comparative politics Japan-related research

JPOSS #32: “The Politics of Omote and Naishō: Performative Compliance and Spaces of Impunity in Meiji Japan”

The thirty-second session of the Japanese Politics Online Seminar Series (JPOSS) took place on October 6, 2022. Charles Crabtree (Dartmouth College) chaired the seminar and moderated the Q&A session.

Reo Matsuzaki (Trinity College) presented a paper co-authored with Fabian Drixler (Yale University), which looks at an alternative understanding of failure in law enforcement that emerges from tacit cooperation between the state and its subjects. The authors identify a puzzling lack of enforcement of infanticides during the Meiji period in Japan despite apparent state capacity. The authors propose the theory of omote-naishō to explain how state actors reconciled the conflicting demands of domestic pressures to uphold the legal protection of newborns and the need to respond to people’s desire for autonomy in order to maintain state-society relations. They argue that not only does the bottom-up construction of falsified statistics on stillbirths constitute an omote performance — “a fictional reality that manifests the outward-facing norms of society” — but the performance also diverges from existing concepts with the presence of naishō. Unlike concepts of performance that emphasize elements of deception between the state and its subjects, naishō is a form of tacit cooperation that is enabled by shared values in society and occurs specifically when these values conflict with formal laws.

Iza Yue Ding (University of Pittsburgh) and Dan Mattingly (Yale University) offered insightful comments on the theory and its translation, as well as important distinctions from similar concepts. During the Q&A session, participants raised questions about the applicability of the theory to other cases and made suggestions for comparative study.

This event attracted around 25 participants and produced an engaging Q&A session. The organizers would like to thank the presenters, discussants, and participants, as well as the staff at the Harvard Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, who provided administrative support. We look forward to seeing you at the next session of JPOSS: