Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies by Sayaka Chatani, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018, xiv + 347 pp., ISBN: 9781501730757.
George Z.Gonzales (PhD student, Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, the University of Tokyo)
Chatani, Sayaka. Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018, xiv + 347 pp., ISBN: 9781501730757.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration and Translation
Introduction: Nation-Empire as Global and Local History
Part 1 THE SO-CALLED INNER TERRITORIES
1. National Trends
2. From Mobilization to the Social Mobility Complex
3. Totalitarian Japanization
Interlude: Okinawa's Place in the Nation-Empire
Part 2 THE SO-CALLED OUTER TERRITORIES
4. Colonial Intellectuals
5. Finding Rural Youth in Taiwan
6. The Emotional Basis for Japanization
7. Model Rural Youth in Korean Villages
8. Opportunities and Loopholes
Part 3 CONSEQUENCES
9. As Young Pillars of the Nation-Empire
Epilogue: Back in Villages
On the Archives and Sources
Sayaka Chatani opens her comparative study of rural youth mobilization in the Japanese empire with a discussion of the somewhat puzzling eagerness with which many young people volunteered for the Japanese army, posing the following questions:
How did young men in the colonies become passionate about their colonizer's nationalism? Why did they feel compelled to apply to the volunteer soldier program? In fact, why on earth did anyone, whether in the metropole or the colonies, embrace a presumably imposed ideology and express willingness to fight for a cause so irrelevant to their immediate interests? (p. 2)
Chatani contends that great insight into these questions can be gleaned by paying attention to individuals' local social dynamics and relations, as well as emotional attachments, all of which "determined the value and meanings of youth programs from the viewpoints of participants" (p. 3). She situates her study within the larger body of literature on imperial Japan, stating that, as studies that span the length of the empire remain uncommon, she aims to grasp widespread trends in Japan's empire-building by comparing cases in villages in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Okinawa. She also associates her study with scholarship not focused on Japan that emphasizes social dynamics and everyday life in comprehending totalitarian governance. Not stopping at understanding why state ideology held appeal across society, she argues that "the transformation of individuals to make them extremely useful to the state (…) was a product of changing social relationships," asserting the importance of local context (p. 10).
Chatani focuses on the seinendan, village youth associations with premodern origins in Japan, to get an understanding of local social dynamics in rural communities across the Japanese empire. As she explains, the premodern-originated seinendan was attractive to Japanese leaders, who were keen to show their difference from Western models of imperialism, and they actively incorporated a system and movement for the seinendan into their attempts to mobilize colonial subjects for the Japanese empire. At the same time, this effort was also part of a project to create a "nation-empire," a term Chatani proposes to emphasize Japanese imperialism's foundation in the idea that nation-building and empire-building were the same thing and to describe its leaders' ideal of a totally assimilated empire in which all subjects were integrated into the "Yamato race" (pp. 4, 6). The ability of the seinendan to accomplish this goal depended on the degree to which its advocates were able to encourage the development in each locale of what Chatani calls a "social mobility complex." This refers to a social mechanism by which young men – the focus of the study – were able to take advantage of new jobs and opportunities related to the seinendan and military presence in the village and attain a "sense of one's self-transformation from perpetual peasant to success-seeking modern youth" (p. 15). Chatani shows how, when effectively cultivated, this desire to become a modern rural youth, more than an aspiration to become Japanese per se, fueled the vigor with which individuals engaged in seinendan activities, as they attempted to show their moral superiority over urban youth (even in colonies, this rivalry often overshadowed hostility toward imperial presence) and formed emotional attachment to Japanese nationalism.
Chatani locates her study and its subjects firmly in a context of world history, as well as literature on other regions of the globe beyond Japan. She situates Japan's nation-empire ideology in the rise of aggressive imperialism and theories of race in the late nineteenth century, detailing, as well, how it afterward diverged from Western imperialisms, which she argues became less assimilationist in the late nineteen-teens and early nineteen-twenties. Likewise, she shows how the idea of modern rural youth in Japan arose within the larger context of the concept of "youth" coming into its own as a specific social category in the late nineteenth century. In terms of the literature, Chatani makes conscious effort to put her work in conversation with studies of colonialism and postcolonialism in other areas of the world, as well as those that highlight individuals' desires and everyday lives in their relationships with totalitarian governments. Thus, this book will be of interest to those working even outside the field of Japan studies, as well as those taking a world history approach.
Chatani organizes the work largely into three parts: "The So-called Inner Territories," "The So-called Outer Territories," and "Consequences," the last of which discusses events during and after the collapse Japan's empire. (She asserts that the terms "inner territories," naichi, and "outer territories," gaichi, do not necessarily help us to understand village youths' experiences across the empire.) Part One discusses the development of a state-promoted seinendan movement and system and its implication in rural northeastern Japan. Here, Chatani focuses on the experience of a young man named Katō Einojō and the village in which he lived, Shida, in Miyagi prefecture. In an "interlude" before Part Two, she brings up the case of Okinawa, showing that seinendan here were unable to effectively bring about a social mobility complex, leading to a more straightforwardly exploitative system of mobilization. Chatani begins Part Two by discussing colonial intellectuals' inability to bridge the urban-rural gap and thus failure to bring about an appealing alternative to the modern rural youth model offered by the Japanese imperial state. She then goes into the stories of Xu Chongfa and Huang Yuanxing – in Xinzhu province, Taiwan – and Kim Yǒng-han – in South Ch'ungch'ǒng, Korea – discussing in depth their experiences as avid participants in their local seinendan up through the fall of Japan's empire. Finally, in Part Three, Chatani discusses the obstacles youth in colonies faced in being accepted as Japanese, and their aspirations to "become truer Japanese" to show their own ethnic group's superiority, as well as the lingering effects after the war of their seinendan participation (p. 248).
Overall, Nation-Empire is a richly sourced, finely detailed work that will be of interest to scholars not only of Japanese history but also of totalitarianism and the twentieth century, in general. What otherwise might have become a very dense work Chatani infuses with both engaging narration and elucidating organization. The figures she uses to illustrate the graduation paths and institutional relationships within the rural youth training systems of which seinendan were a part are especially helpful. As regards methodology, Chatani also offers a potent example of the possibilities of oral history through her placing of interviews with individual subjects at the heart of her study. For these reasons, as well as the wide breadth of the work's interventions, Nation-Empire is well worth reading.
Publisher's website: https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9781501730757/