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City and empire – local identity and regional imperialism in 1930s Japan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 May 2008

201 9-17 Hoshima-machi, Kanazawa, Japan 921-8101


The formation of Manchuria in 1932 gave local cities along the Japan Sea coast new hope for development. However, their interpretation of imperialism was in terms of the city rather than the nation. The ways in which these discourses of nation and region played out in ideas of urban development are particularly clear in Kanazawa, the major city on the Japan Sea coast, in the rhetoric surrounding the presentation of empire and region in its exposition that spring.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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1 A ‘regional city’ in Japanese urban studies of the modern period is usually classified as a city other than the ‘Six Major Cities’ of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Nagoya and Kobe.

2 See for example Smith, Henry D. II, ‘Tokyo as an idea: an exploration of Japanese urban thought until 1945’, Journal of Japanese Studies, 4 (1978), 4580CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 See for example Wigen, Karen, The Making of a Japanese Periphery (Berkeley, 1995)Google Scholar.

4 Baxter, James C., The Meiji Restoration through the Lens of Ishikawa Prefecture (Cambridge, MA, 1994)Google Scholar.

5 Lewis, Michael, Becoming Apart: National Power and Local Politics in Toyama 1868–1945 (Cambridge, MA, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Young, Louise, Japan's Total Empire (Los Angeles, 1998)Google Scholar.

7 For details in English on the history and development of Kanazawa during the Edo period, see McClain, James, Kanazawa, a Seventeenth-Century Castle Town (New Haven, 1982)Google Scholar.

8 Tsuchiya Atsuo, ‘Research on historical and industrial cities in the modern era’, Kanazawa University of Technology, Ph.D. thesis, 1993. It should be noted, however, that until the first proper census in 1919, Japanese population statistics are subject to considerable debate due to inconsistency in measuring. In the pre-modern period statistics are especially unreliable as official population records did not count the samurai. However, while specific figures may vary by researcher, the drastic drop in population is thoroughly documented.

9 The Kanazawa Chamber of Commerce had some interesting things to say about local reactions to department stores. It noted that: ‘Modern people's desire for strolls is an addiction, the so-called gin-bura [Ginza Strolling]. Working inside at a desk all day, they look for a release out of the home, their psychological centre is the entertainment areas (sakari-ba)’, and then went on to quote from an American Department of Commerce report, noting that ‘what people buy in department stores is riding in elevators, going into beautiful western-style lavatories . . . what they are putting the emphasis on is looking [rather than shopping]’ (Kanazawa Chamber of Commerce Monthly, Aug. 1931). Thus department stores, in the downtown entertainment areas of the cities, presented an escape from the real world by providing a fantasy of the modern, Western, lifestyle. The same unreal fantasy space was found to an even greater extent in the temporary festival of commerce and industry that was the modern exposition.

10 Shunya, Yoshimi, Hakurankai no Seijigaku (Tokyo, 1992), 214Google Scholar.

11 Hokkoku Shimbun, 12 Sep. 1930.

12 Kanazawa City Council Records, 27 Nov. 1930.

13 The connection between architecture and the vision for Kanazawa was made clear in the official record of the exposition, published by the city office: Kanazawa-shi Shusai Sangyō to Kankō no Dai-Hakurankai-shi (Kanazawa, 1933), 48.

14 However, while Kanazawa was the first city to announce it would hold a tourism exposition, the city of Okayama actually opened their ‘Tourism Exposition’ a bit earlier, on 1 Apr. 1932.

15 For example, see the statements made by former Major Tanaka Ryūkichi, as noted by Eguchi Keiichi in Shōwa no Rekishi 4: Jūgonen Sensō no Kaimaku (Tokyo, 1988), 144. Major Tanaka has stated that it was he, working under the orders of the Guangdong Army High Command, who paid Chinese to attack the Japanese priests, and who ordered the attack by the factory.

16 Kanazawa City Council Records, 12 Jun. 1932.

17 ‘I do not get the impression that this Sino-Japanese Incident [Shanghai Incident] has any danger of expanding to the extent that we need to cancel the exposition’ (Kanazawa City Council Records, 17 Feb. 1932, Mayor Yoshikawa's statement).

18 Hokuriku Mainichi Shimbun, 24 Feb. 1932.

19 The governor's statement was quoted in the Hokkoku Shimbun, 2 Mar. 1932.

20 See for example Young, Japan's Total Empire, in English, and Eguchi, Jūgonen Sensō, in Japanese. Sasaki Takashi's Media to Kenryoku (Media and Power), vol. 14 of the Chūō Kōron-sha Nihon no Kindai series (Tokyo, 1999) goes into even more detail about the role of the media in modern Japan.

21 Sasaki gives circulations of the Hokkoku at 50,000, and the Hokuriku Mainichi at 25,000 (Sasaki, Media to Kenryoku, 347).

22 Yoshimi, Hakurankai no Seijigaku.

23 Written with the characters for ‘army’ and ‘deity’, this should not be confused with the word for ‘soldier’ (also ‘gunjin’) written ‘army’ and ‘person’.

24 Hokuriku Mainichi Shimbun, 12 Apr. 1932.

25 Hokuriku Mainichi Shimbun, 12 Feb. 1932.

26 In reality, the three men had no intention of killing themselves: the fuse attached to their explosive was mistakenly made far too short, not allowing them time to plant the bomb and retreat. However, this was not public knowledge until after World War II. See Eguchi, Jūgonen Sensō, 154. In Japan's Total Empire, Young, citing Eguchi, also briefly discusses this issue.

27 The quote is from Eguchi, Jūgonen Sensō, 158. See also Hiroshi, Motayasu, Gunto no Irei Kūkan (Tokyo, 2002)Google Scholar, and Young, Japan's Total Empire, 75.

28 Hakurankai-hō, vol. 29, 10 May 1937. The Hakurankai- was the official exposition newspaper, published by the Kanazawa Chamber of Commerce, to provide publicity for the upcoming exposition.

29 Hokkoku Shimbun, 20 Apr. 1932.

30 Hokuriku Mainichi, 8 Apr. 1932

31 The concept of war as something that involved mass sacrifice, not necessarily of life but of time, money and effort, was a relatively recent one. Eguchi, Jūgonen Sensō, deals briefly with this, but a far better idea is gained from the numerous slim (and not-so-slim) volumes compiled at the time extolling the virtues of sacrifice and listing hundreds of small tales of ordinary people or soldiers going the extra mile. One notable volume, Gunkoku Nippon Ketsurui-shi (History of the Blood and Tears of Military Japan) (Tokyo, 1936), has over 750 pages of ‘inspirational tales’ from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 to the Shanghai Incident.

32 Young, Japan's Total Empire, 78.

33 This concept is treated at some length in Yoshimi, Hakurankai no Seijigaku, 266. For further discussion of the role of panoramas in Meiji-period Japan, see Hosouma Hiromichi, ‘Panorama-kan kara Hakurankai he’, in Shunya, Hashizume (ed.), Nihon no Hakurankai (Tokyo, 2005)Google Scholar, and Hiromichi, Hosouma, Asakusa Jūnikai – Tō no Nagame to ‘Kindai’ no manazashi (Tokyo, yy2001)Google Scholar.

34 See Eguchi, Jūgonen Sensō, 23. Also in English see Young, Japan's Total Empire, for discussion on the ‘lifeline’ issue and the general attitude of the Japanese public towards Manchuria, and Lewis, Becoming Apart, for treatment of how it was seen from Toyama Prefecture. Population worries, loss of export markets due to anti-Japanese feeling in China and the need to ensure a steady supply of raw materials all influenced Japanese attitudes towards Manchuria. However, there was a considerable amount of variation within the country, and in the Hokuriku region the main connection between ‘lifeline’ rhetoric and Manchuria was economic – an almost literal ‘lifeline’ of trade routes.

35 ‘Hokuriku’ and ‘Hokkoku’ literally mean ‘North Coast’ and ‘North Country’ respectively, being north of the old capital of Kyoto.

36 Hokkoku Shimbun, 10 Mar. 1932.

37 Hokkoku Shimbun, 12 Apr. 1932.

38 Hokkoku Shimbun, 6 Apr. 1932.

39 See chapter 5 of Lewis, Becoming Apart, for some excellent examples in English of the type of rhetoric that was typical of jingoistic journalism after the victories over China and Russia.

40 From Jílín in Manchuria to Hoeryong in Korea.

41 These comments were made two separate submissions: one in the ‘Memorandum concerning the Urgent Development of the Tsurumi-Kanazawa Railroad’ and one in the ‘Memorandum concerning the Construction of Kanazawa Port’, both submitted to the council on 1 Dec. 1932. In both cases, the argument was the same.

42 Hokkoku Shimbun, 3 Feb. 1932.

43 Such sentiments were by no means restricted to Kanazawa of course, but were common throughout the more peripheral regions. See Lewis, Becoming Apart, for details on the relationship between Toyama Prefecture and the central government, and the distrust of the region for the centre. However, it is particularly clear in Kanazawa's case because the city was not attempting to rise up from comparative backwardness, but was attempting to regain former glory. Hence there was a very strong and unique historical consciousness at work here.

44 Both comments were made at a conference organized by the Osaka Asahi newspaper's Kanazawa Bureau on 22 Mar. 1932 and reported in the Osaka Asahi's Ishikawa edition on 27 Mar. and 31 Mar.

45 The traditional shop had a reception/showroom at the front, where customers would sit, and be shown samples brought in from the storage areas. Since the showroom areas were ‘living’ areas, raised off the ground and floored in wood or tatami mats, it was often said that Kanazawa lacked ‘modern-style shops where one did not need to take ones shoes off’.

46 , Kamoi, Kanazawa shin fūkei (Kanazawa, 1933)Google Scholar.

47 Kanazawa Chamber of Commerce Monthly, Mar. 1935, 28.

48 For details on the development of trading ports along the Japan Sea coast, see Tadao, Furumaya, Ura Nihon – Kindai Nihon o Toi-naosu (Tokyo 1997)Google Scholar, and Ken'ichi, Yoshii, Kan-Nihonkai Chiiki Shakai no Kenkyū (Tokyo, 2000)Google Scholar. Furumaya cites 1929 statistics that give a mere 1 per cent to Hokuriku ports, with Kobe and Osaka together totalling just over half all shipping in terms of value.