Joel Littler: Naniwabushi as Popular Dissent during the Russo-Japanese War


Please join us for the next meeting of the Modern Japan History Workshop on Thursday, July 18th at 18:00 JST. Our presenter this month will be Joel Littler (University of Oxford), who will present his work on naniwabushi as popular dissent during the Russo-Japanese War (details below).

This month’s session will be held online through Zoom.
Meeting ID: 836 9159 6545
Passcode: Will be posted on the MJHW website from July 15th onwards.
The workshop is open to all, and no prior registration is required.
Please direct any questions to Joelle Nazzicone at joelle.nazzicone[at] We hope to see you there!


Miyazaki Tōten and Naniwabushi: The Popular Performance of Dissent during the Russo-Japanese War 

Joel Littler (University of Oxford)

Joel Littler discusses his latest article, ‘A Song of Fallen Flowers: Miyazaki Tōten and the making of naniwabushi as a mode of popular dissent in transwar Japan, 1902–1909’, published in Modern Asian Studies. The popular genre of sung and spoken performance—naniwabushi—was the biggest ‘craze’ during the first decade of the twentieth century in Japan.

In this talk, Joel uncovers how Miyazaki Tōten (1870–1922), a revolutionary and thinker who became a naniwabushi balladeer, was instrumental in the rise of naniwabushi as a popular art form constituting a democratic site of dissent during the Russo-Japanese transwar period (1902–1909). He uses a transwar frame to examine how Miyazaki Tōten created ‘new’ naniwabushi to deliberately link the techniques and rhetoric of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement from the 1880s to the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). Tōten used naniwabushi to articulate his concepts of autonomous freedom, nihilism, and anarchist communitarianism in a time udsually characterized by the heavy suppression of dissent. The study of Tōten’s naniwabushi performances counters the impression of the wholesale embrace of nationalism and support for Japanese imperialism and shows how Japan’s urban poor engaged in political discourse through popular entertainment that was critical of Japanese expansion.