Ideological Conversion, War Guilt and Salvation: Modern Japan's Autobiography of Sin

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My paper presents an examination of the political and historical significance surrounding a major modern Japanese autobiography My Spiritual Wanderings (Waga seishin no henreki, 1951), a self-styled “autobiography of sin” by Kamei Katsuichirō (1907-66), a prominent contemporary Japanese cultural and literary critic and an important figure in postwar Japanese letters. It tells the story of the author’s moral and political struggles and his religious experiences from childhood in the 1910s, through adolescence and young adulthood in the 1920s and 1930s, until Japan’s defeat in World War II and its aftermath. Kamei’s reminiscences reconstruct the portrait of a well-bred but guilt-ridden young man from a prestigious upper-middle class family of Pure Land Buddhism background before he turned into a Marxist activist in his late teens and early twenties, and continue with his activities as a member of the Japanese Communist Party, his arrest by the Japanese police, and his subsequent solitary confinement in a Tokyo jail as a political prisoner. In a state of physical and spiritual captivity, first in prison and later under Japanese fascism, he began a series of self-reflections, first on his pubic posture and private role as a “socialist” intellectual and thence on his subsequent “betrayal” of socialism in the 1930s. He proceeded to scrutinize his anguished response toward the Pacific War while meditating on the possibility for religious faith, particularly the one based on the Buddha’s Original Vow, to attain spiritual salvation. In the process, not only did he furnish a stirring testimony of his own intellectual and spiritual metamorphosis, he also situated his experiences in the entangled rhetoric of war, realpolitik, ideology, moral existence, Buddhist teachings, and spiritual redemption. Never examined in serious scholarship outside of Japan nor translated in full or in part in any other language, Kamei’s autobiographical reminiscences epitomize the self-doubts, soul-searching, cultural confrontations, and moral ambiguities of his generation.


Keywords: Modern Japanese politics;, Ideological conversion;, Socialism;, Fascism;, Buddhism;, Autobiography
Stream: History, Historiography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Chia-ning Chang

Department Chair, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Davis
Davis, California, USA

I was educated in Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States and have been a professor of Japanese for more than twenty years. I received my two master's degrees in Japanese intellectual history and Japanese literature respectively from the University of Hong Kong and Hokkaido University, and my doctorate in Japanese literature from Stanford University in the US in 1985. Some of my publications have appeared in major publishers in the US as well as Japan, including the University of California Press, Iwanami Shoten, Kadokawa Shoten, Shogakukan, and Duke University Press (forthcoming). My research interest is in modern Japanese cultural and literary history, with particular attention to the interplay between literary and political imagination in the 1930s and into the postwar period. I am currently finishing a study and a full translation of the autobiography of Kamei Katsuichiro (1907-66), a modern and contemporary Japanese cultural and literary critic. My future project includes the examination of Chinese film produiction in Japan-occupied Manchuria in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Ref: H08P0244