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African America and Japan  

Natalia Doan

African American and Japanese people share a rich history of nearly two hundred years of transnational engagement and activity. African American writers discussed Japan as early as 1828, and, in the African American and abolitionist press, the 1860 Japanese Embassy to the United States inspired a perception of transnational solidarity between African American and Japanese people based on the shared experience of racial prejudice and the right of all men to participate in the affairs of the world. From the 16th century to the early 19th century, Japanese ideas surrounding Blackness were very different from the racial ideologies prevalent in Europe and later the United States. Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War inspired African American admiration for Japan as a global leader in the fight against racism and imperialism, although Japan expanded its imperial activity across Asia throughout the early 20th century. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the Japanese racial equality bill made Japan even more of a symbol of the fight for racial equality to African American civil rights leaders and writers. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese intellectuals were inspired by the African American struggle for civil rights, as well as their transnational engagement with African American people, to promote anti-imperialism within Japan. Meanwhile, in the 1930s, pro-Japanese organizations proliferated across the United States and influenced tens of thousands of African American people. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended much, but not all, African American sympathy for Japan. The FBI was concerned that Japanese military agents would racially agitate African American people into subversive activity. As part of the war effort, the Japanese military did plan pro-Japanese racial propaganda targeted toward America’s Black people. During the Occupation period, many Japanese people adopted negative racial attitudes toward Black people. At the same time, during the postwar period, many Japanese and African American people shared transnational relationships free from the increasing racial prejudice perpetuated by the American state. Japanese and African American relations, as well as representations and perceptions of Black people in Japan, have continued to change throughout the 21st century.

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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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Beer and Whisky in Japanese Marketplaces  

Jeffrey W. Alexander

Japan has a local, centuries-old tradition of brewing sake from rice and distilling spirits from ingredients such as grain and sweet potatoes, but pioneering entrepreneurs began producing imported “Western liquors” (yōshu) in the late 19th century. This Western liquor marketplace was driven chiefly by beer brewing and whisky distilling. Western liquors were marketed, advertised, and consumed with rising popularity through the early 20th century, as living standards rose and ordinary Japanese came to afford them regularly. Following the Second World War (1939–1945), these Western commodities were no longer viewed as foreign imports, and were instead broadly regarded as domestic, if not indigenous, products. The impact of wartime rationing transformed beer into a lighter-tasting beverage that became very popular with women and young people, and whisky advertising focused closely on professional “salarymen” seeking increased prestige as well as escape from their demanding jobs.

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Buddhist Culture in Early Modern Japan  

Nam-lin Hur

Buddhist culture was most active and prosperous in early modern Japan (1600–1868). Buddhist temples were ubiquitous throughout the country, and no one was untouched by Buddhism. Buddhist priests wielded considerable power over the populace, and Shinto was largely subject to Buddhist control. Buddhist culture attained this considerable influence in early modern Japan through the performance of death-related rituals and prayer. Death-related rituals (also known as funerary Buddhism) were rooted in the nationwide anti-Christian policy of the Tokugawa bakufu that utilized the administrative machinery of Buddhist temples. Using the opportunity provided by the anti-Christian policy, Buddhist temples were able to bind all households to death-related rituals and this, in turn, gave rise to the danka system in which dying a Buddhist soon became the norm in early modern Japan. Given the rigid social status, mutual surveillance, and highly regulated nature of everyday life in Tokugawa Japan, people through prayer often turned to Buddhist deities to seek divine help for their wishes or ad hoc solutions to worldly problems. Beyond being sites of prayer services, Buddhist temples also served as spaces of learning, relief, and/or leisure, thus catering to people from all walks of life. Both prayer and play were also integral to Buddhist culture in early modern Japanese society.

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Chinese Merchants in Japan and Korea  

Jin-A Kang

In the mid-19th century, Chinese merchants moved to the treaty ports of Japan and Korea to expand the domestic commercial network abroad. They made significant profits by importing and distributing British cotton clothes via Shanghai to Japan and Korea. While Chinese merchants in Japan remained purely economic immigrant groups, those in Korea took an active political role since their advance to Korea on business was part of an effort by the Qing dynasty to strengthen its influence in Korea. Before the Mukden Incident in 1931, Chinese merchants in Kobe, Japan, engaged in trade with China and Southeast Asia and continued to be a powerful commercial group in Asian trade. However, Chinese merchants in Korea suffered from business crisis earlier on. They were hit hard by the sharp decline in import trade from China, which was their primary business, due to Japan’s protective tariff policy introduced in 1924. Until 1930s, both Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea were forced to gradually revise their business strategies to sell Japanese products in Greater China and Korea. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 turned out to be a decisive blow to the already struggling businesses of the Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea.

Article

Colonial Korea  

Michael Kim

Japan established a protectorate in 1905 and annexed Korea in 1910. The colonial occupation officially lasted thirty-five years, until the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima precipitated the end of World War II on August 15, 1945. The Government-General of Korea administrated the colony’s affairs and enforced many laws and regulations from Japan. Yet the Japanese also made significant legal modifications that allowed for stricter censorship and control of the colony. In principle, the Government-General had absolute authority over Korea and was only accountable to the Japanese emperor rather than the Imperial Diet under the Meiji Constitution. However, in practice the Government-General was not completely independent because of the need to file reports and receive financial subsidies from the Imperial Diet. The considerable autonomy of the Government-General to enact its own legal provisions may be important to keep in mind to understand how colonial Korea was an authoritarian system that operated separately from the Meiji Constitutional order. Korea underwent a major transition from an agrarian society to the beginnings of an industrial society during the colonial period. Many historical accounts tend to portray the colonial administration as an omnipotent force, but the Japanese faced considerable limitations and challenges in ruling the colony. Korea gradually became integrated into an autarkic economic block along with Manchuria that formed the basis for Japan’s East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. However, political integration remained a controversial topic that was never resolved before 1945. The Japanese enforced numerous policies to mobilize the colonial population for World War II. Yet even as Koreans marched into the battlefront and served labor duty in the factories, basic political rights continued to be denied. Many of today’s tensions between Korea and Japan stem from the unresolved historical controversies from the colonial period.

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The Commercial History of Japan, 600–1200  

William W. Farris

Because Japan was overwhelmingly rural with few consumers, commerce did not play a significant role in the economy or most people’s lives during the six centuries from 600 to 1200. This period may be divided into three phases based upon the nature of commercial relations. The 8th century witnessed a construction boom led by a relatively centralized state. Besides building five capital cities and numerous other governmental and religious structures, the state minted copper cash. Low-ranking bureaucrats traded in lumber, cloth, and other commodities, often for profit. The commercially most advanced region in Japan was in and around the numerous capitals located in the Kinai (Kyoto-Osaka-Nara) region. Interregional trade bound local regions together and was a source of illegal profiteering for officials. Gift-giving and barter dominated the less developed provinces, mostly in eastern Japan. Across the ocean, Japan participated in exchange with China and Korea on a limited basis to 800. Beginning as early as 735, epidemics and famines decimated Japan’s population. The value of copper cash declined, as inflation commenced. Government revenues also dropped. Government-appointed tax farmers garnered tax items for the tiny elite at court, enriching themselves in the process. The Song Dynasty (960–1279) arose in China and began trading with the Japanese elite, providing a spur to Japan’s commercial development for the rest of period. Overseas merchants were forced by Japan’s ruling elite to stop at Dazaifu in northern Kyushu, where Chinese goods could be obtained for Japanese gold. Japan’s depopulation continued unabated, subject to particularly harsh epidemics between 990 and 1050. To reverse flight from the land, the court initiated a two-pronged land system consisting of tax-farmed provincial areas and estates cultivated by sharecroppers and paying rents to capital and local elites. The rents were paid in-kind, and to secure the value of goods such as rice, salt, lacquer, iron, tea, and many other products, values were pegged to a gold standard. Song merchants also received gold for their wares. To buy Japanese raw materials, the Chinese paid with their own copper cash, helping to remonetize the archipelago. By the 1170s, inflation took off in Japan. A Ningbo–Hakata trade route became established for Song merchants, with bulk items such as sulfur, lumber, and mercury traded from Japan to China. By the late 1100s, the warrior family known as the Ise Taira took control of overseas trade with China, bolstering the family’s power at the Kyoto court.

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The Culture of Travel in Edo-Period Japan  

Robert Goree

The expansion of travel transformed Japanese culture during the Edo period (1603–1867). After well over a century of political turmoil, unprecedented stability under Tokugawa rule established the conditions for men and women from all levels of the hierarchical society to travel safely for purposes as varied as the cultural consequences of a country increasingly on the move. Starting in the first half of the 17th century, institutionalized forms of compulsory travel for the highest-ranking samurai and a limited number of elite foreigners made for conspicuous political spectacle and prompted the Tokugawa shogunate to develop and maintain an extensive system of roads, post-towns, checkpoints, and sea routes. Prompted by the economic prosperity of the Genroku era (1688–1704) in the late 17th century, an ever-growing portion of the population, including commoners from cities and villages, took advantage of newfound leisure to embark on journeys for pilgrimage, medical treatment, and sightseeing. This change was accompanied by the expansion of tourism, which grew into a sophisticated commercial enterprise in the 18th century. Poets, writers, painters, performers, and scholars took to the road throughout the Edo period for artistic and intellectual pursuits, often as teachers or students, generating and spreading culture where they went. With an astonishing output of travel literature, guidebooks, maps, and woodblock prints featuring landscapes, a thriving commercial publishing industry, which first blossomed in the Genroku era, used woodblock printing technology to popularize travel in increasingly diverse ways. Together with such influential forms of print, the things that people wore, packed, bought, enjoyed, and rode while traveling formed a rich body of material culture that reveals the lived experience of travel for the duration of Tokugawa rule.

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Domestic Commerce during the Tokugawa Period  

Martha Chaiklin

Under Pax Tokugawa, a wide variety of social, political, and economic factors coalesced to allow commerce in Japan to flourish to a theretofore unprecedented degree. The preceding century of civil war had had relatively little impact on the economy, but the removal of barriers to expansion such as toll roads that had been erected by warring daimyo (feudal lords) allowed the mechanisms of commerce that already existed in domanial economies to expand exponentially. Increased agricultural productivity and prosperity engendered a population boom in the 17th century. In 1635, the formal institution of sankin kōtai—a hostage system designed to ensure peace and prevent excessive accumulation of wealth in the provinces, usually translated as “alternate attendance”—created a movement of people and goods across the country that stimulated urbanization. The number of cities increased as did their sizes, with the largest of them, Edo, reaching an estimated million inhabitants by 1700. Robust distribution networks proliferated to support this urbanization, leading to greater monetization and consumerism. To support improving living standards and the need for revenue, the daimyo promoted the development of regional specialties, many of which flourished, buttressed by increased travel among all segments of society. Competition led to the development of branding and marketing. Merchants, who, according to Confucian ideals, were at the bottom of the social structure, became a larger and more important part of society in this period, resulting in the creation of unique ethical codes, religious sects, and philosophies geared to their specific needs and anxieties. Merchant houses, monopolies, and trade organizations formed. Some of the more successful—such as Mitsui and Sumitomo—would, in the late 19th century, form zaibatsu, and they still continue to exert influence on Japanese commerce.

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

Feminism in Japan  

Barbara Molony

Japan’s first movement for civil rights emerged in the 1870s, and a small number of women were part of it. Women’s legal status was significantly inferior to men’s in the pre–World War II era, and feminists struggled for decades to improve it. Their activism in transnational organizations often gave them a voice they did not have at home. For example, the Japanese branch of the International Woman’s Christian Temperance Union worked to end international sex trafficking, licensed prostitution, and marital inequality. The Japanese cultural world took a feminist turn in the second decade of the 20th century. Increasing numbers of women entered the classroom as teachers, nurses served on the battlefield and in hospitals, and actresses performed in plays like A Doll’s House. Many of these women were called “New Women,” and an explicitly women’s rights organization, founded in 1919, called itself the New Woman’s Association. When the Tokyo earthquake killed 100,000 people and destroyed millions of homes in 1923, women’s organizations of all types—Christian, Buddhist, alumnae, housewives, and socialists—coalesced to carry out earthquake relief. The following year, several of those groups decided to address women’s political rights. The Women’s Suffrage League grew from this collaboration in 1924. Annual Women’s Suffrage Conferences brought together women of diverse organizations from 1930 to 1937. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Japanese feminists also made their voices heard through transnational organizations, including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association. When Japanese militarism at home and abroad repressed freedom of expression in the 1930s, feminist groups continued to meet, turning to community activism (like improving municipal utilities) and nonthreatening feminist legislation (the Mother-Child Protection Law of 1937). During World War II, many feminists accepted government advisory positions to improve the lives of women and families, viewing this as a step toward greater political integration. By the 1980s, however, feminists strongly critiqued prewar feminists for collaboration with the wartime government. Women voted for the first time in 1946. In 1947, the new Constitution granted equal rights, the new Civil Code eradicated most of the patriarchal provisions of the 1898 Civil Code, and the Labor Standards Law called for equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women continued to face discrimination in the workplace, at home, and even in the law. Feminists supported the United Nations International Women’s Year (1975) with vigor. Since then, they have successfully advocated for strengthened employment and child-care leave laws as well as anti–domestic violence laws. But gender-neutral legislation has been hotly contested and has led to a backlash against feminism in general.

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Financial History of Japan in Global Context, 19th and 20th Centuries  

Michael Schiltz

Japan’s experience with modern capitalism and finance is characterized by a remarkable combination of shocks and adaptation. After being steamrolled by Western institutions and financial technologies, the country attempted to retaliate against this intrusion. However, regaining financial sovereignty proved a protracted process of trial and error. In the 1880s and 1890s, under the auspices of Matsukata Masayoshi, Tokyo seemed to get it right. The establishment of the Bank of Japan and related institutions, on the one hand, and the adoption of the gold standard, on the other, appeared designed to lift Japan out of its peripheral status. In reality, however, they mostly served to emphasize its role as an enabler of the British-led international order. Only in the 1930s, during the worldwide Great Depression, would it break with this role, if only to find that its autonomy had been compromised from the very beginning. Japan’s disastrous loss in World War II drove the country into the arms of the newly arisen global hegemon: the United States. In the early 21st-century, Japan remains a linchpin in the still surviving American-led world order and the corollary “dollar standard.”

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The History of Japan’s Silk Exports, 1859–1899  

Yasuhiro Makimura

The export of silk products created a regional trade surplus for eastern Japan, centered on Tokyo. In producing raw silk, the people of eastern Japan created factories to lead rural industrialization. This regional trade surplus was used to fuel growth in the consumer economy of Japan, as it pushed western Japan, centered on Osaka, to develop its cotton industry. These two industries and the Yawata Steel Works in northern Kyushu transformed Japan from an agricultural country to an industrial country in the late 19th century. In this story, the role of government is both central and peripheral. Without the decision by the Tokugawa shogun’s government to open Japan to external trade, this development would never have happened. However, once Japan was opened to trade, the Tokugawa government did not do much to help the trade, while the Meiji government, though desirous of fostering trade, did not always succeed in its efforts. Ultimately, it was the producers and merchants, the people, who transformed the rural economy and the country itself.

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The History of Motorization in Japan  

Susan Townsend

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article. In 1907 the first Japanese-made motorcar was unveiled. A century later, the phenomenon of kuruma banare [車離れ], literally “turning one’s back on the car,” but often translated as “de-motorization,” appeared in the international press. Falling sales suggested that Japan’s domestic car market had reached full capacity reversing an almost continuous historical trend of increasing car ownership. In the 1960s and 1970s, personal car ownership changed the social and cultural fabric of everyday life and transformed the urban environment and landscape. However, the automobile also became the focus of anxieties about traffic congestion, air pollution, noise levels, and safety and by the end of the 20th century was seen as ultimately damaging to community, social harmony, and the environment. While reports of the death of the motorcar turned out to be exaggerations, Japan became the “Asian pathfinder” for setting ultimate limits for the growth of fossil-fueled automobiles worldwide. Historiographically, the focus on the astounding success of Japan’s major automobile manufacturers in international markets drew attention away from the social and cultural history of the car itself in Japan. Yet the story of how Japan was transformed from an essentially wheel-less society at the dawn of the 20th century into the first industrial power to have achieved almost full-capacity car ownership is no less remarkable and sheds light on current dilemmas surrounding car use and sustainability in developing countries such as China and India.

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Japan and the Ainu in the Early Modern Period  

Noémi Godefroy

The Ainu are an indigenous people of northeast Asia, and their lands encompassed what are now known as the north of Honshu, Hokkaido, the Kuril archipelago, southern Sakhalin, the southernmost tip of Kamchatka, and the Amur River estuary region. As such, Ainu space was a maritime one, linking the Pacific, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Sea of Japan, and the Ainu settlements were dynamic actors in various maritime trade networks. Hence, they actively traded with other peoples, including the Japanese, from an early stage. Spreading over thousands of years, relations between Japan and the Ainu evolved in an ever-tightening way. These relations can be read in diplomatic or political terms, but also, and maybe even more so, in economic, spatial, and environmental terms, as Japan’s relationship with the Ainu people is deeply rooted in its relationship to Ainu goods, lands, and resources. Furthermore, Ainu songs reveal the importance of the charismatic trade with Japan in the shaping of Ainu society and worldview. From the 17th century, the initial, relative reciprocity of Ainu-Japanese relations became increasingly unbalanced, as the Tokugawa shoguns’ domestic productivity and foreign trade came to hinge upon Ainu labor, central to the transformation of northern marine products. During the 18th century, overlapping authorities and conflicting interests on both sides of the ethnic divide led to the advent of an inextricable web of mutual interdependencies, which all but snapped as the northeastern region of the Ainu lands became the convergence point of Japanese, Russian, and European interests. The need to establish clear regional sovereignty, to directly reap regional economic benefits and prevent Ainu unrest, led the shogunate to progressively establish direct control on the Ainu lands from the dawn of the 19th century. Although shogunate control did not lead to a full-fledged colonial enterprise per se, from the advent of the Meiji era, Ainu lands were annexed and their inhabitants subjected to colonial measures of assimilation, cultural suppression, and forced agricultural redeployment on the one hand, and dichotomization and exhibition on the other hand, before they all but disappeared from public discourse from the end of the 1930s. From the 1990s, within a global context of emerging indigenous and minority voices, Ainu individuals, groups, and movements have strived to achieve discursive reappropriation and political representation, and the past years have seen them be recognized as a minority group in Japan. Given past and ongoing tensions between Russia and Japan over sovereignty in the southern Kuril, and the future opening of the Arctic route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Ainu could play an international role in both diplomatic and environmental terms.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Japanese Empire in Manchuria  

Emer O'Dwyer

China’s three northeastern provinces (Fengtian, Heilongjiang, and Jilin) were transfigured by Japanese imperialism in the opening decades of the 20th century. South Manchuria and the Kwantung Leasehold on the Liaodong Peninsula in particular became the site of a railway imperialism that would, beginning in 1905, allow Japan to claim a sphere of influence in the northeast and profit from the export of soybeans, coal, lumber, and other raw materials from the region. The South Manchuria Railway Company (or “Mantetsu”), which held the dual mantle of joint stock-owning company and governmental national-policy company, was the central organ in Japan’s so-called management of Manchuria. The expansion of Mantetsu’s rail network (originally built by Czarist Russia in the late 1890s) in the post–World War I years allowed for greater extraction of resources and greater wealth for company stockholders, while giving rise to an upswell of protest from a burgeoning nationalist movement in mainland China as well as in the northeast itself. Throughout the preconquest period (pre-September 1931), bureaucrats, Mantetsu employees, doctors, teachers, and economic sojourners of every stripe made a home for themselves in Japanese Manchuria, parts of which were transformed to replicate the modern conveniences and amenities of the metropole’s urban centers. The Manchurian Incident, which began on September 18, 1931, with a plot by renegade officers from the Kwantung Army (a division of the Japanese Imperial Army) to destroy Mantetsu track and blame it on Chinese brigands, led to the military takeover of the three northeastern provinces by January 1932. The establishment of the army-led state of Manchukuo in March 1932 gave way to a new kind of Japanese power and influence on the continent—one that operated independently from Tokyo and at the pleasure of the Kwantung Army. Despite repeated proclamations of pan-Asian unity and the harmony of the five races by the state’s propaganda agents, Manchukuo existed for the purpose of strengthening Japan’s war machine, as well as for planning a total renovation of the domestic Japanese state in line with army objectives.