Utopian Individuals, Dystopian Societies: Two Communal Imaginations in Meiji Japan


This paper offers a dialogical comparison of the writings of Japanese Buddhist Anarchist pioneers Uchiyama Gudo (1874-1911) and Takagi Kemmyo (1864-1914). Although both authors denounce the modern imperial state that sprang from the Meiji Ishin (1868) as dystopian, they imagine differing utopian alternatives. Gudo and Kemmyo conceptualize oppression and liberation through the unique narratives of their Buddhist traditions: Gudo was a Soto Zen monk and Kemmyo a Jodo Shinshu priest. These different conceptualisations share however a common social analysis that emerges from their interaction with radical post-Enlightenment thought, but which is mediated through Buddhist imagery and narratives
By engaging the arguments of both thinkers we access different understandings of the traditional Anarchist theme of freedom (individuality) vs. equality (society / community), along with discussions about the role of the rebellious individual in an oppressive society and imaginations of a utopian society / community of liberated individuals. Although animated by similar concerns, the differences between Gudo and Kemmyo can be seen as the two main paths tread by later Buddhist Anarchist projects. Gudo offers a more confrontational approach, launching a vitriolic attack on the ruling classes in typical 19th century anarchistic rhetoric. However Kemmyo uses a gentler, though equally critical approach, by exposing the hypocrisies of his society and urging it to confront its oppressive dynamics. These differences can be traced back to the jiriki/tariki (literally, self-power / other power) tension that runs throughout the history of Japanese Buddhism and which plays an important role in the (self-)definition of both Zen and Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. By exploring the relationship between the individual and community / society through the jiriki / tariki model divergent, though not necessarily irreconcilable ideas of agency, struggle and resolution are brought to the forth and discussed in their larger contexts (Buddhist modernity, colonialism, Meiji Japan, Buddhist activism).

Author Information
Enrique Galvan, Universidad Internacional de La Rioja, Spain

Paper Information
Conference: LibrAsia2014
Stream: Literature

This paper is part of the LibrAsia2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Galvan E. (2014) Utopian Individuals, Dystopian Societies: Two Communal Imaginations in Meiji Japan ISSN: 2186-2281 – The Asian Conference on Literature and Librarianship 2014 – Official Conference Proceedings https://doi.org/10.22492/2186-2281.20140435
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.22492/2186-2281.20140435

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon