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ISSUE 37 : A Road Already Travelled
Graveyard of Fire and Ocean: Flowing, Turning, & Termination of Japan’s Southward
火與海的墓—南方感覺的終結與流轉
January 9th, 2018Type: Residency
Author: Ko, Nien-pu , Angel Chen (translator) Editor: Rikey Tenn
Note: Originally published in "ACT" magazine issue no. 70, "Mandalas of Monsoon Asia." The author starts with "Southern Sensation" published in Japan before its invasion of Malaya in 1941, tracing from archives to sort out how Japan established its colonial discourse, finally combing through the relations between empires & tropical regions to take a glimpse of how the transition from free trade to imperialism in the 1880s shaped the desire toward the South. It manifests how the Meiji imperialists idealized "the South" as romanticizing this exotic place through documents about SEA culture including newspapers, publications, & atlases; with it portraying the image of the other & the hidden Western/capitalist knowledge structure. She also delves into historical documents of the 1940s, national policy films, diaries & oral interviews to understand individuals' experiences of the so-called "South" & their memory-scapes. Through the endeavors to see the historical traces of conversations, infiltrations & cross-border travels left by the Japanese sex workers & artists dispatched to SEA for the army, it provides an alternative narration beyond official nationalism.
《南方感覺》; photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館

I, The History of the South Pacific According to the Japanese Empire

Before the Japanese invasion of Malaysia in 1941, a travelogue titled Nanpo no Kankaku (Sense of South), by writer Munetaka Terashita, was published. In it, Terashita records his observations of Malaysia and surrounding nations in the South Sea Islands, with topics ranging from religion, culture, and the arts, to natural environments and the seas. The book cover depicts a tropical landscape, replete with palm trees and beaches. It is not unusual to find such a book concerning “the south” (Nanpo) during the Pacific War period, as the Japanese Empire conducted its “southern policy”. One can find in this type of material–from military logbooks, films, and field records–a collective “southern imaginary”, as well as the Empire’s desire to legitimize its gain from trade through colonial power. Nanpo no Kankaku was written in a sentimental tone. Its title, in evoking “the south”, puts Japan in a central position. This central locality is established through the concept of “the south” being far away and foreign, and it is established through personalized narrative lenses. Gradually, “the south” becomes an important political trope for constructing the empire.

“The south” has always been more than a foreign place of romantic imagination. It has always been a geopolitical idea constructed by different sociopolitical contexts. In his 1979 work No Nanyo Shikan (The History of “South-Bound Expansion of Japan”), Japanese scholar Toru Yano continues with his train of thought found in his 1975 work Nanshin no keifu (The Genealogy of Proceeding South). In these works, Yano analyzes the ways Japan conceives of “the south” through geography, policies, and geopolitical relations during the Meiji and Taisho periods. His historical research traces how “the Inner Southern Seas” expands to become “the Outer Southern Seas” through each time period’s political contexts.(註1) Yano’s period history writings support Japan’s very own colonial discourse in positioning itself as an empire–documenting its changing relationship with the tropical regions from having free trade relations in the 1880s to one of imperialism, via a period of sentimental desires for “the south”.

《南國記》作者於新加坡合影; photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館

Japanese historian and politician Takekoshi Yosaburo published Nankoku Ki (A Journey to South Countries) in 1910 (Meiji 43) where he discusses political strategies of southern expansion. In the first chapter of the book where he surveys Malaysia and surrounding regions, Yosaburo emphasizes that to control the tropics is to control the world.(註2) The book sparked a lot of reactions in Japanese society at the time, initiating great discussions around Meiji’s southern expansion policies. A number of other books, including geographer Shiga Shigetaka’s Nanyo Jiji (Current Affairs in the South Seas) (1887; Meiji 21), Suganuma Tadakaze’s Shin Nihon no Tonan no Yume (New Japan’s Dream of Aspirations to the South Seas) (1888; Meiji 21), along with Tsunenori Suzuki’s 1893 (Meiji 26) works A Voyage to the South Seas and South Seas Matters, all lay out Japan’s political ambition to expand towards the south. Together, these Meiji period writings established a South Seas region, advocating for the expansion towards the South Seas in response to Japan’s various challenges at the time regarding progress, development, and international relations. Moreover, the documentations of life in the South Seas region–which circulated in news articles, books, and pictorial catalogs at the time–helped to simulate curiosity around the mysterious South Seas and romantic imagination of the foreign lands, ultimately heightening the public’s interest in the southern expansion. As a result, the image of the other is established, along with, in the backdrop, the logic of western capitalism.

The popularity of these southern expansion discourse amongst the intellectuals during the Meiji period is not surprising given the social and historical contexts at the time; including the encounter with colonial and migratory activities in the South Seas, the establishment of business legislation, and increasing demand for investment in resources­—not to mention a plethora of sentimental writings that vividly depicted journeys and voyages to “the south”. Compared to Meiji intellectuals such as Shiga Shigetaka and Takekoshi Yosaburo who narrativized the exotic south with a level of romantic imaginaries, Taisho thinkers are more practical and proactive. Taisho discourse focused on profitability, on advocating for executable policies, and on solidifying the concept of “the South Seas” for the general public. Indeed, the desire for the expansion and colonization of the south is a direct reflection of many problems in 1890s Japan that stemmed from a crisis of population overgrowth.(註3)

《東亞戰爭畫報》報導新加坡會面; photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館

Perhaps, the idea that the north is for people and the south is for materials–a phrase common amongst researchers focused on Imperial Japan in Southeast Asia between 1910 and 1930–is a simple way to sum up Japan’s position in seeing “the south” as a place of development that provided materials and the “the north” where culture, academia, and the arts reside. Through constructing imperial relations with the southern colonies, Japan attempts to establish itself as part of the western power. Simultaneously, Japan’s devotion to expand stimulated the empire in taking concrete steps towards constructing a new social order in Southeast Asia between 1933 and 1941.

 

II. “Tiger of Malaya”: A Symbol of Integration

Included in this line-up are our finest writers, artists, and cartoonists. To celebrate our victory, they have been recruited to collaborate… The cultural producers have given their all and have successfully promoted a collective confidence in Japan…(註4)

In a news article promoting Japanese military culture published on May 13th, 1942 appears an image of a mural painted by Ono Saseo and Yokoyama Ryuichi in Jawa. A line of Malaysian text in the mural reads: Asia is one (Bersatoelah Bangsa Asia). This was the very year Japan invaded and occupied the Malay Peninsula. The victory was lead by general Tomoyuki Yamashita and accompanied by a military song written by Japanese poet Hakushu Kitahara. General Yamashita was given the nickname of “tiger of Malaya” after leading the Japanese army in conquering Singapore. Yamashita’s heroic victory is the topic of depiction in Saburo Miyamoto’s 1942 painting titled “The Meeting of General Yamashita and General Percival”, featuring the surrender incident where Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival meets with General Yamashita. The imagery of the tiger evokes the warrior spirit and courage; it came to symbolize the protector of the Japanese army.

In the following year, the Japanese army spent a great deal of money on a “national policy film” (kokusaku eiga) titled “Tiger of Malay”, successfully morphing the symbol of the tiger to represent the Malay people’s cooperation and approval of the Japanese. The movie is based on a true story. The plot follows a Japanese protagonist, Tani, who grew up in Terengganu and was recruited to become a spy for the Japanese army. Because Tani’s younger sister was killed in an anti-Japanese riot organized by Malayan Chinese, he long harbored resentments against the British and the Chinese. Tani’s nickname “harimau” meant “tiger” in Malaya. His character was a perfect hero figure shaped to promote the Japan’s rising power in the south. The film was shot with a full crew on-site in Malay, capturing sceneries including tropical island landscape, palm trees and beaches, Islamic cemetery, and the Malayan Railway. The production paid special attention to music as well, selecting Terang Bulan – an Indonesian folk song meaning “clear moonlight”, which was later selected to become the national anthem of Malaysia, Negaraku – and Rasa Sayang – a Malay folk song meaning “to cherish”–with Japanese lyrics as sound tracks.

昭南島的日本國旗: 馬來戰線隨軍紀錄; photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館

These films about “the south” with defined narratives and specific southern landscapes were made under careful policy directions. In 1940, South Seas Motion Picture Association (Nan’yo Eiga Kyokai) was established, with funds from the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, Shochiku, Toho, Towa, and the China Motion Picture Company. The goal for the association was to promote and introduce the circulation of Japanese films in the South Seas. Branches were established in Hanoi and Manila as well. (Kato 2003:205) In September, 1942, a document titled “Outline of Film Propaganda in the South” (Nanpo Kosaku Eiga Yoryo) was published, which instructs the way Japanese films are to be selected for distribution in the south. Others entities established around the same time include a selection committee that oversaw short films made overseas and specialized organizations that developed propaganda films in the many languages used in nations the south.

 

During the Pacific War period, the Japanese army set out clear rules around how films are to be produced for the film industry. Censorship was largely placed around whether or not the films complied with national policies at the time. The level of control and governance over cultural production is evident in national policy films such as The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malay (Hawai Mare Oki Kaisen), which was made in 1942, by Toho, as commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Prior to that, others forms of culture production such paintings, novels, and photography by figures such as Shimizu Toshi, Mushitaro Oguri, Nakamura Chihei, Ibuse Masuji, Jun Takami, and Chogoro Kaionji were similarly commissioned and controlled. However, the film “Tiger of Malaya” stands out as one of the few propaganda works that sought to inspire a new identity by integrating specific geographic and cultural symbols drawn from the colonized land.

 

《東亞戰爭畫報》; photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館

III Tombstone with Its Back to the North

For Toru Yano, “Southward Involvement” (Nanpo Kanyo) has to do with building connections to Japanese nationals, such as businessmen and sex workers, who, under the direction of national policies, had initial contacts with the south. When thoughts around southward advancement were sprouting up during Meiji period, those who first encountered the south were not Japan’s finest artists and writers sent by the government. Rather, it was civilians from the countryside of Kyushu or Hokkaido–the unattached, helpless people (mukoku no tami)–who appeared in the very first part of the genealogy of southward advancement. Starting in the 1960s, author and historian Tomoko Yamazaki studied the women who were sent before the war to the South Seas to perform sex work. The 1974 film Sandakan 8, which was based on Yamazaki’s novel Sandakan Brothel No.8 (1972), kick-started 1970s Southeast Asian Studies. These women, referred to as “karayuki-san”, were sent from Japan to the south in the later half of the 19th century. They were often from poor agricultural or fishing villages in Kyushu or northern regions of Japan. Some of them migrated southwards for a chance at livelihood, others were sent to the Philippines or Malaysia without any understanding of the work conditions. Film director Shohei Imamura, a member of the Japanese New Wave movement, made a film in 1975 based on a woman who was sent to Malaysia as a sex worker. This work is representative of films that told the story of women forced to leave their homes for Southeast Asia. In comparison, Yamazaki’s work takes on a more gentle and humanistic style, allowing the camera lens to follow personal accounts around the initial experiences of southern landscapes. Imamura took on a more daring approach, portraying how the oppression of sex workers is carefully construed politically as part of the empire’s expansions and in compliance with the way capital flow was facilitated. He also revealed the modernized system supporting such exploitation, from health check, surveillance and control, to transport, which ensured that the female bodies provided services that qualified certain hygiene standard.

In 1921, as Japan began a series of internal reforms and as it started to witness victories over westerns powers, the empire also started to become shameful of these Japanese women sent overseas. Many of these women were returned home around this time; however, they faced a great deal of discrimination from the Japanese society once home. There are many connections to be found between the history of the South Seas and migrant workers from Okinawa or working class women from Kyushu. How can we develop understandings of how these “othered” subjectivities experienced “the south”? Is it possible to piece together an image of southern landscapes that reside in their memory through archives, national policy films, personal diaries, and oral histories? And, to take another step further, how did they situate themselves and become part of the place? “Southern advancement” became a trope used to legitimize the empire’s expansion and to intervene with the formation of subjectivities. In light of this, how can we re-evaluate and rewrite the grand narrative of the empire by placing the experiences of individuals discussed above–the migrant workers and sex workers forced to leave their homes, as well as the artists sent with the army–front and center? They have left a distinct mark manifested through their circulations and interactions with one another in the time and space of history – through their negotiation, infiltration, and transgression.

 

清水登之, 南方従軍画信; photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館
  1. Conclusion

The impetus for this essay came about from encountering some historical records when I was a researcher-in-resident at Lostgens’ Contemporary Art Space in Kuala Lumpur. It was an ordinance around land deed and space use written in Chinese, signed during the Pacific War period when the Japanese army occupied Malaya. The document revealed a building’s history in relationship to the Japanese occupation. There are layers of imperialism on this land that is today Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur has transformed in its urban space and its politics of landscape accordingly. It is now facing yet another set of power dynamics. To return to the historical moment of the Japanese occupation of Malaya is not just to re-think how we perceive history. It also sheds lights on ways later events played out, such as how the Look East Policy, championed by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad, transformed Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, to revisit these scenes of history is to reflect on the role of an “observer” or “researcher” who goes to the south, probing oneself to reflect on the context through which one is seeing the current predicament of Asia.

 

photo courtesy of 日本國立國會圖書館

During this research, a particular mental state is produced–produced through tracings of personal awareness of time and space, alongside an ambiguous identity produced by complex overlaying political contexts that continued to operate on top of one another like gears. For example, while collecting archival material and reading about Australian painter Douglas Watson who voluntarily joined the army during Second World War, and reviewing his sketches made while he was sent to northwest Borneo, I was witnessing the indescribable looks on the Japanese soldiers taken captive, and the marks on the neck of those who attempted suicides. Perhaps, for those of us who go “southwards” to research, sent to perform temporary work, shall revisit how Shohei Imamura depicted Japanese soldiers in his 1970s films–particularly, he portrayed the soldiers who, after the war, stayed in the south, converted to Islam, and later even lost touch with their mother tongue. How did those bodies that were subject to the militarism of the empire transform under different linguistic conditions? It is through comparing and cross-referencing the experiences of various subjectivities can a history be rewritten. To really get down to the real social predicaments embedded in history requires one to fully take into account all the different storylines that contradict and complicate one another.

 

REFERENCE:

1.矢野暢,《日本の南洋史觀》,東京:中央公論社,1979。
2.矢野暢,《南進の系譜》,東京:中央公論社,1997。
3.相川春喜,《文化映畫論》,東京:霞ケ關書房,1944。
4.市川彩,《亞洲電影的創造及建設》(アジア映画の創造及建設),東京:國際映畫通信社出版部,1941。
5.竹越與三郎,《南國記》,東京:二酉社,1910。

Footnote
[1] The Inner Southern Seas includes today’s Micronesia and its surrounding islands. The Outer Southern Seas includes today’s Southeast Asia regions such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
[2] Original text: “熱帯を制するものは世界を制す!”, Takekoshi Yosaburo, Nankoku Ki (A Journey to South Countries), 1910. p3.
[3] Toru Yano. Japanese Views on Southeast Asia during the Taisho Period (1978). 16.1.
[4] Asahi Gurafu (The Asahi Picture News) May 13, 1942. 38.20.
[5] Takekoshi Yosaburo, Nankoku Ki (A Journey to South Countries), Tokyo: Niyusha, 1910.