Ideological Conversion, War Guilt and Salvation: Modern Japan's Autobiography of Sin
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
Dr. Chia-ning Chang
Department Chair, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Davis