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Public Space in Recent Japanese Political Thought and Activism: From the Rivers and Lakes to Miyashita Park

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Public Space in Recent Japanese Political Thought and Activism: From the Rivers and Lakes to Miyashita Park
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  This article was downloaded by: [University of Gothenburg]On: 09 December 2011, At: 03:44Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Japanese Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjst20 Public Space in Recent JapanesePolitical Thought and Activism: Fromthe Rivers and Lakes to Miyashita Park Carl Cassegård aa University of Gothenburg, SwedenAvailable online: 09 Dec 2011 To cite this article: Carl Cassegård (2011): Public Space in Recent Japanese Political Thought andActivism: From the Rivers and Lakes to Miyashita Park, Japanese Studies, 31:3, 405-422 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10371397.2011.619172 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use:http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThis article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  Public Space in Recent Japanese Political Thoughtand Activism: From the Rivers and Lakes toMiyashita Park  CARL CASSEGA ˚RD, University of Gothenburg, SwedenIn this article I consider recent homeless activism in Tokyo’s Miyashita Park, including thecelebration of ‘vacant lots’  (akichi)  , and what this can tell us about notions of publicness in Japan. We can provide further depth to the discussion of publicness by situating recent activismin the context of the work of historians such as Amino Yoshihiko and Higashijima Makoto and their recovery of indigenous Japanese conceptions of ‘publicness’ and ‘the public sphere’. Theimplications of formulations of ‘the public’ based around terms such as o¯yake/ko¯ and alternatives including  muen are examined, as well as meanings historically ascribed to the Zenconcept of ‘lakes and rivers’  (go¯ko/ko¯ko) . I also trace Japanese responses to classical Westernnotions of the public sphere, as well as some challenges to them in Western scholarship, including the notion of ‘counterpublics’. Whereas in Western modernity the bracketing of social inequalitieswas considered a prerequisite for the deliberative function of the public sphere, in premodern and early modern Japan there were spaces which allowed for the bracketing of differences even wherethe function of deliberation was not emphasised. Since the turn of the millennium, authorities in Japan have stepped up a campaign toevict the homeless from tent villages in parks and riverbanks, often with the excuse of planned international exhibitions or sporting events. In response, activists and homelesspeople have protested against these measures, demanding the right to live in the tentvillages without fear of eviction. Using the recent struggle over Miyashita Park in Tokyoas an example, I will argue in this article that homeless activism in contemporary Japanoffers important insights into the transformation of the idea of the ‘public sphere’ in thecourse of political struggle. Confronted by a mainstream public sphere experienced asunresponsive, activists and subaltern groups have used parks as ‘alternative publics’where communication, action and a recovery of political commitment once again seempossible. Defending the homeless communities has, therefore, often involved aconfrontation with tensions and ambiguities in the notion of ‘publicness’, as the ideaof a genuinely free and open public has been invoked against the perceived elitism of mainstream views of the public.The activists’ alternative notions of ‘publicness’ can, I suggest, be viewed as part of abroader movement through which dominant versions of the concept have beenchallenged. In this article I trace the notion of the public in both Japanese thought andrecent activism. First, I recapitulate the development of the notion of the public inEuropean thought. In classical notions of the public sphere, public discussion is possiblebecause differences between people are laid aside, or bracketed. In more recent writings,this bracketing has been seen as oppressive rather than liberating. Nancy Fraser Japanese Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3, December 2011 ISSN 1037-1397 print/ISSN 1469-9338 online/11/030405-18 Ó 2011 Japanese Studies Association of Australiahttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10371397.2011.619172    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   G  o   t   h  e  n   b  u  r  g   ]  a   t   0   3  :   4   4   0   9   D  e  c  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1  developed the notion of the ‘counterpublic’, where groups who did not have full accessto the public sphere could create an alternative space for debate, eventually bringingtheir concerns back into the mainstream public sphere.In twentieth-century Japanese thought, there has been debate on the public sphere inthis classical sense but there have also been attempts to open up new ways of thinkingabout publicness. The writings of historians such as Amino Yoshihiko (1928–2004) andHigashijima Makoto highlight the existence of ideas of ‘publicness’ in Japanese history that go beyond the one commonly associated with established translations relying on thecharacter ( o¯  yake /  ko¯  ). Together with the actions around Miyashita Park, thesealternative ways of thinking about publicness challenge the idea of the public space as aspace for deliberation, positing instead a space where participants are liberated from thestatus hierarchies of the surrounding society and where difference can be embraced.My conclusion will be that the concept of the public in Japan is more multifacetedthan has usually been acknowledged, and that the alternative formulations, far frombeing a mere terminological matter, indicate a significant development in how ‘thepublic’ or ‘public sphere’ have been thought about and deployed in Japan. At the outset,I should state that my intention is not to settle the question of whether a ‘genuine’ publicin the Western sense exists in Japan, either as a successful transplant or because of historical roots antedating acquaintance with Western political thought. The implicitcondescension that often colours such questions stems from the same asymmetry inpower that has forced generations of non-Western intellectuals to import Western ideas,translate them and search for applications for them in their domestic environments. My concern instead is to trace how activists and intellectuals in Japan have grappled with theidea of the public and how their political thinking has been shaped in this process. Classical Formulations of the Public Sphere – rational deliberation and bracketing  The public sphere is a contested concept, being celebrated on the one hand as an arenaof openness, freedom, equality and reason indispensable to modern democracies, but onthe other hand just as often accused of complicity with order, of reproducing socialhierarchies, and of excluding women, slaves, children, the working classes, foreignersand other groups considered beneath the dignity of responsible male bourgeois citizens.To present what I will here call the classical notion of the public sphere will not amountto recognition of a unified, coherent concept. The concept, I argue, is better grasped asan assemblage of at least two parts that, depending on context, are in conflict or tend tomove in different directions.Following Ju¨rgen Habermas’ influential conceptualisation, many theories of thepublic sphere stress its function as an arena for deliberation and rational debate. Whenwe use the concept of the public sphere we usually have in mind an arena of social life,distinct from the state and the official economy, where citizens deliberate on theircommon affairs. 1 Unlike aspects of social life dominated by economic transactions orbureaucratic power, the public sphere is one where validity is constituted by ‘people’spublic use of their reason’ and where citizens come together for the purpose of political 1 For brief discussions of the genealogy of ‘the public’, cf. Arendt, The Human Condition , 22–78;Habermas, The Structural Transformation , 1–2; Sennett, The Fall  , 16–17. 406 Carl Cassega˚rd     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   G  o   t   h  e  n   b  u  r  g   ]  a   t   0   3  :   4   4   0   9   D  e  c  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1  will-formation through debate and the airing of arguments, standpoints and claims. 2 Itshould be noted that in this conception, opinion formation through mass media is not,strictly speaking, an indispensable part of the definition of the public. As Habermasexplains, ‘[e]very encounter in which actors do not just observe each other but take asecond-person attitude, reciprocally attributing communicative freedom to each other,unfolds in a linguistically constituted public space’. 3 Before Habermas, Hannah Arendt(1906–1975), too, saw political action as intimately linked to public speech. The publicis what arises whenever people gather together to decide on common affairs through themedium of speech, persuasion and ‘acting in concert’. ‘Only sheer violence is mute’, sheclaims, while ‘most political action... is... transacted in words’. 4 However, a careful reading of theorists such as Habermas, Arendt or their followersshows that apart from an openness to participating in discussion, other qualities are atleast as important to what they mean by a public sphere. The public also involves a senseof distance or detachment from the preoccupations of everyday life, which is madepossible through a temporary bracketing of dependencies and inequalities in wealth orstatus that define our situation in society. Since the semblance of a public in whichparticipants are equal can only come into being through a bracketing of real differencesand relations of dependency, Arendt argues that the public is by necessity a place for‘play-acting’ and ‘theatre’. To her, the political significance of the Greek  polis lay in itsfunction as an ‘artificial institution’ that made men equal who by nature were not.‘Equality existed only in this specifically political realm, where men met one another ascitizens and not as private persons’. 5 In a similar vein, Habermas stresses that the birthof the political public sphere in the cafes, salons and Tischgesellschaften (table societies) of the seventeenth century was made possible by the fact that participants at least inprinciple could interact on an equal footing, regardless of economic dependencies ordifferences in status and power. 6 What this implies in concrete interaction is illustratedby Georg Simmel (1858–1915) in his discussion of playful sociability in bourgeoissalons. As he points out, the pleasurable lightness in these salons is created through aform of abstraction or bracketing of social reality. The interaction is playful and pleasantsince participants engage in interaction for its own sake, disregarding the materialinterests or personal problems that burden it in everyday life, as well as mattersconcerning status. According to Simmel, such interaction has a ‘democratic’ charactersince all participants, within certain boundaries, behave as if they were equal. 7 To summarise, the public is not only a realm of free and open communication ordebate, but also an arena in which important parts of social life are systematically bracketed in order to create a semblance of equality among participants. This means 2 Habermas, The Structural Transformation , 24–28; Habermas, ‘The Public Sphere’, 398–399; Habermas, Between Facts and Norms , 359–367. 3 Habermas, Between Facts and Norms , 361. The emphasis on the role of speech or communication alsocharacterises the strand of scholarship that views the public as self-reflexively constituted through thecirculation of discourse (e.g. Warner, Publics , 11–12, 91; Lee, ‘The Subjects of Circulation’, 234–237;Taylor, ‘Modern Social Imaginaries’, 112–113). As I will show, these definitions are of limited use whendiscussing Japanese conceptions of the public since the latter do not always rely on deliberation orcommunication as a central feature. 4 Arendt, The Human Condition , 26 (also see 178, 198). On violence and political power, see Arendt, OnViolence , 44–56. 5 Arendt, On Revolution , 21. On politics as theatre, cf. Arendt, The Human Condition , 188. The element of play-acting is also central to Sennett’s discussion of the public in The Fall of Public Man , 264. 6 Habermas, The Structural Transformation , 36. 7 Simmel, ‘Sociability’, 47.  From The Rivers and Lakes to Miyashita Park 407    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   G  o   t   h  e  n   b  u  r  g   ]  a   t   0   3  :   4   4   0   9   D  e  c  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1  that the public – against the commonsensical view – must be viewed not only as an arenaof debate and communication. It is also constituted by a certain silence, a ‘bracketing’that is needed to prevent it from dissolving back into the ‘real’ world. An attempt at adefinition that would include both the communicative and bracketing elements of thepublic sphere would run something like this: the public sphere is an arena whereparticipants enact the role of abstract citizens, discussing matters of common concern,often in a conflictual tension with the political system, and bracketing circumstancesdeemed to be merely ‘private’. The public in this classical sense is an arena for freedebate, in principle open to all, but only on the condition that they exclude speech andconduct deemed to belong to the merely private sphere or to be beneath the dignity of responsible citizens. While bracketing creates a ‘democratic semblance’, as Simmelpointed out, this semblance also serves to prevent real inequalities in power, wealth andstatus from being challenged. As Simmel points out, the salons offer at most a partialand temporary refuge from the surrounding society with its overpowering orders of inequality. The ‘democratic’ semblance is fragile since it rests on an abstraction from thesurrounding society and easily collapses whenever the awareness of these externalrealities forces itself on the participants. 8 The ambivalent character of the public has led to much criticism. The elitist stampon the concept of the public is especially evident in Arendt, where it is modelled on anidealised image of Athenian politics downplaying the reality that politics there wasbarred to women, children, slaves and foreigners. Habermas is explicit about thetwisted ideological foundation of the eighteenth century bourgeois public sphere: ‘Thefully developed bourgeois public sphere was based on the fictitious identity of the tworoles assumed by the privatised individuals who came together to form a public: therole of property owners and the role of human beings pure and simple’. 9 Through thecircumstances of its historical formation this public came to be constituted by peoplebelonging to a privileged stratum of society whose members felt entitled to claim thatthey were capable of representing ‘man’ in general. Against the inherent elitism of theclassical concept of the public, it is only natural that critics have emerged who stressthe right to political participation of the masses, the marginalised and the excluded. AsNancy Fraser points out, many subordinated social groups – women, gays andlesbians, ethnic minorities and the working class – have opted for a strategy of partialor temporary ‘exit’ from the male-dominated, bourgeois or mainstream public spherein order to constitute their own ‘subaltern counterpublics’, which she defines as‘discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulatecounter-discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities,interests, and needs’. 10 Many discriminated groups have felt the need to establishcounterpublic spaces, and this is evidence that they perceive the bracketing of themainstream public sphere to be constraining rather than enabling. As a first step, suchgroups may need spaces for ‘withdrawal and regroupment’, where the experience of stigmatisation can be shared, exposed and discussed without fear of discrimination. 8 Ibid. 9 Habermas, The Structural Transformation , 56. 10 Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere’, 123. Counterpublics are also discussed at length by Warner( Publics , e.g. 117–120). Among the first to direct attention to the ‘proletarian’ and other public spheresexisting next to or outside the bourgeois one delineated by Habermas were Negt & Kluge (see their PublicSphere and Experience ). For Habermas’ clarifications and responses, cf. Habermas, The Structural Transformation , xviii; Between Facts and Norms , 329–387. 408 Carl Cassega˚rd     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   G  o   t   h  e  n   b  u  r  g   ]  a   t   0   3  :   4   4   0   9   D  e  c  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   1
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