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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Abe Isoo's Idealistic Views of Switzerland and Democratic Ideas in Late Meiji- and Taisho-Japan

7. November 2001 / 18.30

Harald Meyer, Universität Zürich/Kanazawa University

The so-called quote;Taisho democracyquote; appears almost as a genre within modern historical research in Japan. Most historians date quote;Taisho democracyquote; from the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 to the enactment of universal suffrage in 1925. Japanese research can be classified into three study fields: party politics and political movements (quote;political democracyquote;), social movements (quote;social democracyquote;) and movements of intellectuals (quote;intellectual democracyquote;).  However, especially within the field of  quote;intellectual democracyquote; there is still a lack of research in Japan concerning the selection and analysis of sources. Relevant materials like Abe Isoo’s writing quote;Chijō no risōkoku – Suisuquote; (quote;Ideal State on Earth – Switzerlandquote;) have not yet been taken into account by Japanese historians.

In this publication of 1904, the socialist Abe Isoo (1865-1949) describes the political system and social conditions of Switzerland in the late nineteenth century. This source also helps to explain the beginnings of democratic movements during the Taisho period. What were the fundamental ideas and conceptions of democracy in prewar Japan? The starting-point for answering that question should be an analysis of Japanese definitions of the Western term quote;democracyquote;. During the Taisho period, quite a number of translations for quote;democracyquote;, such as quote;minponshugiquote;, heiminshugiquote; and quote;minseishugiquote; were in use. This clearly demonstrates the existence of a broad discussion about democratic ideas during that time. Astonishingly, there is no Japanese research so far exploring the origin and usage of those translations. The aim of this paper is to give an insight into the etymological and historical origins of the various translations of quote;democracyquote; being in use during the Taisho era.