Fragmentation of Political Vision: Power and Intellectuals in the Ansei and Taisho Earthquakes

Koichiro Matsuda

Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan

Disasters reveal the vulnerability of political structure. At the time of the 1855 Ansei Earthquake, Edo townsmen acted calmly, efficiently and orderly. They organized voluntary measures for mutual-aid and social security, which demonstrated their ability of self-governing and resilience. By contrast, the Tokugawa government was in confusion. Their main concern was to rescue vassals’ households, but the authority and responsibility of the councillors and magistrates (roju and bugyo) was more ritualistic than functional. Conflict among the political leaders and advisors was intensified but most of the issues had little to do with the townsmen’s lives. Before the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the vulnerability of the urban community was already well recognised. Ironically, after the earthquake, the issue of establishing voluntary self-governing capabilities turned to the issue of governmental agenda. By examining memoirs of officials and comments by intellectuals from both the Bakumatsu and the Taisho periods, this paper will show how disasters activated the conflicts of political visions which already existed, but had been buried beneath the surface.


Koichiro Matsuda is Professor of Japanese Political Thought at Rikkyo University, Tokyo. His publications include Patriotism in East Asia (Routledge, 2014); “From Feudalism to Meritocracy? Growing Demands for Competent and Efficient Government in the Late Tokugawa Period” in, Gary Leupp and De-min Dao, eds., The Tokugawa World (Routledge, forthcoming).


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