Friday, January 7th- Tomoko Seto- 1st Workshop of 2011

the Art and Politics of East Asia Workshop


Tomoko Seto

PhD. Candidate

Dept. of East Asian Languages & Civilizations

Shitamachi Socialism:

Activism, Performance and Popular Culture in Tokyo, 1904-6

(Download Paper Here)

Friday, January 7th

SPECIAL TIME: 2:00-4:00pm

Judd 313

5835 S. Kimbark Ave. Chicago, IL 60637


Scholars in the latter half of the twentieth-century have often emphasized that socialists in the Meiji period (1868-1912) were intellectual ideologues who mainly addressed their ideas to sympathizers belonging to roughly the same social class and who were simultaneously subjected to government persecution. These activists are argued to have been by and large detached from the sentiments of the masses. As shown by the case of socialists’ participation in public events and popular theater in Tokyo at the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), however, contemporary socialists also made an effort to engage in activities that would have broad appeal to many different audiences. These activists often employed an appeal to visual spectacle in their performance in order to underscore that socialism was the solution for the social and economic problems facing local residents. Major local newspapers also frequently advertised these events with varying degrees of sympathy toward the socialist cause. At least in the eyes of these socialists, by late 1905 Tokyo residents had demonstrated their capacity to be mobilized en masse in both government-run ceremonies and urban riots directed against the government. In this chapter, I explore the experiences and meanings of publicly identifying oneself as “socialist” in early twentieth-century Tokyo by examining popular theatrical formats employed by socialists in their own neighborhood, that is, the commoner area known as shitamachi (lit., “low city”). By doing so, I will demonstrate the ways in which what I call “shitamachi shakai shugi” (shitamachi socialism) dynamically interacted with local popular culture, as it was imagined by multiple agents, at a time when Tokyo was being constructed as the modern capital of the nation-state.

This workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in the Humanities. Persons who believe they may need assistance to participate fully, please contact the coordinator at in advance.


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