Theses Doctoral

Propriety, Shame, and the State in Post-Fukushima Japan

Yamamoto Hammering, Klaus Kuraudo

This dissertation tracks the effects of state recognition across a series of vanishing and emerging social worlds in post-Fukushima Japan. Based upon two years of fieldwork, the dissertation focuses on ethnographic sites at which the failure of state subjectivization activates both a reinvigoration of state discourse, and the formation of counter-discourses within the temporality of Japan’s endless “postwar” (sengo). In so doing, the dissertation seeks to disclose the social violence and iteration of shame as it is mobilized by the state to produce an obedient subject – willing to die for the nation in war – and as the failure to conform precipitates alternate socialities that may be either opposed to or complicit with state interests.

The ethnographic sites of which I write concentrate on: the compulsory enactment of propriety in public school ceremonies, and the refusal by teachers to stand for, bow to the “national flag” (kokki), and sing the “national anthem” (kokka), the self-same imperial symbols under which Japan conducted World War II; a group of Okinawan construction workers in the old day laborer district of Tokyo, Sanya; the stigmatized “radical” (kageki) leftist student organization, the Zengakuren; the “internet right-wing” (netto uyoku) group, the Zaittokai, whose street protests are performed live before a camera; and “Fukushima,” where the charge of guilt has short-circuited memories of the Japanese state sacrificing its citizens during World War II.

As a foil for the remaining ethnographic sites, the obviousness of giving “respect” (sonchō) to state symbols in public school ceremonies discloses the formation of subjects in a constitutive misrecognition that eliminates – or kills – difference in the enactment of social totality. A veritable stain on which the Japanese state drive to war was dependent, the singular figure of the sitting teacher formed part and parcel of what rightist politicians referred to as the “negative legacy” (fu no rekishi) of World War II. S/he constituted the object of an overcoming that – alongside the Okinawan construction worker, the “radical” (kageki) leftist, the “resident foreigner” (zainichi) as object of Zaittokai hate speech, and “Fukushima” – at once marked the ground of intensification and failure of state discourse. For the graduation ceremony of March, 2012, the official number of teachers who refused to stand and sing fell to “1” in Tokyo, where the state employs 63,000 teachers.

With neither family ties, romantic involvements, nor social recognition that would confirm their masculinity, the vanishing day laborers of Sanya made all the more insistent reference to the trope of otoko or ‘man.’ Closely articulated with the mobster world of the yakuza with which many workers had connections, the repetition of masculinity in work, gambling, and fighting constituted a discourse that repulsed the shaming gaze of general society. Thus, the excessive life-style of the otoko was located at the constitutive margins of the social bond of propriety, where he also provided a dying reserve army of labor that could be mobilized to undertake the most undesirable tasks, such as work at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Echoing the death of Sanya, the Zengakuren numbered in the tens of thousands in the 1960s and 1970s, but had dwindled to under 100 active members in 2012. While the anti-war “strike” (sutoraiki) constituted the apotheosis of the Zengakuren discourse, their espousal and shameless mandate of “violent” (bōryoku) revolution subverted the origins of the Zengakuren into a prohibitive discourse which replicated the form of state rhetoric, and demanded the eradication of the Stalinist from within their own ranks.

No less shameless than the Zengakuren, the emergent hate speech of the “internet right-wing” (netto uyoku) iterated state discourse among the working poor. Having grown from 500 to 10,000 members within only four years, the Zaittokai’s notorious hate speech aspired to the instantaneous effect of “killing” (korosu) another legacy of World War II: the “resident foreigner” (zainichi). Yet, replicating online forms of writing, the iterability of their performative triggered repetition, and in a shamelessness specific to cyberspace – in which the reciprocity of the gaze and shame were lacking – the Zaittokai directed their paranoid speech at the state, whose representatives were said to be controlled by zainichi.

Lastly, “Fukushima” marked the apogee of the effectivity and failures of the state in containing both the excesses of capitalism, and the “negative legacy” (fu no rekishi) of World War II, the memories of which were short-circuited by radioactive outpour.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ivy, Marilyn J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 13, 2016