Reading Colonial Japan: Text, Context, and Critique

Reading Colonial Japan: Text, Context, and Critique

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By any measure, Japan's modern empire was formidable. The only major non-western colonial power in the 20th century, Japan controlled a vast area of Asia and numerous archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean. The massive extraction of resources and extensive cultural assimilation policies radically impacted the lives of millions of Asians and Micronesians, and the political, economic, and cultural ramifications of this era are still felt today.
The Japanese empire lasted from 1869-1945. During this time, how was the Japanese imperial project understood, imagined, and lived? Reading Colonial Japan is a unique anthology that aims to deepen knowledge of Japanese colonialism(s) by providing an eclectic selection of translated Japanese primary sources and analytical essays that illuminate Japan's many and varied colonial projects. The primary documents highlight how central cultural production and dissemination were to the colonial effort, while accentuating the myriad ways colonialism permeated every facet of life. The variety of genres the explored includes legal documents, children's literature, cookbooks, serialized comics, and literary texts by well-known authors of the time. These cultural works, produced by a broad spectrum of "ordinary" Japanese citizens (a housewife in Manchuria, settlers in Korea, manga artists and fiction writers in mainland Japan, and so on), functioned effectively to reinforce the official policies that controlled and violated the lives of the colonized throughout Japan's empire.
By making available and analyzing a wide-range of sources that represent "media" during the Japanese colonial period, Reading Colonial Japan draws attention to the powerful role that language and imagination played in producing the material realities of Japanese colonialism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804776974
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 03/28/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Michele M. Mason is assistant professor of Japanese literature at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is also the co-producer and interpreter for the short documentary film Witness to Hiroshima (2010).
Helen J.S. Lee is an assistant professor of Japanese studies at the Underwood International College, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea.

Read an Excerpt

Reading Colonial Japan



Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7697-4

Chapter One

TEXT The Shores of the Sorachi River KUNIKIDA DOPPO

CONTEXT Hokkaido

CRITIQUE Writing Ainu Out/Writing Japanese In: The "Nature" of Japanese Colonialism in Hokkaido MICHELE M. MASON

Kunikida Doppo (1871–1908) is widely regarded as having played a formative role in the creation of modern Japanese literature. A child born out of wedlock to a former samurai and a servant, Doppo grew up in rural southwestern Japan, which is said to have imbued him with a love of nature. He converted to Christianity in 1891 after he gave up his dream to be a politician. He studied English literature at university and was later active in various literary and poetic circles in Tokyo. He was a war correspondent for the journal The Nation's Companion (Kokumin no tomo) during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). Doppo died at the age of 36 from tuberculosis.

Not unlike many of his contemporaries, Doppo, for a time, envisioned Hokkaido as a utopian space. He convinced his lover, Sasaki Nobuko, to elope and "escape" to Hokkaido where, it was imagined, the restrictions of Japanese traditions did not reach. The marriage and his stay in Hokkaido were short-lived. Doppo's "Unforgettable People" (Wasure'enu hitobito, 1898) and "Musashino" (Musashino, 1901) have attracted much scholarly attention, although later works, for instance those in his collection entitled Fate (Unmei, 1906), earned him critical acclaim during his life.

In "The Shores of the Sorachi River" (Sorachigawa no kishibe, 1902), the male protagonist travels to Hokkaido to buy some land. His endeavors to find local officials, who can advise him about property along the Sorachi River, force him to travel about the "newly opened" island. From his train and lodging windows, from atop a horse-drawn wagon, and during his walks in the mountains and through a rugged mining outpost, "I" observes the unfamiliar landscape of the northern island and muses on the relationship between humans and nature. The narrator's inner dialogue chronicles his mercurial moods, ranging from ecstatic to despondent according to the ever-changing weather, and reveals his sense of alienation from both society and nature.


Part One

I stayed in Sapporo for five days. It was only five days, but in that time my fond feelings for Hokkaido multiplied many times over.

Even the wilderness of the northeast inspired devotion in me, a person who grew up in the densely populated central region of our country's mainland and was accustomed to scenery of mountains and fields that had been conquered by human power. Upon seeing Hokkaido, the northernmost part of the country, how could my heart not be moved?! Sapporo is said to be the Tokyo of Hokkaido, but I was all but bewitched by the many sights there.

I set out alone from Sapporo for the shores of the Sorachi River on the morning of September 25. Had it been Tokyo, it still would have been warm, but here I was wearing my Western winter clothing. Autumn was waning and the bare trees told me that winter was chasing close behind.

My goal was to meet a prefectural official who had surveyed the shores of the Sorachi River and to consult with him about choosing some land. However, I was completely in the dark about the geography. Also, since I didn't know where the prefectural official was stationed, and neither did any of my acquaintances in Sapporo, I boarded the train headed for Sorachibuto feeling disheartened.

The fields of Ishikari were lost in the low-lying clouds, and as I stared out from the train window onto the fields and mountains, I was overwhelmed by the frightening power of nature. Here there was no love, no compassion. To look out on this savage, lonely, heartless, and yet magnificent sight, it appeared to me all the more that nature scorns the powerlessness and fragility of humans.

I wondered what several people in the same train car were thinking about me, a young man silently sitting in the corner next to a window with his white face buried in the collar of his overcoat. The passengers' conversations included crops, forestry, the soil, and how to extract gold from the unlimited natural resources of the area. Some were talking loudly while they sipped alcohol, and others joked around as they smoked their pipes. Most of them had met for the first time on the train. I was the only one who didn't join in, and I kept myself apart from the rest, sinking into my own thoughts. I had never put any thought to the question of how you are supposed to get along in society. I simply went from moment to moment concentrating on how to make my own way. Therefore, my fellow passengers seemed to be of another world, and I could not help but feel that between them and me stretched an impassable, deep valley. I thought to myself that even today, with me isolated in a corner of this train car full of people passing through the Ishikari plain, was like any other day of my life. Ah, the loneliness! Even though I willingly walk outside of society, in the depths of my heart I cannot bear the loneliness.

If it had been a fine, fall day and clear on the high peaks, I could have escaped my gloomy mood and relaxed. But the clouds hung increasingly lower, and the forest was enveloped in the mist so that no matter where I looked there was not even a flicker of light. I fell into a nearly unbearable state of melancholy.

The train arrived at a certain stop that splits off to the coal mine at Utashinai, and most of the passengers disembarked to transfer to other trains, leaving behind just two others besides myself. The train ran on a straight line, piercing the huge forests in which not one person has tread since the beginning of time—thousands of years. Layer upon layer of ash-colored mist, appearing and then disappearing as if a living being, was silently wafting and floating.

All of a sudden a man asked me, "Where are you headed?" He was around forty years old, with a masculine build, long hair, a square face, sharp eyes, and a big nose—a man who seemed a rogue at a glance. His manners suggested he wasn't an official or a craftsman. He wasn't a farmer or a merchant either. In fact, he was the kind of man whom you would only see in a place like Hokkaido. He was the adventurer type that always first dominates any unopened land.

"I plan to go to Sorachibuto."

"On the business of the prefecture?" He took me for a minor official for the Hokkaido prefectural office.

"Oh no, I'm here to buy some land."

"Oh I see. I don't know where you plan to look in Sorachibuto, but it seems there isn't anything valuable there anymore."

"I wonder, can I get to the shores of the Sorachi River from Sorachibuto?"

"I think you should be able to, but I can't be sure without knowing where on the Sorachi River you are headed...."

"In the area where the group of settlers from Wakayama prefecture are, there are supposed to be two prefectural officers. That's where I'm aiming for. At any rate, I'm planning on going out as far as Sorachibuto and asking there."

"Is that so? Well then, when you come to Sorachibuto you should go to the lodging house called Miura Inn. The owner knows a lot about those things, so asking him would be a good idea. Since the roads aren't open yet, you have to take roundabout ways to get to places that are even fairly close. So, for someone who doesn't know the area getting around will be very difficult."

Then, he talked about various things: the difficulties of clearing land; the very different challenges depending on the quality of the land; the fact that you can't easily get to the markets with a valuable harvest because of the inconvenient transportation; and the way to use tenant farmers. I had heard some of these things from my friends in Sapporo, but taking in all that this man spoke of, I could only thank him for his kindness.

Finally, the train arrived at a desolate station. I noticed that altogether there were no more than twenty travelers who got off the train with me. The train returned from whence it came.

I saw that this small station, surrounded by forest, was nothing more than a lonely island. Besides two or three small buildings in the vicinity of the train stop, there was nothing that had any connection to humans. The long-reverberating whistle of the train echoed in the forest, and when the sound diminished and finally died out, suddenly the silent, desolate island was left behind.

Three horse-drawn wagons were waiting. Silently people boarded them. I also got on board along with the man who had been in the train with me earlier.

Two stocky, Hokkaido-bred horses, one sturdy young man, and six passengers set off without knowing the particular destination. I had the sense that I was "in the middle of nowhere." Really, it was the case that had I asked myself where I was going, I couldn't have answered.

The three horse-drawn wagons were separated by about one hundred yards, and because mine was at the tail end of the line, I could see clearly how the others bumped along as they traveled the road filled with potholes. The mist swept over the forest, cut across the road, and then entered the forest again. The tree leaves, dyed a deep red, fell from the branches, two or three dancing behind one of the wagons. The driver gave a strong lash to the horse, and shouted out, "We'll arrive soon!"

The man from earlier called out "Please stop in front of the Miura Inn" and looked back at me. I nodded and thanked him for his kindness. No one in the wagon spoke a word, and with anxious faces they all fell deeply into thought. Because the driver once again applied a forceful snap of the whip and sounded a bugle, the small-bodied yet robust and hardy horse of the north galloped off.

Slowly the forest opened up, and just as I noted that two or three of the colonists' houses had appeared, all of a sudden we came out onto a plain. On both sides of the wide road, what looked like merchant houses flew by and the area had the characteristic look of a town in newly cleared land. The wagon ran through this stretch with its bugle valiantly announcing its approach.

Part Two

I arrived at Miura Inn and immediately called for the owner. I asked him the way to the shores of the Sorachi River and told him the details of my plan. However, the proprietor suggested that it would be much more convenient for me to go back to Utashinai and approach and cross the mountains from there.

"The next train would get you into Utashinai before sundown, so if you stay tonight in Utashinai, tomorrow you can ask around and head out. Utashinai is different from here in that some people from the prefectural office are there. They might know where the man named Ida is."

Hearing this, I agreed. However, I had come to Sorachibuto believing that it was best to advance along the Sorachi River in order to know the whereabouts of the prefectural agent, Mr. Ida, whom I hoped to meet. However, to get to the shores of the Sorachi River from Sorachibuto without a guide would be impossible, and from the owner of Miura Inn I heard for the first time about the lack of proper roads. So, I heeded the caution of the owner and decided to go around to Utashinai. Lonely and alone on the second floor of the Miura Inn, I waited for the train, which was due more than two hours later.

Looking about, I saw a field in front of the inn. Sticking up here and there were a few trees that had been left when the others had been cut down. Perhaps because of the strong wind the trunks were naked with only a few yellow leaves sticking to the branches. Even those, in the time that I watched, fell randomly to the ground. On top of the wind came the rain. The rain clouds closed off the distant view, but close-by there stood an oak tree about thirty feet tall. The thick leaves made strange sounds as they were hit by the rain and quivered in the wind. Not one person passed on the road.

It was certainly not enjoyable there, knowing not a soul and without anyone with whom to talk, to be resting against the window of the inn and staring out on the falling autumn rain. I unexpectedly remembered my mother, father, younger brother, and good friends in Tokyo and presently felt what great warmth of human love I had been surrounded by until then. As I yearned to muster up my manly spirit and follow my ideals—there in the forest to search for a land of freedom—I roused my heart so that I definitely would not become womanly. However, in short, ideals became cold and human feelings became warm. Nature is brutal and intimacy with it is difficult; society is dear and is the appropriate place to make a nest.

I passed the two hours forlornly. Just when I thought the rain was letting up, the sound of a bugle-horn rang from afar. When I stuck my head out to look, there came a horse-drawn wagon nearing at a gallop that was being struck by a thread-like rain that fell at a slant. I boarded the wagon and once again set off for the train station, leaving Miura Inn behind.

There were just a few people on the train. I was the only one in the cabin I entered, but being alone wasn't pleasant and I was thinking I should change my cabin. Leaving that thought aside, I leaned my body against the corner of the train car that had become dark from the rain and fog. I was gazing out on the movement of the clouds in the darkening sky, and I absent-mindedly stared at the forest as trees passed by one after another. In times like these, you can attain a perfect serenity of mind—if you have no thoughts of self-interest and no thoughts of final destinations—if you are without feelings of love and without malicious feelings of hatred—without disappointment and without hope—only absently looking and listening. When traveling to a place where there are no familiar bonds, your body and soul tires, and finding yourself swaying with the movement of the train, occasionally you can fall into such a mental state. At times like these, by chance the scenery that comes before your eyes is etched deeply into the depths of your brain, and you are unable to forget it over many years. Now, next to the train-car window, I was just like that, watching the movement of the clouds and the birch forests.

When the train arrived in the valley of Utashinai, the rain had stopped completely and the weather had cleared. I was without a destination for lodging, and when I left the train station, two or three representatives of local inns were waiting to greet potential guests, which is understandable for such a place with a few thousand miners and several hundred crowded houses in a narrow ravine. Led by one of these men from a local inn, I walked through the stone-strewn, darkly lit town and entered a two-story building. When the wife spoke in dialect with grace and charm and welcomed me sincerely, I couldn't help smiling.

Because the proprietor came to my room without being called after the evening meal had finished, I straight away spoke of my plans and asked whether he could be of any help to me. He listened all the while smiling.

"Wait one moment. I have an idea," he said over his shoulder as he left the room. After some time, he returned.

"Luck is a strange thing. No need to worry. I've figured it out." Pleased with himself, he sat down.

"You figured it out?"

"Yes I did. I've got it all sorted. As of four days ago there has been a guest staying here. This person is someone who deals with imperial estates, and for some time he had been surveying the forest area. He did a lot of sleeping outdoors, so eventually his health broke down, and now we are taking care of him. His name is Shinohara. Since I heard that he'd been in the area of the Sorachi River the day before he showed up here at our place, I thought maybe he'd know something. So I asked him and he did. He said that there is a small cabin straight below where you cross the mountain, and a prefectural office representative is there. You can relax. This place is about two and a half miles from here, so it will be easy to get there. If you go in the morning you can come back before the afternoon."

"Thank you for everything. That's a relief. But I wonder if it's any good to go to the cabin now. They change locations so often, even at the prefectural office they didn't know where the representatives were."


Excerpted from Reading Colonial Japan Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Note on Japanese Names....................xv
CHAPTER ONE....................19
CHAPTER TWO....................55
CHAPTER THREE....................77
CHAPTER FOUR....................109
CHAPTER FIVE....................141
CHAPTER SIX....................179
CHAPTER SEVEN....................209
CHAPTER EIGHT....................243

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