Despite some bizarre claims which were made by the early socialists in Japan about the long (and even royal!) pedigree which socialism could allegedly boast of in that country,1 socialist thought as it emerged in Japan in the Meiji era was essentially a collection of imported doctrines taken from the West. Although the Meiji socialists could legitimately point to a number of earlier Japanese thinkers who had anticipated certain elements found in Western socialism2 (or what was commonly taken to be ‘socialism’, in the West as well as in Japan3), there was no native socialist tradition for them to build on. Even if there were no traditions that were specifically socialist, however, there was a long history in Japan of struggle against the authorities and of rebellion, the most spectacular examples being the frequent peasant uprisings (ikki) which had been a continuing feature of Tokugawa rule (and which still occurred under the new regime after 1868). Peasant uprisings were normally short-lived, spontaneous outbursts of violence-gestures of mass despair expressed in a few simple demands to right immediate grievances, with no theoretical insight behind them. Distinct from the peasant uprisings, there had also been intellectual opposition to the old regime during the Tokugawa period, often by dissident members of the ruling samurai class. Yet the samurai status of these dissidents, no less than the draconian repression practised by the bakufu, had tended to limit the scope of their criticism. Often their opposition amounted to little more than variant interpretations of the ideological supports used by
the regime to shore up its power-such as Confucianism. Nonetheless, this intellectual opposition together with the peasant uprisings constituted a tradition which, while it fell infinitely far short of socialism, was radical by the standards of the time.