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Title: Tenkō  
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Subject: Japanese dissidence during the Shōwa period, March 15 incident, Tomoyoshi Murayama, Politics of Japan, Japanese society
Collection: Japanese Society, Politics of Japan, Socialism in Japan
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Tenkō (転向, literally, changing direction) is a Japanese term referring to the ideological reversal of numerous Japanese socialists who, between 1925 and 1945, renounced the left and (in many cases) embraced the "national community."[1] Tenkō was performed especially under duress, most often in police custody, and was a condition for release (although surveillance and harassment would continue). But it was also a broader phenomenon, a kind of cultural reorientation in the face of national crisis, that did not always involve direct repression.

For decades, the term served both narrowly as a moral litmus test in evaluating the careers of intellectuals active before and after the war and more broadly as a metaphor for the collective experience of an entire generation of Japanese. One of the most well known and consequential instances of Tenko came in June 1933, when Sano Manabu (1892—1953) and Nabeyama Sadachika (1901—1979), top figures in the Communist Party leadership, renounced their allegiance to the Comintern and the policy of violent revolution, embracing instead a Japan-specific mode of revolutionary change under imperial auspices, in reaction to the Soviet Union's use of the Comintern for its own power purposes against Germany and Japan.[2]

Their proclamation was followed by a wave of defections by the party rank and file and essentially signaled the demise of the party organization, except in exile. Tenkō described a change in ideological position on the part of former anti-government radicals who had undergone self-criticism and who had returned to the ideological position supported by the state.[3]

Patricia G. Steinhoff estimates "By 1943, of 2,440 persons prosecuted under the Peace Preservation Law, 51.1 percent had made a complete tenkō, 47.4 percent had made a partial tenkō, and only 1.5 percent had completely resisted (hitenkō).[4]

After the end of World War II, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) was confronted with former members who claimed to have made tenkō under duress or to have made a sham (gisō) tenkō to get out of prison. The JCP accepted them back but continued to condemn tenkō.[5]

See also


  1. ^ W. Theodore de Bary, et al. (eds), Sources of Japanese Tradition(Columbia University Press, 2005)
  2. ^ W. Theodore de Bary, et al. (eds), Sources of Japanese Tradition(Columbia University Press, 2005)
  3. ^ Richard H. Mitchell, Thought Control in Prewar Japan(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976)
  4. ^
  5. ^

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