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Bibliographic Data: Watt, Lori. When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009.

Main Argument: Watt argues that "the unmaking of empires everywhere is a complex process, and the human remnants of Japan's empire--those who were moved and those who were left behind--served as sites of negotiation for the process of disengagement from empire and for the creation of new national identities" (1). Arguing that "Japan's empire facilitated a degree of ethnic mixing in East Asia not seen before or since," Watt also points out that "the postwar settlement, more than the war itself, shaped East Asia in the latter half of the twentieth century," as the Allies unceremoniously moved people en masse to suit their vision of a world in which the boundaries of nations matched those of states (2, 3) [because ethnic mixing was seen as the casus bellum for the predations of Hitler. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt's remark: "There are no minorities."].

Historiographical Engagement: John Dower, Embracing Defeat; Franziska Seraphim, War Memory and Social Politics; Ruth Rogaski, Hygenic Modernity

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Watt discusses three transformations of postwar Asia: first, that it was "more ethnically homogeneous than it had been during the time of the Japanese empire;" "the uneven and incomplete process of absorbing and re-categorizing the fragments of empire within Japan," namely the process by which both colonial and metropolitan Japanese had to construct a new non-imperial identity; and finally the process by which the multiethnic empire of Japan, the center of the region, came to be "a monotonic nation on the far edge of the American sphere of influence" (4, 5)--Fukuzawa Yukichi's "leaving Asia" accomplished at last. According to Watt, "this process of 'third party decolonization' profoundly influenced the uneven, incomplete, and vexed dissolution of Japan's empire in Asia" (12). Another thing that vexed this process was the friction of reintegrating colonial Japanese--who gave the lie to the "either/or" dynamic of what it meant to be Japanese--and unfinished business with Korea and China, to say nothing of the role that the "Shôwa single-digit generation," which included people who returned from the colonies as children or teenagers, many of whom became the leading lights of postwar culture (not coincidentally, as they felt isolated from "ordinary") Japanese.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the "new maps of Asia" created by the Allies at will in the postwar settlement. Several vast categories of people had to be repatriated--Japanese military personnel from all over Asia; Japanese civilians from Korea, Manchuria, and Taiwan; and finally imperial subjects who were resident in Japan at the end of the war. Metropolitan and colonial Japanese, moreover, had diametrically different experiences of defeat (release from or beginning of misery) and of time (moving forward from surrender versus entering a period of limbo), and these differences of experience soon became social realities when repatriates (hikiagesha) returned to the "home islands."

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at what Watt calls "the co-production of the repatriate," the process by which repatriates, formerly colonial Japanese, "served as useful foils for re-inventing the formerly metropolitan Japanese who were rendered as the peace-loving citizens of the postwar nation of Japan" (97), who were also thus insulated from the fact of the imperial project. While homeland Japanese were thus "ordinary people," returnees were stuck with that label, and with their memories.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the gendered experiences of two distinct groups of returnees: female civilians from Manchuria and male soldiers from Siberia--although their experiences had been qualitatively different, the bureaucracy of repatriation collapsed them into a single category. Manchurian women in particular were seen as a threat, as they were presumably bringing mixed-race children (the result of sexual assaults and rapes perpetrated upon them by the Red Army) and venereal disease back with them to Japan (both as a consequence of the former and of the supposedly loose Manchurian mores). Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that many women had abortions either before or after repatriation, or that they left mixed-race children behind on the continent. Perhaps not coincidentally, abortion was legalized in Japan in 1948, only the second country in the world to do so. The often-violent experiences of colonial women were appropriated to serve the ends of postcolonial discourse; as Watt sums up, "the empire left Japan masculine and military, but when empire came home in 1946, it was feminine, victimized, treated for foreign contaminants, and hopefully never heard from again" (124). When Siberian POWs began to be repatriated in 1949, having mostly begun espousing communist views, "a new image of a repatriate emerged: a man, possibly ideologically contaminated, whose masculinity in terms of being able to support his family had been compromised" (133).

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the representations of repatriates in literature, songs, and film: "the association of sexual contamination with Japanese women in Manchuria, confusion about identity, and explorations of the fates of those left behind are three persistent themes in repatriate-related postwar culture" (139). Works were created about repatriation by repatriates, works by repatriates not directly addressing repatriation, works not by repatriates addressing repatriation, and works by non-repatriates that used repatriates as a device or a linkage (such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). Watt concludes that "the processes of repatriation shaped many Japanese writers and artists, which in turn shaped cultural production in Japan" (165). To summarize the representations of repatriates in popular culture by quoting a line from Ôshima Nagisa's Gishiki: "We managed to escape from the Russians, the Manchurians, and the Koreans without any problems. In the end, it was the Japanese who got us" (qtd. 166).

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the experience of "orphans and women left behind in China," and how their return "thwarted domestic efforts to bring the issue of repatriation to an end" even as, by the 1980s when many refunifications happened, the figure of the "orphans" "revealed that the social usefulness of the figure of hikiagesha had run its course" (173). Watt concludes that "from the 1950s, public discussions on repatriation moved in the directions of compensation, historical narration, and commemoration" (187). Returnees from former colonial spaces beginning in the 1970s and becoming more common in the 1980s, however, were slotted not into the old buffer-between-imperialism hikiagesha discourse but into the new discourse of foreign migrants to a rich Japan, revealing that the social need to discriminate between former colonial and metropolitan Japanese was now absent.

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples This conclusion gets into (too briefly!) "third-party decolonization and post-imperial Japan" via the experience of Okinawa, which were detached from Japan in 1945 by the American Occupation and which remained American territory (U.S. citizens did not need passports to go there) until 1972, under the discourse of the "Ryukyus" as an ethnically distinct region and people. Thus Okinawans too were deported to and from various islands to match Allied notions of ethnic nation-states. This is another aspect of the global postwar "unmixing of peoples," drawing on the work of Rogers Brubaker. Comparing the experiences of other colonial populations such as the pieds noirs of Algeria, Watt concludes ultimately that the experience of Japanese repatriates shows that "stigmatization of former colonial participants is one of the ways that metropolitan societies move away from their histories of colonization" (200).
Critical assessment: Overall, this is a useful study of an aspect of Japan’s post-imperial experience that has been overlooked despite its obvious consequences for postwar Japan and postwar East Asia: the process of repatriation to Japan and the construction of the repatriate as a troubled, marginalized figure in Japan. While I appreciated Watt’s study very much, I found myself wishing strongly that she had engaged in a more comparative approach at points.

In particular, two areas where a comparative analysis would have provided further illumination stand out for me. The first is Watt’s casual assertion that the imperial geography of the Japanese empire (i.e. a core archipelago surrounded by an outer ring of colonies) was “particular” to the Japanese empire (32). While the geography of imperial Japan was unusual in the modern era, at least one major classical empire—Rome—possessed a “ring” imperial structure in several stages of its history, which in the Roman case had interesting repercussions for the discourses of metropolitan/provincial and civilization/barbarity as the empire developed.

Another area that sorely cries out for a comparative analysis is Watt’s discussion of the sexual violence Japanese (and presumably non-Japanese) women in Manchuria suffered at the hands of the invading Red Army. Mass sexual violence was a notable feature of the Red Army’s occupation of territory in both the Asian and European theaters; I immediately wondered what an autobiographical account such as the Japanese equivalent of A Woman in Berlin might have added to Watt’s analysis.

The conclusion, by contrast, has a different problem, which is that Watt uses it to raise a potentially interesting comparative point (the ethnic homogenization of Europe and Asia following World War Two, in contrast to the ethnic heterogeneity that was a common feature of the modern, so-called “national” empires) only to briefly discuss “ethnic sorting” and to conclude that there’s more to be done. Personally, I find the point that the ethnic makeup of modern empires were not uniform to be a potentially fascinating comparative point, but Watt’s discussion is very result-oriented (i.e. possibly the most ethnically homogeneous point in history).

Watt’s study has several large benefits, not least of which is illuminating the connections between Japan’s immediate post-imperial period and its more recent present (I had never known the true origin of the derogatory term sangokujin, for example, until reading this book). In the end, this is a competent, nicely organized foundational survey that will probably serve well as a spur for someone else to write a more inspired analysis of some of its aspects, such as cultural production.

Further reading: Andrew E. Barshay, The Gods Left First; Uchida Jun, Brokers of Empire; Christopher Bolton, Sublime Voices

Meta notes: Historians are not always qualified for artistic analysis.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-02-05 23:42 (UTC)
lnhammer: pen-and-ink drawing of an annoyed woman dressed as a Heian-era male courtier saying "......"  (dot dot dot)
From: [personal profile] lnhammer
Historians are not always qualified for artistic analysis.


Er, no, they are not.

Edited (rhetorical flourish) Date: 2014-02-05 23:42 (UTC)


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Andrea J. Horbinski

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