AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 539

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Session 539: Not the Usual Suspects: New Perspectives on Japanese Diplomacy from the Russo-Japanese War to the Pacific War

Organizer and Chair: Toshihiro Minohara, Kobe University, Japan

Discussant: Stephen G. Vlastos, University of Iowa, USA

This panel is organized as a counter narrative to the dominant historiography of Japan’s foreign relations from the first decade of the 20th century to 1941. The standard narrative is constructed conceptually on an analytic model of bilateral relations among the Great Powers in the Pacific and is scripted as tragedy: reconciliation of adversaries with the burying of the unequal treaties; 1902 alliance with Great Britain and rapprochement with America (Root-Takahira 1908), followed by estrangement and alienation by actions by all parties whose consequences were not foreseen; e.g., 21 Demands; Japanese exclusion movement, London Naval Conference—topped off by the deus ex machina of the Great Depression of 1930. Each of the panelist (young Japanese scholars) complicates this narrative by focusing on facets of Japan’s foreign policy outside the dyadic Great Power model: Yuka Fujioka analyzes Issei immigrants as non state actors; Kota Watanabe reveals the important role of Russia in post-1905 Japanese diplomacy that has been largely overlooked; Shusuke Takahara attributes the un-contentious resolution of German South Seas Islands in Japan’s favor as a by-product of Wilson’s investment in the new and worldwide invention of the mandate status. Finally, Tadashi Nakatani explains Japan’s accommodation to Wilsonianism in terms of Japan’s turn towards “globalism” in foreign policy. We propose a dialogic format in which the discussant will give his assessment of the extent to which the papers, taken as a whole, succeed in departing from the bilateral analytic model and revise the standard narrative.

Japan’s “Thought War” and the Role of Japanese Immigrants in the United States
Yuka Fujioka, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan

Because of the gross violation of Japanese Americans’ civil rights by FDR’s Executive Order 9066 scholars have overlooked the efforts that the Japanese government did in fact make to mobilize the overseas Japanese American community in the United States prior to Pearl Harbor. 1940 was a particularly critical year in Japan’s public diplomacy as the Tokyo Conference of Overseas Japanese was convened by Konoe cabinet which sought to mobilize Japanese immigrants in the U.S. as fighters in the “thought war (shisosen)” in order to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the imperial family. Due to the limited availability of primary sources, these events have escaped the attention of both Japan diplomatic and immigration historians and very little research has been done regarding war support activities among the Issei leaders in San Francisco, the core of the prewar Japanese immigrant community in the U.S. Using hitherto untapped diplomatic records from both Tokyo and Washington and focusing on Japanese immigrants in San Francisco as a case study, this paper aims to reveal, analyze and explain the following: 1) the significance of these events in within Japan’s expansionist policy and public diplomacy in the U.S., 2) the psychology behind the Japanese immigrants in their enthusiastic participation in these events, 3) the U.S. government’s view of these events, and 4) the implication that the events had towards the Issei participants’ internment immediately after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Confounding Expectation: Explaining the Russia turn in Japanese Diplomacy during the 1910s
Kota Watanabe, Teikyo University, Japan

Partly because relatively few Japan diplomatic historians command Russian in addition to Japanese and English, the role of Russia in Japan’s foreign policy after the Russo-Japanese war is not well understood. One example is the secret Russo-Japanese alliance, concluded on July 3, 1916, which marked a significant departure from the “Kasumigasiki Seito Gaiko” which based itself upon cooperation with Britain and the U.S., the traditional line of Japanese diplomacy. In fact, the aim of the Russo-Japanese alliance was to hedge against reliance on the U.S. in the aftermath of the 21 Demands. Previous studies of the secret alliance have focused on the role of the elder statesmen, particularly Inoue Kaoru and Yamagata Aritomo. Their role, however, is only part of the story. What has been heretofore overlooked is the role of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This paper reveals the role that the “anti-Kasumigaseki Seito gaiko” elements played in its quest of forming an alliance with Russia and present Foreign Minister Ishii Kikujiro in a different light, as he has been often portrayed as a member of the “Kasumigaseki seito gaiko” camp in Japanese scholarship. However a closer examination of Ishii reveals a foreign minister who actively supported an alliance between Japan and Russia as he thought that Japan could better secure its interests at China with the help of Russia. Moreover, Ishii felt Japan could not depend solely on the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, while an alliance with Russia would also assist in containing American commercial expansion in China.

A Multilateral Perspective on the Mandate Question of Former German Colonies in the Pacific: America, Britain and Japan
Shusuke Takahara, Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan

The controversy at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference aroused by Japan’s claim to German colonial interests it seized in Shandong, has overshadowed the question of the disposition of Germany’s South Seas colonies. Resolved without public recriminations or fanfare, historians conventionally understand the transfer of the South Pacific islands to Japan as an “acceptable” accommodation of Japan’s postwar great power status. However, only a handful of studies have considered this issue in the context of a proactive (as opposed to accommodationalist) U.S. strategy in the Pacific. Nor have historians understood Japan’s behind the scene actions on this issue. What is needed is a multilateral perspective on the policy-making process that resulted in Japan’s Mandate over former German Colonies in the Pacific. With this as a backdrop, the paper will examine the perceptions of the Great Britain, Japan, and British Dominions, Australia and New Zealand and show how each country found common ground in Woodrow Wilson’s new conception of mandate status under the League of Nations.

A Wilsonian World for Japan?: Japan’s Response to Woodrow Wilson’s “New Diplomacy”
Tadashi Nakatani, Doshisha University, Japan

Many previous studies examining US-Japan relations during the First World War have emphasized Japan's firm opposition to President Woodrow Wilson's “New Diplomacy” during if not also after WW I. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Wilson advocated for the adoption of entirely new set of international principles in order to make it more difficult for nations to pursue an imperialist course and take advantage of the spoils of war. Indeed, Japan's main consideration in entering the war was to expand its own interests in China and to take control of the former German possessions in the Pacific. Thus, Wilson’s assertion that Japan should not insist upon assuming German position on the Shandong peninsula stirred up an intense controversy between the United States and Japan. However, closer examination reveals a much more complex response within Japanese governing circles. Even before the armistice, some senior Japanese diplomats and influential government leaders had insisted that Japan should make evident its approval of Wilson's principles as they believed that the postwar world be shaped upon those very principles. The persistence by these individuals gradually paid off and their views had an important impact on Japan's decision-making after the war. Hence Japan’s attitude towards Washington’s diplomatic endeavor began to soften, which eventually led to the formation of a new Japanese policy framework that became the ground stone of the “era of cooperation” that marked the 1920s.