In the summer of 1942 Japan's leading cultural authorities gathered in Tokyo to discuss the massive cultural, technological, and intellectual changes that had transformed Japan since the Meiji period. They feared that without a sufficient understanding of these developments, the Japanese people would lose their identity to the reckless and rapid process of modernization.
The participants of this symposium hoped to settle the question of Japanese cultural identity at a time when their country was already at war with England and the United States. They presented papers and held roundtable discussions analyzing the effects of modernity from the diverse perspectives of literature, history, theology, film, music, philosophy, and science. Taken together, their work represents a complex portrait of intellectual discourse in wartime Japan, marked not only by a turn toward fascism but also by a profound sense of cultural crisis and anxiety.
Overcoming Modernity is the first English translation of the symposium proceedings. Originally published in 1942, this material remains one of the most valuable documents of wartime Japanese intellectual history. Richard F. Calichman reproduces the entire proceedings and includes a critical introduction that provides thorough background of the symposium and its reception among postwar Japanese thinkers and critics. The aim of this conference was to go beyond facile and unreflective discussions concerning Japan's new spiritual order and examine more substantially the phenomenon of Japanese modernization and westernization. This does not mean, however, that a consensus was reached among the symposium's participants. Their tense debate reflects the problematic efforts within Japan, if not throughout the rest of the world at the time, to resolve the troubling issues of modernity.