Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan
By Daniel V. Botsman
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Introduction"The explanation of the very recent in terms of the remotest past, naturally attractive to men who have made of this past their chief subject of research, has sometimes dominated our studies to the point of a hypnosis. In its most characteristic aspect, this idol of the historian tribe may be called the obsession with origins."-Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft
Historicism enabled European domination of the world in the nineteenth century."-Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe
IF YOU WANDER AROUND the antiquarian bookstores of Tokyo's famous Jimbocho district looking for material on the history of punishment, you are bound to discover copies of an old picture book called Tokugawa bakufu keiji zufu (An Illustrated Guide to the Punishments of the Tokugawa Shogunate). Compiled in 1893 by an artist named Fujita Shintaro, the guide contains some sixty color drawings, divided into three main sections. The first section depicts a range of crimes supposedly typical of the Tokugawa period (1603-1867). There are drawings of thieves and bandits, corrupt merchants and gamblers, and-in what undoubtedly constitutes evidence of the ongoing gender anxieties of the Meiji era (1868-1912)-an usually large number of "poison women": beautiful entertainers who stole money from their customers, vicious concubines whoplotted to kill their masters and tormented their heirs, conniving members of the shogun's harem who hatched political intrigues, and so on. This first section ends with an illustration of one of the samurai "patriots" involved in the early stages of the struggle to overthrow the shogun's regime and "restore" the long-overshadowed emperor to his rightful place as ruler of Japan. He sits alone with a grave look on his face, and in the pages that follow the reasons for his concern become increasingly clear.
After several drawings showing the rough methods of arrest used by samurai officials and the deep shame of suspects being led through the streets of the city in full public view, the second section of Fujita's guide moves on to present the full horrors of Tokugawa justice in graphic and gory detail. Suspected criminals (including several of the "poison women" depicted earlier) are shown being chained up and beaten during their initial interrogations, then thrown into a squalid, overcrowded jailhouse and tortured mercilessly in the presence of fearsome samurai magistrates until confessing to the crimes they have been accused of. The guide reaches its climax with a long series of illustrations depicting the broad array of punishments used by the Tokugawa and the bloody, mutilated remains of those subjected to the harshest of them. Then, finally, in a stark and deliberate contrast to these gruesome images, it turns to the new "enlightened" system of justice that had been introduced in the decades following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This section shows policemen in modern uniforms being carefully supervised by superiors as they conduct an arrest; criminal suspects now appear wearing special masks designed to protect their identities as they are escorted through the city streets. There are also illustrations of the spotless, well-ordered interiors of one of the new prisons and of public trials being conducted in grand-looking courthouses and courts of appeal. The two final pages of the guide show on one side a group of convicts diligently working away under the supervision of uniformed guards and on the other a modern gallows with two nooses hanging ready to inflict clean, bloodless sentences of death.
The Whiggish "before and after" narrative that Fujita's guide outlines will, no doubt, strike readers as a familiar one. A dramatic shift away from brutal methods of interrogation and punishment to a more humane and rational system of justice has, after all, long been understood to constitute an important part of the birth of "modern" civilization, and the same story of sweeping penal reforms has often been told in the context of the emergence of the world's first bourgeois societies. After the American Revolution, we know, leaders of the new republic proclaimed an end to all "cruel and unusual punishment," dramatically curtailed the use of the death penalty, and eventually built the world's first model penitentiaries, all as part of their efforts to create a virtuous, Christian society, distinct from the corrupt European monarchies with which they had so boldly broken. In France too, the great revolution of 1789 quickly led to the abandonment of the old regime's expansive arsenal of punishments and (the excesses of the Terror notwithstanding) to the rise of a new penal system based primarily on fines, imprisonment, and that most scientific instrument of death, the guillotine. The reform process in England may not have taken place in the same context of domestic political revolution, but the changes implemented there in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were no less dramatic. Figures such as John Howard, the prison reformer, William Blackstone, the jurist, and Robert Peel, the reform-minded politician, have often been seen by historians as secular saints for the roles they played in eradicating the abuses of the old eighteenth-century system of justice and its infamous "Bloody Code."
The example of Meiji Japan as portrayed in Fujita's guide seems to fit with this classic Western model, and it is not difficult to string together "hard facts" from the historical record to further support this view. Within just a year of the Meiji Restoration, Japan's new government had already begun to abolish the harshest of the old Tokugawa punishments, and within a decade efforts to build a national network of modern courts and prisons were well underway. Although there is no denying the revolutionary speed of these changes, however, Fujita's guide also reminds us of one way in which the Japanese path to modernity differed profoundly from that of the Western nations just mentioned. Opening the front cover of the guide, the reader is immediately confronted by a "prefece" (sic) written in awkward but nevertheless clearly decipherable English. The illustrations in the book, moreover, all carry English captions alongside the Japanese. The guide was thus intended not just for a domestic Japanese market but also for sale among the foreign community in Japan and probably for export. Profit provides one possible explanation for this. Then (as now) Western audiences had a strong interest in the horrors of "Oriental despotism," and Fujita and his publisher were undoubtedly well aware that a book containing graphic illustrations of exotic tortures and punishments was likely to sell. There was more to it than this alone, however. After all, if a profit-hungry appeal to the "fascination of the abomination" was really the book's main purpose, why include a final section depicting the reforms that had been implemented since the Restoration? And why go to the trouble of composing an English-language preface emphasizing how the "revolution of the first year of Meidi [sic]" had ushered in an age of "wonderful Progress" and banished the "cruelties" of the Tokugawa shoguns to a chapter of history that, it claimed, was already a distant memory for most Japanese?
More than just a familiar tale of "progress" told in the context of a different national history, these sections of the guide reveal a deeply felt need to secure Western recognition of Japan's social and political transformation and of its commitment to the project of modern civilization. And it is no coincidence that the example of penal reform should have been taken up for this purpose. Practices of punishment and ideas about them had, from the very outset, played a crucial role in shaping Japan's relations with the Western powers. As we shall see in more detail in chapter 5, the primary objective of Commodore Perry's famous mission to "open" Japan in 1853 may have been to secure access to coaling stations and shipping supplies for transpacific trade, but at a moral level it was initially justified in terms of the need to ensure that shipwrecked American sailors were not thrown into squalid jails and subjected to the horrors of "Oriental" justice for having violated the "unreasonable" laws that kept the country "secluded" from the world. To use the language of today's global power politics, Japan in the 1850s was a "rogue state," and stories of the harsh treatment (i.e., human rights violations) of unfortunate American castaways provided a convenient pretext for using force, or the threat of it, to bring it into line with "international norms." Soon after the conclusion of the Perry treaty, pressure also began being put on the Tokugawa regime to allow the establishment of permanent enclaves of Western traders, and in this context the specter of white men being subjected to Japan's "sanguinary codes" provided the necessary moral justification for imposing a series of "unequal treaties" that confirmed the right of all Westerners in Japan to be tried in special consular courts according to their own laws and practices.
Immunity from Japanese laws was not the only advantage secured under these treaties. They also established terms of trade that were strongly favorable to Western interests and denied Japanese officials the right to change tariff levels without permission from the Western powers. Overall, they established Japan's formal status as a backward, "semicivilized" country, well below the nations of the West on the great evolutionary tree that had rapidly grown to maturity in the soil of European empire. After the Restoration, treaty revision quickly became one of the central goals of the Meiji regime; but so long as the Western powers were able to raise doubts about the suitability of Japanese laws and punishments for citizens of the civilized countries, they would always have a reason to reject changes to the status quo. As a result, penal and judicial reforms in Meiji Japan were never simply matters of domestic concern. They were also intimately connected to larger issues concerning Japan's relations with the West and its place within the new world order that European imperialist expansion had built.
The experience of being categorized as backward and inferior and of having to come to terms abruptly with Western ideas and institutions under the threat of force clearly links Japan's modern history to that of most parts of the non-Western world. Yet this aspect of the Japanese past is often overlooked or forgotten. In large part, of course, this is because we have become so used to thinking of Japan as a unique "success." True, the nation may have been confronted by aggressive Western gunboat diplomacy and experienced the threat of colonial subjugation, but in the end, unlike other non-Western societies, it did not succumb to the imperialist aggression visited upon it. On the contrary, under the leadership of the Meiji government a massive effort was launched to unlock the secrets of Western power and use them to strengthen the country from within. By the time that Fujita published his guide in 1893 Japan could boast not only of its police, courts, and prisons but also of its national network of schools, its post offices and trains, its modern conscription army, and, most important, its new system of constitutional government-the first of its kind outside the West. Faced with all of this evidence of "progress," the Western powers, led by Great Britain, agreed in 1894 to accept a timetable for revision of the "unequal treaties" that had been imposed on Japan some forty years earlier. (The publication of Fujita's guide was clearly part of the final push toward the achievement of this "great goal.") Within just weeks of concluding the new agreement with the Western powers, the Meiji leaders also led the country into its first modern war, against Qing dynasty China. Victory over the Qing the following year allowed Japan to claim its first major overseas colony, Taiwan, and a massive reparation payment, which, together with the war effort itself, helped stimulate a wave of industrialization in the decade that followed. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the country was thus already well on its way to becoming a "great power," and in the decades that followed it steadily built up its own empire and influence in East Asia.
In terms of both timing and outcomes (not to mention the eventual slide into fascism), this history would clearly seem to link Japan more closely to the "latecomer" states of Europe (particularly Germany and Italy) than to other parts of the non-Western world, and historians have repeatedly made this comparison. Yet the fact remains that in 1850 Japan had been seen by the West as a backward, Oriental country, far removed from the dynamic achievements of European civilization. How was it then that this society managed not only to stave off colonization and subordination but also to grow into a modern nation with an expansive empire of its own? How was it able to become so powerful that by the middle of the twentieth century it would sweep away the old European empires from Asia and mount a serious military challenge to the United States, single-handedly pulling it into the greatest conflict of the modern age?
In the aftermath of Japan's defeat in the Pacific War, questions like these became the central concern of a generation of historians in the English-speaking world whose own lives had been indelibly touched by both the war and the Allied occupation. Turning their attention to the period immediately preceding the arrival of Perry, scholars in the so-called modernization school suggested that perhaps the key to Japan's subsequent "takeoff" and "development" lay in the fact that it had not been so backward in 1850 after all. A close look at Tokugawa society, they suggested, revealed trends that closely paralleled important developments in the West on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. The paradigmatic example of this approach is Robert N. Bellah's famous 1957 study, Tokugawa Religion, which maintained that popular religious beliefs in the late Tokugawa period revealed a spirit remarkably similar to the "Protestant work ethic" that Max Weber had identified as an important factor in the emergence of capitalism in western Europe. Similarly, the pioneering social and economic historian Thomas C. Smith showed that Japan, like western Europe, had experienced significant "pre-modern economic growth" (now commonly referred to as "proto-industrialization") and that peasants in the Tokugawa period had been forced to develop a sense of "work discipline" that prepared them well for the rigors of industrial capitalism. Ronald Dore's Education in Tokugawa Japan emphasized the fact that literacy rates in Japan were probably as high as anywhere in the preindustrial world, while John W. Hall's biography of the powerful grand chamberlain, Tanuma Okitsugu, suggested that by the second half of the eighteenth century there were already signs that some Tokugawa leaders had begun to explore a more "modern" approach to government and economic policy.
In some important respects, the work of these scholars and others in the modernization school can be said to have had a liberating impact on the field of "Japanese studies." In contrast to classic forms of Orientalist scholarship, which could view Asians only as people trapped within an essentially unchanging world of "civilizations" and "traditions," the basic point of the modernization school's approach was always to highlight the dynamism and vitality of Tokugawa society. In this sense, it posed an important challenge to the narrow, Eurocentric focus of the historical profession in places like the United States, by boldly asserting that a non-Western nation too could have a real history. As the list of works mentioned earlier have already made clear, it also provided an extremely rich research paradigm, adding greatly to our awareness of many aspects of Japan's past. Yet, in the end, it was a paradigm that carried with it a range of serious problems and limitations.
Excerpted from Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan by Daniel V. Botsman Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
CHAPTER 1: Signs of Order: Punishment and Power in the Shogun's Capital 14
CHAPTER 2: Bloody Benevolence: Punishment, Ideology, and Outcasts 41
CHAPTER 3: The Power of Status: Kodenmacho Jailhouse and the Structures of Tokugawa Society 59
CHAPTER 4: Discourse, Dynamism, and Disorder: The Historical Significance of the Edo Stockade for Laborers 85
CHAPTER 5: Punishment and the Politics of Civilization in Bakumatsu Japan 115
CHAPTER 6: Restoration and Reform: The Birth of the Prison in Japan 141
CHAPTER 7: Punishment and Prisons in the Era of Enlightenment 165
CONCLUSION: Punishment, Empire, and History in the Making of Modern Japan 201
What People are Saying About This
A scholarly tour de force. This book is a unique contribution to a field of historical study that has, in the past, been marked either by a concern for central political institutions or intellectual history. Until now, there has been no serious work on Tokugawa and Meiji penal practices. But Botsman, by weaving the discursive strands of thinking about punishment into the fabric of institutional practice, has managed to give us an exemplary cultural history that exceeds both its temporal and spatial location.
Harry Harootunian, New York University, author of "Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture", and "Community in Interwar Japan"
I enjoyed reading this book, and learned a lot from it. Botsman avoids both the trap of attributing the rise of a modern penal complex in Japan to some authoritarian essence from time immemorial and the folly of placing all the causative weight on Western imperialism and Western ideas of crime and punishment. Further, he offers an explanation for the methods of colonization that Japanese colonialism adopted when it expanded into Asia. His clearly written work adds the significant experience of Japan to the literature on the emergence of modern systems of punishment and contributes to the comparative understanding of non-Western modernities.
Gyan Prakash, Princeton University, author of "Another Reason"
This book is an important, systematic account of punishment and prisons in Japan from the Tokugawa period through the nineteenth century. Botsman shows quite well the ways that punishment has transformed over almost three centuries, and connects this to political power. The richness of detailimages of beheadings with a saw, severed heads, crucified bodies, crowded jails, and Benthamlike prisonswill no doubt stay with readers.
Stefan Tanaka, University of California, San Diego, author of "New Times in Modern Japan"
"I enjoyed reading this book, and learned a lot from it. Botsman avoids both the trap of attributing the rise of a modern penal complex in Japan to some authoritarian essence from time immemorial and the folly of placing all the causative weight on Western imperialism and Western ideas of crime and punishment. Further, he offers an explanation for the methods of colonization that Japanese colonialism adopted when it expanded into Asia. His clearly written work adds the significant experience of Japan to the literature on the emergence of modern systems of punishment and contributes to the comparative understanding of non-Western modernities."Gyan Prakash, Princeton University, author of Another Reason
"A scholarly tour de force. This book is a unique contribution to a field of historical study that has, in the past, been marked either by a concern for central political institutions or intellectual history. Until now, there has been no serious work on Tokugawa and Meiji penal practices. But Botsman, by weaving the discursive strands of thinking about punishment into the fabric of institutional practice, has managed to give us an exemplary cultural history that exceeds both its temporal and spatial location."Harry Harootunian, New York University, author of Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan