate his supposed support for fascist policies, Pincus uses Kuki’s Iki no kōzō without locating the text among his other contributions to show how it was used as a tool of cultural fascism. The alternative view, that “Kuki was unlikely to have been a willing and active conscript in serving the ideology that fueled Japan’s imperialism”, is more convincing because it accounts for the scholars lack of control over the ideological manipulations that their work is subject to.8 Goto-Jones’ analysis of Nishida’s works is a useful framework for an investigation into the political orientation of Kuki because it demonstrates how a philosopher’s work can be enlisted in fascist state policy, regardless of the author’s intentions.

  1. Christopher Goto-Jones, Political Philosophy in Japan: Nishida, the Kyoto School and Co-Prosperity (London, 2009), pp. 81-86. []
  2. Bret Davis, ‘The Kyoto School’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2019, [accessed 14 November 2020]. []
  3. James Heisig, Philosophers of Nothingness: An Essay on the Kyoto School (University of Hawaii Press, 2001), p. 3-7 and 275-278 as cited in Davis, ‘The Kyoto School.’ []
  4. Goto-Jones, Political Philosophy in Japan, p. 105. []
  5. James Heisig, Thomas Kasulis, and John Maraldo (eds.), ‘Philosophers of Nothingness: An Essay on the Kyoto School’, in Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Honolulu, 2011), p. 829 []
  6. Leslie Pincus, ‘In a Labyrinth of Western Desire: Kuki Shuzo and the Discovery of Japanese Being’, Boundary, 18: 3 (1991), p. 154. []
  7. Yukiko Koshiro, ‘Review of Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan: Kuki Shūzō and the Rise of National Aesthetics (Berkeley, 1996), by Leslie Pincus’, The Review of Politics, 59: 3 (Summer, 1997), p. 607. []
  8. Hiroshi Nara, The Structure of Detachment: The Aesthetic Vision of Kuki Shuzo (Honolulu, 2004), p. 6. []

Anarchism as Modernity: The Arishima Cooperative’s Contribution to a Global Narrative.

On Arishima Takeo’s liberation of his tenant farmers in 1922 and declaration of cooperative ownership, he created a space for the proliferation of anarchist thought in a completely new and undefined sphere.[1] Consequently, the Arishima cooperative farm in Hokkaido can be used to redefine traditional notions of anarchism as ‘anti-modern’ and trace the movement of Japanese anarchism into a global sphere.

20th Century anarchism was characterised by a total rejection of state in favour of social revolution.[2] Revolutionary discourse focused on a cultural transformation with emphasis on the individual. In historiography, therefore, it has been misunderstood as introspective and anti-modern due to anarchist’s intellectual isolation from the recognised structure of the state.[3] Furthermore, the proliferation of isolated Japanese anarchist communities has resulted in depictions of these groups as remote spheres with little connection to the globalised world or political trends.[4]  These ideas were reversed by Sho Konishi, who traces the expansion of anarchism to the ‘opening’ of Japan in the 1950s (Kaikoku) where the cultural and intellectual spheres of Russia and Japan merged.[5] He believed that anarchism adopted a transnational and global character which propelled it into modernity.

This is exemplified in the development of the Arishima cooperative farm and its creation of a new space and time. This did not isolate the community but distinguished them from their origins as tenant farmers and consequently propelled them into the sphere of modernity with a new identity. The Cooperative Living Handbook contained a history of the farm and was used to affirm membership in the cooperative.[6] As such, it became a physical demonstration of the connection with a shared heritage that had been constructed around the new freedom of the cooperative. The book served to create a new timeline of history as a reconstruction of the past that legitimised their liberation and placed them firmly in a trajectory of modernisation.

Additionally, the division of space was significant in the construction of a new space and time. Monuments and objects commemorating original members of the cooperative were placed in the centre of the community and used to mark out meeting forums.[7] These were viewed as symbolic objects which affirmed the overturning of the old ideological order in favour of liberation. They reflected the desire for a similar process in the wider political structures of Japan. The physical demarcation of space with such objects suggests that tenants sought to separate their new freedom as a new sphere of possibility which had no relation to the community’s past constraints as tenant farmers. It further implies that for the Arishima farmers, time renewed and began again upon their liberation. As such, this demonstrates that, far from internalised, the cooperative saw itself at the forefront of progress, looking forward into a devolved era of change.

Moreover, the Arishima cooperative did succeed in integrating itself into a wider global narrative. The farm held festivals, including the Autumn Harvest Festival and children’s Olympic festivals, which were open to outsiders and became known throughout the region.[8] Not only did the cooperative look forwards, but it aimed to do so in conjunction with surrounding communities. The proliferation of anarchist thought across the region is exemplified in the adoption of Anarchism by the Hokkaido-wide industrial cooperative in 1926.[9] Additionally, the Agricultural Industrial Cooperative Association published its journal ‘Kyoei’, which sought to promote ‘world thinking’ amongst agricultural labourers. Within this, we can see the Arishima anarchist thought centred within global anarchist thought as the communities sought to educate and connect with the wider world as their practices of mutual aid ‘sogo fujo’ united with wider global narratives of mass liberation.

The Arishima anarchist cooperative can therefore be used to trace the evolution of anarchist thought from a local sphere to global narrative. The vision of the farmers at the forefront of progress allowed for the creation of a new space and time through physical means. This allows for a revision of Japanese anarchism as modern and international. Throughout its evolution, the Arishima Cooperative remained engaged with the intellectual spheres around them as they forged their community to become a vehicle of progress which symbolised a new modernity.

[1] Sho Konishi, “Ordinary Farmers Living Anarchist Time: Arishima Cooperative Farm in Hokkaido, 1922–1935.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 47, no. 6, (2013), p.1845.

[2] Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, (London 1991), p.29.

[3] Sho Konishi, “Ordinary Farmers”, p.1848.

[4] James Scott in Sho Konishi, “Ordinary Farmers”, P.1848

[5] Sho Konishi, Anarchist Modernity: Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan, (Massachusetts 2013), p.2.

[6] Sho Konishi, “Ordinary Farmers”, P.1858.

[7] Ibid, P.1867

[8] Ibid, p.1878, p1882.

[9] Ibid, p.1884.

‘Bushido’ anarchists: The irony of rebellious martyrdom in Imperial Japan

Post-Meiji restoration Japan is known for being a highly nationalistic society with limited freedom of expression and little room for other ideologies than the nationalistic ideology promoted by the state. In Mikiso Hane’s Reflections on the Way to the Gallows we meet, among others, Kanno Sugako (1881-1911) and Kaneko Fumiko (1903-1926) – two women who lived in this time of nationalism and who ungrudgingly gave their lives for their beliefs and rebellions against the Japanese state and society. What struck me the most when reading the stories Kanno and Kaneko is their unyielding faith in their ideological cause right up to their deaths and, their honesty and transparent witness statements, and their bravery. Ironically enough, the way in which Kanno and Kaneko met their deaths can be argued to be exemplary of the values propagandised by the Japanese government at the time. Indeed, as Kanno was executed and Kaneko committed suicide in prison they displayed similar characteristics to the modern ‘Bushido’ values1 which had been integrated into Japanese society in this period as they fostered a ‘Japanese spirit’.2


The perhaps most famous anarchist in this period was Kotoku Sushui, who’s idea of anarchism was rooted in various critiques of imperialism, nationalism and militarism – he also had a complicated personal relationship with Kanno Sugako. Kanno’s and Kaneko’s anarchist beliefs were more personally motivated and more shaped by their individual animosity towards the authorities and hierarchies of the Japanese society they lived in, unlike Kotoku who was arguably more ‘intellectually’ motivated. Kanno exemplifies her opposition towards the existing society by writing, during her time as substitute editor of the newspaper Muro Shimpo, that ‘[w]omen in Japan are in a state of slavery. Japan has become an advanced, civilized nation, but we women are still denied our freedom by an iron fence’.3 Her critique is clearly a personal, and radical feminist one, attacking Japan’s modernity for not being thoroughly modern – particularly when it comes to its treatment of women. This feminist anarchism is particularly personal to Kanno since the social pressures and expectations put on women in this Japanese society instilled her with shame and guilt as she was raped at age 15. Kaneko’s beliefs were, likewise, shaped by her difficult upbringing where she was the subject of abuse and neglect from both her parents and grandmother. This led her to reject the contemporary ideals of the family hierarchy and filial piety – which was also supposed to permeate Japanese society as a whole. During her interrogation she explicitly draws the connection between what she sees as the unjust morality expected from the weaker part, both in society and in the family when she says:

From the standpoint of the weak, morality means an agreement that calls for one’s submission to the strong. This moral principle is common through all ages and all societies. The primary aim of those in power is to preserve this moral principle as long as possible. The relationship between parents and children is also based on this principle. It is only coated over with the attractive-sounding term ‘filial piety.’4


For their spreading of radical ideas and their alleged participation in conspiracies to assassinate the emperor, they were both tried and sentenced to death. It is not entirely clear whether these conspiracies were real or not, but they nevertheless both unrepentantly admitted to their involvement. Kanno, in her final statement, articulated that she had no regrets, she likened herself to a martyr giving her life to a higher cause, that she would ‘die without whimpering. This is my destiny’.5 Kaneko also admitted to the accusations levelled at her. In her interrogation she states that, because of her own experiences with ‘oppression by all sources of authority – I decided to deny the rights of all authority’ and ‘[f]or this reason I planned to eventually throw a bomb and accept the termination of my life’.6

Kanno was executed along with 11 other conspirators in 1911. Kaneko was, together with her ‘co-conspirator’ Pak Yeol, initially sentenced to death. However, the emperor pardoned them and they were offered life sentences in prison instead. Pak Yeol accepted the offer but Kaneko tore the pardon to shreds and committed suicide instead. Both of these faithful sacrifices to the cause of anarchism and defiance to Japanese society are, tragically and ironically, very similar to the warrior ethos promulgated by the very same society they were rebelling against.

  1. Christopher Ives, Imperial-Way Xen: Ichikawa Hakugen’s Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics (Honolulu, 2009), p. 32 []
  2. Ibid., p. 13 []
  3. Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan (Berkeley, 1988), p. 53 []
  4. Ibid., p. 119 []
  5. Ibid., pp. 56-57 []
  6. Ibid., p. 122 []