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Meibōka and the politics of localism in rural Japan Craig, Christopher Robin Jamie


The changes that transformed the political and economic centers of Japan so dramatically during the Meiji and Taishō periods were slower to take effect in the rural areas. In these regions tradition persisted alongside social and political change, the progress of which was regulated by traditional modes of life and forms of political organization. Continuing in their role as the political elites of the countryside in this new era were figures known as chihō meibōka. Having served as village leaders in the Tokugawa order, meibōka, which can be translated as ’local notables’ or ’men of local influence,’ were looked to by early Meiji leaders to ensure the maintenance of rural society in the years following the Restoration. The decades that followed saw cooperation and conflict between meibōka and government, and local notables came to occupy a distinct space in the political order as the point of contact between government and the rural public. Representing local interests, first in their interaction with bureaucratic political administrators and later with fledgling political parties, meibōka were able to organize and offer up the support of the rural public in exchange for government funds to be spent in and on their local areas. This paper will explore the nature of the interaction between meibōka, the central and prefectural governments, and the rural public in order to examine the workings of their relationships to one another. This exploration will demonstrate that these relationships resulted in a system in which narrow local interests became the sole subject of dialogue between the public and those who represented them in government, and in which political ideology played a role of negligible importance.

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