The Pursuit of Joy in Total War: The Yokusan Culture Movement in Late Wartime Japan

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM
Salon 7 (Palmer House Hilton)
Benjamin Uchiyama, University of Southern California
Wartime Japan is usually remembered as a moment when leisure disappeared as war mobilization swept the nation, most famously symbolized by the November 1940 closure of all dance halls. However, leisure became a matter of critical importance for Japanese elites concerned with maintaining home front morale as the empire plunged deeper into total war. In October 1940, the Taisei Yokusankai (Imperial Rule Assistance Association) was founded to mobilize the popular energies of the entire nation for war along fascist lines and outside traditional parliamentary politics. Efforts by Yokusan activists to create a New Political Order and New Economic Order were quickly defeated by a coalition of conservative elites in the Diet and big business, but a Yokusan Culture Movement survived in the provinces under the auspices of the Yokusankai Culture Department. This paper will investigate the ideologies motivating Yokusan activists to go out into the countryside to “rediscover” an essentialized “regional culture” away from a corrupt, inauthentic, Western-centric “center.” The Yokusan movement’s early defeats in reforming politics and economics helped contribute to its decentralized, autonomous, and rather chaotic nature in the cultural realm. The paper will focus on the Yokusan promotion of vaudevillian theater to the gritty factories and remote villages of the Japanese home front during the Pacific War (1941 – 1945). It will demonstrate how official institutions, unofficial intermediary organizations, and the performers themselves together created this “Yokusan culture” movement that tried to appease the conflicting total war demands of extreme sacrifice and steady popular morale. The paper will conclude with some reflections on what is “fascist” and what is “wartime” about the Yokusan Culture Movement.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>