Imperial Japan at Its Zenith

Imperial Japan at Its Zenith: The Wartime Celebration of the Empire’s 2,600th Anniversary

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    Imperial Japan at Its Zenith
    Book Description:

    In 1940, Japan was into its third year of war with China, and relations with the United States were deteriorating, but it was a heady time for the Japanese nonetheless. That year, the Japanese commemorated the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the Empire of Japan. According to the imperial myth-history, Emperor Jimmu, descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, established the "unbroken imperial line" in 660 BCE.

    In carefully choreographed ceremonies throughout the empire, through new public monuments, with visual culture, and through heritage tourism, the Japanese celebrated the extension of imperial rule under the 124th emperor, Hirohito. These celebrations, the climactic moment for the ideology that was central to modern Japan's identity until the imperial cult's legitimacy was bruised by defeat in 1945, are little known outside Japan.

    Imperial Japan at Its Zenith, the first book in English about the 2,600th anniversary, examines the themes of the celebration and what they tell us about Japan at mid-century. Kenneth J. Ruoff emphasizes that wartime Japan did not reject modernity in favor of nativist traditionalism. Instead, like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, it embraced reactionary modernism. Ruoff also highlights the role played by the Japanese people in endorsing and promoting imperial ideology and expansion, documenting the significant grassroots support for the cult of the emperor and for militarism.

    Ruoff uses the anniversary celebrations to examine Japan's invention of a national history; the complex relationship between the homeland and the colonies; the significance of Imperial Japan's challenge to Euro-American claims of racial and cultural superiority; the role of heritage tourism in inspiring national pride; Japan's wartime fascist modernity; and, with a chapter about overseas Japanese, the boundaries of the Japanese nation. Packed with intriguing anecdotes, incisive analysis, and revelatory illustrations,Imperial Japan at Its Zenithis a major contribution to our understanding of wartime Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7182-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1940, individuals inside and outside of government in Japan staged one of the most comprehensive and grandiose national commemorations ever, the 2,600th anniversary celebrations of the Empire of Japan. The Japanese defined themselves, their country, and their empire through these anniversary celebrations of Emperor Jimmu’s enthronement in 660 BC. The celebrations represented the climactic moment for the “unbroken imperial line” (bansei ikkei) ideology that was central to modern Japan’s identity until the imperial cult’s legitimacy was bruised by defeat in 1945. These celebrations provide a window through which to examine Imperial Japan (1890–1945) at its zenith.¹

    It is...

    (pp. 27-55)

    In 1939, Shiki Seiji (1894–1964), president of the Newspaper’s Newspaper Company (Shinbun no shinbunsha), decided to build in his home prefecture of Nagano a “2,600th Anniversary Culture Dome” to mark this august anniversary. The 2,600th Anniversary Culture Dome was one of thousands upon thousands of mnemonic sites constructed, in the period centered on 1940, to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the imperial dynasty and to celebrate historical examples both of virtuous rule by the unbroken line of emperors and of the people’s loyalty to the throne. Many of these mnemonic sites survive today, and the 2,600th Anniversary Culture Dome...

    (pp. 56-81)

    Organizers of the 2,600th anniversary celebrations intended for them to be participatory. Communal celebrations of the momentous anniversary suggested the extent of national unity more tangibly than did, for example, atomized individuals and families reading accounts of the national history, important though the national history publishing boom was. Public celebrations also provided imperial subjects with a sense of participating in the affairs of the nation. Organizers of the anniversary celebrations, employing the cultural capital at hand, devised many ways to ensure mass participation.

    Leaders of national and local government agencies, as well as of civil organizations, invited, in some cases...

    (pp. 82-105)

    Tourism is significant both as another form of dutiful consumerism that was popular in wartime Japan and for exemplifying the concept of self-administered citizenship training. Much of the citizenship training that takes place in nation-states throughout the world, whether liberal or authoritarian polities, results not from the heavy hand of the state but from individuals autonomously endeavoring to make themselves and their children into more informed citizens. National heritage tourism is something that states as a rule simply do not force their citizens to do. It is almost always a voluntary activity, far to the opposite side of the continuum...

    (pp. 106-128)

    The empire meant many things to the Japanese. It was a source of national prestige, a provider of raw materials, and a place for settlers to relocate from the cramped archipelago. It was also a tourist destination, even in wartime. Leisure travel to the colonies was especially popular among middle-class Japanese during the 2,600th anniversary year.

    At the same time in 1940 that representatives of the Government Railways of Chōsen (Korea), an integral part of the Government-General of Korea, were endeavoring to promote tourism, officials in the same colonial bureaucracy were strengthening assimilation policies designed to Japanize Koreans. This latter...

    (pp. 129-147)

    Manchuria’s tourism world, dominated by Japanese similarly to that of Korea, had high hopes for more visitors in 1940. On 18–19 January, representatives of the South Manchurian Railway Company, the JTB, and others with an interest in promoting tourism came together for a two-day conference in Harubin (Harbin) to discuss how to lure to Manchuria some of the many foreigners who were expected to visit Japan that year in conjunction with the 2,600th anniversary celebrations.¹ Once the foreign visitors were on the continent, representatives of Manchuria’s tourism sector reasoned, it would be possible to provide them with “correct knowledge...

    (pp. 148-179)

    Defining the Japanese nation at the time of the 2,600th anniversary celebrations, which is already complicated by the ambiguous status of many millions of colonial subjects, is made all the more difficult when one considers where to place, in terms of nation, Japanese emigrant communities located in areas outside of Japan’s political control. There was a global community of Japanese bound together by race, ethnicity, and a shared history. The boundaries of the Japanese nation were fuzzy, however, with some members enjoying or, depending on the circumstances, suffering from transnational identities.

    According to statistics provided by the Japanese government in...

    (pp. 180-188)

    By the time that Imperial Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, the Asia-Pacific War had resulted in the deaths of twenty to thirty million people, mostly Asians. For the Japanese, too, not only in Japan proper but also in the colonies, the last year of the war, the defeat, and its aftermath were catastrophic, a genuine dark valley of death, deprivation, and forced repatriation. In contrast, the overnight collapse of the Empire of Japan represented liberation for long-suffering colonized imperial subjects.

    For Japanese immigrants who had endured internment in the Americas, Japan’s defeat presented the chance, in local environments that...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 189-222)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 223-236)
  15. Color Images
    (pp. None)