(EDITOR’S NOTE: Salute to brother Joshua Blakeney for tipping me off to this wonderful piece of information. All in all, it’s an absolutely fascinating and groundbreaking work that shatters the mainstream narrative on Japan’s motivations during World War II within the first few paragraphs. However, Professor Aydin still used the phrases “Japanese imperialism” and “Japan’s colonial subjects” throughout. And I just am not convinced that this language reflects historical accuracy. If there was support for Japan’s Pan-Asianism and these Asian nations welcomed Japan into their lands as a defense against the very real threat of Western-Jewish colonialism, then that is quite the opposite of imperialism, isn’t it? What we seem to have in Japan’s case is akin to Hizbullah intervening in Syria to defend its ally or covertly entering Palestine to train the Palestinian Resistance; Iran going into Iraq to help Iraqis fight the US-Zionist occupation or now, ISIS; Cuba sending doctors, teachers and other professionals into Venezuela to build up the latter’s social structure; Nasser sending Egyptian forces into South Yemen to fight the US-Zionist-Saudi project; Putin’s Russia taking back Crimea at the Crimean people’s behest to stop NATO expansionism and aiding the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya against the illegal Kiev coup regime; etc, etc, etc. Japan’s like-similar actions are exactly what they appear to be: Defensive, anti-colonialist Pan-Asianism. The next step in the process of registering the redemption of WW2-Japan — a glorious civilizational entity to say the least — in the minds of the globe’s awakened ones, is to find out, in-depth, how the nations Japan entered felt about its entry. If the answers are what we think they are after reading this piece and a plethora of other works, then the story of “Japanese imperialism” and “Japanese colonialism” is a pernicious historical myth as Jewish as the “Nazi gas chambers”. ~ Jonathan Azaziah)
by Professor Cemil Aydin, Japan Focus
One of the most striking aspects of the international history of the 1930s is the revival and official endorsement of a pan-Asian vision of regional world order in Japan. The pan-Asian discourse of East-West civilizational difference and comparison was influential in various intellectual circles in Asia. But during the 1920s, as a political project of Asian solidarity, it was irrelevant for Japan’s foreign policy, and it did not have any international momentum or movement. The period after the Manchurian Incident in 1931, however, witnessed a process by which pan-Asianist ideas and projects became part of Japan’s official foreign policy rhetoric.  After 1933 Japan’s pan-Asian internationalism began to overshadow liberal internationalism, gradually becoming the mainstream vision of an alternative world order. This process culminated in the declaration of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere in 1940, a project that relied heavily on the rhetoric of pan-Asian internationalism. In 1943, seventeen years after the ineffectual 1926 Nagasaki pan-Asiatic conference that was ridiculed by official and liberal circles in Japan, the Japanese government itself hosted a Greater East Asia Conference to which it invited the leaders of the Philippines, Burma, the provincial government of India, the Nanking government of China, Manchukuo, and Thailand.
Given that pan-Asianist activists had regularly expressed strong opposition to Japan’s foreign policy up to the 1930s, and aware of the lack of political clout of Asianist circles during the 1920s, Japan’s apparent endorsement of pan-Asianism in its official “return to Asia” after 1933 raises a major question. How can we understand the predominance of pan-Asianist discourses in Japanese intellectuals circles in the 1930s? Why would Japan’s political elite, with its proven record of cooperation with Western powers based on a realistic assessment of the trends of the time, choose to endorse an anti-Western discourse of Asianism as its official policy during the late 1930s?
Explaining Japan’s Official “Return to Asia”
In the literature, the process of transition from a policy of pro-Western capitalist internationalism in the 1920s to a very different policy aiming to create a regional order in East Asia has been attributed to a complex set of interrelated factors, both contingent and structural. For the sake of clarity, I categorize the explanations of the previous historiography into two groups, which are distinct but not necessarily in conflict: those that emphasize domestic political causes of the change and those that stress changes in the international environment.
According to domestic policy–driven explanations, Asianism was the foreign policy ideology espoused by the expansionist, militarist, and conservative segments of Japanese society. Frederick Dickinson has traced back to the period of World War I (WWI) the origins of two distinct agendas for Japan’s diplomacy and national mission, one liberal and pro-British and the other characterized by pro-German, anti-liberal, and Asianist tendencies. The Asianist and conservative group, mostly clustered around Yamagata Aritomo, could not implement its policy visions during the 1910s because the liberal group prevailed in domestic politics. By identifying two distinct visions of Japan’s national identity and two corresponding international policies in response to the opportunities presented by WWI, Dickinson’s study successfully demonstrates that foreign policy decisions should not be regarded as automatic responses to international trends and immediate external challenges but rather be seen as results of the balance of power in domestic politics among groups that have competing visions of their national identity and mission. According to Dickinson, pan-Asianism was one such grand vision, which aimed to establish Japan’s leadership in Asia by excluding Western powers from the region in the name of racial solidarity and civilizational harmony.
Other studies on the 1920s have argued that members of the conservative antiliberal political camp, often identified with pan-Asianist inclinations, continued to agitate for an expansionist policy at a time when their voices were overshadowed by the liberalism of the Taishô democracy and the capitalist internationalism of Shidehara diplomacy. According to Richard Storry’s early work, which offers a history of Japanese ultranationalism based on the materials of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, the persistence and violence displayed by right-wing groups was able to weaken and eventually to overturn the prevailing atmosphere of Taishô democracy and liberal diplomacy. For Storry, for example, pan-Asianist thinker Ôkawa Shûmei was one of the Asianist “double patriots” who influenced young military officers and played a great role in the transition to the expansionist 1930s. Christopher Szpilman strengthened this argument in his study of Kokuhonsha, the main conservative organization of interwar Japan, noting that anti-Western and antiliberal trends in Japan had high-ranking supporters and strong organizational solidarity during the 1920s and thus were able to exert disproportionate influence as a result of their popularity among the bureaucratic and military elite. In his research on the House of Peers, Genzo Yamamoto further demonstrated the appeal and predominance of what he described as an “illiberal” agenda among Japan’s top political elite from the 1920s to the late 1930s, leading to their final triumph in domestic politics paralleling the adoption of an aggressive China policy.
This focus on the domestic political components of the transition to the pan-Asianist policies of the 1930s has obvious merit. Asianism, however, could not always be uniquely identified as the expansionist ideology of conservative antiliberals, as Japan’s liberals also envisioned a special role for Japan in Asia, whether as the disseminator of a higher civilization to backward areas or as the leading force in economic development and political cooperation in the region. Moreover, an aggressive policy in Manchuria was not the monopoly of Japanese Asianists. As demonstrated by Louise Young, there existed within Japanese society an overwhelming consensus concerning policy in Manchuria, which cut across the lines dividing liberals and conservatives. The majority of Japan’s political and intellectual elite, including the pro-Western internationalists, supported the new orientation in foreign policy symbolized by the withdrawal from the League of Nations. For example, Nitobe Inazô, reputed for his liberal internationalism, was willing to defend Japan’s policy in China that led to the Manchurian Incident, even to the point of accepting Japan’s withdrawal in 1932 from the League of Nations, in which he had served for so many years. Another liberal internationalist, Zumoto Motosada, went on lecture tours in 1931 to Europe and the United States in an attempt to explain Japan’s position on the Manchurian Incident. During his speeches, Motosada often referred to the idea of a Japan-led regional order in East Asia separate from the European-based league system. Just five years before the Manchurian Incident, Zumoto had affirmed Japan’s pro-League internationalism in his critique of the Nagasaki pan-Asiatic conference of 1926. Japan’s liberal internationalists apparently turned to pan-Asianism when they saw a tension between Japanese national interests and the decisions of the League of Nations.
Nitobe Inazô at the League of Nations
The Asianist discourse of Japan’s transnational identity had many different versions, ranging from a doctrine of regional solidarity to anti-Western visions of civilizational revival, and it was not limited to conservative circles. For example, during the 1930s, many Japanese intellectuals who had no previous connection with conservative radical nationalist groups, such as the members of the Kyoto School of Philosophy or the semiofficial think tank Shôwa Kenkyûkai, also utilized anti-Western rhetoric and advocated the revival of Japan’s Asian identity. This indicates an area of overlap in the worldviews of liberals and antiliberals with respect to Japan’s Asian identity and its international mission in Asia, as well as their shared diagnosis of the international system during the 1920s. It also shows that the theories of the clash of civilizations and Japan’s mission in Asia were part of a common vocabulary, which would then have different political connotations depending on the intellectual climate. For example, those promoting U.S.-Japan friendship would frame their efforts as a dialogue of harmony among the different civilizations of East and West, thus confirming a vision of the world as divided into different race and civilization groups beyond the nations. In that sense, many leading Japanese intellectuals who had no ties to the conservative radical nationalist groups ended up contributing to the legitimacy of the pan-Asianist program in some way, either through their theories on overcoming modernity and Eurocentrism or through their search for an alternative modernity in the Japanese and Asian cultural traditions.
The second major approach to the question of Japan’s adoption of Asianist rhetoric in foreign policy emphasizes that the structural transformations in the international system in East Asia complemented changes in the domestic power configurations to create a situation that led to the triumph of antiliberal and Asianist projects. Akira Iriye and James Crowley have argued that Japanese policies during the 1930s were largely a response to changes in the trends of the times as perceived by the Japanese elite. A perceived sense of an international legitimacy crisis and Japan’s isolation after the Manchurian Incident was accelerated by the impact of changed world conditions. Regionalism became the trend of the time, making the creation of a regional order in East Asia a more feasible policy, in harmony with the flow of world opinion. As Iriye noted, “by 1931 all indications seem to suggest that the neo-mercantilist world-view of Matsuoka was more realistic than Shidehara’s rational, laissez-faire image, which had apparently failed to produce tangible results.” The capitalist internationalism of the 1920s was not only denied altogether by Fascist Germany and Socialist Russia but also half-abandoned in the concept of the pan-American trade bloc and economic nationalism of the United States and the idea of the sterling trade bloc in England. In short, Japan’s policy shift from liberal internationalism to Asian regionalism could be considered a function just as much of other powers’ policies in the changing international system of the late 1930s as of Japan’s own domestic politics.
The end of the party cabinet system in 1932 and the increasing power of the military in political decisions created a discontinuity in the history of Japan’s domestic political order in terms of democratic participation and popular expression. Japan continued to be a constitutional state, however, with normally functioning domestic politics in accordance with the intricacies of the Meiji Constitution. In his study on the 1930s, Crowley refutes the idea of a conservative or right-wing takeover of the Japanese leadership by focusing on continuity in the “official mind” and the “decision-making process.” Crowley shows that all the policy decisions of the Japanese government during the 1930s were made by responsible political and military leaders in the interest of national defense and national policy.
The historiography that focuses on Japan’s response to changes in the international environment attributes an important role to ideology and culture in shaping Japanese perceptions of world events, without limiting focus to right-wing or militarist groups. It is in this context that an Asianist worldview about world cultures and international order becomes relevant for determining the perceptions and decisions of Japanese leaders. Iriye has discussed the role of key notions such as isolation and self-sufficiency in the psychology of Japanese decision makers, showing how the perception that Japan stood uneasily between East and West influenced the policy-making mood.
In this view, the notions that the elite held concerning the threats and opportunities presented to Japan by the new global developments should thus be regarded as more significant than the impact of antiliberal right-wing movements associated with pan-Asianism. A similar approach attributes Japan’s turn to anti-Westernism not to the influence of pan-Asianist groups in particular but rather to the general characteristics of Japanese nationalism. Hayashi Fusao’s controversial assertion that the “Pacific War was one phase of an Asian Hundred Years’ War to drive out the Occidental invader” presents a generalized formulation that portrays Asianist ideas as a permanent part of mainstream Japanese nationalism. This emphasis on the anti-Western historical memory of Japanese nationalism depicts Asianism as a widely held conception about Japan’s transnational identity rather than an exclusively radical ideology monopolized by ultranationalists or conservatives. Mark Peattie and James Crowley concur with Hayashi’s assessment of the importance of anti-Western historical memory embedded in Japanese nationalism as an ideological factor, although they do not share his revisionist agenda.
Since we know, however, that mainstream nationalism in Japan had changing perceptions of the West, it would be inaccurate to characterize anti-Westernism as a single constant position in the history of Japanese nationalism from the Opium War to the Greater East Asia War. Moreover, the Japanese intellectual elite remained closely linked to trends and ideas in Europe and the United States. During the 1930s, there was no new expansion of the West in Asia to which the surge in Japanese nationalism might be attributed; on the contrary, the West was perceived to be in a phase of global decline and retreat. Thus the very assumption that there was a constant association between Japanese nationalism and resistance to Western expansion reflects the influence of the official pan-Asianist discourse of wartime Japan rather than accurately characterizing how images of the West and civilizational identity interacted with Japanese foreign policy.
Withdrawal from the League of Nations as a Turning Point
There had been pan-Asianists in Japan since the turn of the twentieth century, and some continued to work for the cause they believed in especially from 1905 to the 1930s, especially under the umbrella of patriotic Asianist organizations such as Kokuryûkai and Genyosha. These patriotic Asianists represented a minority, if not a marginal opinion, in shaping Japanese foreign policy. They often complained about the neglect to which they had been subjected by the Japanese elite. In the aftermath of the Manchurian Incident of 1931 and Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations the following year, however, traditional Asianists found a very receptive audience for their ideas among Japanese bureaucrats and army officers.
The story told by Wakabayashi Han, a Kokuryûkai Asianist who specialized in the Islamic world, is very telling in this regard. Wakabayashi became interested in the Muslim world after a visit to India with the Burmese Buddhist monk and anticolonial nationalist U. Ottama in 1912. His discovery of Indian Muslims led him to undertake further research about Islam in Asia. For twenty years, he worked closely with a small circle of Islam experts within Kokuryûkai led by Tanaka Ippei, arguing that if Japan could develop closer ties with the colonized Muslims of Asia, its efforts to become the leader of an awakening and independent Asia could benefit from Muslim support. According to Wakabayashi, however, his small group neither achieved any result nor received any support from the government, and he became pessimistic about its future success. Then in 1932 Tôyama Mitsuru and Uchida Ryôhei sent Wakabayashi to observe the meeting of the League of Nations in Geneva that addressed the question of recognizing the state of Manchukuo. There, Wakabayashi witnessed the decision of Japanese diplomats to withdraw from the league upon its refusal to recognize Manchukuo. It was only during his trip back to Japan, Wakabayashi notes, that he recognized a change of attitude toward his group’s Asianist ideas on the part of Japanese military officers. In the long trip from Europe to Japan, he explained to Isogai Rensuke, a lieutenant colonel in the Japanese army the benefits that attention to the Muslim world could bring to Japan’s East Asian policy. Isogai later contacted Wakabayashi and introduced him to Army Minister Araki Sadao. Wakabayashi’s story of what followed is a narrative of triumph, as the Japanese army began to implement a pan-Asianist Islam policy in China and supported the activities of the Kokuryûkai. It is clear from his story that Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations was a turning point in the Japanese government’s attitude to the pan-Asianist ideas of Japan’s cooperation with Muslim nationalities against the Western colonial presence. Autobiographical anecdotes of other pan-Asianist activists exhibit a similar pattern. The most influential pan-Asianist, Ôkawa Shûmei, had the similar experience of finding a surprising shift in Japanese official policy and intellectual life toward positions more to his liking in the mid-1930s, more than two decades after his initial commitment of the cause of Asianism.
Ôkawa Shûmei’s biography during the 1930s took an ironic turn, as he was put on trial and imprisoned for his involvement in a failed military coup to change Japan’s domestic politics at the very time his Asianist projects were receiving the support of the Japanese government. As head of the East Asia Economic Research Bureau of the Manchurian Railway Company after 1929, Ôkawa naturally was familiar with Japanese interests in Manchuria. Frequently visiting Manchuria and China, he came to know the leading military figures of the Kwantung Army personally. From 1929 onward, Ôkawa argued that a solution to the Manchurian problem was essential for both Asian revival and the reconstruction of Japan. In 1928 Ôkawa met with the Manchurian warlord Chang Hsüeh-liang in an effort to convince him to form a stronger political union with Japan based on “Confucian political values.” Both a respected scholar of colonial studies and a radical nationalist, Ôkawa once gave a lecture on the necessity of creating an independent Manchuria-Mongolia to an audience that included top military officers of the 1930s, most notably, Itagaki Seishirô, Nagata Tetsuzan, and Tôjô Hideki. He went on a lecture tour in Japan before and after the Manchurian Incident, expressing his conviction that Manchuria was not only a legitimate economic and security sphere for Japan but actually represented the lifeline of Japan’s national policy.
Like so many other Japanese intellectuals and leaders, Ôkawa was outspoken about the importance of protecting Japanese interests in Manchuria, and he favored radical action to secure these interests against the claims of Chinese nationalism. For Ôkawa, Japan’s “sacrifice” in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars created the historical legitimacy for its treaty privileges in Manchuria. Criticizing the anti-Japanese movement in China, Ôkawa argued that if Japan did not act to protect its rights in Manchuria, it would endanger its position in Korea and Taiwan as well. He condemned the Japanese leaders of the late 1920s for not being able to show the courage and determination necessary to find a long-term solution to the Manchurian problem because of their submissive commitment to international cooperation with the Western powers. His arguments can clearly be construed as offering encouragement for the radical actions orchestrated by the Kwantung Army. Citing these facts, the prosecution at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal argued that there was a link between Ôkawa’s pan-Asianist ideas and the Manchurian Incident, a key step in constructing the ideological background of the tribunal’s thesis about the long-term Japanese conspiracy to invade Asia.
Okawa Shumei (left) and Ishihara Kanji
It is impossible to attribute the Manchurian Incident or post–Manchurian Incident Japanese policies specifically to the ideology of the pan-Asianists. The fact that pan-Asianist Ôkawa Shûmei had lectured on the issue of Manchuria and had known some of the military leaders did not necessarily make him an ideologue of the Manchurian Incident, since there were many others, including those identified as liberals at the time, who advocated a similarly radical policy in Manchuria. It is helpful to compare Ôkawa’s arguments on Manchuria with the writings of Rôyama Masamichi (1895–1980), a liberal intellectual of the time who was well respected internationally and influential in Japanese policy circles. Rôyama, who presented his analysis of Japan’s relations with Manchuria to an international audience affiliated with the Institute of Pacific Relations two years before the Manchurian Incident, held that Japan’s established interests in Manchuria deserved international approval. In a later policy report on Manchuria, Rôyama placed blame for the Manchurian Incident on the existing international peace structures and the refusal to acknowledge the special relations between China and Japan, not on the actions of the Kwantung Army. Ôkawa’s writings about the need to defend Japanese rights in Manchuria against Chinese nationalist demands did not differ substantially from Rôyama’s insistence on the protection of Japan’s vital interests.
The nature of the pan-Asianist approach to the Manchurian Incident became apparent only after the incident, when intellectuals like Ôkawa formulated laudatory characterizations of the establishment of Manchukuo both as a victory against the corruption of business conglomerates (zaibatsu) and political parties at home, and as a brave defense of Japan’s continental policy against American, British, and Soviet opposition. Ôkawa retroactively offered a moral justification for the Manchurian Incident within the framework of a pan-Asianist critique of Japan’s foreign policy between 1905 and 1931. His interpretation of the incident as a correction of the misguided course of pro-Western diplomacy, especially since the Russo-Japanese War, differed significantly from Rôyama Masamichi’s justification of the Manchurian Incident as a practical response to the changing conditions of the region. Ôkawa wrote:
Our victory over Russia inspired hope and courage in the countries exploited under the pressure of the Caucasian colonialists. But, before long, Japan gave in to the Franco-Japanese Agreement and the revised Anglo-Japanese Alliance, actions that shattered the hopes of noble Vietnamese and Indian patriots who sought independence for their countries. . . . However, the mistakes in Japanese policy were later rectified decisively by the foundation of Manchukuo. Japan abandoned cooperation with the Anglo-Americans, the chief instigators suppressing the Asian people. The foundation of Manchukuo was the first step in achieving a great “renascent Asia.”
Ôkawa similarly applauded Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations. As shown in the previous chapter, Ôkawa had always regarded the league as an instrument of Western colonial powers and often urged the Japanese government to create a League of Asian Nations as an alternative.After Japan’s withdrawal from the league in 1933, Ôkawa’s ideas seemed in harmony with the policies of the Japanese government for the first time in the history of his Asianist activism, dating back to 1913.
League of Nations Assembly, 1932
As the foreign policy Ôkawa had envisioned began to be implemented, he was put on trial for his involvement in the May 15, 1932, assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. After his arrest on June 15, 1932, the court found Ôkawa guilty of providing guns and money to conspirators during the planning stage of the assassination. In February 1934, he received a fifteen-year prison sentence, however, between appeals and paroles he spent less than two years in prison, between June 1936 and October 1937. Between 1931 to 1935, the dominant visions of Japanese foreign policy and domestic politics changed so dramatically that, by early 1935, Ôkawa no longer needed to work through secretive radical organizations to achieve his ideological goals. In February 1935, he marked the end of his career as an activist promoting the Shôwa Restoration in domestic politics and pan-Asianism in foreign policy by disbanding the last organization he established, Jinmukai. Japan itself was approaching the state of military mobilization while endorsing an Asianist foreign policy agenda, making radical activism for the same purpose pointless.
Although his image had been tarnished by his involvement in the May 15 assassination, shortly after his release from prison, Ôkawa was appointed to head the continental campus of Hôsei University. In May 1938, he was reinstated to his position as director of the East Asia Economic Research Bureau in Tokyo. Back in his position of managing one of the largest research institutes in Japan, he actively promoted a pan-Asianist agenda with the journal he edited, entitled Shin Ajia (New Asia). His position as editor allowed him to observe, comment on, and influence Japan’s Asia policy in the period following the official declaration of the “New Order in East Asia” in November 1938. In his first editorial, published just a month before the German invasion of Poland, Ôkawa predicted that the outbreak of war in Europe would usher in a new era in which nationalist movements in Asia would find their chance to achieve independence. He also urged the Japanese government to support these anticolonial movements with the goal of accelerating their process of national liberation and simultaneously creating future allies for Japan. Pointing out that Japan’s mission in Asia was gaining greater urgency, Ôkawa expressed his hope that the Japanese public, which was not knowledgeable even about the recent developments in China, would become better informed about the conditions and peoples of Asia in general.
As the Japanese government began to use the slogan “New Order in East Asia” to describe its foreign policy, Ôkawa became concerned about the Japanese public’s lack of preparedness, in terms of their knowledge about Asian societies and cultures, for a serious pan-Asian policy. In order to educate young Japanese about the culture and politics of Asia and prepare them for positions in the service of Japan, Ôkawa received government funds to establish a special school offering instruction in Asian studies. The two-year professional school, the most concrete product of Ôkawa’s Asianist vision, was established in May 1938 as a teaching institute affiliated with the East Asian Economic Research Bureau in Tokyo, with funds from the Manchurian Railway Company, the army, and the Foreign Ministry. All expenses of the admitted students were paid by the school, which was widely known as the Ôkawa Juku (Ôkawa School), although it was named the Shôwa Gogaku Kenkyûjo (Shôwa Language Research Institute). In return for receiving tuition and a stipend for two years, the students were obligated to work for the Japanese government in overseas regions such as Southeast Asia for approximately ten years. Each year, the school recruited twenty students around the age of seventeen. In their first year, students had to learn either English or French as their primary foreign language, along with an additional language to be selected from among Hindu, Urdu, Thai, and Malay. After the second year of the school, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish were added to the elective language course offerings.
The Ôkawa Juku represented a practical implementation of Ôkawa Shûmei’s long-held pan-Asianist vision of merging a colonial cultural policy with anticolonial ideology. He aimed to educate a body of Japanese bureaucrats who could understand the culture and language of Asian peoples and take a position of leadership among them. According to his students, Ôkawa often noted the apparent unreadiness of the Japanese Empire for a great pan-Asian cause, underlining the urgency he perceived in his teaching mission. He encouraged students to form personal friendship with Asian peoples and establish bonds of solidarity that would last even if Japan lost the war.
A retrospective assessment of Japan’s wartime cultural policies in newly occupied Southeast Asia shows that, with a few exceptions, cultural policies were in fact developed ad hoc by administrators faced with the reality of ruling a large population they knew little about. Ôkawa Juku complemented the other Asianist program that brought students from Southeast Asia to Japan for training. Most of the graduating students of Ôkawa Juku did find employment in the military administration of the Southeast Asian region during the era of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere.
The content of pan-Asianist education at Ôkawa Juku reflected a synthesis between the scholarly-idealistic vision of Asian liberation and pragmatic goals of Japan’s wartime military expansion. Ôkawa himself taught classes on colonial history, the “Japanese spirit,” Islam, and Oriental history. His lecture notes for the classes entitled “History of Modern European Colonialism” and “Introduction to Islam” later became the basis for books with these titles. Students praised Ôkawa as a dedicated educator, citing his informative and clear lectures, his hard work, and his close relationship with students. From time to time, high-ranking army generals such as Doihara Kenji, Itagaki Seishirô, Matsui Iwane, Tôjô Hideki, and Okamura Seiji would visit the Ôkawa Juku and lecture students on Japan’s Asia policy. Indian nationalist Rash Behari Bose and Muslim immigrant from Russia Qurban Ali were among the part-time language and history instructors of the school, giving students a firsthand encounter with the anticolonial nationalist thinking of Asian exiles in Japan. It was during this time that Ôkawa pioneered Japan’s rapidly growing field of Islamic studies not only through his own writings but also by supporting young scholars and purchasing library collections on Islamic studies from Europe in his capacity as director of the East Asia Economic Research Institute.
Qurban Ali (standing, second left) with Inukai Tsuyoshi (seated, second left) and Toyama Mitsuru (seated, second right).
It would be mistaken to assume that, before Pearl Harbor, Japan’s Asianists advocated war with the United States based on their vision of East-West conflict. From the time of the Manchurian Incident in July 1937 to the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, for example, Ôkawa Shûmei cautioned against entering into conflict with the United States while advocating a southern advance by Japan that would target the colonies of Britain, France, and the Netherlands in Southeast Asia. With this goal in mind, he urged a quick resolution to the Sino-Japanese conflict. Particularly as pan-Asianists became aware of an approaching war in Europe, with all the implications that such a war carried for the colonized areas in Asia, they found renewed faith in Asia’s ultimate rise to independence; destiny seemed to have presented Japan with an ideal opportunity to lead the liberation of Asia from Western colonialism. For pan-Asianists, a southern advance was as much a practical opportunity as it was a moral imperative, since neither the British nor the Dutch were in a position to resist Japanese military pressure, particularly if Japan could act in cooperation with native nationalist movements in Southeast Asia. It is in this spirit that Ôkawa Shûmei proposed the creation of a Southeast [Asian] Common Cooperative Region (Tônan Kyôdôken) to secure the political and economic unity of liberated Southeast Asia with Japan. With this historical opportunity, there could emerge a new world order based on three regional blocs, Euro-Africa, America, and East-Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, realizing the danger that cooperation between Europe and America could present to Japan, Ôkawa Shûmei advocated a policy of keeping the United States neutral. He refrained from making anti-American statements in his editorials and urged the improvement of economic ties, especially with joint projects in Manchuria and China, in a bid to secure U.S. neutrality in the event of a future British-Japanese conflict.
Thus, from 1938 up until the Pearl Harbor attack, Ôkawa Shûmei was involved in a project of developing trade ties between Japan and the United States. There had been an economic diplomacy toward the United States that aimed at cooperation in the industrialization of Manchuria between 1937 and 1940. Endorsing Ishiwara Kanji’s vision of the creation of a self-sufficient military industry in Manchukuo, but recognizing the insufficiency of the machine tool industry in the region, military and industrial leaders in Manchuria aimed to attract a higher level of U.S. investment and technology. In fact, Manchuria became more heavily dependent on American capital and technology than it was on European investments. Beyond the goal of industrializing Manchuria, Ayukawa Yoshisuke, the president of the Manchurian Industrial Development Corporation and the founder of the Nissan conglomerate, also hoped to avoid war between the United States and Japan by fostering mutual economic ties.
Ôkawa Shûmei’s personal commitment to the improvement of economic relations with the United States stemmed more from his interest in U.S. neutrality than from considerations of economic rationality. He believed it was possible for Japan to avoid U.S. intervention in its confrontation with the Chinese Nationalist government and the European colonial powers. It was Ôkawa’s expectation that the strong trade relationships and joint investments they shared with Japan in Manchuria would lead the Americans to withdraw their support from the Nationalist government of China. In making these policy suggestions, Ôkawa relied on his assumptions about the American national character as being concerned primarily with business interests rather than principled foreign policies. He also considered that the United States had less to lose by giving up its support for the government of Chiang Kai-shek than Britain did. With these assessments and goals, Ôkawa became personally involved in an effort by the Pan-Pacific Trading and Navigation Company to barter mineral ores from China for gasoline from the United States. His project failed as a result of difficulties with the intricacies of U.S. trade regulations. Nevertheless, Ôkawa’s desire to insulate the U.S from Japan’s war in China, in addition to his willingness to make use of U.S. trade in the development of Manchuria, should be noted as an indication that he was not, at least where practical policy matters were concerned, a consistent advocate of an inevitable war between the United States and Japan.
Once the fighting between the United States and Japan began, however, Ôkawa Shûmei immediately took on the task of offering a historical justification for the war as Japan’s response to a century of Anglo-American aggression in East Asia. He preferred the term “Anglo-American aggression” to “Western aggression,” a contemporary expression that allowed pan-Asianist thinkers to exclude Germany from their anti-Western rhetoric. Even so, when Ôkawa discussed the historical and philosophical basis of the Greater East Asia War, he again spoke about the confrontation of East and West as if China did not belong to the East or Germany to the West. It was during his radio lectures on this topic delivered between December 14 and December 25 of 1941, that Ôkawa credited himself for the prophecy he had made back in 1924 in his book “Asia, Europe and Japan” of an inevitable war between Eastern and Western civilizations, represented by Japan and the United States. He described the books purposes as follows:
first, to let the pacifists reconsider their wrong attitude by clarifying the historical significance of war; second, to show that world history, in its true sense of the word, is nothing but a chronicle of antagonism, struggle and unification between the Orient and the Occident; third, to reveal the cultural characteristics of the East and the West which had been blended into the history of the world; fourth, to give a logical foundation to Pan-Asianism; last, but not least, to point out that a war is inevitable between the East and the Anglo-American powers for the establishment of a new world. Moreover, I tried to clarify the sublime mission of Japan in the coming world war. I concluded the book as follows: “Now, East and West have respectively attained their ultimate goals. . . . As history fully proves, in creating a new world, a life-and-death struggle between the champion of the East and that of the West is inevitable. This logic proved true when America challenged Japan.” My prediction proved correct after the passage of 16 years.
Such self-promoting references to his prediction of Japan’s war with the United States led to Ôkawa’s indictment at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. During the trial, he pointed out that his writings in 1924 did not necessarily constitute a plan for a Japanese attack, as he was merely commenting on the inevitability of war between civilizations based on the ideas of the Russian philosopher Soloviev. In fact, he offered a more historical reinterpretation of his 1924 clash of civilization thesis while under U.S. interrogation. Albeit for opportunistic reasons, pan-Asianists opposed war with the United States before 1941. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Immigration Act of 1924, theories of a clash between the USA and Japan was a popular topic beyond Asianist circles. Yet the easy transition by the pan-Asianists to clash of civilization theories to justify the war with the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack also signifies the flexible utilization of the ideas of Eastern and Western civilization, and the historical memory of Western colonialism, for the ends of Japan’s own imperial expansion.
Asianist Journals and Organizations
From the Manchurian Incident in 1931 to the end of WWII, Ôkawa Shûmei was only one of the many intellectual voices trying to clarify the content and goals of the ambivalent notion of Asian solidarity and Japan’s Asian mission. Especially after Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, activities related to the ideals and discourse of pan-Asianism gained momentum as support from the government, the military, and business circles increased. There was a significant gap, however, between the discourse of civilization reducing all global conflicts to a question of clashes between distinct races or major civilizations and the reality of the state of international affairs. Around the time of the Russo-Japanese War, a vision of racial solidarity and civilizational alliance seemed to be an appealing international strategy for the political projects of the rising nationalist movements, which perceived a united policy in the West of imperialism toward their Asian colonies. During the late 1930s, however, the Western world no longer seemed such a unified front as a result of sharp political and ideological divisions in Europe. And Japan’s challenge to the international order was not based on racial divisions, either. Within East Asia, the major conflict was not between East and West but between Japanese imperialism, on the one hand, and Chinese and Korean nationalism, on the other.
From 1933 onward, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Asianist organizations, publications, and events. They aimed not only at demonstrating the sincerity of Japan’s “return to Asia” but also at guarding against a perceived state of international isolation for Japan after its withdrawal from the League of Nations. Asianist publications and events also aimed at convincing both the Japanese public and Asian nationalists that civilizational and racial distinctions were in fact to be regarded as the primary consideration in international relations. But the empty repetition of slogans about the conflict between civilizations and races did not succeed in creating any substantial ideology able to account for the complex global politics of the 1930s. Instead, Asianism became less and less credible in the face of Japan’s full-scale war against Chinese nationalism. Realizing this, Asianists pursued ideological credibility by attempting to revive and reinvent the legacy of the early Asian internationalism dating back to the period from 1905 to 1914. At the same time, liberal and socialist converts to Asianism during the late 1930s infused new content and vigor into the nearly exhausted concept of Asian community and solidarity.
The reinvention of pan-Asianist ideology following the Manchurian Incident can best be seen in the sudden increase in the number of Asianist journals and organizations supported by military, political, and business authorities. In 1933, the same year Japan left the League of Nations, Rash Behari Bose and Qurban Ali, two Asianist exiles who had lived in Japan during the 1920s, began to receive funding for the purpose of publishing journals addressed to India and the Muslim World. Rash Behari Bose published The New Asia–Shin Ajia, a monthly periodical in a dual English- and Japanese-language format. The government of India banned the entry and sale of The New Asia within the territories it controlled. The journal seemed to have supporters in Southeast Asia, as evidenced by the contact between Indonesian nationalist leader Muhammed Hatta and Rash Behari Bose.
Almost half the journal was devoted to coverage of news about the Indian independence movement, taking a tone sympathetic to the radical wing led by Subhas Chandra Bose. Neither Japanese pan-Asianism nor The New Asia, however, received support from such prominent leaders of the Indian national movement as Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, and Subhas Chandra Bose, all of whom were very critical of Japanese aggression in China. Despite the absence of interest in a Japan-centered pan-Asianist vision among Indian nationalists, the journal referred to the pro-Japanese statement by Tagore back in 1916, even though Tagore had radically changed his views of Japan by the 1930s. Even Taraknath Das, the one Indian nationalist who bestowed great hopes on Japan’s leadership of Asian nationalism during WWI, wrote to The New Asia that Japan had done nothing to improve Indo-Japanese relations for about two decades, expressing skepticism over the motivations behind Japan’s attempt to “return to Asia” after such a long period of indifference to nationalist movements.
The New Asia included international news from the perspective of the East-West conflict and domestic news on the activities of various Asianist associations in Japan, such as the visits to Tokyo of Asian or African American figures of repute, or the awarding of scholarships to students from Asia. The journal refrained from publishing any news or articles critical of the creation of Manchukuo and maintained silence on the subject of Chinese nationalism. After discussing the Sino-Japanese conflict in a tone of regret, Rash Behari Bose suggested that India should mediate between the two nations to reach a peaceful settlement. With regard to the clash of civilizations and races, articles in The New Asia emphasized that what Asians wanted was national liberation, with the possibility of a racial conflict thus depending entirely on the attitude that the Western powers chose to assume toward the independence movements:
The non-white peoples are now conscious of the distressing fact that they have hitherto been mercilessly exploited and inhumanly humiliated. The intensity of this consciousness is the measure of their challenge to the white man. One thing is certain, and that is that the East and the West cannot coalesce, unless the West fully realizes its immeasurable folly of race-superiority consciousness, completely abandons its mischievous policy of exploitation, and immediately makes ample amends for the untold wrongs it has inflicted on the non-white peoples of the earth.
In The New Asia’s editorials on Japanese foreign policy, Rash Behari Bose urged the Japanese government to cooperate with the United States, China, and the Soviet Union in a move to eliminate British colonial control in Asia. For him, Britain was the root of all problems in the region, including Japan’s isolation in the international community. As early as 1934, Behari Bose warned that Japan needed to maintain good relations with the United States, as only Britain would benefit from a conflict between that country and Japan: “Britain is not able to fight Japan singly and therefore waiting for her opportunity, when Japan may be involved in a war with America. . . . An American-Japanese War will weaken these two great powers who are serious rivals of Great Britain. Those Americans and Japanese who are real patriots should do their best to promote American-Japanese friendship.”
While Rash Behari Bose edited a journal addressing primarily India, Qurban Ali was publishing Yani Yapon Muhbiri (New Japan journal), which aimed its message at the Muslim world. Although the journal was in Turkish, the cover page of the magazine included a Japanese subtitle, describing it as “the only journal that introduces Japan to the Muslim world.” Several Japanese companies provided support to the small Muslim community in Tokyo for their efforts in the publication of Yani Yapon Muhbiri, which was seen as an effective means for the creation of an information network linking Japan and the Muslim world. In spite of the journal’s limited circulation, the very fact that Tokyo was hosting a magazine published by Muslims was expected to have propaganda value in cultivating pro-Japanese sentiments within a Muslim audience.
Around the same time that Yani Yapon Muhbiri began publication in 1933, several other attempts at networking with the Muslim world were promoted with the support of the Japanese army in Manchuria. These new attempts benefited from the contacts Kokuryûkai had established in the Muslim world and the Turkish Tatar diaspora network in East Asia. In a daring experiment in 1933, a prince from the abolished Ottoman dynasty, Abdül Kerim Efendi (1904–1935) was invited to Japan, presumably to consider his potential contribution to Japan’s policy toward the Muslims of Central Asia in case of a conflict with the Soviet Union. Although the plan was soon abandoned, it exemplified the reckless and unrealistic projects that Asianists were willing to consider at the expense of jeopardizing Japan’s diplomatic relations with the Turkish Republic. In the same year, AbdurreÅŸid Ä°brahim, the famous pan-Islamist whose travel memoirs more than two decades earlier had popularized a pro-Japanese image in the Muslim world, currently leading an isolated and uneventful life in Turkey, received an invitation to visit Tokyo. Ä°brahim collaborated with the Asianist projects reaching out to the Muslim world until his death in 1944 in Tokyo.
It was also in 1933 that several high-level military and civilian leaders established the Greater Asia Association (Dai Ajia Kyôkai). The Greater Asia Association not only promoted regional unity in East Asia but also advocated solidarity among West and Southeast Asian societies. Konoe Fumimaro, General Matsui Iwane, and General Ishiwara Kanji were among its prominent members. The Greater Asia Association published a monthly journal titled Dai Ajia Shugi (Greater Asianism), which became the most important pan-Asianist journal during that period, offering a wide range of news and opinion articles covering all of Asia, including Muslim West Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. Ôkawa Shûmei, Nakatani Takeyo, Rash Behari Bose and many Asianist figures in the military frequently wrote for this journal. The content and discourse of Dai Ajia Shugi became an influential source in shaping the official language of pan-Asianism during the late 1930s, influencing the “New Order in East Asia” proclamation of the Konoe Fumimaro cabinet in 1938.
Toyama Mitsuru honors Rash Behari Bose
The discourse of Asian identity represented in Dai Ajia Shugi was perfectly in harmony with the broader Asia view of Ôkawa Shûmei’s ideology, as it seemed to regard India and the Muslim world as just as important as East and Southeast Asia. Taking this continental Asia perspective, Dai Ajia Kyôkai made an important contribution to Asianist thought with its introduction of news and information about the political, economic, and social trends of the entire Asian world, from China and India to Iran and Turkey. In foreign policy, Dai Ajia Shugi was highly anti-British and, strikingly, not anti-American. Discussions of the conflict and clash of interests between England and Japan started as early as 1933, and gradually the journal’s call for a new world order turned to a more radical rejection of European hegemony in Asia. The journal, however, did not carry any vision of conflict with the United States that could have indicated the path to war. Beginning in 1938, it actively promoted the concept of “New Asia,” offering enthusiastic intellectual support for the government’s declaration of the “New Order in East Asia.”
Despite the journal’s endorsement of cooperation among Asian nations, there was no genuine dialogue with Asian intellectuals and nationalist movements in the pages of Dai Ajia Shugi. When it claimed to present an Asian perspective, the journal always consulted the same small group of exiled nationalists in Japan. This artificial perspective tended to give the journal a self-congratulatory tone, which became typical of Japanese pan-Asianism during the late 1930s; Japanese readers received the impression that Asian nationalists eagerly looked to Japan for leadership. In reality, expectation of Japanese leadership against Western colonialism was much weaker among the nationalist movements of the 1930s compared to the period in the aftermath of 1905. Still, the journal tried to convince the Japanese public that pan-Asianism could be a plausible and positive alternative to the declining Eurocentric world order in Asia.
In addition to the boom of journals and organizations, an increasing degree of networking with different Asian countries took place, primarily involving students and intellectuals. When one of Indonesia’s most prominent nationalist leaders, Muhammad Hatta, visited Japan in 1933, he was showered with media attention and received an enthusiastic welcome from the Greater Asia Association as the “Gandhi of the Netherlands East Indies.” Hatta had previously expressed criticism of Japanese imperialism in China following the Manchurian Incident; however, after his trip, he moderated his position on the Japanese “return to Asia” and advocated Indonesian cooperation with the liberal, progressive, and idealistic segments of Japanese society, suggesting that Indonesian nationalists should challenge the Japanese to be sincere in their pan-Asianist rhetoric. During his visit to Japan in the fall of 1935, Ahmad Subardjo, another Indonesian nationalist leader, expressed his belief that Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations and the revival of the pan-Asianist discourse represented a very positive turning point in Asian history. It is important to note that, despite their cautious approach to Japan’s official Asianism, neither Hatta nor Subardjo had anything positive to say about the League of Nations. Meanwhile, various Asianist organizations tried to increase the number of Indonesian students attending Japanese universities, with most of these students becoming members of pan-Asianist organizations during their stays in Japan.
In 1934 the Japanese government established a semiofficial agency, Kokusai Bunka Shinkôkai (Society for International Cultural Relations), with the purpose of introducing Japanese culture to other parts of the world and improving cultural ties with European, American, and Asian societies. Although the initial focus of the organization emphasized Europe and the United States, Kokusai Bunka Shinkôkai gradually expanded the funding it devoted to cultural interactions with Asian societies.
As the number of cultural and political associations, journals, and books focusing on Asia grew dramatically after 1933, the Japanese public’s interpretation of international events began to be shaped more by their consciousness of racial difference and Asian identity. The best example of the power that an internationalist race identity held over the Japanese imagination was the popular reaction to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, when strong pro-Ethiopian sentiments caused problems for Japan’s diplomatic relations with Italy. The mainstream Japanese media was full of anti-Italian and pro-Ethiopian commentaries, with references to the conflict as another instance of the struggle between the white race and colored races. Such overwhelming sympathy for the Ethiopian resistance caused diplomatic tension between Japan and Italy, despite the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s policy of keeping good relations with Italy. Meanwhile, the highly pro-Ethiopian public response to the Ethiopian crisis attracted the attention of African American intellectuals, prompting a visit to Japan by W. E. B. Du Bois. The warm reception Du Bois met during his 1936 visit to Manchuria and Japan, combined with his perception of a genuine Japanese public interest in the struggle of Africans and African Americans, convinced him of the sincerity behind Japan’s claim for leadership of the colored races. Du Bois continued to write about the legitimacy of Japan’s actions in Asia in the framework of the importance of race in international affairs, even in the face of Japanese atrocities in China. Predictably, pro-Japanese comments by Du Bois received great coverage in Japanese papers in a self-righteous affirmation of Japanese policies.
Du Bois in Japan
Overall, the small group of Japan’s Asian collaborators, together with the Asian and African American intellectuals who expressed support for Japan’s Asianist projects, were very important in allowing Japanese intellectuals to convince themselves that their ideas of the New Order in East Asia and the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere were different from Western imperialism. As Naoki Sakai has pointed out, the ideologues of Japan’s official pan-Asianism manifested a kind of “narcissism” that impelled them repeatedly to quote those individuals who praised the Japanese or who hoped to receive support from Japan against Western colonial rule. Through magnification of these manifestations of pro-Japanese expressions, many of which dated back to the decade after the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese leaders depicted the Japanese Empire as a Coprosperity Sphere that purported to represent the will of all its colonial subjects.
When Japan first began the process of colonizing Taiwan and Korea and received rights in Manchuria, its policies could be justified in international law through references to the ideals of progress and development favored by other colonial powers. In the starkly different international climate of the 1930s, the vocabulary of benevolent colonialism had to be replaced by the discourse of pan-Asian solidarity to justify Japanese imperialism. By 1940 there were many Japanese, especially in the young generation, who believed in their Asian identity and the discourses of Asian liberation propagated by multiple sources within Japan.
Asianist Ideology of the 1930s
Pan-Asianism did not have a defined ideology or a systematic doctrine. Formulating an ideology that was both realistic and intellectually appealing proved to be the greatest challenge faced by official Asianism in the 1930s. Early pan-Asianism derived its appeal from its opposition to the intellectual foundations of the Eurocentric international order while claiming to be in harmony with Japan’s national interest through the idea of regional leadership in the project of an Asian Monroe Doctrine. In the 1930s, when pan-Asianist ideology took on a more assertive challenge to the Eurocentric world order, a new generation of intellectuals struggled to inject a degree of international legitimacy and realism into the idea of Asianism by modifying the content of the racial conflict thesis with reference to regionalism and geopolitics. Moreover, a strong tide of intellectual critiques of Western modernity during the 1930s ended up strengthening the anti-Western discourse of pan-Asianism.
The charter of Dai Ajia Kyôkai, promulgated in 1933 after Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, was a far cry from the cautious language of the early Asian Monroe Doctrine developed during the 1910s:
In culture, politics, economics, geography, and race, Asia is a body of common destiny. The true peace, prosperity, and development of Asian peoples are feasible only on the basis of their consciousness of Asia as one entity and an organic union thereof. . . . The heavy responsibility for reconstruction and ordering of Asia rests upon the shoulders of Imperial Japan. . . . now is the time for Japan to concentrate all its cultural, political, economic, and organizational power to take one step toward the reconstruction and union in Asia. . . . The formulation of the Greater Asia Federation is the historical mission facing the Japanese people today.
In the early stages after Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, scholars of international relations such as Kamikawa Hikomatsu and Rôyama Masamichi criticized the idea of Great Asianism advocated by Dai Ajia Kyôkai, calling it both unrealistic and anachronistic. They suggested that instead of pursuing an anti-Western vision of Asian solidarity, Japan should create a Far Eastern League using the League of Nations as its model. This plan was based on a liberal internationalist agenda without any emphasis on the primacy of race and civilization. At that stage, scholars like Rôyama Masamichi were maintaining their resistance to an increasingly pervasive Asianist tendency to analyze and reorder Japan’s relations with the rest of the world in terms of racial and civilizational blocs and conflicts among them. Rôyama noted that he deliberately decided “not to give a leading position to the question of race and culture” in his writings and policy suggestions. In the end, however, Rôyama capitulated to this convention, offering realpolitik substance to the slogans of official pan-Asianism. He incorporated the idea of a distinct East Asian culture in his elaborate support of the New Order in East Asia, although it is true that the core of his arguments relied more on the concepts of regionalism. Japan’s liberal intellectuals could redefine the idea of East Asian community (kyôdôtai) as a form of regionalism that would bring about a rationalization of economic and social interaction in the region.
Because of harsh critiques from leading Asian nationalists, such as Gandhi and Nehru, of Japanese policies in China during the 1930s, official Asianism was based on highly repetitive references to the events and ideas of the Asian internationalism of the 1905–1914 period, when there was an interest in Japanese leadership in different parts of Asia. One of the best examples of this attempt to overcome the emptiness of an imposed notion of Asian unity through references to early Asianism can be seen in the response Ôkawa Shûmei offered to the condemnation of Japanese Asianism by leaders of the Indian National Congress. Even at the time when Japan was sponsoring the Indian National Army’s fight against British rule, both Gandhi and Nehru denounced Japanese colonialism. In an open letter to them, Ôkawa recounted his experiences during WWI in joining Indian nationalists to campaign for the liberation of India, regardless of Japan’s pro-Western policy at the time of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. For Ôkawa, this historical background of Indian-Japanese collaboration showed that the ideals of official pan-Asianism during the Greater East Asia War had altruistic historical roots, reflecting a genuine interest in aiding the decolonization of Asia. It was during such a search for the historical roots of Asianism that Okakura Tenshin was made an icon of pan-Asian thought. All of Okakura’s works, including a previously unpublished manuscript from his 1901 trip to India called Awakening of the East, were published in both English and Japanese editions between 1938 and 1945. In the same quest to reinvent early Asian internationalism, books by Ôkawa Shûmei, Paul Richard, and Taraknath Das from the period of WWI were reprinted after more than twenty years.
It was the presence of new converts from the socialist and liberal intellectual traditions, however, that injected new energy and vitality to Asianism. In the writings of Miki Kiyoshi, a leading member of the Shôwa Kenkyûkai, we can see the Asianist discourse of civilization in its most sophisticated formulation, polished with the German tradition of the philosophy of history. According to Miki, the over-Westernization of world cultures and the Eurocentric character of the social sciences posed a global political problem. Borrowing the self-critique of European thought during the interwar period, Miki expressed the conviction that Western civilization was in the process of self-destruction and could no longer dominate the fate of Asia. From this observation, he proceeded to the conclusion that Japan should uphold its civilizational mission to facilitate Asian unity and cooperation and eliminate Western colonialism. For Miki, Asian cooperation under Japanese leadership would serve the interests of peace and harmony, as well as liberation and racial equality.
Miki Kiyoshi (second left) at a meeting of the Shôwa Kenkyûkai
Miki’s arguments drew on reflections on modernity and Eurocentrism in the writings of the interwar era in both Europe and Japan. Ultimately, however, they resembled the ideas of Okakura Tenshin and Ôkawa Shûmei in their basic tenet, namely, belief in the collapse of the Eurocentric world order and the corresponding necessity to offer an alternative order based on Asian values and political solidarity. Other converts to Asianism, such as the famous socialists Sano Manabu, Nabeyama Sadachika, and Akamatsu Katsumaro, offered their own interpretations of the content of pan-Asianist thought. These former socialists described their perception of the world in terms of a division into a proletarian East and a bourgeois West. It was their belief that the fusion between the West, “reorganized by the proletariat,” and the East, “awakened through the influence of Pan-Asianism,” would create a new world order that would finally establish world peace and unity. Their retreat from Comintern socialism was accompanied by a shift in allegiance to Asian internationalism.
What united the ideology of such diverse groups and figures as the Greater Asia Association, Ôkawa Shûmei, and the new converts to Asianism such as Miki Kiyoshi, was the discourse of civilization central to all their arguments. Victor Koschmann have accounted for the differences among these pan-Asianist visions by making a distinction between esoteric and exoteric versions of Asianism. According to Koschmann, popular organizations such as the Greater Asia Association presented the exoteric Asianism that had the power to appeal to Japanese public opinion, while Shôwa Research Institute intellectuals such as Miki Kiyoshi produced an esoteric version of Asianism that was more relevant to rational policy making and legitimization in the eyes of the presumed world public opinion. East-West civilization discourse, however, united both the more sophisticated scholarly elaborations of Asianism and those that appealed to the broader domestic public opinion. This explains the striking similarities between the pan-Asianist ideas of Ôkawa Shûmei and Miki Kiyoshi, despite their dramatically different intellectual and political backgrounds. Very much like Ôkawa Shûmei, Miki Kiyoshi based his argument on the conviction that Eurocentrism or Western civilization had to be overcome, while the civilizational legacy of Asia could become the basis for an alternative. Gradually, these ideas turned into well-known slogans, frequently repeated if not always clearly defined. The following ambiguous formulation by the Greater Asia Association summed up the slogans that were common to all versions of Asianism: “It goes without saying that the cultures of Europe are incapable of rescuing themselves any more, much less the world at large. The new potential power lies with the third civilization. It makes both Eastern and Western civilizations come alive through ‘musubi’ or harmonious combination. This is what can produce a new order in China, and Japan may rightfully serve as a catalyst for this combination.”
The central tension in world politics, according to this Asianist discourse of civilization, was between East and West, and thus Asianism helped serve to reduce all world conflicts to this reductionist framework. Once the war between Japan and the United States started, such rhetoric served a very useful political purpose by placing the focus on the conflict with the Western powers and covering up the sense of guilt some Japanese may otherwise have felt about their country’s aggression in China. Thus a great number of Japanese intellectuals may have felt relieved after the outbreak of war with the USA. They could mobilize their ideas for the glorification and justification of the Pacific War in the name of overcoming modernity and East-West confrontation. For example, the participants in the famous wartime conference “Overcoming Modernity” utilized a wide array of philosophies and theories to link Japan’s military conflict with the intellectual attempts to overcome the problems of Eurocentric modernity. It was thus the intellectual legacy of early Asianism in the form of a discourse of Asian civilization that created similarities between the ideology of old-time Asianists such as Ôkawa Shûmei and that of the new converts to Asianism during the 1930s, whose disparate beliefs converged in their obsessive and constant blaming of the imagined West for the problems of the international order.
Wartime Asian Internationalism and Its Postwar Legacy
Throughout the Pacific War, pan-Asianists like Ôkawa Shûmei devoted all their energies to the service of the Japanese state and the project of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere. In addition to publishing books and journals advocating the ideals of Asianism, Ôkawa continued to head the administration of the East Asian Economic Research Institute and to run his professional school. Among these efforts, he saw it as particularly important to clarify Japan’s war aims and explain the origins and goals of the Greater East Asia War. The main Asianist project Ôkawa closely followed during the war was the establishment of the Indian National Army, an event that gave a sense of final achievement to Ôkawa after three decades of advocating Japanese support for Indian independence.
The creation of the Indian National Army (INA) in 1942, with its ranks composed of Indian soldiers from the surrendered British troops in Singapore, became the most memorable project to embody pan-Asianist slogans. The INA was intended to fight alongside the Japanese army against the British forces at the Burmese-Indian border. It is now clear that the initial success of the Japanese plans for the creation of an Indian army can be attributed more to the contributions of idealistic Japanese figures on the ground than to any planning in Tokyo. Major Fujiwara Iwaichi (1908–1986) gained the trust of Indian officers mainly through his own sincere commitment to the project of Indian independence. In fact, upon Fujiwara’s departure, INA commander Mohan Singh soon clashed with the new liaison officer and attempted to disband the 40,000-man army he had created. The objection of Mohan Singh and other Indian officers to the appointment of Rash Behari Bose to the top position in the newly created army marked another point of crisis, one that shows the agency of Indian collaborators in the whole project.
Subhas Chandra Bose’s willingness to cooperate with Japan, followed by his secret submarine trip from Germany to Japan in 1942, saved the Indian National Army project, when it faced a crisis provoked by disagreement between the Japanese and Indian sides. Chandra Bose was a well-respected leader of the Indian nationalist movement who could both gain the loyalty of the Indian officers and assert authority over the Japanese liaison officers. For a long time, he had advocated cooperation with anti-British powers in order to win independence for India, in contrast to the policy of passive resistance advocated by Gandhi. He saw a great opportunity in German and Japanese support for the liberation of India and willingly collaborated with both powers. Soon after his arrival in Singapore, Chandra Bose took over the leadership of the INA and formed the Provisional Government of Free India. Although the actual engagement between the Indian National Army and their British enemies at Imphal resulted in defeat for the Indian side, the mere existence of a provisional government and an army had a positive psychological impact on the Indian nationalist movement as a whole.
From his arrival at Singapore until his death in a plane crash at the end of the Pacific War, Subhas Chandra Bose visited Tokyo several times during the war. The speech he made as the leader of the Provisional Government of Free India at the Greater East Asia Conference in 1943 to the heads of state of six nations of the Coprosperity Sphere (Japan, China, Manchuria, the Philippines, Burma, and Thailand, all recognized as independent by Japan) demonstrated the links between the failure of the League of Nations system and the New Order in East Asia that Japan had declared its intention to establish in the context of its war aims. Bose began his speech by recalling his frustration with the League of Nations: ”My thoughts also went back to the Assembly of the League of Nations, that League of Nations along whose corridors and lobbies I spent many a day, knocking at one door after another, in the vain attempt to obtain a hearing for the cause of Indian freedom.”  According to Bose, the Greater East Asia Conference organized by the Japanese government as an alternative to the League of Nations was receptive to nationalist voices in Asia in a way none of the European-centered international organizations had ever been. Meanwhile, he gave several radio speeches and lectured to the Japanese public, helping to enhance the popular Japanese confidence in the liberation mission of the Pacific War.
Subhas Chandra Bose in a Tokyo speech in 1945
What pan-Asianists like Ôkawa Shûmei never realized was that, for nationalist leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, pan-Asianism was merely one of the means to reach national independence, not a goal in itself. In one of his conversations with Ôkawa Shûmei about the future of the Indian national movement, Subhas Chandra Bose talked about the possibility of receiving Soviet support against the British Empire if Germany was defeated on the European front. Ôkawa was surprised that Bose could think of cooperating with the Soviets and asked him why he would collaborate with the Soviet Union if he was against Communism. In response, Bose pointed out that he was prepared “to shake hands even with Satan himself to drive out the British from India.” It did not occur to Ôkawa that Japan might well be one Satan with whom Chandra Bose had to cooperate. In fact, Chandra Bose saw Japan as a different ally from Russia or Germany because of the Asian identity common to both India and Japan. In the end, however, Bose’s nationalist agenda was the main motive for collaboration, rather than a vision of Asian regionalism under Japanese leadership. In a sense, the legitimacy of wartime pan-Asianism intimately depended on the idea of national self-determination.
For Ôkawa Shûmei, on the other hand, Asian decolonization was unthinkable in the absence of Japan’s unique mission to lead the free Asia. He refrained, however, from stating specifically what kind Asian federation would replace the old order. Unsurprisingly, Ôkawa’s vision of the future Asia was ambiguous, and his wartime writings focused more on the history and ideology of Asianism. The Japanese government, on the other hand, had to clarify its war aims and postwar visions much more clearly than Ôkawa did, especially in response to the appeal of the Atlantic Charter. Initially, Japanese leaders defined the first stage of the new world order they envisioned for Asia—namely, the expulsion of Western hegemony and the elimination of Western interests—without specifying clearly what would happen after the Western powers were gone. They assumed that, once Western exploitation was over and trade between Asian nations was established, Asia would develop very fast. They also hoped that the new Asia would cooperate with a German-dominated Europe to create a world order based on regional economic blocs. As Japanese leaders soughtthe further cooperation of local nationalist movements during the later stages of the war, they eventually clarified their own war aims as an alternative to the Atlantic Charter.
As the declarations of the 1926 Nagasaki pan-Asiatic conference had looked similar to the principles of the League of Nations, so the Greater East Asia Conference declaration also looked like a modification of the Atlantic Charter, with slight alterations affording sensitivity to the cultural traditions of non-Western societies. For example, the principles declared on November 7, 1943, in Tokyo affirmed the national self-determination of Asian societies, with the only major difference from the Atlantic Charter being a call for the “abolition of racial discrimination” and the cultivation of Asian cultural heritages. During the Greater East Asia War, the fierce competition between the Allied Powers and Japan in propaganda battles and psychological warfare had accelerated the pace of decolonization. Not only did Japan feel the need to respond to the Atlantic Charter, but the Allied Powers also had to respond to the pan-Asianist challenge to the interwar colonial order. For instance, U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) reports on psychological warfare in Southeast Asia held that Japan’s Asianist propaganda was generally very successful. In response, the OSS suggested that the vision of a United Nations organization and a new world order should be emphasized, taking care not to make any reference to the continuation of the British, French, and Dutch empires. More important, there was a growing awareness among U.S. wartime leaders, including President Roosevelt, that they had to counter the widespread pan-Asian notions of solidarity spread by Japan by offering a new vision of a postwar order that at least recognized the national demands of India and China. There was also a second concern beyond the competition with Japan: how to assure the support of China and later India in the postwar international order. These concerns led to recognition that the pre-WWII colonial discourses of racial inferiority and the reality of the colonial subjugation of India and China should not continue, even if Japan were punished by a national-racial isolation. It is against the background of this concern with pan-Asianism that Roosevelt recommended that Churchill give India more self-government in order to improve the war efforts against Japan.
As a matter of fact, after the end of the Greater East Asia War, the prewar imperial order would not be reestablished. When Ôkawa Shûmei listened to the emperor’s radio announcement of Japan’s surrender, on August 15, 1945, he thought that four decades of his work “toward the revival of Asia [had] disappeared like a soap bubble.” Yet, although it was true that Japanese pan-Asianism as a political movement would disappear, the decolonization of Asia would be completed by the 1950s. More important, the Asianist discourse of an East-West civilizational conflict would likewise survive the post-WWII period.
The period immediately after WWII witnessed nationalist revolutions from Indonesia to Vietnam fighting against the returning Dutch and French colonialism. Even in India, despite Chandra Bose’s death in a plane crash and the dissolution of his army at the end of WWII, the Indian national movement rushed to the moral and legal defense of the officers of the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, who were indicted for treason against the British Empire. As Tilak Raj Sareen wrote, the trial of the INA officers revitalized the nationalist movement in India, actually creating a new turning point in the Indian national movement, demoralized after WWII. Meanwhile, at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, the legacy of the prewar Asian discourse of civilization would be played out in full in the conflict of opinion between the Indian Radhabinod Pal and the other judges.
Ôkawa Shûmei was indicted as a Class A war criminal by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal based on his role as an ideologue of right-wing pan-Asianism. Both the prosecution and the final verdict used Ôkawa’s writings extensively in the construction of their case charging the accused Japanese leaders with conspiracy to commit aggression, even though charges against Ôkawa himself were dropped when he was diagnosed with brain syphilis in the early stages of the tribunal. While the majority of judges found the accused Japanese leaders guilty of the charges, Judge Radhabinod Pal wrote a long dissenting opinion asserting that Japanese decision making leading up to the Pacific War did not constitute a crime in international law. It is a testimony to Radhabinod Pal’s expertise in international law and his sharp political and legal acumen that his long dissenting opinion is now as well remembered as the Tokyo Tribunal itself. The substance of Pal’s dissenting judgment derived from his ideas of international law and his commitment to a just trial untainted by the politics of “victor’s justice.” It is also evident that Pal’s background in colonial Bengal and his sympathies for the Indian National Army under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose had an impact on the content of his dissenting judgment. This background may have also influenced his failure to speak out against the use of his dissenting judgment by Japanese right-wing revisionists.
Monument to Radhabinod Pal in Japan
Richard Minear and John Dower have agreed with many of Pal’s legal arguments in their discussion of the neocolonial context of the Tokyo Tribunal and their critique of the negative impact of the Tokyo trial on both international justice and Japan’s acceptance of responsibility for the Pacific War. As Timothy Brook has demonstrated, however, Justice Pal’s anticolonial sensibilities led him to refrain from making any meaningful judgment on Japan’s responsibility for the Nanking Massacre. Pal’s anticolonial stance led him to withhold comment on Japan’s war crimes against Chinese civilians in Nanking and elsewhere. The majority of the judges, on the other hand, condemned Japanese imperialism in the name of international justice at the same time that Western powers were trying to reestablish their colonial hegemony. Thus, in a sense, the color lines that pan-Asianism emphasized were acted out on the benches of the Tokyo Tribunal, indicating one of the many ways the legacies of the pan-Asianist discourse of civilization and race survived in the postwar period, shaping the perception of both the cold war and decolonization in contemporary history.
Japanese pan-Asianism gained unprecedented official support among the elites of the Japanese Empire in the aftermath of the Manchurian Incident and Japan’s decision to withdraw from the League of Nations. The Japanese government declared its “return to Asia” by appropriating an already existing pan-Asianist alternative to the Eurocentric world order only when its empire was challenged internally by nationalist movements and externally by the other great powers. The very fact that Japan’s elites saw something practical and useful in the pan-Asian slogans and networks to help justify the multiethnic Asian empire of Japan indicates both the continuing intellectual vitality of Asianist critiques of the interwar-era world order and the potential appeal of the Asianist slogans of East-West relations and racial identity to broader Japanese public opinion. Pan-Asianism allowed the Japanese Empire to implement more rigorous and inclusive assimilation policies and exhibit a high level of international confidence and self-righteousness in an era when imperialism was globally delegitimized. Yet it was partly a nostalgic and narcissistic ideology, making frequent references to the post-1905 Asian nationalist admiration of Japan without recognizing the fact that both the nature of nationalism and the image of Japan had changed dramatically from 1905 to the late 1930s.
Japanese pan-Asianists saw a great opportunity in the unexpected patronage of their ideas by the Japanese government and military authorities after 1933. Throughout the 1930s, the radical anti-Western tradition within Asianism was focused on the end of European empires in Asia, especially on the weakness of British Empire, without advocating or recommending any Japanese challenge to the United States. Pearl Harbor was thus an undesirable development for pan-Asianists in Japan, even though they rushed to glorify and justify it via a discourse of East-West civilizational or yellow-white racial conflicts. Meanwhile, new converts to Asianism from different segments of Japanese intellectual life added practical and policy-oriented content to the ambivalent slogans of Asian solidarity via social science theories of regional cooperation and multiethnic communities. Despite its internal paradoxes and its tensions with the logic of Japanese imperialism, pan-Asianism nevertheless allowed Japan to conduct a relatively successful propaganda campaign against Western imperialism in Southeast Asia while motivating numerous idealist Japanese activists and their collaborators. Pan-Asianist propaganda, accompanied by Japan’s own imperial expansion during WWII, did contribute to the end of Western empires, partly by forcing the Allied powers to formulate and promise a more inclusive and nonimperialistic world order at the end of WWII, and partly by stimulating anti-colonial thought and confidence in the possibility of defeating European colonizers among colonized Asian nations.
This article is developed from Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (New York: Columbia University Press 2007) pp: 161-189. For more information about the book, please see. Posted at Japan Focus on March 12, 2008.
Cemil Aydin is assistant professor of history, University of North Carolina, Charlotte and a post-doctoral Fellow at Princeton University, Near Eastern Studies Department in 2007-08. Recent publications include “Beyond Eurocentrism? Japan’s Islamic Studies during the Era of the Greater East Asia War (1937-1945),” in Renee Worringer, ed., Princeton Papers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Volume XIV: The Islamic Middle East and Japan: Perceptions, Aspirations, and the Birth of Intra-Asian Modernity, January 2007.