The late Kanamori Osamu pushed against historical and philosophical boundaries in his extensive scientific writings. His recent series of edited volumes brings together a cross-section of historians and philosophers of science, technology, and medicine. Over the course of thirteen essays and close to a thousand pages, the volumes’ contributors pursue the twentieth-century transformation of scientific disciplines in Japan alongside shifts in Japanese-language studies on the history and philosophy of science.
Three books are under review: a pair of Japanese-language edited volumes and a partial English-language translation of the first volume. Their titles offer trilingual glosses of themes in a chronological sweep: (1) kagaku shisōshi 科学思想史 in the early and late Shōwa period (Shōwa zenki/kōki no kagaku shisōshi 昭和前期・後期の科学思想史), (2) l’histoire de la pensée scientifique au Japon moderne, and (3) the history of scientific thought in modern Japan.
In Kanamori’s lengthy introductory chapter, the Shōwa reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926–89) serves as a shorthand (rather than a strict timeline) for a potted narrative of historical and philosophical science studies from the 1920s to the 1990s. The introduction touches on the 1930s activities of the Materialism Research Group (Yuibutsu kenkyūkai 唯物研究会) and the Kyoto School of philosophy, as well as the wartime origins of the Japanese History of Science Society (Nihon kagakushi gakkai 日本科学史学会). It spans post-1945 linkages of science and society within groups like the Association of Democratic Scientists (Minka 民科), 1960s and 1970s critiques of the democratic potential of science and the rise of anti-pollution environmentalism, and the 1970s introduction of Kuhnian paradigm theory through Nakayama Shigeru. It ends with 1990s science-versus-humanities “two cultures” debates1 and the turn-of-the-millenium institutionalization of science and technology studies (including sociology of scientific knowledge [SSK] and science, technology, and society [STS] research programs).2
The introduction is a comprehensive bibliographic survey of Japanese-language science studies scholarship (Kanamori cites more than six hundred publications in this essay alone), but it is also a polemic. The post-Shōwa 1990s mark the start of what Kanamori sees as a decline in historical research on science amid the Japanese state’s prioritization of contemporary technoscience. A key moment is the 1995 passage of the so-called Science and Technology Basic Law (kagaku gijutsu kihon hō 科学技術基本法), which removed research focusing solely on “humanities” (jinbun kagaku 人文科学) from its purview. Pointed criticism is reserved for what Kanamori identifies as an overemphasis on “direct social participation” in more recent Japanese science studies.3 “It is great to be ‘useful to society,’” writes Kanamori. “The problem is that it is not easy to determine what is useful to society.”4 Kanamori’s way to rethink science, culture, and society is instead through the “original, complex nature of the history of scientific thought” (kagaku shisōshi ga honrai kakaeru fukusōteki na seikaku 科学思想史が本来抱える複層的な性格).5
In an earlier edited volume, Kanamori put forth kagaku shisōshi as a translation of “epistemology,” a field and approach that encompassed much of his earlier work on the writings of French figures including Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem, François Dagognet, and Michel Foucault.6 In that telling, Kanamori’s kagaku shisōshi was a historical stance toward the study “less of nature than of ‘the conditions of knowledge about nature’” (shizen to iu yori wa ‘shizen ni tsuite no chishiki no arikata’ 自然というよりは「自然についての知識のあり方」).7 Here, Kanamori introduces kagaku shisōshi as a formulation of historical epistemology and as a return to past intellectual trends that, from his perspective, had faded in Japan since the 1990s.8
The remainder of the first volume addresses two main issues: the history of scientific disciplines in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Japanese empire on one hand and contemporaneous interrelationships between scientific and humanistic fields on the other.
Okamoto Takuji’s chapter (the first of two contributions) traces a changing “competitive view of science” (kyōsōteki kagakukan 競争的科学観) in Japanese physics from the late nineteenth century through to the wartime and postwar Nobel-prize-winning work of Yukawa Hideki and Tomonaga Shin’ichirō (often romanized as Sin-Itiro). The first generation of Japanese physics researchers like Nagaoka Hantarō secured a place for “pure” physics work as a route to improving Japan’s international standing, even amid overwhelming state support for “applied” science as the pathway to economic development. Okamoto indicates that subsequent generations of physicists who joined emerging fields like quantum mechanics, including Yukawa and Tomonaga, were motivated less by international competition per se than by individual and institutional rivalries.
The late Kaji Masanori examines the formation of the first major organic chemistry research program under Majima Rikō at Tōhoku Imperial University (東北帝国大学). Majima received chemical instruction in Germany but focused his subsequent studies on natural products within Japan’s colonial empire. These included a Taiwanese variety of lacquer that Majima praised as “a special local product in the East” (tōyō tokusanbutsu 東洋特産物) not readily available to researchers in Europe or the United States.9 Making use of a network of lacquer tree scrapers in colonial Taiwan, Majima characterized the chemical building blocks of hard lacquer (urushi 漆 in Japanese). Majima’s laboratory may have been based in Sendai, but its effects extended across the Japanese empire through the procurement of botanical research supplies and through students like Nozoe Tetsuo, who would continue his organic chemistry career at Taihoku Imperial University (台北帝国大学) in Taiwan.
Shin Chang-Geon’s contribution reconsiders the modern history of “traditional” or “Chinese-style” kanpō 漢方 medicine in the early twentieth-century Japanese empire. Shin proposes a process of triangulation in which modern understandings of “Japanese” kanpō medicine emerged not only from evaluations of (1) Chinese kanpō versus Japanese kanpō or (2) Western medicine versus (Japanese) kanpō, but also through the contrast of (3) Japanese and Korean kanpō medical traditions. Shin posits the early Shōwa years of the 1930s as a crucial period during which a new vision of Japanese kanpō—what Shin refers to as “Shōwa kanpō” (昭和漢方)—was forged within colonial and imperial contexts. The decade saw collaboration among competing kanpō schools that led to constructions of a unified, “Japanese” kanpō. Leaders of the East Asian Medicine Association (Tōa igaku kyōkai 東亜医学協会) pushed a comparatively “scientific” Japanese kanpō as the basis of medical thought and practice across Japan’s East Asian empire. Shin convincingly demonstrates that the transformations of the 1930s underlie a still-resonant self-image of Japanese kanpō.
Sakano Tōru’s chapter investigates the genealogy of the wartime politicization of racial thought in Japanese anthropology.10 Sakano begins with late nineteenth-century theories—spurred by foreigners engaged in ethnographic survey work and taken up by Tsuboi Shōgorō and others in Meiji Japanese anthropological circles—about the displacement of indigenous peoples (variously formulated as pan-archipelago-dwelling Ainu or pre-Ainu peoples) by a comparatively late-coming “Japanese” people. Discussion took place within what Sakano calls a “racial replacement paradigm” (jinshu kōkan paradaimu 人種交換パラダイム) based both on social Darwinist interpretations of racial survival and on legendary accounts of the Jimmu Emperor’s Eastern Campaign to subvert “barbarian” peoples (usually encapsulated as Jinmu tōsei 神武東征). Racial ideas transformed in the 1910s, as a post Tsuboi-generation of anthropologists including Hamada Kōsaku, Kiyono Kenji, and Hasebe Kotondo began to maintain that “Japanese” peoples had lived on the archipelago for longer than previously suggested. The Taishō period (1912–26) saw parallel debates over human origin theories and Japanese origin theories in Japanese-language anthropological journals. Interest turned to archaeological discoveries of early human remains, including the 1920s excavation of the “Peking Man” in China and what in 1931 was dubbed the “Akashi man” (Akashi genjin 明石原人) in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture. Yet Sakano contends that ancient textual sources returned to the fore in anthropological debate amid wartime state promotion of the historical view that Japan was based on an unbroken imperial line (the so-called kōkoku shikan 皇国史観). By the late 1930s anthropologists such as Hasebe Kotondo and Kiyono Kenji had begun to employ early texts like the Kojiki 古事記 and Nihon shoki 日本書紀 to advance claims that the imperial line constituted a “pure” Japanese race—and that past and present Japanese imperial expansion had resulted in a unified national body or kokutai 国体. Even after the war, Hasebe and Kiyono reappeared as proponents of the now thoroughly discredited idea, explored elsewhere by Oguma Eiji, that Japan was a monoracial country.11 Sakano argues that treating postwar anthropology as a “scientific” break from the prewar past elides an interlinked history of disciplinary change, shifts in evidentiary standards, and racialized ideology.
Itabashi Yūjin’s initial essay takes up the interrelationships between philosophy and biology in the early twentieth century. The chapter juxtaposes the writings of Tosaka Jun, Nishida Kitarō, and Tanabe Hajime. All three studied and taught at the Kyoto Imperial University philosophy department, yet each would—particularly with Tosaka’s turn to Marxism and critiques of capitalism—embark on divergent philosophical projects. Still, Itabashi takes all three to be under the Kyoto School’s umbrella in order to analyze how and why they gravitated toward biological ideas, influenced by figures like Hans Driesch and J. B. S. Haldane, when thinking about the role of determinism in their philosophical work. The three came to different conclusions but shared a basic understanding that biology offered a system for their (generally anthropocentric) considerations of human life—for Tosaka in terms of materialism, for Nishida in terms of individual form, and for Tanabe in terms of the species—at a scale in between physical laws and human social activity.
Much of the second volume traces paths by which varieties of historical, philosophical, and sociological science studies took shape in Japan. The first five chapters consist of loosely connected, biographical studies. Taken together, they highlight the 1950s through 1970s as a period when people in postwar Japan began to write about relationships between science and society in different ways.
Kanayama Kōji looks at Taketani Mitsuo in terms of the multiple and sometimes contradictory hats he wore. Among other things, Taketani was a physicist, a participant in prewar and postwar Marxist debates on the relationship between technology and society, a contributing member of the influential postwar journal Science of Thought (Shisō no kagaku 思想の科学), a critic of nuclear power, and a proponent of science’s potential to foster democratic transformation in postwar Japan. Kanayama points out that, although Taketani’s faith in science—especially his insistence that nature shaped politics and society but not vice versa—would receive criticism from contemporaries and subsequent evaluators, he exerted considerable influence in postwar Japan precisely by serving as a spokesperson for other advocates of scientific rationality.
Saitō Hikaru’s chapter centers on Shibatani Atsushi, a trained biologist who published extensively in Japanese while spending much of his career in Australia. The goal here, as in the previous chapter, is the revival of a now-unheralded figure whose Japanese-language work nevertheless moved across diverse realms of social inquiry in postwar Japan. Much of the chapter is structured around an analysis of two monographs. The books in question, The Revolution of Biology (Seibutsugaku no kakumei 生物学の革命 1960) and The Case against Science (Han-kagaku ron 反科学論 1973), both deal with relationships between science and society. Saitō writes that, while The Revolution of Biology reflected Shibatani’s view that biological research could be transformed, The Case against Science abandons the idea of revolutionizing scientific disciplines from within to press for a thorough break from existing scientific practice.
In his second contribution Ishibashi Yūjin discusses Shimomura Toratarō, who studied philosophy under Kyoto Imperial University philosophy professor Nishida Kitarō.12 Shimomura proposed that seemingly universal scientific practices, even including the act of counting, emerged from specific cultural contexts. This chapter treats Shimomura as a practitioner of the history and philosophy of science who was, nevertheless, more than a historian and philosopher of science. Ishibashi emphasizes the breadth of Shimomura’s historical research, including the mode of intellectual history known as seishinshi (精神史). Shimomura stressed that science could not be taken as a fixed category of historical analysis. The task at hand was rather to trace a culturally specific “history that leads toward science” (kagaku e no rekishi 科学への歴史). Categories like science had histories which could, as Shimomura saw it, have different meanings in Europe than in Japan.
At more than 150 pages in length, Okamoto Takuji’s “chapter” on Taketani Mitsuo and Hiroshige Tetsu is, for all intents, a short monograph. The young Hiroshige followed in Taketani’s footsteps: a background in physics research, an interest in Marxism, and an (initial, in Hiroshige’s case) optimism in the power of science to reshape society. The then-self-identified “scientist” Hiroshige’s early 1950s debates with historian of science Oka Kunio provided a snapshot of Hiroshige’s thinking. Oka claimed that the historicity of the natural sciences stemmed from the historicity of human understandings of nature; Hiroshige countered that the history of science was subordinate to natural history. But Hiroshige’s views on science moved further from Taketani’s stance and closer to Oka’s during the 1950s. Optimism was replaced from the 1960s onward with the idea that science, technology, and society were mutually and inextricably bound up with monopoly capital and the state. Hiroshige came to see science not as a lever of revolution but rather as an element of a larger system. This was encapsulated in his Big Science-esque concept of taiseika 体制化. Hiroshige’s reading of taiseika indicated that science and technology had been part of a state-industrial complex in Japan for most of the twentieth century, not just during Japan’s postwar era of high economic growth.
Setoguchi Akihisa illuminates divergent responses to Big Science by examining an important 1970s debate between the previously introduced Shibatani Atsushi and historian-philosopher of science Sakamoto Kenzō, following the 1973 publication of Shibatani’s The Case against Science. For Shibatani, the scale of science had increased to the point that scientists had little agency over the methods and goals of their work. Alternatives to Big Science could and should be sought elsewhere. Setoguchi situates Shibatani within a global wave of counter-cultural critique in the 1960s and 1970s. In response, Sakamoto responded that Shibatani’s proposal to drop out was impossible. The best we can do, in other words, is to accommodate ourselves to a technoscientific complex that is beyond our control. Setoguchi shows that, while Shibatani and Sakamoto advanced opposing ideas, they agreed that the “machine” of Big Science had come to dominate scientific activity in the twentieth-century world.
The last two chapters address different themes. Mima Tatsuya deals with changing medical ethics in modern Japan. Mima traces how concerns about organ transplantation shifted from the perspective of organ recipients increasingly toward that of organ donors, across a period stretching from the late 1960s until the Japanese government’s 1985 issuance of standards on the determination of “brain death” (nōshi 脳死). He writes that Japan’s first heart transplant in 1968, just a year after the first such operation in the world, brought up a wide range of questions, including the problem of whether the recipient (who died after eighty-three days) should have undergone the procedure in the first place. Japan was part of a global cooling of heart transplant enthusiasm in the early 1970s, but the development of immunosuppressant drugs toward the end of the decade brought with it a renewed interest in organ transplantation. The rise in transplant surgeries in turn raised concerns that focused less on organ recipients than on organ donor candidates. In the late 1960s, people in Japan had, by and large, not questioned whether doctors had the expertise to declare a potential organ donor brain dead. However, from the 1970s onward, voices from the wider Japanese public joined medical professionals in debating the ethics of organ donation. Notably, disability groups demanded that potential donors be given an active role in determining what counted as brain death. As a result, Mima suggests that the historical relationship between brain death and organ transplantation was central to the emergence of abstracted legal notions of informed consent. At the same time, he makes a case that the history of brain death is an example of the social construction of death itself.
Finally, it should be noted that the 11 March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake occurred between the preparation of the first and second edited volumes in this series. The earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima shaped Kanamori’s work in his final years.13 The second edited volume reviewed here is no exception. Kanamori closes with a survey of “nuclear literature” (kaku bungaku 核文学), a genre of humanistic expression made possible in Japan only after the appearance of radiation technologies in the early twentieth century and their deployment as weapons of unprecedented destructive power. Kanamori proposes nuclear literature—within a wider conception of “nuclear civilization” (kaku bunmei 核文明)—as a way to excavate longer histories that are, nevertheless, deeply connected to present-day issues.
What are we to make of kagaku shisōshi? To be sure, the term has resisted a fixed definition. As Kanamori highlights in a list of twenty-one Japanese-language translations and monographs published between 1923 and 2010 (the final example is his own, earlier edited volume), the term has had a wide-ranging—though, over the past quarter century, relatively sparse—history in print.14 Within this more recent pair of volumes it is possible to identify at least two different uses for Kanamori’s kagaku shisōshi: as a way to characterize epistemological approaches in earlier historical and philosophical work as well as a prescription for a revitalized program of historical science studies research. In the first volume’s introduction and in an afterword to the second volume, however, Kanamori admits to the “ambiguous” (aimai moko 曖昧模糊) character and “ambiguity” (aimaisa 曖昧さ) of the books’ central organizing category.15 Put charitably, ambiguity is another word for intellectual flexibility, which in this case has enabled scholars working within different disciplinary backgrounds to collaborate on an ambitious project. On the other hand, vagueness suggests that reflection outside the fuzzy framework of kagaku shisōshi will be needed in order to map the landscape of Japanese-language science studies. (For instance, the politics of the Japanese language itself within science studies in the Japanese empire, postwar Japan, postcolonial East Asia, and the Euro-American academy is a pervasive but often understated problem throughout these collections.) But make no mistake: these essays represent work by some of the most accomplished (albeit, in this sampling, exclusively male) scholars now doing research at Japanese universities. Chapters in both volumes, especially the yet-untranslated second volume’s multipart examination of themes in the history of science studies in postwar Japan, can be read alongside a growing English-language literature on the intellectual and conceptual history of science and technology in twentieth-century Japan and beyond.16 The partial translation of the first volume is a fine edition with a few minor errata.
How have stories about science been told? Who will tell them moving forward? Kanamori’s series, which now includes a posthumous prequel on the history of scientific thought during (and slightly beyond) the Meiji and Taishō years (1868–1912),17 considers such questions as a part of longstanding—and ongoing—debates. These volumes will prompt readers to rethink how boundary making—national, disciplinary, professional—has shaped the writing of the history of science. All deserve a wide readership.
Kanamori was, among other things, perhaps the best-known observer in Japan of the 1990s “science wars.” See Kanamori 2000.
The Japan Society for Science and Technology Studies was established in 2002.
Intentionally or not, Kanamori’s introductory provocations echo the stakes of historical debates discussed in subsequent chapters, both in prescribing the historian’s proper social role and in offering up a distinction between what amounts to a “pure” science studies versus an “applied” version.
Unfortunately, this and the following chapter are not included in the first volume’s partial English translation.
As Adam Bronson has also noted, Taketani and other Marxist writers in postwar Japan criticized Shimomura as a poster child of an insular and fundamentally nondemocratic Kyoto School–influenced approach to scholarship (Bronson 2016).
These include Moore 2013 on ideas of technology, Mizuno 2008 on science and “science-technology” (kagaku gijutsu 科学技術) in the wartime Japanese empire, and Bronson 2016 on science in and around the postwar Japanese journal Science of Thought.