Forensic Tradition and Democratic Transition: An Alternative History of Rhetoric and Its Public in Early Modern Japan

Special Report: Participating in History
By Satoru Aonuma, Xavier Blandin

This article offers an alternative account of the history of both rhetorical traditions and forensics (speech and debate pedagogy) in early modern Japan. Arising at the intersection of Western notions of argumentation and debate pedagogy and the political conditions at the time, voluntary associations called minken kessha made invaluable contributions not only to promote democracy but also to shape the forensic tradition and the popularization of public discourse in early modern Japan. Based on historical evidence already collected and archived, this article seeks to explore the history of kessha as forensic organizations (places of public speaking and debate). The article also offers a particular analytical focus on the transformation of their politico-discursive activities as they were engaged in argumentation, not only by peers but also in the public sphere.


  • rhetorical associations
  • argumentation
  • speech pedagogy
  • public sphere
  • Japan
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