Hard Times in the Hometown tells the story of Kaminoseki, a small town on Japan’s Inland Sea. Once one of the most prosperous ports in the country, Kaminoseki fell into profound economic decline following Japan’s reengagement with the West in the late nineteenth century. Using a recently discovered archive and oral histories collected during his years of research in Kaminoseki, Martin Dusinberre reconstructs the lives of households and townspeople as they tried to make sense of their changing place in the world. In challenging the familiar story of modern Japanese growth, Dusinberre provides important new insights into how ordinary people shaped the development of the modern state.
Chapters describe the role of local revolutionaries in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the ways townspeople grasped opportunities to work overseas in the late nineteenth century, and the impact this pan-Pacific diaspora community had on Kaminoseki during the prewar decades. These histories amplify Dusinberre’s analysis of postwar rural decline—a phenomenon found not only in Japan but throughout the industrialized Western world. His account comes to a climax when, in the 1980s, the town’s councillors request the construction of a nuclear power station, unleashing a storm of protests from within the community. This ongoing nuclear dispute has particular resonance in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
Hard Times in the Hometown gives voice to personal histories otherwise lost in abandoned archives. By bringing to life the everyday landscape of Kaminoseki, this work offers readers a compelling story through which to better understand not only nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan but also modern transformations more generally.
Martin Dusinberre is lecturer in modern Japanese history at Newcastle University, UK, and is currently a visiting professor at Heidelberg University. He has written online editorial pieces on the history and future of Japan's nuclear program for Reuters, the History Workshop, and The Guardian, and most recently on Japan’s growing skepticism of its politicians and media since the events of March 2011.