Ethnic groups of the geographical region of Manchuria can be understood in relation to their cultural, demographic, and linguistic differences and similarities; historical formation; and modern status. Manchuria is a macroscopic entity, Greater Manchuria, which comprises areas administered by China (the People’s Republic of China) and Russia (the Russian Federation) as well as, until recently, by Japan. Geographically Manchuria is closely associated with the maritime dimension formed by the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Islands as well as the island of Sakhalin.
Between the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the Japanese Empire experienced outflows of its people to both its own colonies and foreign countries that were mainly located in the Asia-Pacific region. In their destinations, a majority of these migrants were engaged in physical labor in agricultural, construction, and lumbering industries. Coffee production also became a significant economic activity for many Japanese migrants in Brazil as well as some in Hawai‘i (the US territory, 1898–1959), Taiwan (the Japanese colony, 1895–1945), and Saipan (part of Nan’yō, the Japanese mandate, 1920–1945). Previously, historical studies of the Japanese migration have been focused on one-directional and one-site migrations, that is, migrations from Japan to a single destination. This is partly due to a lack of comprehensive statistical data that could enable researches to trace individual multiple-directional trajectories, and partly due to the scholastic divide of studying Japanese migrations according to destinations—whether they moved to the Japanese territories as colonial settlers or non-territories as immigrants.
This article utilizes coffee, which has a long history of being connected to global-scale movements, as an analytical lens to highlight more dynamic and multi-directional migrations of Japanese people, including those who moved from Japan, to Hawai‘i, to Saipan, and to Taiwan by being involved in coffee farming or businesses. Furthermore, this article argues that coffee functioned as an agency to connect the metropole of the Japanese Empire, which consumed coffee, and the newly established coffee farms and plantations in Japan’s Taiwan and Saipan. While the project of sending Japanese immigrants to Brazil contributed to the popularization of coffee-drinking culture in urban areas of Japan, Japanese coffee farmers in Hawai‘i played a key role in establishing coffee farms and plantations in Taiwan and Saipan from the 1920s to the 1930s. In this way, part of coffee’s trans-pacific movement was supported by the Japanese diasporic network that linked coffee-producing areas in the Asia-Pacific, where, at the same time, included the areas that absorbed a significant number of Japanese people migrants. These dynamic and trans-pacific interactions between coffee and Japanese diasporic communities indicate that migrations of Japanese people can be considered in the context of the global history of coffee and possibly, other crops and materials.
The Japanese colonial empire was composed of territories adjacent to the Japanese archipelago, ranging from Southern Sakhalin in the north to Taiwan in the south. Unlike most European powers, Japan did not acquire colonial territories that were far away from the metropolis; rather, it did so within the region in which it was located—East Asia. The geographical proximity between the metropolis and its colonial territories influenced not only the structure of the colonial administration, racial hierarchies in the empire, and colonial and metropolitan identities but also the rhetorical strategies that were used to legitimize colonial rule.
Although the government generally envisioned a European-style empire, the creation of which would earn Japan the respect of the Great Powers and eventually lead to the recognition of Japanese equality, a significant number of politicians, writers, and activists argued that it was Japan’s mission to unite the Asian people and protect or liberate them from Western colonial rule. These discourses have been summarized under the term “Pan-Asianism,” a movement and an ideology that emerged in the late 19th century and became mainstream by the time World War I began. However, although some advocates of Pan-Asianism were motivated by sincere feelings of solidarity, the expansion of Japanese colonial rule and the escalation of war in China and throughout Asia in the 1930s brought to the fore an increasing number of contradictions and ambiguities. By the time World War II started, Pan-Asianism had become a cloak of Japanese expansionism and an instrument to legitimize the empire, a process that culminated in the Greater East Asia Conference of 1943.
The contradictions between Japan’s brutal wars in Asia and the ideology of Asian solidarity continue to haunt that country’s relations with its neighbors, by way of ambiguous historical memories of the empire and war in contemporary Japanese politics and society.
The temporal span of the Japanese Empire is most commonly given as 1895–1945, from the acquisition of Taiwan following Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War to Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. Within this interpretation, the Japanese Empire was largely a reaction to the advances of the Western colonial powers during the 19th century. This “orthodox” narrative of the empire rests on a key assumption: the current borders of the Japanese state demarcate the inherent territory of Japan. But when viewed from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, a second story of the Japanese Empire emerges. Before 1869 Hokkaido was known to Wajin (ethnic Japanese) as Ezo. While the Japanese considered Ezo to be within their sphere of influence and there was a Japanese zone (Wajinchi) in the southern tip of Ezo from the 16th century, Ezo was a foreign land inhabited by the Ainu people. Hokkaido was only fully incorporated into the Japanese state in 1869 following the Meiji Restoration (1868), after which Japanese settlers colonized the island beyond Wajinchi. The indigenous Ainu people were dispossessed of their land and forced to assimilate.
Rather than Taiwan, therefore, the story of the Japanese Empire begins with the colonization of the peripheries of the modern state: Hokkaido, and also Okinawa. Seeing imperial history from the vantage point of Hokkaido sheds light on some of the assumptions and oversights of much writing on Japan’s 19th- and 20th-century history. It reveals how the legacies of empire affect Japanese people today in those spaces where the colonizers and colonized continue to coexist. And it gives insights into how official and popular narratives of empire and war have been formulated at local and national levels in the postwar era.