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Feminist Student Movement in Japan 1945–1975  

Anna Vittinghoff

Contrary to the common notion that depicts Japanese postwar student activism, and leftist activism more broadly, as being predominantly male, female activists within these movements played more than just supporting roles. Upon closer inspection of modern Japanese history, it becomes evident that female students were integral to and contributed in multiple ways to campus-based activism across Japan, ultimately pushing the liberatory discourse beyond schools, colleges, and universities into everyday life in the 1970s. During Japan’s nation-building project of the prewar period, sex-segregated education was a direct expression of the binary division of the site of activity between men and women. However, in the postwar period the introduction of coeducation and the subsequent student movement ultimately formed the hotbed for the women’s liberation movement of the early 1970s and the fundamental challenge it posed to the masculine bias of modern Japanese society. The experiences of female student activists across Japan were an important catalyst for feminist movements of the following decades because they not only highlighted the gendered discrimination of postwar Japanese society but also the necessity of an intersectional analysis of the systems of power at play.

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Surrender of Japan’s Empire: Japanese Historiographical Issue  

Yukiko Koshiro

A process of evolution is apparent in Japanese scholarship on Japan’s respective defeats in the Sino-Japanese War, the Pacific War, and the Soviet-Japanese War in 1945. By tracing scholars’ conflicting interpretations of Japan’s defeat and surrender in these wars, one can demonstrate Japan’s continuing difficulty in achieving an all-inclusive meaning of its unconditional surrender to the Allied powers. Additionally, new areas of study contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the end of Japan’s empire.

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The Ainu and Japanese Settler Colonialism  

Michael Roellinghoff

The Ainu people are Indigenous to Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost island in the early 21st century), the Russian-administered island of Sakhalin, and the adjacent Kuril archipelago. The Ainu traditionally refer to these lands as Ainu Mosir (meaning “the land of the people”). In the early 21st century, an increasing number of Ainu refer to Hokkaido itself as Yaun Mosir (roughly “the land of land”). Long neighbors with the Japanese, they historically resided as far south as Honshu and as far north as Kamchatka. As of 2023, most Ainu are concentrated in southern Hokkaido and the Tokyo metropolitan area. During the Tokugawa period (1603–1867), the Matsumae Domain maintained a deeply exploitative, if not outright colonialistic, relationship with Ainu groups across Hokkaido (then known in Japanese as Ezo). Nevertheless, Tokugawa leaders explicitly recognized Ainu territorial sovereignty and political formations. Following the Japanese annexation of Hokkaido in 1869, however, the Westernizing Meiji state (1868–1912) adopted settlercolonial practices in Hokkaido that closely resembled those of the United States, the British Empire, and the Russian Empire. Declaring Ainu territories across Hokkaido terra nullius (empty or ownerless land), the Kaitakushi (the Japanese Colonial Office) and successive Hokkaido-based prefectural governments disregarded Ainu sovereignty entirely and engaged in a zero-sum colonization program, dispossessing the Ainu of their unceded land, waters, and resources. While this led to deadly waves of famine and epidemic disease in Ainu communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many resisted. This ranged from physical confrontations with colonial agents to large-scale peaceful protests. Amid widespread social Darwinist-inflected narratives of the Ainu as a self-destructively inferior race, in 1899, the Meiji government passed the so-called Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act (Hokkaidō kyūdojin hogo-hō), rendering the Ainu wards of the state. In the 21st century, the legacies of the Protection Act and surrounding racist and colonialist discourse continue to impact the Ainu. This most often takes the form of Japanese disavowals of Ainu existence and the state’s rejection of Ainu calls for self-determination. Nevertheless, many Ainu maintain distinct cultural identities, spiritual traditions, and epistemologies and assert sovereignty on their own unceded territories.

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Japanese Textiles in East Africa  

Hideaki Suzuki

Between the 1920s and 1980s, East African consumers were strongly attracted to Japanese textiles, especially cotton, and Japanese manufacturers paid careful attention to that market. The relationship between the both east and west ends of the historical Indian Ocean developed when Japan was in the industrialization phase, which was led by its textile industry at a time during the postabolition period when East Africans were developing a keen interest in the new fashions, which contributed to their keenness to create a new self-identification. Nonetheless, the situation cannot be understood simply by looking at the general relationship between Japan and East Africa. In fact, from the mid-1910s onward, there were many occasions when the Chinese market—the largest for all Japanese products, including textiles—boycotted Japanese products. Then came the Great Depression, when the creation of bloc economies and the raising of tariffs negatively affected Japan’s textile exports to its existing major markets such as the United States, India, and China. On the other hand, there was a space for Japanese textiles to enter the East African market under the free trade principle of the Congo Basin Treaties, which Japan ratified in 1919. Japanese textile exports to East Africa eventually peaked in 1935 but then declined until they ceased altogether during the 1940s as a consequence of World War II and the devastation of Japan immediately postwar. However, beginning in the 1950s, the trade revived and went on to again occupy a large market share, which it maintained until the early 1980s. The history of Japanese textiles in East Africa is more than simply one part of the history of Japan’s relationship with Africa; rather, it is a topic which embeds conjunctions and entanglements of local, regional, and global contexts as well as interaction between consumer and producer—and not forgetting the middlemen.

Article

Pre-war Anarchism in Japan  

Nadine Willems

Although anarchist thinking can be detected in long-established East Asian philosophical traditions—notably Buddhism and Taoism—anarchism as a dissenting ideology and lever for social transformation emerged in earnest in Japan in the wake of the encounter with socialist ideas from Europe and North America at the turn of the 20th century. As an intellectual current, Japanese pre-war anarchism shaped debates on the role and means of action of the Japanese Left in the context of the country’s rapid capitalist development and imperialist expansion. Anarchist activism took a variety of forms, from “direct action,” such as labor strikes and terrorism, to social experiments embedded in the fabric of everyday life. The movement had its heyday during the second half of the Taishō era (1912–1926), when anarcho-syndicalism gained some traction among intellectuals and the working class. Anarchists also paid attention to other visions of social organization critical of state authority, such as agrarian communes and self-government schemes. Increasingly defined in tension with communist conceptions of social change after the Bolshevik Revolution, anarchism lost momentum as an instrument of political dissent in the early Showa era (1926–1989). The conversion of anarchists to communist and ultra-nationalist ideologies gradually thinned their ranks. From the start, government censorship and repression targeted leftist political dissenters of all persuasions. Of three leading figures who shaped the anarchist movement, Kōtoku Shūsui (1871–1911), Ōsugi Sakae (1885–1923) and Ishikawa Sanshirō (1876–1956), the first two died at the hands of the state and Ishikawa spent many years in exile. The circulation and persistence of anarchist ideas relied in large part on non-institutional channels, sometimes clandestine, among which transnational exchanges—fueled by travel, correspondence, and translation of foreign texts—were paramount. Japanese pre-war anarchism tends to be read in exclusively political terms, with an emphasis on the theoretical debates that rocked leftist circles during the period. But this perspective ignores the wide range of intellectual and practical aspirations that preoccupied many anarchists and anarchist sympathizers, whose concerns extended into the scientific, geographical, religious, artistic, feminist, agricultural, and environmental spheres. The intersection between pre-war anarchism and ecological concerns is especially noteworthy, and this is where the anarchist influence has remained strongest.

Article

Modern Japanese Fisheries and the Global Seafood Market  

William M. Tsutsui

Japan was the world’s largest fishing nation from the 1930s through the 1980s, is historically among the globe’s most voracious consumers of seafood, and has long been a central player in the international marine products trade, both as a leading exporter and as a major importer. Despite a number of popular and scholarly misconceptions about seafood production, consumption, and trade in modern Japan—that fish has always been a major part of the Japanese diet, that the Japanese state has promoted fisheries primarily out of a concern for food security, that the story of Japanese fishing is limited to the harvest of bluefin tuna and whales, and that the globalization of seafood markets is a relatively new phenomenon—the history of Japan’s modern fisheries reveals how the industrialization of the oceans, the globalization of seafood production and distribution, and the degradation of marine environments have progressed with inexorable efficiency, speed, and thoroughness over the 20th century.

Article

The Japanese Economy Since World War II  

Simon Bytheway

Japan’s remarkable postwar experience of economic reconstruction, growth, and development explains much of why it is so intensely studied in other countries today. In common with much of the world and particularly the advanced, capitalist economies of Western Europe, Japan prospered during the years of the long postwar boom (1954–1970). Reestablished by the Truman administration as the archetype of an anti-inflationist, export-based economy, Japan’s success is perhaps unsurprising. What is remarkable, however, is that Japanese economic growth and development continued right up until the 1990s, despite being forced to make abrupt “corrections” to the country’s basic monetary settings by the Nixon and Reagan administrations, changes that precipitated an eventual three-fold increase in the international exchange rate of the yen. Against the backdrop of rising petroleum and energy prices (or “oil shocks”), global inflation, systematic financial crises, widespread economic recession, and the vexing phenomena of stagflation in many of the more mature capitalist economies of the West, the Japanese economy thrived. Japan became the world’s second largest economy (in terms of nominal gross domestic product [GDP]) from 1968 until 2010 with a relatively small population (101 million in 1968 and 128 million in 2010). The fall of Japan’s economic standing from second to third place tragically coincided with the triple disaster of March 11, 2011: an earthquake and tsunami that struck along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The triple disaster, in turn, led to the fall of the non–Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Kan and Noda governments, a belated acknowledgement of Japan’s worsening demographic situation (chronic low birthrates with an increasingly elderly population) the re-election of the LDP Abe government, and the return of economic growth ideology in the form of Abenomics and its New Capitalism successor.

Article

Japanese Trade in Cotton Textiles from the Tokugawa Era to the Interwar Period  

Takeshi Abe

In Japan from the 18th century onward, cotton cloth was actively produced as a proto-industry in the provinces south of the Kantō region, where cotton could be grown, and a hierarchical cloth-distribution system was formed nationwide, with wholesalers in Edo (later Tokyo) at the top. In the early 19th century, however, new wholesalers emerged in Edo and later Osaka. After the opening of the ports in 1859, they began to take on the sale of imported cotton cloth, and from the late 1870s, they began to import cotton yarn for weavers in the various cloth-producing areas. From the mid-1880s, modern cotton-spinning companies developed, especially in Osaka, and the yarn produced by these companies was sold to the traditional weaving industry through cotton-yarn importers in Osaka. The foreign raw cotton, which came to be required by the spinning companies, was mainly imported by three large trading companies, which also began to export cotton yarn and cloth. At the turn of the 20th century, large spinning companies developed greatly, vertically integrating not only weaving, which had begun in the late 1880s, but also finishing, and these firms increased their focus on products for export while the traditional weaving areas established small power-loom factories. Furthermore, the weavers in some areas expanded their exports after World War I and went beyond indigenous industry, becoming small and medium modern enterprises. The prolonged depression after 1920 was a period of hardship for trading companies in the cotton industry, but the cotton-yarn and cloth-trading companies in the Kansai region overcame this and worked together with spinning companies and weaving areas in the 1930s to develop new markets for cloth and to expand exports, helping the Japanese cotton industry to overcome the dominance of Lancashire.

Article

Sakhalin/Karafuto  

Naoki Amano

The modern history of Sakhalin Island, a border island between Russia and Japan, has been one of demarcation, colonization, re-demarcation, and refugee resettlement, with a total of four demarcations and re-demarcations since the late 19th century, the first through diplomatic negotiations and the remaining three through war. One of the most significant features of the modern history of the border island is that each time the sovereignty of the islands changed, the population was completely replaced. Four major events shaped the history of Sakhalin Island: the Treaty of St Petersburg of 1875, which de-bordered the island from the traditional international system of East Asia and incorporated it into the modern international system of the West; the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which resulted in the Japanese acquisition of the southern half of the island; the end of the five-year military occupation of northern Sakhalin by the Japanese in 1925; and the Soviet occupation of southern Sakhalin in 1945. Through each of these occasions, a holistic picture of the modern history of the Russo-Japanese border island can be discerned by focusing on the mobility of its inhabitants, how the inhabitants became displaced and were forced to leave their homes, and how the island was settled by the new sovereigns who replaced them.

Article

Sex Work during the Tokugawa Era  

Elizabeth D. Lublin

In the early 1600s, the Tokugawa shogunate licensed prostitution as one of many policies that it implemented to establish order and to consolidate its control over a once war-torn Japan. The system that emerged confined legal sex work by women and girls to designated quarters, enclosed by walls and with their gates tightly regulated. The prostitutes within overwhelmingly came from impoverished commoner families who sold their daughters into indentured servitude to secure cash advances critical to their own survival. These transactions escaped condemnation due to the belief that girls so sold were fulfilling their filial duty. The absence of any stigma associated with officially authorized sex work conversely drew scores of men to the licensed quarters, and rapid expansion of the commercial sector of the economy, the increasing use of cash, and urbanization produced a commoner class able to vie with samurai, their political and supposed social superiors, for the affections of licensed prostitutes. By the 18th century, the licensed quarters had become destinations for the masses, integral components of the urban economy, and both site of and subject matter for a flourishing early modern culture. The very existence of the quarters helped to legitimize prostitution and, together with growing economic stratification, stimulated demand for cheaper sex. Sex work proliferated legally in the licensed quarters with female prostitutes and both semiofficially and illicitly in cities, market towns, ports, and post stations around Japan, with women and men and girls and boys selling and being sold for sex. While the shogunate tried to regulate clandestine female sex work where it could and periodically imposed harsh penalties where systematic oversight proved elusive, it largely turned a blind eye to male sex work. The vast majority of clients of male prostitutes were men themselves, and sexual relations between men not only had been a common practice within samurai society for centuries but also did not threaten the sanctity of the family or challenge gender norms. While the shogunate largely overlooked sex work with foreigners as well during the early Tokugawa period, beginning in the 1640s and coincident with restrictions on foreign trade, it sanctioned sexual labor but only by licensed brothel prostitutes. The easing of those restrictions through treaties in the 1850s and the influx of foreigners prompted the opening of legal brothels and quarters just for non-Japanese. Much more so than prostitutes with only Japanese clients, those servicing the foreign population were stigmatized by Japanese and foreigners, with the latter linking them to the threat of syphilis.