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For the first time in English, Rude Awakenings enables those who are interested in wartime Japanese philosophy to study the widely divergent positions of contemporary authors, both Japanese and non-Japanese, on this controversial subject. This groundbreaking collection of essays focuses on the debate surrounding the involvement of leading Japanese intellectuals - in particular the Kyoto School - in Japanese nationalism and colonialism during the Pacific War.
The volume is indeed a rude awakening for many scholars in the fields of comparative/Japanese philosophy and religion in the United States. The Zen philosophy of the Kyoto School entered these fields when the discourse of "bridging East and West" became popular in the mid- to late - 1950s, and it acquired the image of a "wide-eyed, open-minded approach to religious philosophy that seemed to answer the need for a serious encounter between East and West" (p. vii). Thinkers such as D. T. Suzuki, Kitaro Nishida, and Keiji Nishitani have been portrayed primarily as apolitical "Zen" thinkers, without much reference to their scandalous involvement with nationalist ideology. Prompted by recent scholarship in the "Heidegger Case," however, the controversy surrounding these supposedly apolitical thinkers is now revealed to the English-speaking audience who had been either unaware of or only vaguely aware of the politics of the Kyoto School. The case of the Japanese thinkers differs from Heidegger's, however, in that none of them allied themselves officially with the imperialist regime. The debate therefore stems from the content and the interpretation of their philosophical writings - do they represent an ultranationalist ideology, or are they antinationalist "in essence?" The volume contains both defense and criticism of the Kyoto School, carefully exposing some of the key issues on which the whole debate turns. One gains a good sense from the various articles how intricate a role political contexts play in interpreting philosophical or religious concepts.
The collection is a rude awakening in another sense. Unlike the comparative philosophers and religionists who barely touched on politics, …