AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 747

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Session 747: Accommodating Empire: Popular and Official Perspectives on Japanese Expansion, 1868-1945

Organizer: Paul E. Dunscomb, University of Alaska, Anchorage, USA

Chair: William M. Tsutsui, Hendrix College, USA

Discussant: William M. Tsutsui, Hendrix College, USA

“Imperial” Japan (1868-1945) may be defined by a political system in which the emperor was designated absolute sovereign and in which the Japanese state controlled an overseas empire. Both of these traits ultimately came to be inseparable from the conception Japanese had of their nation as a modern state. Yet, while no figure within the mainstream ever questioned the wisdom of imperial sovereignty, the relationship between the Japanese people and their overseas empire was much more problematic. As the international context in which Japan operated evolved over the late Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods Japanese found ways to accommodate themselves, or found themselves accommodated to, the reality of empire and its consequences for the nation. The four papers of this panel examine aspects of that accommodation. Luke Franks examines the process of establishing bureaucratic control by the central government over the newly integrated province of Okinawa and the creation of national subjects there. Paul Dunscomb examines how hopes for the establishment of responsible government invested in the Hara cabinet were nurtured then curdled by the experience of Japan’s Siberian Intervention. Roger Brown’s look at the career of the Home Ministry bureaucrat Yoshida Shigeru reveals the manner in which efforts to assert bureaucratic authority at home became linked to Japan’s changing relationship to its empire and to its fellow imperial powers. Jeremy Phillipps examines how the residents of Kanazawa endeavored to profit from the empire by building trade ties with the continent and particularly Manchukuo.

From People’s Shepherd to Emperor’s Bureaucrat: Defining Gubernatorial Authority in Early Meiji Japan
Luke A. Franks, North Central College, USA

Among the many challenges facing the new Meiji government was gaining control over Japan's former feudal domains. This transition required not only the acquiescence of the displaced samurai elite, but also the cultivation of a new class of prefectural governors prepared to oversee local affairs on behalf of the national leadership. My paper will explore the complexities involved in the construction of new local administrations and the formation of the Home Ministry (Naimushô), focusing in particular on the competing political ideologies that arose to support gubernatorial authority in the early Meiji Period. Following the Restoration, the position of prefectural governor became important as a symbol both of new popular directions in Japanese politics, as well as the increasingly authoritarian orientation of the modern Japanese state. I suggest that early Meiji confusion surrounding the role of the governor was an expression of larger conflicts between the state and its political opponents over the principles and structure of governance at both the local and national levels. Campaigns to establish bureaucratic control in the prefectures were further complicated by a legacy of Tokugawa political thought in which gubernatorial authority and autonomy were legitimized through ‘Confucian’ conceptions of virtuous and benevolent rule. My paper will include an examination of the debates that surrounded the establishment of prefectural rule in Okinawa; efforts here by Home Ministry officials to imagine the new state as primarily a product of bureaucratic virtue and expertise illustrate the inherently ambiguous line between Meiji visions of nation and empire.

“Who Must Take Responsibility for this Crime?” The Hara Cabinet and Japan’s Siberian Intervention.
Paul E. Dunscomb, University of Alaska, Anchorage, USA

The closing stages of the First World War engendered hopes among many in Japan that the nation might embrace the “trends of the times” and reject the premise of a modern Japanese state based on empire acquired through conquest to one based on the establishment of “responsible,” constitutional government and Wilsonian style internationalism which appeared to make Britain and the United States into powerful modern states. The rise of Hara Takashi’s first party cabinet in September 1918 appeared a key step towards accommodating the nation to the new “world situation.” However, the Siberian Intervention launched by the army general staff and the preceding Terauchi cabinet Hara inherited soon emerged as the critical test of whether or not party cabinets could deliver on the hopes invested in them. As the intervention and the immediate aftermath of the First World War unfolded the Hara cabinet found itself stymied in its efforts to deal with the intervention and to accommodate Japan to the trends of the times by a recalcitrant army general staff. By 1920 the responsibility for the continuation of Japan’s Siberian Intervention and its perceived failure had been laid at the feet of Hara, while consciousness of the Japanese military as helping to undermine Japan’s international position and “darkening the world situation” rose. As the Intervention finally ended the Japanese people were left with a “plague on both your houses” attitude towards the parties and the military. This paper examines the process by which that attitude unfolded.

The Other Yoshida Shigeru: Restraining “Diet Omnipotence” in the Early Showa “Period of Crisis”
Roger H. Brown, Saitama University, Japan

Yoshida Shigeru (not to be confused with his namesake who became prime minister after the war) was an elite official within the powerful Home Ministry and an important figure in the politics of interwar Japan. His activities included leading the ministry’s shrines and social bureaus, promoting the labor union bill of 1931, running the semi-official Harmonization Society, overseeing the creation of the extra-ministerial Cabinet Research Bureau, participating in the Showa Research Society, serving as governor of Fukuoka, and holding important portfolios in two wartime cabinets. Once viewed by some contemporaries as a progressive “social bureaucrat” for his efforts on behalf of labor legislation and willingness to work with party politicians, Yoshida subsequently encouraged a Japanist “unification of labor and capital” and stridently criticized party politics, emerging as a leading “new bureaucrat” devoted to enhancing the administrative authority of non-party officials. His efforts in these areas intensified during the so-called “period of crisis” that accompanied the London Naval Conference, rural economic distress, right-wing terrorism, and the Manchurian Incident. As an active member of the Kokuikai (National Mainstay Society), Yoshida penned monthly diatribes against party incompetence, authored plans for reforming domestic governance, and exemplified the society’s solid support for the new state of Manchukuo. This paper examines Yoshida’s activities in order to shed light on the ideology of reformist bureaucrats, their efforts to restrain party power, and the manner in which these most domestic-oriented of Japan’s officials nevertheless linked their anti-party critique to a new departure in Japan’s foreign relations.

The Japan Sea Era: How Imperialism was Reinterpreted by Regional Cities
Jeremy D. Phillipps, Independent Scholar, Japan

Japan’s encroachment into mainland Asia from the formation of Manchukuo in 1932 to the start of full-scale war with China in 1937 has generally been presented as a militaristic venture. Yet to many, Japan’s expanding empire was neither about conquest, or indeed national glory: rather, it was seen in more pragmatic, commercial terms, for example how this commerce could stimulate the lagging growth of Japan Sea coast cities. Manchukuo, with its vast natural resources, lay across the sea from “Back of Japan” cities like Kanazawa, Toyama, Niigata, and Sakata, and it was hoped that a future age of prosperity, a “Japan Sea Era”, awaited them. For Kanazawa in particular, which was once one of the biggest and richest cities in Japan under the Shoguns, the expanding empire offered a chance to recapture this glory. Thus for the citizens of Kanazawa, “empire” was seen in very local terms; imperialist rhetoric was used to spur local development and ambition. This is seen in a number of events in the first half of the 1930s, including the local expo, held just after Manchukuo was proclaimed independent, and the debate over creating a new port and attracting official shipping routes. Yet ultimately the city’s ambitions, tied as they were to national-level policies, were derailed by the reality of Japanese imperialism and its thirst for conquest. This paper draws on period newspapers, magazine articles, and council records to illustrate how the Japan Sea Era was born of Japanese imperialism, and ultimately crushed by it.