In search of an alternative history of debate in early modern Japan
The case of youth club debates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
This paper offers an alternative historical account of debate in Japan during the Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa eras (1868-1936). Most previous studies on the modern history of debate in Japan have focused on Yukichi Fukuzawa (the alleged founding father of Western debate) or political advocacy by voluntary associations in the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement (1874-1890). Contrary to the prevailing view that debate had largely dissipated by 1890 due to the government’s strict regulations and crackdowns, this paper demonstrates that debate continued to be an important activity of youth clubs across the nation. Emerging around the late 1880s, those youth clubs regularly held intra-group debates on various topics in order to advance knowledge in academic and practical matters. This paper concludes by suggesting that far from suppressing debates altogether, political authorities tolerated, and even promoted, certain forms of debate which they deemed fit for producing active yet subservient citizens.
Keywords: youth club, history of debate, government and debate, debate topic, early modern Japan
Published online: 29 October 2012