This article explores the changing ways the Japanese police understood and policed radical politics between 1900 and 1945. Specifically, it traces the process in which the objective of policing transformed from an emphasis on political organizations, their activities, publications, and assemblies in the 1900s to the policing of individuals ostensibly harboring “dangerous ideas” that were deemed threatening to state and capital—what the police came to categorize as “thought crime” by the late 1920s. Once “thought” was identified as an object for policing, Japanese police agencies began to practice a kind of intellectual history—thinking like a state—to distinguish dangerous thought and to understand its origin and its spread during the socioeconomic turbulence of the interwar period. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s theory of police, this article explores how police manuals and other publications categorized certain ideas, texts, enunciations, and slogans and distributed them based on the presumed degree of danger they posed to the imperial polity. It reveals how the expanded classifications and distributions of dangerous thought transformed policing in the 1920s, thereby extending imperial state power into various aspects of social life in interwar Japan.

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