The Case of 'The Headless Miner' and the Pursuit of Justice in Transwar Japan, 1944-55
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About the talk:
Japanese efforts to construct a “peace nation” (heiwa kokka) and a “culture nation” (bunka kokka) in the wake of the nation’s defeat in World War II have been well documented. Less understood are the ways in which, during the first postwar decade, concerned citizens struggled to redefine Japan as “a nation based on the rule of law” (hōchi kokka). This talk focuses on lawyer-activist Masaki Hiroshi (1896-1975) and his advocacy on behalf of a miner killed in January 1944 while in police custody in a mountain village in Ibaraki prefecture. The case, which was tried and retried over the span of eleven years, presented the Ibaraki police officer charged with the brutal beating as an object lesson in the trespass of authority on individual rights—an abuse seen, after 1947, as fundamentally at odds with the rights enshrined in Japan’s new postwar constitution. As the case moved from the Mito district court to the Tokyo court of appeals to the supreme court, lawyer Masaki decried what he viewed as an enduring pattern of unfairness and arbitrariness in judicial decision-making. Through it all, there emerged a “spectator court culture” that would continue throughout the 1950s—testament to new popular interest in the functionality of the judicial system as a mechanism for securing social justice.
About the speaker:
Emer O’Dwyer is Associate Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Oberlin College. An historian of twentieth century Japan, O’Dwyer is the author of Significant Soil: Settler Colonialism and Japan’s Urban Empire in Manchuria (Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2015). She is currently at work on a second book project on popular political activism in Japan’s first postwar decade.
Image credits: "Phrenologist Studies Client's Head, Tokyo" by Horace Bristol, 1947; part of the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College