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New book provides insight into postwar Japan

Professor Chris KeaveneyA new book by Christopher Keaveney, professor of Japanese and Asian Studies at Linfield College, takes an up-close look at a compelling figure from 20th century Japan.

“The Cultural Evolution of Postwar Japan: The Intellectual Contributions of Kaizo’s Yamamoto Sanehiko” was published in December by Palgrave Macmillan. The book focuses on the achievements of Yamamoto Sanehiko (1885-1952), a publisher, writer, politician and entrepreneur who, through his various achievements in the 1920s and 1930s, served as both a catalyst and a critical template for developments in the postwar period. Yamamoto produced the comprehensive magazine Kaizo (Reconstruction) that challenged the status quo, introduced the inexpensive and revolutionary enpon books, brought important Western figures to Japan for speaking tours, interpreted China for his contemporaries and served as a politician. The book explores the accomplishments of the compelling figure, and sheds new light on the social, cultural and political changes that occurred in postwar Japan.

Keaveney became interested in Yamamoto while conducting research for a previous book, “Beyond Brushtalk: Sino-Japanese Literary Exchange in the Interwar Period.” Yamamoto was one of the few publishers in prewar Japan publishing Chinese writers, and he went to great lengths to bring Japanese and Chinese writers together.

“He contributed a great deal to the intellectual life of 20th century Japan, including introducing inexpensive one-yen books, which revolutionized the Japanese publishing industry, and bringing major Western intellectual figures to Japan, including Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell,” Keaveney added.

Keaveney learned Yamamoto’s life and career were fraught with contradictions. One of the most interesting threads of the project turned out to be the most difficult to research, the time Yamamoto spent in Siberia during the Bolshevik Revolution interacting with a young Russian translator named Skazhutin. Yamamoto and Skazhutin became close and were in the midst of brokering deals that would have made the two very wealthy.

“Skazhutin’s sudden death due to disease just as the two were poised for success was a great personal and professional blow for Yamamoto and led to Yamamoto’s repatriation to Japan where he purchased a newspaper and entered the next phase of his multifaceted career,” said Keaveney, who worked with Scott Smith, Linfield associate professor of history, to understand the complex political situation in Siberia in 1919.

Keaveney, co-chair of the Department of Modern Languages, is also the author of “The Subversive Self in Modern Chinese Literature” (2004), as well as numerous articles about cultural relations between Japan and China in the interwar period.