AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 454

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Session 454: Reframing Region in Prewar Japan: Miyagi Prefecture in Local, National, and Global Context

Organizer: Anne Giblin, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Chair: Christopher Craig, Columbia University, Canada

Discussant: Martin W. Dusinberre, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Regions offer an important perspective to analyze modern Japanese history. While often-studied urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka commanded economic and political primacy, they nonetheless represented the exceptions in prewar Japan. To produce a more nuanced understanding of the nation, it is necessary to move beyond thriving metropolitan areas and examine historical developments in outlying regions. This panel, therefore, will focus on Miyagi prefecture. Neglected in both the English and Japanese historiographies, Miyagi was an influential prefecture in the Tohoku region that underwent significant change even as it suffered from stunted economic development and a pronounced vulnerability to natural disasters. Using new materials, this panel will link rural and urban Miyagi to larger national and transnational histories. Christopher Craig explores the role of government-led "improvement movements" in landlord-tenant conflicts and the resulting shifts in village society. Tracing the controversy surrounding the construction of Sendai station, Teshima Yasunobu examines the relationship between popular opposition and changes in the nature of local government. Kato Satoshi analyzes a local department store, using its development to demonstrate the economic limitations of Miyagi and fluctuations in the consumer trends of regional cities. Anne Giblin, in a study of illegal immigration, illustrates the development of transnational ties between two villages spanning the Pacific Ocean, bringing the local and regional world of Miyagi into a global context. In sum, this panel will explore developments that differed from those of Tokyo or Osaka, linking the experiences of local actors with the larger histories of Japan and the world.

The Move to Improve: Rural Reform Movements and Village Society in Miyagi, 1895-1908
Christopher Craig, Columbia University, Canada

In the years after the First Sino-Japanese War, a fever for rural improvement swept across Japan. Rural poverty, social stratification in agricultural communities, and the emergence of so-called distressed villages drove citizen groups and government agencies in a quest to strengthen the countryside economically and to preserve social order. Farmers' groups, landlord organizations, and government agencies all threw themselves behind this undertaking, each with its own ideas and vision. The central government attempted to direct these efforts, drafting plans for improvement and turning to locally influential rural landlords to carry them out. This paper explores the social ramifications of improvement (kairyo, kaizen) movements in rural villages in Miyagi prefecture from 1896 to 1908. A number of factors combined to chart a distinctive path for improvement in Miyagi: absentee landlords undertook limited and self-interested programs of improvement, the prefectural government forced farmers to comply with improvement initiatives under threat of punishment, and economic recession and crop failures drove tenants and smallholders alike into desperation. Disputes surrounding improvement followed, with prefectural authorities standing by as tenant leagues forced landlords to acquiesce to their demands. This victory and its widespread influence in Miyagi heralded the beginning of a change in leadership in rural villages, demonstrating a waning in government support for large landlords and the emergence of independent farmers and resident landlords as leaders of village society.

Shaping Public Opinion: The Miyagi Prefectural Government and the Construction of Sendai Station
Yasunobu Teshima, Tohoku University, Japan

This paper is an analysis of the Miyagi prefectural government's manipulation of public opinion in the controversy that surrounded the establishment of Sendai Station in the 1880s. Common local knowledge holds that influential individuals started a popular movement to locate the station inside the city, accomplishing their goal through the collection of substantial private contributions. In actuality, the movement became a means for the prefectural government to direct public opinion. Miyagi governor Matsudaira Masanao, who wanted to preserve the then-current city center, sought to change the location of the station by making use of the funds raised by the movement. In effect, he secretly guided the nominally independent citizens' movement and published inflated versions of the contributions they had collected. Sharing Matsudaira's desire to preserve the city center, the citizen-leaders developed their movement in accord with the governor's instructions. The concealment of prefectural involvement and government manipulation of public opinion are key features of the movement to change the location of Sendai Station. These developments also illustrate the legacy of the Freedom and Popular Rights Movement of the 1870s and 1880s. During that period, influential residents learned how to appeal to public opinion. At the same time, however, local governments turned to the problem of how to control this opinion. The Miyagi government's manipulation of the controversy surrounding the placement of Sendai Station was one response to this situation, and can be seen as an early expression of the manipulation of the public that characterized the prewar Japanese government.

Consuming the Local: The Development of the Department Store in Miyagi Prefecture
Satoshi Kato, Tohoku University, Japan

Japanese department stores first appeared in Tokyo and Osaka in the Meiji period, and then spread to major cities across the country by the 1930s. Indeed, department stores were more than special features of the political and economic centers, appearing throughout the nation as a ubiquitous symbol of the growth of modern Japanese consumerism. In order to illuminate regional consumer culture in the prewar period, this paper will explore early department stores and consumer culture in Miyagi prefecture. The department store arrived late in Miyagi, the first being established in 1932. Both mail order services and traveling salesmen from Tokyo stores, as well as the gradual adoption of department store-style management by the Sendai dry goods store Fujisaki, however, had already introduced a form of consumer culture to the region. While the consumer cultures of Tokyo and Osaka influenced Miyagi, the local form of consumerism was also more than a direct importation of such influences. Regional department store management consistently demonstrated a Janus-faced adherence to both trends from the big cities and the particular local consumer culture. The stores found themselves caught between the need to respond to both the emergence of Tokyo-style urban consumerism and to particular local tastes. Ultimately, therefore, this paper will demonstrate how the department store brokered a meeting between central trends and local demands that produced distinctive regional iterations of modern consumption.

Living Apart, Growing Together: Roots of a Transnational Community in Tome, Miyagi and Richmond, British Columbia
Anne Giblin, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Over the past few decades, scholars of Japanese migration have taken great strides in elucidating the ways Japanese citizens left their homelands seeking jobs abroad or in the colonies. Indeed, researchers have examined the reasons individuals left, methods of migration, and even their new lives abroad. Yet, what do we know about how emigration impacted specific local communities in Japan itself? Migration history rarely focuses on the Tohoku region, an area that experienced a sizable exodus during the pre-war period. Therefore, this paper will trace the story of 83 people from one rural district who illicitly sailed from Ishonomaki harbor in Miyagi prefecture to Canada in 1906. Jinsaburo Oikawa, a businessman from present-day Tome, left for Canada in 1896 with a dream of capitalizing on an untapped market for salmon roe in the Vancouver fisheries. Ten years later, he returned to recruit more workers for his thriving business. Rather than dwelling on the lives of these emigres once they settled in Canada, this paper delves into their departure from Tohoku, paying particular attention to the historical factors that caused them to leave and tracing the impact of their departure on the community. Moreover, this incident remains in the minds of people in Tome and Canada even over a century later, as Tome Community Theater presented a dramatization of these migrants in a 2009. Over the Pacific and across a century, this paper will thus explore the transnational connections between a district in Miyagi and the Frasier River in British Columbia.