My Notes on Culture and Politics by Sociologist Yoshitaka Mouri: Looking back from the development of protest in 21st century Japan

monkeys-typingFrom Yoshitaka Mouri’s “Culture=Politics: The emergence of new cultural forms of protest in the age of freeter

Just after the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces that started in March 2003, there were protests around the world condemning the war. In japan, an estimated number of 50,000 people gathered in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park to resonate with the worldwide call to stop the war. It was the biggest political demonstration since the last two decades. This demonstration has also introduced emerging forms of political protest that was distinctly different from the previous political demonstrations in the 70s Japan. In this text Yoshitaka Mouri – citing Bell, Jameson, and Harvey – he argued that this emerging political expression he noticed in the anti-war demonstration in Hibiya park has a strong cultural element. Furthermore, he claimed that it dissolved the incompatibility between politics and culture in the history of the protest movement in 70s Japan. According to Mouri, the reasoning behind this emergence and development was the resulting impact of post-modernization processes in Japan and the world that was, in the time of cold war era, currently reinventing production from material to immaterial.

To prove his claim, Mouri took a case study of this development in local protest practices he noticed from the recent anti-war demonstration in Japan. For instance, the Korosuna group composed mostly of young people – a minority in the amalgam of political groups that comprise the coalition World Peace Now (WPN), brought sound systems and dancing on the streets. Which according to Mouri was unimaginable in the traditional protest movement, the same way it was unthinkable to bring in politics in popular dance/club culture in Japan. Politics and culture in Japan were completely set apart, however, the introduction of a sound system and street dancing by Korosuna group during the biggest anti-war demonstration in Japan changed both the tradition of protest and popular dance culture respectively.

Mouri’s analysis to this phenomenon revealed the restructuring processes of Japanese capitalism, which according to him is embracing a new ideology prevalent in the West – it’s nothing else but the neoliberal ideology which liberalised public industries and services in the 21st century. This ideology adapted perfectly well during the Japanese economic recession in the 90s resulting in a change in workplaces and the employment system. From this development, a new type of workers emerged and they are the Freeters. Mouri described them as a lifestyle that was once enjoyed by young people back in the heyday of the Japanese economy. However, neoliberalism appropriated it to introduce flexible labor in the post-material production. Nowadays, Mouri noted, “Freeters are seen not only as part-time workers or potentially unemployed people but also as those who choose to be free from any corporate business and who want to make their own business, often being involved in creative works, such as musicians, DJs, and artists.”


From my understanding, this ambivalent characteristics of a neoliberal worker represented by the Freeter carry with them a certain ambiguity that is difficult for classical Marxists to describe as a proletarian class. Mouri even furthered that Freeters are no more than a petite-bourgeois in advanced capitalist society. That is why he is hesitant to define Freeter as a part of Multitude(s) – a concept that Hardt and Negri introduced in their analysis of post-industrial global society defining ambiguously a new type of workers who produces immaterial labor.


However, I understand this hesitation as a way to outline its local context and difference despite the approximate global similarity with the precarious workers in the West representing Hardt/Negri’s Multitude(s). But as the marginalisation of Freeters has become more and more pronounced I agree from this realisation why Mouri finds an element of radical possibility among Freeters. In other words, this lifestyle characteristics of Freeters find its way towards radical activism especially to those who were forced towards marginalisation. To describe this radicalisation Mouri studied another group known as the Dame-ren. This group is translated in English as a free association of useless people that according to Mouri, “started in 1992 when the Freeter appeared as a social problem.” They are composed mostly of unemployed young people.


The importance of Dame-ren group that contributed to the radicalisation of Freeters as identified by Mouri are the following: First, it radically critiqued the doubtless belief of work in society. Secondly, it brought down the once abstracted notion of politics towards its practicability in the every day and enabled its affective element by engaging other people who commonly share their marginal condition without necessarily having to organise a political movement together. Lastly, it valued creativity by rendering it inoperative. Meaning, they subverted the grim and determined political attitude associated to traditional Leftists by introducing the practice of “the adverbial word mattari, which means not-too-seriously, slowly and lazily.” A pessimist may ask, how can all these elements contribute radically in the development of social protest movement in the post-industrial 21st century Japan?

First of all, what interests Mouri to write down this text is the emergent feature he noticed in the 2003 anti-war protest which surmounted the ambivalence between culture and politics in the history of the social movement in Japan. The merging of radical cultural practice and politics by Freeters such as the Dame-ren and Korosuna, from my understanding, provided a new imagination that can possibly transform society against the adversity of neoliberal globalization. Of course, I am being too careless and positivistic in my understanding but Yoshitaka Mouri in his closure of the text left the conclusion open by expressing his hesitance to all things new from the West that is comparative to the development of protest movement in 21st century Japan.


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