centralization, later explained. In fact, this decree marked 47 the beginning of a new phase called the “autonomy movement” in the institutional history of seinendan . Although the army did not loosen its grip over rural youth, the rise of socialist and communist activism made many youth aware of their political leverage against administrative authorities. Some seinendan groups, most famously those in Nagano prefecture, sought more independence for young people and local branches from the bureaucratic national network, and others attempted to increase youth’s responsibility within the given institutional framework. Popularity of the Seinendan in the “Success” Paradigm It is hard to know, and impossible to generalize, how young people in the countryside viewed the heightening ideological and political interests—agrarian nationalism, moral education and training, military needs, and leftist activism—that converged in the village seinendan . But one observable fact is that the number of youth groups skyrocketed after 1905. Maeda Ujir ō 42 Hirayama, Seinen sh ū danshi, 82. 46 Quoted in Hirayama, Seinen sh ū danshi, 30. 47
observed that youth groups increased by about 1,000 every year and numbered more than 7,000 by 1912. In 1918, the Ministry of Education recorded the total number of seinendan as 18,482, 48 with their members reaching almost 2.9 million. 49 The rapidity and scale of the expansion of seinendan cannot be explained merely by the fact that the army and state officials encouraged the formation of seinendan groups. Another catalyst was the widespread excitement about Japan’s hard-won victory against Russia in 1905. The exhilaration all over the country pressured youth to pass the conscription exam. Joining local seinendan and attending their study sessions raised the chance of becoming successful conscripts. The rapid rise in the number of seinendan groups was also a sign of their continuity from pre-Meiji hamlet youth groups. Although Yamamoto Takinosuke argued that traditional youth groups no longer functioned, they were still the most important governing institutions in rural hamlets. In fact, the Meiji government initially banned the traditional hamlet youth groups because they appeared too autonomous, taking charge of community policing, village festivals, fire control, and sometimes engaging in violent mob-like political acts. These hamlet-based youth groups did not suddenly disappear, but changed their names and adjusted their activities in accordance with the new policies of the Meiji state. Soon the long tradition of youth groups 50 43 Maeda, Chih ō seinen, 190. 48 Monbush ō futs ū gakumu-kyoku, Zenkoku seinendan no jissai (Tokyo: Minbush ō , 1921), 32. 49 See Tani Teruhito, Wakamono nakama no rekishi on the pre-Meiji youth groups. Onizuka Hiroshi, “Seinen sh ū dan 50 ni miru chiiki shakai no t ō sei to minsh ū niyoru sono juy ō no katei,” Rekishigaku kenky ū 669 (March 1995): 19-36 examines the transition from the traditional youth group to a modern one in Shimoina village, Nagano.
itself became a proof of legitimacy and strength of the seinendan , serving as part of the nation’s invented traditions.
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