Professor Simon Avenell


Simon Avenell is Professor in the School of Culture, History, and Language at the Australian National University. He specializes in modern Japanese history, civic activism, civil society, environmental history, and transnational history. His work has been published in major Japan and area studies journals such as The Journal of Japanese Studies, positions: east asia cultures critique, Social Science Japan JournalEnvironmental History and Modern Asian Studies.  He has three single-authored books: Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan (University of California, 2010) a history of civic thought, social activism, and civil society in postwar Japan; Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement (University of Hawaii Press, 2017), an exploration of Japanese activists role in environmental movements worldwide from the 1960s; and Asia and Postwar Japan: Deimperialization, Civic Activism, and National Identity (Harvard, 2022), which traces Japan’s complicated reengagement with Asia after colonial empire and militarism. From 2014 to 2016 he served as director of the ANU Japan Institute and from 2016 to 2022 as Associate Dean (Higher Degrees by Research) in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. Before joining the ANU in 2013 he was an Associate Professor and Deputy Head in the Department of Japanese Studies at the National University of Singapore (2003-2012). 

CV: (pdf)



  • Modern Japanese history
  • Civic activism, civil society, and state-society relations in contemporary Japan
  • Political thought in contemporary Japan
  • Environmental history and environmentalism in contemporary Japan
  • Transnational aspects of contemporary Japanese history
  • Japan in East Asia


  • Ph.D. in History, University of California at Berkeley, Spring 2003
  • MA in Asian Studies, University of California at Berkeley, Spring 1998
  • BA in Japan Studies, International Christian University, Japan, Spring 1996 (Yokoyama Fellowship 1992-1996)
  • Bachelor of Commerce (Economics & Business Law), University of Queensland, Australia,


Prof. Avenell teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses relating to modern Japanese history and Japanese politics.

(Current courses: ASIA2009; ASIA6010; ASIA2031; ASIA6031; JPNS3023; JPNS6023 )



Prof. Avenell is interested in supervising projects on any aspect of modern Japanese history and contemporary Japan, with a particular interest in the post-1945 era. Previous and current supervisee projects include Japanese war memory, Japanese disaster response, empire, eugenics, & interethnic marriage, cannabis legalization movements in Japan, and transnational links between Japan & Asia.

For information on applying for the PhD Program in the School of Culture, History, and Language click HERE  




Simon Avenell. (2022). Asia and Postwar Japan: Deimperialization, Civic Activism, and National Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Asia and postwar japanSynopsis: War defeat and the collapse of empire in 1945 touched every aspect of postwar Japanese society, profoundly shaping how the Japanese would reconstruct national identity and reengage with the peoples of Asia.  While “America” offered a vision of re-genesis after cataclysmic ruin, “Asia” exposed the traumata of perpetration and the torment of ethnic responsibility.  Obscured in the shadows of a resurgent Postwar Japan lurked a postimperial specter whose haunting presence both complicated and confounded the spiritual rehabilitation of the nation.  This book traces the unfolding of Japan’s postwar Asia problem through six phases of deimperialization from 1945 until the early twenty-first century.  It focuses on the thought and activism of progressive activists and intellectuals as they struggled to overcome rigid preconceptions about “Asia,” as they grappled with the implications of postimperial responsibility, and as they forged new regional solidarities and Asian imaginaries.  The book reveals the critical importance of Asia in postwar Japanese thought, activism, and politics—Asia as a symbolic geography, Asia as a space for grassroots engagement, and ultimately, Asia as an aporia of identity and the source of a new politics of hope. 

Simon Avenell. 2017. Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. (OAPEN) (UH Press) (Amazon

Synopsis: What motivates people to become involved in issues and struggles beyond their own borders? How are activists changed and movements transformed when they reach out to others a world away? This adept study addresses these questions by tying together local, national, regional, and global historical narratives surrounding the contemporary Japanese environmental movement. Spanning the era of Japanese industrial pollution in the 1960s and the more recent rise of movements addressing global environmental problems, it shows how Japanese activists influenced approaches to environmentalism and industrial pollution in the Asia-Pacific region, North America, and Europe, as well as landmark United Nations conferences in 1972 and 1992.   


Simon Avenell. 2010. Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press. (UC Press)

 Synopsis: Making Japanese Citizens is an expansive history of the activists, intellectuals, and movements that played a crucial role in shaping civil society and civic thought throughout the broad sweep of Japan’s postwar period. Weaving his analysis around the concept of shimin (citizen), Simon Avenell traces the development of a new vision of citizenship based on political participation, self-reliance, popular nationalism, and commitment to daily life. He traces civic activism through six phases: the cultural associations of the 1940s and 1950s, the massive U.S.-Japan Security Treaty protests of 1960, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the antipollution and antidevelopment protests of the 1960s and 1970s, movements for local government reform and the rise of new civic groups from the mid-1970s. This rich portrayal of activists and their ideas illuminates questions of democracy, citizenship, and political participation both in contemporary Japan and in other industrialized nations more generally.



Simon Avenell and Akihiro Ogawa, eds. Transnational Civil Society in Asia: The Potential of Grassroots Regionalization. Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2021.

Synopsis: This edited volume addresses how transnational interactions among civil society actors in Asia and its sub-regions are helping to strengthen common democratic values and transform dominant processes of policymaking and corporate capitalism in the region. The contributors conceive of transnational civil society networks as constructive vehicles for both informing and persuading governments and businesses to adopt, modify, or abandon certain policies or positions. This volume investigates the role of such networks through a range of interdisciplinary approaches, bringing together case studies on Asian transnationalism from South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia across four key themes: local transformations and connections, diaspora politics, cross-regional initiatives and networks, and global actors and influences. Chapters demonstrate how transnational civil society is connecting people in local communities across Asia, in parallel to ongoing tensions between nation-states and civil society. By highlighting the grassroots regionalization emerging from ever-intensifying information exchange between civil society actors across borders – as well as concrete transnational initiatives uniting actors across Asia – the volume advances the intellectual mandate of redefining ‘Asia’ as a dynamic and interconnected formation.


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Avenell, S. 2022. “Transnationalism, Activism, and Civil Society in Japan.” In Ajaya Kumar Sahoo, ed., Routledge Handbook of Asian Transnationalism. Oxford, UK: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2022. “Civil society and neoliberalism: Heisei’s historic convergence.” In Noriko Murai, Jeff Kingston, and Tina Burrett, eds., Japan in the Heisei Era (1989-2019): Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 127-139. London, UK: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2021. “Japanese Civil Society and Asian Transnationalism: Bringing the Region in,” in Simon Avenell and Akihiro Ogawa, eds., Transnational Civil Society in Asia: The Potential of Grassroots Regionalization, 73-87. Oxon, UK: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S., and Akihiro Ogawa. 2021. “Introduction: Transnational Civil Society in Asia,” in Simon Avenell and Akihiro Ogawa, eds., Transnational Civil Society in Asia: The Potential of Grassroots Regionalization, 1-19. Oxon, UK: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2020. “Legal Experts and Environmental Activism in Japan: Fighting for ‘Environmental Rights’,” in Ashley Esarey, Mary Alice Haddad, Joanna I. Lewis, and Stevan Harrell, eds., Greening East Asia: The Rise of the Eco-developmental State, Chapter. 5. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. (link)

Avenell, S. 2020. “Japan’s Environmental Injustice Paradigm and Transnational Activism,” in Philip Seaton and Akihiro Ogawa, eds., New Frontiers in Japanese Studies, 209-220. Oxon and New York: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2018. “Asia and the Development of Civic Activism in Post-War Japan” in David Chiavacci and‎ Julia Obinger, eds., Social Movements and Political Activism in Contemporary Japan: Re-emerging from Invisibility (The Mobilization Series on Social Movements, Protest, and Culture), 51-70. New York: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2018. “Japan,” in Akihiro Ogawa, ed., Routledge Handbook of Civil Society in Asia, chapter 1. Oxon and New York: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2017. “We are Aggressors! Japanese Transnational Activism and Industrial Pollution in 1970s Asia.” In Tessa Morris-Suzuki and Eunjeong Soh, eds., New Worlds from Below: Grassroots Networking and Informal Life Politics in Twenty-First Century East Asia, 71-98. ANU Press. (link)

Also available in condensed form at The Asia-Pacific Journal

Avenell, S. 2016. “Challenging the Boundaries of Citizenship: Transnational Activism in Contemporary Japan.” In Inbal Offer and Tamar Groves, eds, Performing Citizenship: Social Movements Across the Globe, 89-110. New York and Oxon: Routledge. (link)

Avenell, S. 2016. “Antinuclear Radicals: Scientific Experts and Antinuclear Activism in Japan.” Science, Technology, and Society: An International Journal 21 (1): 88-109. (link)

Avenell, S. 2015. “Kobe 1995: Crisis, Volunteering, and Active Citizenship in Japan.” In Mark Mullins and Koichi Nakano, eds, Disasters and Social Crisis in Contemporary Japan: Political, Religious, and Cultural Responses, 185-208. Basingstoke, UK and New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. (link)

Avenell, S. 2015. “Japanese Environmental Activism in Asia: The Power of Translocal Sentiment.” Journal of Territorial and Maritime Studies 2 (2): 111-131. (link)

Avenell, S. 2015. “Transnationalism and the Evolution of Post-National Citizenship in Japan.” Asian Studies Review 39 (3): 375-394. (link)

Avenell, S. 2014. “What is Asia for Us and Can We Be Asians? The New Asianism in Contemporary Japan.” Modern Asian Studies 48 (6): 1594-1636. (link)

Avenell, S. 2014. “Japanese Debates on Asia and Asianism: A Conceptual Framework.” History Compass 12 (8): 619-631. (link)

Avenell, S. 2013. “The Evolution of Disaster Volunteering in Japan: From Kobe to Tohoku.” In Yau Shuk-ting, Kinnia, ed., Disaster and Reconstruction in Asian Economies: A Global Synthesis of Shared Experiences (Palgrave Macmillan). (link)

Avenell, S. 2013. “The Borderless Archipelago: Toward a Transnational History of Japanese Environmentalism.” Environment and History (19): 397-425. (link)

Avenell, S. 2013. “Beyond Mimesis: Japan and the Uses of Political Ideology in Singapore.” In Paul Morris, Edward Vickers, Naoko Shimazu, and Christine Han, eds., Imagining Japan in Postwar East Asia: Identity Politics, Schooling, and Popular Culture (Routledge Studies in Education and Society in Asia) (New York and Oxon: Routledge). (link)

Avenell, S. 2012. “From Fearsome Pollution to Fukushima: Environmental Activism and the Nuclear Blind Spot in Contemporary Japan.” Environmental History 17 (2): 244-276. (link)

Reproduced in Jeff Kingston, ed., 2012. Critical Readings on Contemporary Japanese Politics vol.3, Bedfordshire, UK: Brill Academic Publishers. (link)

Avenell, S. 2012. “Japan’s Long Environmental Sixties and the Birth of a Green Leviathan.” Japanese Studies 32(3): 423-444. (link)

Avenell, S. 2012. “From Kobe to Tohoku: The Potential and the Peril of a Volunteer Infrastructure.” In Jeff Kingston, ed., Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan: Response and Recovery after Japan’s 3/11 (Oxford, UK: Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies), 53-77. (link)

Avenell, S. 2011. “Japan and the Global Revival of the ‘Civil Society’ Idea: Contemporaneity and the Retreat of Criticality.” Japan Forum 23(3): 311-38. (link)

Avenell, S. 2010. “Facilitating Spontaneity: The State and Independent Volunteering in Contemporary Japan.” Social Science Japan Journal 13(1): 69-93. (link)

Avenell, S. 2009. “Civil Society and the New Civic Movements in Japan: Convergence, Collaboration, and Transformation.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 35(2) Summer: 247-83. (link)

Avenell, S. 2008. “From the ‘People’ to the ‘Citizen’: Tsurumi Shunsuke and the Roots of Civic Mythology in Postwar Japan.” positions: east asia cultures critique 16(3): 711-42. (link)

Avenell, S. 2006. “Regional Egoism as the Public Good: Residents’ Movements in Japan during the 1960s and 1970s.” Japan Forum 18(1) 2006: 89-113. Ian Nish Prize for Best Article (2007). (link)


Review: Eiko Maruko Siniawer. Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018), Social Science Japan Journal (2020) (

Review: Nick Kapur. Japan at the Crossroads: Conflict and Compromise After Anpo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), The Journal of Japanese Studies 41(1): 244-248

Review: Akihiro Ogawa. LIFELONG LEARNING IN NEOLIBERAL JAPAN: Risk, Community, and Knowledge (Albany: SUNY Press, 2015), Pacific Affairs 90:3 (2017): 582-583.

Review: Jordan Sand, Tokyo Vernacular: Common Spaces, Local Histories, Found Objects (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2013), Journal of Historical Geography (Feb 2015)

Review: Carl Cassegärd, Youth Movements, Trauma, and Alternative Space in Contemporary Japan (Leiden and Boston: Global Oriental, 2014), The Journal of Japanese Studies (Feb 2015).

Review: William Marotti, Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013), The Journal of Japanese Studies 40: 2 (Summer 2014): 461-5.

Review Linda Hoagland, ANPO ARTXWAR: The Art of Resistance [FILM] (Harriman NY: New Day Films, 2010), Pacific Affairs 86(3) 2013: 706-708

Review: Rieko Kage Civic Engagement in Postwar Japan: The Revival of a Defeated Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), The Journal of Japanese Studies (Summer, 2012).

Review: Akihiro Ogawa. The Failure of Civil Society? The Third Sector and the State in Contemporary Japan (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2009), in Asian Anthropology 8 (2009): 143-6.


Avenell, S. 2015. “The ongoing fallout from Japan’s nuclear meltdown,” East Asia Forum (7 March)

Avenell, S. 2014. “Japan’s Environmental Nuggets,” Asian Currents (April): 30-32.

Avenell, S. 2011. “Genron NPO: Debating Politics and Policy in Japan,” Asian Politics and Policy 3: 1: 157-8.

Avenell, S. 2011. “Beyond Protest: Proposal-style Citizens Movements in 1970s and 1980s Japan,” Understanding Contemporary Japan: Proceedings of International Symposium in Indonesia 2010.


Book chapter: “The idea of civil society in Japan”

Book chapter: “Progressives and the Trauma of Deimperialization in Postwar Japan” for inclusion in Commemorating and Contesting Trauma in East Asia 

Book chapter: “Transnationalism, Activism, and Civil Society in Japan,” for inclusion in The Routledge Handbook of Asian Transnationalism (in progress)

Edited volume: Rethinking Postwar Japanese History (under contract, in progress)

Edited volume: The Handbook of Japanese Civil Society (under contract, in progress)

Book: A History of Postwar Japan (in progress)


2021 Presenter: “Asia, Transnationalism, and Japanese Environmental Activism” Special lecture: Inter-Asia Engagements Cluster, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, January 10

2018  Presenter: “Rethinking Japanese Civic Activism through the Lens of East Asia.”  Conference: Civil Society in Asia: The 2nd International Conference in Melbourne, University of  Melbourne, December 6-7 [co-organizer]

2018  Presenter: “Japan’s Environmental Injustice Paradigm and Transnational Activism.” Conference: New Frontiers in Japanese Studies, University of Melbourne, September 17-19

2018  Keynote Speaker: “Environment as Method: Japanese Environmental Activism and East Asia.” Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment, Oberlin College, USA, March

2018  Keynote speaker: “地球環境運動の中の日本” [Japan in the global environmental movement]. Symposium:日本における環境史と環境政策史 [Environmental history and environmental policy history in Japan], Nagasaki University, January 05-07

2017  Presenter: “Civil Society in Japan.” Conference: Civil Society in Asia, University of Melbourne, February 02-03

2016  Keynote speaker: “Rethinking Japanese Studies Regionally and Globally.” Symposium: Half a Century of Japanese Studies in Indonesia: Reflecting the Past, Envisioning the Future, Universitas Indonesia, 27-28 October

2016  Keynote speaker: Japan’s Human-centered Environmentalism and Global Environmentalism” Symposium: Culturally Mediated Environmental Issues: Ecological Connectedness in East Asia, Nagoya University, July 30-31

2016  Keynote speaker: “日本の戦後市民運動とアジア” [Asia and postwar Japanese citizens movements] Symposium: 戦後日本の市民社会と東アジア:ベトナム反戦運動から東アジアとの「連帯」へ      (Postwar Japanese citizens’ movements and East Asia: From the Anti-Vietnam war movement to East     Asian ‘Solidarity’), Hokkaido University, 29 July

2016  Presenter: “Rethinking Civil Society in Postwar Japan through the Lens of Asia” Symposium: Critical Japanese Studies in Asia Network – Political Cultures and the Politics of “Japanese Studies” in Japan and the Asia Pacific, Sophia University, 4-5 July

2015  Presenter: “A Transnational Perspective on Japanese Environmental Activism” Conference: Activism in Contemporary Japan: New Ideas, Players, and Arenas? University of Zurich,  Switzerland, 5-7 November

2014  Presenter: “Japanese Civil Society and Transnational Environmental Activism in East Asia” Conference: Civil Society and Borders in East Asia, Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, Thailand, 12-13 November

2014  Presenter: “Disaster, Media, and Civil Society: Visions of Citizenship in Japan” Conference: Catastrophes, Digital Public Spheres, and the Future of Democracy: 7th Annual Conference of the Rewriting Modern and Contemporary Japanese Intellectual History Project, Friedrich-Alexander Universitat, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, 11-13 September

2013  Presenter: “NGOs and the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake of 1995: Historical Ramifications” Conference: Japanese Responses to Social Crisis & disaster 1995 and 2011, New Zealand Asia Institute, University of Auckland, 13-14 September

2013  Presenter: “Beyond Mimesis: Japan and the Uses of Political Ideology in Singapore” Conference: East Asian Images of Japan, Kyushu University, 6-7 September

2013  Presenter: “Challenging the Boundaries of Citizenship: Transnational Activism in Contemporary Japan” Workshop: Measuring the Immeasurable: Social Movements and Changes in the Conceptual Understandings and Practices of Citizenship – A Multidisciplinary Workshop, Open University of Israel, Israel, 29 July – 1 August.

2013  Presenter: “Learning From Disaster: Civil Society, the State, and Volunteering in Japan 1995-2011” Seminar-Workshop: Learning from the Recent Past: The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, Northumbria University Centre for Disaster and Environment, March 28, 2013.

2013  Keynote speaker: “From Kobe to Tohoku: Civic Responses to Disasters in Japan” Japan Foundation, London, March 29, 2013.