Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Sukehiro Hirakawa

【#188】Authoring “Michio Takeyama and Showa Era”

Sukehiro Hirakawa / 2013.04.10 (Wed)

April 8, 2013


      Michio Takeyama of "The Burmese Harp" has now become Michio Takeyama of the “Showa Era,” literary critic Hideo Takahashi wrote to me, regarding my book titled "Michio Takeyama and Showa Era." The reason I authored the book published by Fujiwara Publishing Co. in March was that Takeyama (1903-1984) was not a mere literary man or a German literature expert but a postwar Japanese opinion leader who led a life with grittiness as an intellectual.

Takeyama thought about national fundamentals
      Takeyama in his 30s was an anti-militarist writer who criticized the military following the February 26th attempted coup in 1936. In 1940, Takeyama, then professor at the prestigious First Higher School, preached down the inhumanity of Nazi Germany on the "Shiso (thought)" magazine. Takeyama's true value as a liberalist was that he was confident of his right choice to retain his stance against totalitarianism in a decade to 1945 and continued to fight a war with his pen without being afraid of isolation in the world of criticism after World War II. In 1957 just before the outbreak of protests against the revision of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Takeyama founded the Japan Culture Forum to publish the "Jiyu (liberty)" magazine in an apparent bid to think about nation’s fundamental issues and suggest the course the Japanese should follow.
      I had some hesitation to write a biography of Takeyama branded by The Asahi Shimbun as "a dangerous thinker." But viewpoints as his relative (my wife is Takeyama's eldest daughter), original detailed documents and memoirs of people contacting him might have made the book vivid for better or worse.

Showa thought history made clearer
      I received a letter from a foreign reader. Rather than my explanation, the letter may better introduce my book. The Japanese language letter is translated as follows:
      "This biography does not end up as a simple reward to a late person. This is a unique history book that reviews the life of a rare, excellent liberalist thinker to pick up and analyze in broad perspective of world history some cross-sections of the Showa history that turned around frequently before, during and after the war. When reading "Showa no Seishin-shi (Showa Intellectual History)" written by Takeyama before, I thought that conversations between Takeyama and his uncle Ryohei Okada on the May 15, 1932, attempted coup were impressive. After reading your book's chapters on 'Germany: A New Medieval Society?,' 'Liberty' and 'Delusions and Their Victims,' I felt anew that Takeyama's excellent views and insights were impressive... This book might have made the Showa thought history clearer like a contour map by setting the cornerstone of Takeyama who held fast to constancy before, during and after the war. I have been led to fully realize that the categorical classification between "conservatives and progressives" or "leftists and rightists" based on any specific ideology is meaningless for thought and other history studies... I was also moved by your thought about the tradition of liberal arts education at the Komaba campus that has been maintained since the First Higher School days. Your description of Principal Yoshishige Abe and other First Higher School professors, and Takeyama’s young colleagues and students must have been this book’s highlight. The rebellious spirit of the First Higher School, which held fast to liberalism even during the war, might have been closely linked to good-quality features of the old higher school system’s elite education -- acting according to one's own beliefs without being disturbed by others, academic freedom and noblesse oblige.”
       I am very happy to receive such praise about my book. Takeyama taught foreign students before and during the war at the First Higher School. I myself took leadership in accepting foreign students at the University of Tokyo, the Faculty of Liberal Arts of which is the successor of the First Higher School. I also taught students in Beijing and Taipei about “The Burmese Harp.” My wife and I would like to value human connections gained through such experiences.

Sukehiro Hirakawa is Director, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo