Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Reconstructing the Contemporary Japanese Intellectual: Kamei Katsuichiro's My Spiritual Wanderings

Dr. Chia-ning Chang.

As a scholar of modern Japanese literature, Kamei Katsuichiro¯’s (1907-66) erudition was as impressive as the range of his writings. Beyond his critical works on Shimazaki To¯son and modern Japanese love poetry, Arishima Takeo, Mushanoko¯ji Saneatsu, and Dazai Osamu, his interests broadly covered the culture of the Nara court, Mahayana Buddhism, the Dostoevskian notion of redemption through suffering, as well as contemporary discourse on youth, women, marital life, and the art of living. Above all, it was his indefatigable work on the reconstruction of the Japanese historical personality that has captured the widest postwar Japanese audience. Kamei’s intellectual metamorphosis from the political left to the “romantic” right in the early 1930s and the manner in which he attempted to come to terms with his ideological conversion (tenko¯) and his “betrayal” of socialism are still subjects of considerable interest today among contemporary literary scholars and cultural historians.
This paper focuses on his postwar autobiography My Spiritual Wanderings (Waga seishin no henreki, 1951) whose complex and haunting narrative underscores some of the questions highlighted above. In addition, it engages some of the issues pivotal to modern Japanese cultural criticism—the relationship between modern literary and political imagination, the contemporary question of seiji to bungaku (politics vis-à-vis literature), the role of the literary intellectual in society, and modern forms of cultural and political alienation. Kamei’s autobiographical experiences also shed important light on post-Meiji expressions of cultural and political iconoclasm and the manners with which literary intellectuals shaped the critical discourse of their time. The paper analyses the origins of Kamei’s autobiographical impulse before exploring the leitmotifs connected with his reconstruction of the contemporary Japanese, the Sho¯wa man who has lived through his “sins” and survived the tumults of the Fifteen-Year War.


Dr. Chia-ning Chang  (United States)
Associate Professor in Japanese
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
University of California, Davis

With graduate degrees in Japanese intellectual history and Japanese literature from Hokkaido University (Shushi), the University of Hong Kong (M. Phil.), and Stanford University (Ph.D.), my research interest is broadly modern Japanese cultural and intellectual history and literary criticism from the mid-nineteenth century to the postwar era. I am particularly interested in the interplay between politics and literary imagination, and the poetics of autobiographical narratives. I am currently Associate Professor of Japanese at the University of California at Davis.

Person as Subject
  • Kamei Katsuichiro

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)