Please join us for the first Modern Japan History Workshop of 2019 next Friday, January 18th at 6:00 pm. For those unfamiliar with the MJHW, it was founded in 1998 in order to provide Tokyo-based historians of modern Japan with an opportunity to discuss their research in an informal, English-language setting.
Our presenter this month will be Jonathan Lear, PhD Candidate at the University of California, Berkeley and Visiting Researcher at the Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo. Please see below for an abstract of his presentation.
Please contact Joshua Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions.
Past Futures of Japanese Atomic Power: Civilization, Temporality, and Takahashi Minoru’s Energy Theory of Value
Japan’s deep engagement with the civil and commercial uses of atomic energy began in the mid 1950s. This development was very much in tune with world trends, occurring more or less coterminously with President Eisenhower’s 1953 Atoms for Peace speech and the 1955 International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. But having been banned from researching atomic energy during the occupation, one of the first nuclear discourses that arose in Japan was one of “backwardness”—specifically, that Japan was “ten years behind” the “advanced countries,” namely the USA, the UK, France, and the USSR. My research takes the postwar re-emergence of the concept of backwardness as a starting point for writing an intellectual history of Japanese atomic power.
In my presentation I will briefly go over what I want to accomplish with the dissertation, after which I will introduce one of the actors that I will be writing about—Takahashi Minoru (1916-1999). Takahashi was a Todai electrical engineering graduate who in the postwar era wrote a number of theoretical texts on energy and nuclear power. He eventually came to head the atomic energy section of the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI—a postwar think tank) and was a regular participant in the complex web of Japanese atomic power institutions. A number of themes worth exploring emerge in his work, for instance: the idea that energy is the only concrete source of value in society; that energy, as opposed to race or class, ought to be seen as the foundation for civilization; that the “degree of civilization” (bunmeido) of any given society could be measured and charted based on how much energy it produces; and that atomic energy and only atomic energy, as a theoretically inexhaustible source of power, had the power to keep civilization (specifically Japanese civilization, but also world civilization) going indefinitely. By analyzing Takahashi’s ideas among those of his contemporaries, I hope to explore the tensions that existed in nuclear thought—between nationalist and more cosmopolitan sentiments, between the presence of the wartime past and postwar dreams of a more prosperous future.
Because I have not yet completed a draft of the chapter that will result from this analysis, I hope to use the meeting as a workshop—in order to engage in a discussion about the implications of these ideas and where to go from here.