August 10, 2018
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v2.1 Reference

Regenerating Japan

Organicism, Modernism and National Destiny in Oka Asajirō's Evolution and Human Life

As the first step toward a comprehensive reinterpretation of the role of evolutionary science and biomedicine in pre-1945 Japan, this book addresses the early writings of that era's most influential exponent of shinkaron (evolutionism), the German-educated research zoologist and popularizer of biomedicine, Oka Asajirō (1868–1944). Concentrating on essays that Oka published in the years during and after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), the author describes the process by which Oka came to articulate a programmatic modernist vision of national regeneration that would prove integral to the ideological climate in Japan during the first half of the twentieth century. In contrast to other scholars who insist that Oka was merely a rationalist enlightener bent on undermining state Shinto orthodoxy, Gregory Sullivan maintains that Oka used notions from evolutionary biology of organic individuality—especially that of the nation as a super-organism—to underwrite the social and geopolitical aims of the Meiji state.

The author suggests that this generative scientism gained wide currency among early twentieth-century political and intellectual elites, including Emperor Hirohito himself, who had personal connections to Oka. The wartime ideology may represent an unfinished attempt to synthesize Shinto fundamentalism and the eugenically-oriented modernism that Oka was among the first to articulate.

About the Author

Gregory Sullivan is Associate Professor, United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, Long Island, New York.


"By bringing to the West an awareness of Oka and the impact of his evolutionary eugenicist theories on the ideological climate of interwar Japan, Gregory Sullivan reveals an important component of the unique ideological synthesis that was carried out after World War I. It enabled Japan to develop into a modern technological, military and imperialist superpower while retaining its feudal beliefs in the divinity of the emperor, the ethics of Bushido, and a rigidly patriarchal social hierarchy, in the process turning Shinto into a religion of state. As a result, Western currents of Darwinianism and biological racism were selectively absorbed into a frenetically modernizing Japanese society in a way that did not hasten the demise of medieval irrationalism, but produced a nationalist dialect of 'scientism.' This in turn would eventually underpin a campaign of imperialist expansion in the Far East in which the industrial military complex, a sense of racial superiority and destiny, and traditional emperor worship entered a fatal synergy. This remarkable book contributes not only to our understanding of the unique ideological ethos of Japan's militaristic regime, but to several research areas beyond Japanese studies: eugenics, modernity, modernism, totalitarianism, and comparative fascism."—Roger Griffin
Central European University Press

9789633862100 : regenerating-japan-sullivan
424 Pages
$105.00 USD

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