Frontiers and Borderlands of Japanese (Language) Literature by nishi masahiko

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Frontiers and Borderlands of Japanese (Language) Literature

by NISHI Masahiko

I.  Gaichi and Indigenous Literature

In present-day Japan, the term gaichi” (for ”Japanese overseas territories”) is an obsolete word. The reason for this is because immediately following defeat in World War II, Japan had to relinquish all of its colonial territories. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the Japan of today confirms exactly to what was former mainland, ”naichi” (or ”Japan proper”). The inception of systematic emigration of Japanese people to Hokkaido began with the annexation of this northern territory as a new frontier in 1869. Ever since then, immigrants to Hokkaido have identified themselves as ”naichi-jin” (or ”people from Japan proper”). One should probably think of this manner of identification as the daily work of affirmation of the historical fact that the former ”Ezo-chi” (the land of Ezo) was not originally a Japanese territory. The same type of affirmation work is made also by the Ainu when they called immigrants from the Japanese interior by the name of ”Shamo” (neighbor in Ainu) or ”Wa-jin” (nickname of Japanese people).

Similar to the present circumstances and history of the aboriginal peoples of the American continents, there are many occasions when modern borders cut into and divide the spaces in which aboriginal people conduct their daily lives. And it is not rare for aboriginal tribes to become embroiled in national border disputes and be ordered to abandon their previous borders. It would not be overstating things to say that modern Japan took its first step as an imperial nation when it took the region called ”Hokkaido” and made it into a national territory rather than a zone along Japanese borders.

However, ever since Ezo-chi was annexed as a national territory, the Ainu became targets of assimilation, and no matter how much they tried to accept living reforms that changed their livelihood from hunting and collecting to farming, it took time before they were regarded the same as migrants who had moved in from the interior. As for the relations between immigrants and indigenous peoples, they laid the foundation for a structure of discrimination that can be called nothing short of racism. The expression ”Kyû-Dojin” (for ”former aborigine”) found in the Hokkaido Ainu Protection Act (1899) revealed one aspect of this. Along with its discrimination against ”new commoners” (shin-heimin), modern Japan renewed its embrace of discrimination with its posture toward ”former aborigines.”

Just as with other exmples of every region of the world where aboriginal tribes have succumbed to the political and socio-cultural pressures of immigrants, the literature of Hokkaido has produced since the Meiji period can be classified into the following four categories.

1) Immigrant literature. Starting with the settlers and colonizers who looked to the old warrior class as their ancestral body, the laborers who interoduced and developed large-scale farming, mining, and fishing industries (which included overseas workers and victimes who were brought over from Korea) are the people who constitute the mainstream of Hokkaido literature. Exemplars of this category are Arishima Takeo’s ”The Descendants of Cain” (1917), Kobayashi Takiji’s ”The Crab Canning Boat” (1929) ; Lee Hoesung’s ”Again Another Road” (1969).

2) Reports on indigenous culture made by intellectuals who visited in the name of conducting missionary or scientific surveys. The pioneers in this field were the Englishman, John Batchelor, the Pole, Bronislaw Pilsudski and the Japanese linguist, Kindaichi Kyôsuke.

3) Members of indigenous groups who expressed themselves (sometimes bilingually) and had won the favor of the above-mentioned intellectuals. This applies to people such as Chiri Yukie, the transcriber and translator of ”Collected Songs of Ainu Gods” (1923) and the poet Batchelor Yaeko who wrote ”For the Young Ainu” (1931).

While they also seemed apparently servile to colonialist Japan’s policy, they should probably be considered as representatives of Ainu descent who, through literary expression, protested against the stereotype of the ”disintegrating Ainu.” This attitude, which pushed Ainu consciousness to the forefront while using the Japanese language, was succeeded to the work of younger Ainu writers such as Iboshi Hokuto and Moritake Takeichi. The decline of Ainu language and culture is increasingly serious, but the contributions to Japanese language literature by indigenous peoples are expectable with an eye to the future. The rise of indigenous literature in all places around the world make it certain.

4) Real experiences of naichi writers who aimed to face down the coloniality of Hokkaido. In addition to early efforts like Chûjo Yuriko’s ”Koropokkurs Come Riding upon the Winds” (written in 1918) and Oguma Hideo’s ”A Flying Sleigh” (1935), works such as Takeda Taijun’s ”The Festival of the Wood and Lake” (1958) and Ikezawa Natsuki’s ”The Peaceful Earth” (2003) constitute another one of the most forward battle lines of modern literature that critically considers the role that the indigenous-embracing nation-state should play.

This paper intends to focus on how Japanese people (that is, people from the mainland) and indigenous and local people existed in the space called gaichi, and how the shape of that experimental co-existence was treated in literature. Imperial Japan gradually expanded the space that became its overseas territories, and it not only sent people there from the homeland there, but it also forced the Japanese language on local people who were not from the mainland, and, with this ”national langauge”, it encouraged their participation in literature. In short, gaichi literature is the collaborative work of Japanese settlers from the interior and native inhabitants of the exterior. To say what follows in advance, I would like, above all, to confirm that Hokkaido was the place that served as the first test site for this collaborative work.

II.   The Continental and Southern Advances

Concurrent with its advance to the north, Imperial Japan turned to the Asian Continent and South Sea Islands as it pushed forward with the expansion of territory and the emigration of Japanese from the homeland. This included events such as the cession of Taiwan (1895) by Q’ing China, the acquisition of South Sakhalin and the take-over of concession rights to the Liaodong peninsula (1905) from Russia, the annexing of Korea (1910) in the absorbed form of the Kingdom of Joseon and the military occupation and take-over of the Micronesian Islands, a former German territory, on the coattails of World War I. (The territory of Okinawa, derived from the ”disposition of the Ryûkyû” (Ryûkyû shobun) will be discussed separately in Section V.) In these regions, the extra-territorial acquisition of possessions by Westerners took place from the mid-nineteenth century on. And there were also cases like the Kingdom of Jesong, which like Japan, embarked on establishing itself as a modern nation-state in order to protect the Western colonization. There were also regions like Taiwan where, since the Q’ing period, a deadlock had already developed between Chinese immigrants and various native groups. However, the longer each region’s history was, the more Japanese people from the homeland projected these overseas territories as lands overflowing with exoticism. Immigrants from Japan proper to these lands, which relative to Hokkaido were densely populated, tended to be military personnel, government officials, merchants and female laborers. And, unlike in Hokkaido, active labor movements centering on people from the mainland were rare. But in its place, powerful government rule was needed in order to suppress anti-Japanese ethnic movements.

The development of railroad networks and the expansion of sea routes in China and the South Sea caused an acceleration of human traffic between Japan proper and its overseas territories. A lot of gaichi literature took the form of travel journals. And while, during the Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars, this literature was still the exclusive domain of soldiers like Mori Ôgai and war correspondents like Tayama Katai, from Taishô period on, it became a new field of Japanese literature in which anyone could participate.

Japanese rule, which put the Taiwanese colonial governor’s office at the apex, often encountered armed uprising by Taiwanese natives. Satô Haruo, who visited Taiwan as a traveler, left a short sketch in the form of a travel journal, ”Musha” (1925), which stages a small mountain village immediately after a bloody insurrection by indigenous militants. The work not only depicts the scars carved into indigenous society by Japanese rule, but also portrays the everyday lives of native and Japanese women who earns a scant living in the Taiwanese hinterland. It demonstrates the new possibility of gaichi literature. In addition to interoducing indigenous Taiwanese folklore, Satô’s ”Demon Bird” (1923) makes a dig at the ‘civilized nation’ that, manipulated by groundless rumors, massacred numerous Koreans immediately after the Great Kantô Earthquake. It is a work that is extremely critical of civilization.

According to many people from the interior, the overseas territories offered alluring new jobs. Nakanishi Inosuke, who was a journalist of The Pyongyang Daily Newspaper, had the experience of being imprisoned for exposing the oppression of miners after the annexation of Korea. Human contacts with Korean prisoners are skillfully drawn on in his work, ”Those Fed by Red Earth” (1922). Even among the experiments of Japanese-written Korean literature, his attitude calling for solidarity through literature is outstanding. It protested against the moral decay of Korean society at a historical time when the movement for the recovery of independence was being entirely suppressed and the land was being plundered. Nakanishi was also engaged in the translation and introduction of Korean-language novels.

Nakajima Atsushi found employment in the South Sea Agency of Palau in 1941. He had spent his childhood in Korea together with his father, who worked as a junior high school teacher in Seoul. In ”Mariyan” (1942) he depicts a female member of the island intelligentsia who had previously studied abroad in Japan as a symbolic character of the Pacific Islands on the road to modernization. In the 1920s and 1930s, the introduction of works that made a point of selling ”exoticism” got udnerway in Japan: for example, Loti and Gide from the French-speaking world, and Stevenson and Conrad from the English (Stevenson was one of the most favorite writers of Nakajima). Such conditions of this era are reflected in the discovery of a Japanese translation of ”Le marriage de Loti” on the bookshelf of the Kanak woman, Mariyan.

Shanghai was a port city that underwent rapid growth, with the English and the French concessions established at the end of the Opium war. Many industrials and intelligentsia from Japan also began to stream to Shanghai. Surely it can be said that Yokomitsu Riichi’s ”Shanghai” (1928-31) was a book that truly excelled among Japanese novels that depicted the cosmopolitan city. The work skillfully distributes characters who color the landscape of Shanghai: from a Japanese man who feels that ”physically-occupied space is flowing unremittingly into the hands of Japanese territory” to a Japanese woman who works in a ”Turkish bath”; to Russian beggars and prostitutes who wander through Asia after abandoning post-revolutionary Russia: and finally to a female activist of the Chinese Communist Party. Meanwhile, in addition to creating a vivid profile of the Shanghai at the time of Shanghai Incident, this is a work that cynically depicts Japanese people’s wandering in Asia. In order to take a literary and historical look back on to the Shanghai of the 20th century, the Japanese, Chinese and Korean do not suffice. A comparative literary approach that goes as far as including languages like English, French and Russian would be certainly indispensable.

However, along with the intensification of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japanese overseas territories including Shanghai were being pushed to culturally reorganize within the vaporous construct of ”Greater East Asia.” It was the coming of a period when anyone using this region as a base of activity for self-expression had to state his position as either ”pro-” or ”anti-Japanese.” (For writing in Japanese, it became a situation where people practically did not have the option to be ”anti-Japanese.”) A clear example of this is the Greater East Asian Conference of Writers held by the Japanese Literary Patriotic Association from 1942 to 1944. At these events, writers representing not only all regions of Imperial Japan but also ”pro-Japanese” writers of Manchukuo and Nanjing government were invited. Looking back from the present, it would be easy to declare that it was a farce. It would be crucial, however, to make this problematic event into something from which we can learn, that is, that the ritual of an international writers’ conference has the propensity for factionalism.

Tanaka Hidemitsu’s ”Drunken Boat” (1948) is a retrospective novel that depicts a literary circle composed of Japanese and Koreans who welcome Manchukuo writers in Seoul after they have attended the Second Greater East Asian Conference of Writers in Tokyo in 1943. Its portrayal of official, pro-govenrment Japanese writers in overseas territories as a ‘drunken boat” is interesting.

  1. Literature of Overseas Migrant Territories – North America, South America and Manchukuo

New territories of the Greater Japan absorbed quite a lot of ambitious Japanese people but Taiwan and Korea, which had dense populations, did not necessarily provide adequate conditions as the promised land where subsistence farmers from the mainland could move. Consequently, as destinations of migrants from Japan proper, places like Hawaii (a U.S. territory from 1898) and North America along with Hokkaido were attractive. The speculations of postal shipping and emigration companies also operated widely in the beginning of 1890s. It was the holy trinity: agricultural reform, maritime transportation and colonization policies. (A similar example of situation of this type can be seen in overseas emigration operation of Germany.)

North America (especially the U.S.) was not necessarily the dream destination of agricultural and fishing migrants alone. With exchange students like Tsuda Umeko and Uchimura Kanzô who learned at the east coast, school students who worked as house servants (kinrô gakusei) went one after another chiefly to the west coast starting in the 1880s. Under this backdrop, there was an amendment to the conscription law that permitted applications from young men currently studying abroad to postpone their military conscription. There was an admiration for the ‘sacred land of freedom’ among young people who were discouraged after fighting for the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement. The political hues of journeys of people such as Katayama Sen and Kôtoku Shûsui to America were deep. In ”The Broken Commandment” (1906), Shimazaki Tôson attributes his main protagonist with a resolve to ‘go to Texas.’ The meaning of Segawa Ushimatsu’s crossing to America was supposed to be closer to that of a working student or a political exile. Winning popularity with the expression ”Merican Jap” in the early Shôwa Era, Tani Jôji’s portrayal of America is extremely important for considering the acute experiences of Japanese student workers in America. In addition, later there were distinctive Japanese who found their lifework while studying abroad in the United States. There were people like Yone Noguchi (Noguchi Yonejirô), who became known as an English-language poet; Abiko Kyûtaro, the founder of Japanese newspaper of San Francisco, ”Nichibei Times”; and Maedakô Hiroichirô, the proletarian writer.

However, for migrants working abroad, the American cultural topography, which was probably fascinating in the eyes of young, empty-handed people, did not fully satisfy their dreams in the same way. The racist gaze that was directed at Chinese laborers was also directed at Japanese ones, and the emigration/immigration framework that was supposed to be guaranteed through intergovernmental cooperation was curtailed. No matter how much first generation Japanese immigrants (issei) aspired for permanent residency, they were kept away from citizenship. They were stigmatized as ”people incapable of assimilation.” The Japanese migrants organized their own Japanese society, and they had no other choice but to discover their positions of expression and political claims based on their own identity.

Okina Kyûin, who was himself an author, was a theorist who advocated the importance of literary activity in places where Japanese had migrated. ”From now on, Japanese living in America are cutting short their lives as emigrants (imin); it is time to embark on life as immigrants (ijûmin). Through our descendants, we will certainly acquire people after the mid-twentieth century who, using world-class languages – using English – will write stories. Until that day arrives, we, as intermediaries, must profess, according to the traditions of the Japanese people, the emotional pain that we have endured in another country.” In 1924, Okina proffered these remarks and then returned to Japan. This was the year that emigration operations from Japan to the U.S. were completely suspended. After this until the end of the Second World War, the North American community of Japanese people encountered a winter-like season.

When the emigration boom to North America ended, Brazil became the country that was the new center of attention. Pre-departure Japanese dreams of a ‘Brazil steeping in the business of coffee’ were immediately smashed after their arrival. But Japanese-language journalism established by those who escaped from the contractual farmlands came to life, and a literary fever took off. In overseas Japanese societies there were many general enthusiasts of haiku and waka, and among the migrants who came to Brazil after finishing Japanese education, there was no small number of people who had gained a basic literary knowledge before leaving Japan.

Ishikawa Tatsuzô’s debut work of fame, ”The Grass-like People” (1935-1940) is a semi-autobiographical documentary novel based on his own experiences of boarding the same ship as migrants traveling overseas. The novel does not go as far as depicting the process of Japanese immigrants getting established in Brazil. And the appearance that the novel is riding the wave of gaichi literature of that same period is strong. (This novel is the first novel to receive the Akutagawa Prize, which constituted an authority that encouraged gaichi literature.) Around the same time, Japanese language literature from Brazil was in a stage of strengthening its foundation, as it moved toward a realization of the ideals that Okina Kyûin of the United Sates advocated earlier. Japanese language literature in Brazil called itself ”Colonia Literature.” (In pre-war-defeat Japan it was customary to call any land of overseas migration by the name of Colony (shokumin-chi).)

However, with the beginning of the 1930s, pressures to assimilate heightened even in Brazil, and racist policies that limited the number of non-European immigrants were being adopted. Accordingly, Manchukuo soon materialized as the destination for sending laborers from the Japanese homeland.

Originally, as an overseas territory infused with exoticism, the leased land of Kwantung (Dairen), like Shanghai, was seen as the sacred land of modern literature. And then Manchukuo, setting its capitol in Hsinking (present-day Changchun), became the testing grounds for a new national policy in literature. Moreover, unlike other overseas territories, the multi-lingualism and culturalism of the Manchukuo Empire were championed by the slogan ”Harmony between the Five Nations” (gozoku-kyôwa). Just as the American continents of Japanese immigrants had come to be seen as a new location for Japanese-language literature, Manchukuo also became a country where Japanese-language literature could blossom. Manchukuo should not have been a country where Japanese as one of the minorities had to suffer destitution and privation. But Manchukuo was not one of the gaichi’s by its nature, because, if it was to be an independent nation at all, it was necessary to ensure a place for the activities of non-Japanese, ethnically or linguistically, writers, for example, Nikolai Baikov, the russian (-language) writer and Imamura Eiji, the Japanese-language writer of Korean descent.

But, as a result, the dream of Manchurian literature proved to be no more than a dream. The majority of anticipated Chinese-language writers from the northern part of China went off to Shanghai, which was the center of anti-Japanese literature. Another reason is that Manchukuo itself collapsed, just after having furnished a location for the activities of vangard and converted writers who had come from the mainland―and soon after opening the door for Japanese writers who were born or raised in Manchukuo.

  1. War Defeat and Total Repatriation

On August 15, 1945 (in Japan Time) approximately 6,600,000 Japanese encountered the end of the war abroad in the overseas territories. Representing more than nine percent of Japan’s total population of roughly 70,000,000 (leaving out those who had departed for the ”colonies” in foreign countries), this was a dreadful number. As a reference, the following is a breakdown of the location of the 6,600,000 people:

    • The military district of Russia (Manchuria, Nothern Korea, Sakhalin and Kurile Islands): 2,720,000

    • Military district of China (China – excluding Manchuria, Taiwan and Nothern French Indochine): 2,000,000

    • Military district of the U.S. (the Philippines, Southern Korea and area of the North Pacific Islands): 990,000

    • Military district of Australia (Borneo and Eastern New Guinea): 140,000

    • Military district of Southeast Asia (Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands, excluding all regions mentioned above): 750,000

Spanning the Extreme East to Southeast Asia, this Japanese occupation zone (the area where Japanese from the mainland advanced) rushed into a long process of decolonization in the form of repatriation and political reshuffling. Consequently, at the outset, it was necessary that the Japanese in these regions be completely moved out. The wishes of the Japanese side, which aimed to guarantee the safety of the Japanese people, were in accord with the policy of evacuation.

The mass migration of people after the war defeat caused the circulation of a large quantity of documentary literature in Japanese markets. Its majority glorified the experiences of military campaigns and the life-endangering experiences of repatriation. Although they were works that exaggerated and reminisced nostalgically about life in the overseas territories, the mission of the post-war writers was to build the ethical bulwark called literature against this type of artless, recollective taste. As a result, the writers struggled against war heroism as well as forgetting that comes from the trauma of combat and evacuation.

Ôoka Shôhei, who wrote ”Taken Captive: A Japanese POW’s Story” (1947) and ”Fires on the Plain” (1951), gave himself the task of giving words to extreme experiences. A repatriate from the American military zone himself, Ôoka Shôhei, used calculated literary techniques to depict a Japanese war prisoner’s experience of moving from a sense of shame to criminality following liberation by U.S. armed forces. Moreover, despite looking back on his experiences in the military in the Philippines, he feared that the process of using one’s personal experiences alone might facilitate the rise of a cliquish citizentry through collective war memories. Thus, ”A Record of the Battle of Leite” (1971) was another effort to flesh out the memories of the battle of Leite according to Philippine people and American soldiers as well.

One could say that these experiments constitute Japan’s response to the post-war literature of Europe. Whether a national citizentry that suffered defeat like Japanese or German, or whether a Jew who was the extreme victime of targeting for total destruction, human beings that had survived the cruelty of war were similar from the point of feeling guilt and shame toward neighbors and friends who were sacrificed. The lives of human beings who have been released, alive, from the hell of the battlefield are mutually entwined in unlimited traumas and taboos; and no matter their national belonging or language, the survivors share mutual problems. The same thing can be said out about the literature of Hasegawa Shirô and Ishihara Yoshirô which was based on experiences of detainment in Siberia.

Demobilized soldiers and repatriates were not the only people who had to go on living in a cruel post-war age. This could also be said about writers who were drafted by military authorities and forced to produce national policy literature during the war. Ever since ”Wheat and Soldiers” (1938), which is based on the experience of military campaigns in the Second Sino-Japanese War, the once hailed popular writer, Hino Ashihei struggled with a sense of inner conflict and responsibility as a war-time collaborator. He also struggled simultaneously with the critical gaze that veterans were forced to face in post-war Japan. And, in ”Floating Clouds” (1951), Hayashi Fumiko depicts Japanese man and woman who, after the war, look back on the honeymoon days spent in the occupied French Indochine. A person who was drafted as a writer in the south, she makes effective use of battle front observations (especially opinions about women in the overseas territories) within a framework of post-war literature. As for writers who cooperated with the war, their post-war era overlapped, for example, with that of the Nazi collaborators in France. Those men and women had to take on difficulties such as disguising themselves or undergoing a second ideological conversion.

Conversely, repatriates of the younger generation who did not feel a strong burden to shoulder responsibility for the war also debuted as new bearers of post-war literature. There were writers like Kiyooka Takayuki, who wrote ”Acasias in Dairen” (1970), and Gotō Meisei, who wrote ”Dreams Talk” (1976). There was a great gap between those Japanese people who only had the experience of conceptualizing the overseas territories and those who were born or raised there. This is seen, for example, in the sensitivity of reactions to news about Korean War or the Algerian War of Independence. Upon hearing the news of Algerian independence, the people in post-war Japan whose sensibilities identified with the image of the Algerian French were probably limited to those who had experienced war defeat as citizens born in the colonies. And if, immediately after hearing the broadcast from Pyongyang or Seoul, the memory of the 38th parallel was suddenly revived with the overwhelming sense of presence, that type of feeling was the unique disposition of someone who had actually experienced crossing the 38th parallel. Pre-war Japanese literature only portrayed the overseas territories conforming to the national policy, but in the post-war one, the former gaichi are colored with the internal suffering and nostalgy of individual type. But this type of suffering does not have nothing in common with that of the people who were involved in the process of decolonization. (Similar tendencies can be strongly seen in German writers’ attitude toward former Prussian territories.)

Among this type of literature, the positions of Takeda Taijun and Hotta Yoshie are unique. Takeda Taijun, who was in Shanghai when Japan was defeated, was also present at the 1944 Third Annual Greater East Asian Conference of Writers in Nanjing. When he began to write, he focused chiefly on the daily offensiveness that imbued the lives of war-defeated Japanese citizens in Shanghai. And Hotta Yoshie, who came to Shanghai in the spring of 1945, shared Takeda’s attitude that asked about the moral responsibility of japanse vis-à-vis the Chinese known as ”traitors to China” (kankan) after the war. In addition, amidst the ”nation-less people” who roamed Shanghai (which had just rushed into the civil war), they consigned Yokomitsu-Riichi-esque Shanghai to the past, counting themselves also as nation-less. As for the post-war experience in Shanghai, the question of what it meant to live as a Japanese person in Asia confronted those two intellectuals. They were concerned about the whereabouts of Asia, the very outcome of the process of decolonization in Asia, no less than about the future of Japan. Along with Takeuchi Yoshimi, known as the translator of Lu Xun, they carried out an intellectual intervention as war-time China experts against post-war Japanese literature (Takeuchi emphasized the need to reopen the ”Asia” question, precisely at a time when Japan had lost the war.) Their intervention held broad-ranging significance as the cold war drew on in East Asia.


  1. Okinawan Literature

Linking Japan with Taiwan and the Southern Coastal Zone of China, the Ryûkyû Islands were a strategically-positioned communication hub. Situated between Q’ing China and Japan (especially the Satsuma domain), they constituted an insular country that was groping for its own distinctive form of existence. However, Meiji Japan, which was embarking as a sovereign nation and direct negotiating partner of the Western powers, attached importance to the Ryûkyûs as its southern base, just as it had done with Ezo as its military base of the northern extremity. Similar to Japan’s establishment of the governor-general of Korea and its intensification of rule over the Korean Peninsula, the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879 (”disposition of Ryûkyû Kingdom”) was nothing less than colonization. However, in contrast to Hokkaido and Korea, the rule of Okinawa, which had limited resources, was thickly colored with the same basic style that was used in the southern advance. In addition to being the site of a decisive homeland at the end of World War II, Okinawa continued to be considered important as the American rule in East Asia. Ever since the Meiji Era, the geo-political location of Okinawa, which had been situated at the center of a reshuffled political order in East Asia, has brought about tragedy.

Looking back at the industrialization of the Japan proper, which had to assume the economic pattern of dependence on the mainland, far exceeded any other place in Japan in its number of laborers who migrated to overseas territories like Taiwan, Micronesia or moreover South America. In contrast to Ainu, the Ryûkyûan language was similar to Japanese. And because the number of Japanese immigrants was small and the routine use of Ryûkyû dialect did not decline, the language instruction of Okinawan children involved a similar type of violence as had occured in Taiwan and the Korean peninsula. Not only in domestic Japan, but also even in overseas territories and emigration destinations abroad, discrimination against Okinawans by mainland people brought about a decisive distortion to the identity of Okinawan Japanese. Poets and scholars like Yamanoguchi Baku and Iha Fuyu were born in Okinawa. But in launching Okinawan literature and Okinawan Studies, their struggle against forced assimilation, pressure and discrimination had many points in common with those of colonized people. Consider Hirotsu Kazuo’s ”The Wandering Ryûkyûan” (1926), which portrays a young man from Okinawa. A fury of protest sprang up from Okinawan intellectuals against works like this that adhered to the symbol of the stereotypical ”Ryûkyûan.” The severity of this protest is significant as an example of the early stages of domestic minority dissent over the discriminatory tendencies of Japanese literature.

In the spring of 1945, Okinawans were wounded by wartime violence caused by U.S. as well as Japanese armed forces when Okinawa became the stage of a decisive battle between the U.S. and Japan. After the war, the possession of Ryûkyû Islands soon became a clean slate. Ryûkyûans could have regained its independence or shared the fate with Chinese. However, as a result of the reorganization of the Okinawan bases by the main leadership of the American forces, Okinawa has continued to hold on to the same distorted spatial arrangement and economic structure to this very day – even after the ”return to Japan” in 1972. With a different pre-history, a modernity that was tacked on as a domestic colony of Japan, an occupational administration by U.S. armed forces and a perpetual coexistence with U.S. military bases, the literature of Okinawans who live a different history from the mainland (yamato)continues to persue an independence and autonomy that can not settle within the heart of Japanese literature.

Ôshiro Tatsuhiro, who wrote ”Cocktail Party” (1967), emphasized that for Okinawan people, the war is not yet over. As if using a mirror, he reflects the combination of experiences of Okinawans who were assailants as Japanese soldiers and Okinawan women who are victims of rape. The Saipan-born Higashi Mineo, in his novel ”Okinawan Boy”, not only depicts women’s sexual customs in U.S.-occupied Okinawa through the eyes of a young boy, but he also sheds light on a type of Okinawan collective nature that controls even the unconscious desire of a boy wanting to escape to the South and not Japan proper. Okinawan authors often emphasize in a challenging form that the topos of Okinawa is endowed with gaze on a different world than the Tokyo-centered mainland. The geographical power of imagination that transcends the framework of the nation-state is a feature that also holds relevance to the experiments of native Taiwanese writers who are now in the process of distinguishing themselves. Moreover, daring to make the main protagonist an American soldier, Matayoshi Eiki’s ”The Wild Boar that George Shot” (1978) depicts the deep-rooted frustration which is accumulated in Okinawan society. And portaying a veteran prostitute who solicits a young American soldier to be a deserter, Yoshida Sueko’s ”The Love Suicides at Kerama” (1984) makes appear fictiously an extra-territorial space in Okinawa.

Of all Japanese language literature, it is an Okinawan author who has left behind a novel that raises the most questions about overseas emigration. ”Noroeste Railway” (1985) is a short piece in which Ôshiro Tatsuhiro uses a collection of data from travels to the many South American countries as its foundation. An old woman who is the main protagonist was one of the passengers on the first migrant boat to Brazil, Kasato-maru, in 1908. Then, after sharing hardship after hardship with her husband in the Brazilian hinterland, her husband joined the ”Kachi-gumi” (a group that interpreted the Brazilian government’s claim that Japan had been defeated in World War II was a false rumor. The group fanatically believed that, at some future date, the Emperor of Japan would board a boat in order to come and greet people of Japanese descent.) When the crown prince and his wife do happen to come to Brazil in 1978, the old woman is urged by a staff member at the consulate to attend a celebration festival held in São Paulo. Nevertheless, the old woman is at a point where she is trying to end her life quietly in the Brazilian hinterland along with the memory of her belated husband who had ‘evaded conscription.’ The sense of distance from Japan (as well as from the Emperor system) of Nikkei emigrants is extremely and complexly contorted, and this is not only limited to overseas emigrants. For a long time, the majority of Okinawans have continued to cling to a peculiar sense of distance from Japan as an emperor system nation-state. The centrifugal force of Okinawan literature can also be discovered in this.

To be sure, Okinawan literature is written in Japanese, but deciding whether it constitutes a part of Japanese literature is difficult. In addition to the fact that it retains the special characterics of gaichi Japanese-language literature, it is also saddled with the particular problem of regions throughout the world covered with U.S.-owned militarized zone. Rather than Japanese literature, Okinawan literature is based on a geopolitical foundation that might be closer to the modern literature of the Korean peninsula and Taiwan (moreover the Philippines.) It would not be overstating things to claim that Okinawa is compelled to live through the same part of history with the rest of East Asia, which, in the event called ”war-defeat” (haisen) in Japan, experienced nothing other than the beginning of civil wars and cold war. At least, the diluted and broad-ranged power of imagination that is not seen in Japanese literature is inescapably embedded in Okinawan literature.

  1. Nikkei Literature

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese in the United States and Canada (as well as a country like Peru which was subservient to the U.S.) were forced to prove whether they were loyal to the Allies or not by renouncing Japan. Even Japanese-American, or second-generation Japanese with national citizenship were made to prove their loyalty in exactly the same way: by renouncing Japan. And the majority were forced to move to the camps for hostile citizens. During the war, Japanese were not the only ones whose civil liberties were threatened as hostile citizens. During the Second World War, even Germans of Jewish descent who had been chased by Hitler were compelled to lives of suspicious refugees. Minorities who could not sufficiently campaign for the U.S. government during the war struggled in various ways to gain civil rights and restore their honor once the war was over. Regarding the cruel treatment that was forced especially on Japanese and citizens of Japanese descent (Nikkei), there was a need for the Nikkei community to find a path of solidarity with other minorities. As a people shrouded by the backdrop of racism, they were subjects of conflict who aimed for reparations for their internment during the war.

As a consequence of the aging and the loss of self-confidence of first-generation Japanese (Issei), the initiative of the Japanese-language literature of North America was destined to be surrendered to the English-language literature of the second generation Japanese (Nisei). The experiences of internment further encouraged this trend. In addition, the literature of the second and future generations emphasized their rights as American citizens and showed off their overwhelming skills in the power of description vis-à-vis the first generation Japanese, their parents’ and grand-parents’ generations.

John Okada’s ”No-No Boy” (1957) is a novel that describes a second-generation Japanese-American who responds ”No!” when commanded to renounce Japan at the wartime internment camps. It is an aggressive work that, while bitterly criticizing American society, does not mince words about Nisei society. When this novel, which recast the established image of Nikkei English-language literature, was first published, it was not only criticized but it was handled with something close to silent contempt. However, it eventually received the support of other minority writers and is now the object of high praise. Also, if we think about how the former Imperial Japan forced the many inhabitants of the overseas territories to renounce their ancestral roots in the same way, we can not simply skim over this work as something that deals exclusively with the tragedy of a Japanese American.

While using their own experiences of being Nikkei as subject matter, there is nevertheless something striking in the onslaught of North American Nikkei writers who continuously question the general significance of living as a minority. While migrating between the U.S., Japan and Brazil, the third-generation American of Japanese descent, Karen Tei Yamashita, describes casting off the centrality of identity in works such as ”Through the Arc of the Rainforest” (1990). The fourth generation Japanese born in Hawaii, Garret Kaoru Hongo’s ”Volcano: a Memoir of Hawai’i” (1995) is a self-searching novel; the figures of his father and grandfather whom he depicts go far beyond merely relaying the sorrow of people of Japanese descent. It is as if the third-generation Nikkei narrator has learned from his grandfather and father the technique of tearing himself away from the world. We will be able to consider him as a descendant of John Okada at the point of intensity with which he presses ”No!” on American society.

Different from this English-speaking world of North America, the literary activity of first-generation immigrants who still have Japanese citizenship endures in South American countries such as Brazil and Argentine, which re-inaugurated the Japanse immigration industry after the war. Japanese-language literature by the first generation is something that actively covers the Nikkei way of life of the second and later generations sufficiently assimilated to the host countries. However, it is only a question of time when there will be a generation shift.

  1. Zainichi Literature

The repatriation of Japanese became one of the results of Japan’s defeat in World War II. However in Taiwan and Korea, which were supposed to be liberated after Japan’s defeat, there was a protracted dictator-like military rule based on the partitioning of Korea into north and south, and on the administration of Taiwan by the Kuomintang Nationalist Party. Scattered throughout the Japanese mainland (as well as Sakhalin and Manchuria), emigrants from Japan’s former overseas territories were led toward new diaspora.

Among the wartime Japanese-language writers from Korea and Taiwan, there were pro-Japanese authors, and there were authors who were not. However this did not necessarily mean that the fate of their post-war alternatives was simply bifurcated along this division. The pro-Japanese writer, Lee Kwang-su was taken to North Korea without the opportunity to regain his reputation and was erased from the stage of history. While making his debut as a proletarian writer, the writer Chang Hok-ju converted midway and changed books like ”Katō Kiyomasa” (1939) into national policy novels. Naturalized as a Japanese after the war, he continued his literary activities by the name of Noguchi Kakuchû. Kim Sa-ryang’s ”Toward the Middle of the Light” (1939) was a candidate for Akutagawa Prize. However, after crossing an anti-Japanese base on the continent immediately before Japan’s defeat and participating in the Korean national Army after the liberation of Korea, he died for an unknown reason. After publishing ”A Collection of Korean Folksongs” (1929) the poet Kim So-un won high praise from people like Satô Haruo for his superlative translation of Korean poems. Returning to Korea after the war, he pursued work as a critic, using both languages as situation demanded. Kim Tal-su, who shared good relations with people like Chang Hok-ju and Kim Sa-ryang, shouldered the core of the Zainichi Korean movement after the war. In addition, a Japanese writer from Taiwan, Chô Bunkan actively took up the topic of Taiwanese local culture and served the cause of Imperial Japan policy literature. However after the war he returned to Taiwan and under the autocratic rule of the Kuomintang Party, he was not able to get back to his activities as a writer. Later, he wrote his memoir in Japanese in bits and spurts. Ro Kaku-jaku, the promising Japanese-language writer from Taiwan switched to writing in Chinese just after the liberation of Taiwan. With the start of dictatorship of the Kuomintang, however, he disappeared.

Considering what happened to these former gaichi intellectuals, one gets the impression that the collective nature that characterized the general repatriation of Japanese to the homeland caused the extreme homogenization of post-war Japanese literature. And it is precisely because of this that the intervention of the intellectuals from the former overseas territories continue exert a thorn-like function in post-war Japanese-language literature.

Post-war Japan did not give Japanese citizenship to the people from the former gaichi. Even those who were born in Japan, in case their parents were natives of the former overseas territories, were excluded from Japanese citizenship. Accordingly, the advantages and disadvantages of citizenship have not existed for first-, second- and later-generation foreigners in Japan. In addition, those who once left Japan for their homeland were denied permission to re-enter Japan and the majority of Zainichi Koreans and Taiwanese were suspected of entering illegally. Kyû Eikan, a former inhabitant of Taiwan protested against the Kuomintang and acquired citizenship in Hong Kong. His work, ”Notes of an Illegal Immigrant” (1954) conveys the grief of formerly colonized people. Also, in works such as ”Stowaway” (1963), Kim Tal-su depicts the Korean experiences of crossing the new border.

After that, as relations between Japan and Korea normalized, Zainichi writers’ visits and studies in Korea became more active. Lee Hoe-sung’s ”Unfulfilled Dream” (1977-79) – similar to works such as Kim Sok-pon’s ”The Volcano Island” (1976-98) and Yang Sok-il’s ”A Flame in Summer” (1999) – not only reflects the reality of Zainichi Koreans who feel distressed over the existence of two borderlines, the one between Japan and the Korean peninsula and the 38th parallel, it also represents a creation born of the powerful desire to examine the future of East Asia, despite the complete inability to see without obstruction. This is because people from former overseas territories and their descendants live an existence that prioritizes East Asian History over Japanese History (these same characteristics are also true of Okinawan writers).

The ultimate success and failure of the ‘History of East Asian Comparative Literature’ hangs on this type of literature that is generated from the periphery – and not at the center – of a specific nation-state or national language. And it depends on whether a proper evaluation is attached to it or not.



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(Ed.) KUROSAWA, Sô, Gaichi no Nihongo bungaku, I. Nan’yô, Taiwan, II. Chôsen, III. Karafuto, Manchuria, Shinjuku shobô, 1996.

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KAWAMURA, Minato, ”Yoidore buneno seishun, Inpakuto shuppan, 2000.

(Eds.) KAMIYA, Tadataka and Kazuaki KIMURA, ”GaichiNihongo bungaku ron, Sekai shisôsha, 2007.


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ΚAWASAKI, Kenko, Karera no Shôwa, Hakusuisha, 1994.

KAWAMURA, Minato, Manshû hôkai, Bungei shunjû, 1997.

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(Eds.) KAMIYA, Tadataka and Kazuaki KIMURA, “Nanpô chôyô sakka, Sekai shisôsha, 1996.

IKEDA, Hiroshi, Hino Ashihei ron, Inpakuto shuppan, 2000.


(Ed.) Okinawa bungaku zenshû henshû iinkai, Okinawa bungaku zenshû, Kokusho kankôkai, 1990-(1997).

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KIM, Elaine H., Asian American literature, Temple University Press, 1984.

(Eds.) IMAFUKU, Ryûta, Mitsuyoshi NUMANO and Inuhiko YOMOTA, Sekai bungaku no furontia, V. Watashi no nazo, Iwanami shoten, 1997.


(Eds.) FUJII, Shôzô, Eitetsu KŌ and Chie TARUMI, Taiwan no “Daitoa sensô, Tokyo daigaku shuppan, 2002.

(Eds.) ISOGAI, Jirô and Kazuo KUROKO, Zainichi bungaku zenshû, Bensei shuppan, 2006.

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