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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.

Article

Ethnic Groups of Manchuria  

Juha Janhunen

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.

Article

Japanese Diasporas and Coffee Production  

Mariko Iijima

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.

Article

Japanese Empire and Pan-Asianism  

Sven Saaler

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.

Article

Japanese Empire in Hokkaido  

Philip Seaton

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.

Article

Japanese Empire in Taiwan  

Paul D. Barclay

On April 17, 1895, the Qing dynasty ceded the province of Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, ending the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). Thereafter, Taiwan was governed as a colony of imperial Japan through 1945. Armed resistance to the Japanese occupiers flared from 1895 through 1915, and it continued sporadically into the 1930s. Tens of thousands of Taiwanese were killed, wounded, or displaced in the collateral damage that was part and parcel of Japanese state-building on the island. Taiwanese civil protest movements against Taiwan Government-General despotism crested between 1914 and 1934. Concurrently, Japanese politicians in Tokyo, administrators in Taiwan, and civilian settlers implemented various economic development and population management schemes. Deep water harbors, hydroelectric dams, agricultural research institutes, and an island-wide railway system were built, while functioning systems of commercial law, public health, and education were implemented. After the great depression hit in 1929, the Taiwan Government-General severely curtailed the activities of Taiwanese nationalists, communists, and labor organizers. From 1936, Taiwan became a hub for Japanese southward expansion into the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia. Thereafter, increased exploitation, surveillance, and militarization were coupled with intensified assimilation campaigns. After 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army recruited Taiwanese to serve as soldiers in Southeast Asia and Pacific Island campaigns. At least 200,000 Taiwanese were mobilized during World War II, as soldiers, auxiliaries, translators, medics, and laborers for Japan’s armed forces. Over 30,000 perished. Upon Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers, sovereignty over Taiwan was transferred from the Government-General of Taiwan to the Republic of China, which formally assumed power on October 25, 1945.

Article

Nanjing Massacre  

Daqing Yang

Also known as the “Rape of Nanjing,” Nanjing Massacre refers to the mass killings of disarmed Chinese soldiers and civilians, as well as other atrocities such as rape and looting, committed by the Japanese troops after they occupied Nanjing in the winter of 1937–1938. It is widely regarded as one of the worst Japanese war crimes in World War II. Shortly after the Imperial Japanese Army entered the Chinese capital of Nanjing (previously written as Nanking) on December 13, 1937, Western newspapers reported horrific conditions in the fallen city including mass execution of Chinese captives. Wartime records, mostly compiled by a few Westerners who stayed in the city and organized a refugee zone, showed widespread Japanese atrocities of rape, random killing, and looting that continued for weeks. After Japan’s defeat in 1945, the Nanjing Massacre became a leading case of Japanese war crime at the military tribunals conducted by the victorious Allies between 1946 and 1948. Citing witness accounts and burial records, these tribunals put the total number of Chinese killed in the Nanjing area variously from 100,000 to over 300,000. In addition, they estimated that there had been around 20,000 cases of rape and that one third of the city had been destroyed by the Japanese troops within six weeks of occupation. Largely overlooked before the early 1970s, the Nanjing Massacre has since become a hotly contested issue in Japan and between Japan and China. In 1985, China opened a large memorial museum in Nanjing, where the number of 300,000 victims is on prominent display. The Chinese government has designated December 13 a day of national commemoration. Documents related to the Nanjing Massacre submitted by China have become part of the UNESCO Memory of the World registry. In recent decades, many important first-hand evidence has emerged and makes it both possible and necessary to reassess this historical event. Wartime Japanese military and personal records confirm that at least several tens of thousands of Chinese had been killed in mass executions that were condoned, if not ordered, by the high command of the Japanese army in China. Moreover, killing disarmed Chinese captives and atrocities against Chinese civilians had already begun well before Japanese troops reached Nanjing; many such atrocities continued long afterward, thus suggesting there was more than a temporary breakdown of Japanese army discipline in Nanjing. Western and Chinese accounts add vivid details of sexual violence, indiscriminate killings, and looting by Japanese soldiers. They also reveal grave errors on the part of the Chinese defense that likely made the situation worse. Despite these points of convergence among historians, however, there is still disagreement over the exact number of victims and causes of the Japanese atrocities in Nanjing.

Article

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.

Article

Trade in the Japanese Empire  

Timothy Yang

Insecurity and inequality (both real and perceived) have defined the Japanese Empire as an entity of trade. If one the primary goals of Japan’s leaders during the Meiji period (1868–1912) was to revise the so-called unequal treaties, then having an empire was seen as a necessary means towards achieving this end. From the very beginning, strategic concerns proved inseperable from economic considerations. Imperial expansion into neighboring territories occurred simutaneously and worked hand in hand with forging an industrial nation-state. The empire began with the so-called internal colonization of Hokkaidō and then the Ryūkyū Islands (Okinawa), followed by Taiwan and Korea, spoils of victory after the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, respectively. Taiwan and Korea represented Japan’s formal empire, and Japan developed these territories primarily as agricultural appendages—unequal and exclusive trading partners to provide foodstuffs for a growing, industrializing population in the home islands. As Japan developed its formal colonies toward a goal of agricultural self-sufficiency, it also pursued informal empire in China, which took shape as a competitive yet cooperative effort with other Western imperial powers under the treaty port system. World War I represented a turning point for imperial trade: At this time, Japan took advantage of a Europe preoccupied with internecine battles to ramp up the scope and scale of industrial production, which made Japan increasingly reliant on China—and particularly Manchuria—for raw materials necessary for heavy industry such as coal and iron. Japanese efforts to tighten its grip on China brought it into conflict with the Western imperialist powers and with a strengthening Chinese nation. Another major turning point was Japan’s 1931 takeover of Manchuria and the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo; these actions ended the treaty port system and sparked conflicts between China and Japan that broke out into full-out war by 1937. Although Japan was largely able to achieve agricultural self-sufficiency by the 1930s, it was unable to be fully self-reliant in essential resources for industry (and war) such as oil, tin, and iron. Resource self-sufficiency was a major goal for the construction of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the early 1940s. The Japanese Empire officially ended with defeat in 1945.