This week’s main theme is complicity — that is, how did ordinary Japanese people become implicated (consciously or not) in the act of inflicting colonial violence? Consider this question from the readings for lecture 7. Is there a link between someone like Ayako in Mizoguchi’s Osaka Elegy and Koizumi Kikue, who wrote “Manchu Girl” based on her experiences in Manchuria? How might these very different representations of late 1930s femininity in imperial Japan connect to the kinds of imperialist masculinity we see explored in the readings for lecture 8?
Note: This post is a group post with Rohan Sreedhar. While we were answering this question we were on a video call together.
When we first read the question, we went on a tangential discussion about the thoughts of ordinary citizens of other colonial powers with respect to violence committed by their countries. During this tangent, we discussed how a significant portion of Britain’s population today feels like their colonialist behavior was justified and that they were proud of what their country had accomplished through colonialism and that they had helped the people they colonized. Both of us have South Asian ancestry, so it was a personal discussion as well, touching on the feelings of our family members both in the diaspora and in the motherland.
We discussed how this is very similar to Japanese citizen’s thoughts about Japan’s colonialism that read in the assigned reading. The ideas of “imperial motherhood” were prevalent during this period of time. Imperial motherhood is the idea that Japanese women were to care for both their sons and other “sons of the nation” through their support of the military. A major catalyst to the spread of these ideas was wartime propaganda. For the colonization of Manchuria, propaganda that aimed to spread this was very prevalent. I actually just recently wrote an essay about the impact of the Meiji modernization and industrialization efforts on Japanese women for my MMW 14 class, therefore I was familiar with a lot of the terminology from the texts such as ryosai kembo, the idea that women should be good wives and wise mothers. When this was brought up I discussed how ideas like ryosai kembo affected women’s education in Meiji Japan, as education was geared toward making them good wives and mothers. This greatly differed from the curriculum for men, which focused more on direct academic pursuits Another connection we made was how Spartan women had a similar role by promoting their sons to go into war. One quote we remembered from MMW 11 was a Spartan mother who reportedly said to her son: “return either with your shield or on it,” as dying in war was a huge honor in Spartan culture.
In the “Manchu Girl” by Koizumi Kikue, Kikue writes about how she and her husband hired a Chinese girl named Li Guiyu as a maid. Li Guiyu initially harbored anti-Japanese sentiment due to Japan’s colonization efforts in China., but through “ethnic harmony” and the family “educating” the girl, Guiyu ended up seeing the family as her own and being grateful for them. From this anecdote, we can see that many Japanese citizens saw colonization as a way of “educating” those who were not Japanese. The idea of educating those who are not Japanese is similar to how European colonialism often came with colonizers pushing ideas of what they thought was right onto those who they were colonizing. This idea reminded us of the poem “White Man’s Burden” by British poet Rudyard Kipling, which describes the impetus for colonialism as paternalistically uplifting citizens of the colonies instead of territorial and resource gains for the metropole. “Manchu Girl” is an example of imperial motherhood as women played a role in the creation of a benevolent image of Japanese colonization.
We felt that what connects the two stories was the women’s sense of duty to help out Japan’s imperialist efforts. This way of acting is expressed in Lecture 8 with “The Way of Subjects 1941” which promoted strong nationalism among the Japanese people and promoted that people play their part in making Japan great. Imperial femininity was for women to do their part by being good wives and wise mothers by encouraging their sons to go to war and the masculine counterpart was to be a part of the colonization efforts through war.