- Planning for Empire: Reform Bureaucrats and the Japanese Wartime State
As if to make up for Japan’s slipping global status, the pursuit of Japanese history beyond national boundaries continues apace. The keyword is empire: in the last two years alone, titles on the “technology of empire,” “brokers of empire,” “race for empire,” even “living, dead and undead in Japan’s imperialism” have augmented the Japan shelf. As the rather routine gerund in the title of Janis Mimura’s new study suggests, Planning for Empire is, perhaps, the least glamorous recent addition to this scholarly craze for Japanese empire. Indeed, much of the drama in Mimura’s tale takes place in the metropole, not on the more enchanting imperial periphery. And many of her heroes are familiar dead Japanese men, such as Ayukawa Yoshisuke, Ishiwara Kanji, Kishi Nobusuke, Konoe Fumimaro, and Suzuki Teiichi. Mimura writes, moreover, with great economy, pinpoint clarity, and without embellishment or hint of hyperbole.
If Planning for Empire does not, thus, aspire to “best in show” honors for recent analyses of the Japanese empire, it deserves accolades as likely the most influential of the lot for its measured yet powerful confirmation of several critical trends in the study of early twentieth-century Japanese empire and war. The power of Mimura’s vision derives, first, from a thesis argued tightly around a finite and well-chosen set of actors. Although each of the prominent personalities above plays a critical role in her story, Mimura’s principal focus is what she describes as wartime Japan’s “reform bureaucrats.” Through Sheldon Garon, we are, of course, familiar with bureaucratic reformers within Imperial Japan’s Home Ministry.1 Mimura’s [End Page 394] protagonists, by contrast, hailed largely from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry or Ministry of Communications and, together with the “new military men” (who promoted modern technocratic visions of “total war” and a “national defense state”) and leaders of the “new zaibatsu” (who were engineer-scientists doubling as business entrepreneurs), constituted what the author describes as Japan’s “wartime technocrats.” Similar to their military and business counterparts, men such as Hoshino Naoki, Kishi Nobusuke, Minobe Yōji, Mōri Hideoto, Okamoto Kiwao, Sakomizu Hisatsune, and Shiina Etsusaburō had a profound faith in science and technology and ambitious plans to transform Japanese society to meet the exigencies of the new machine age following World War I.
Mimura’s study adds significantly to our increasingly complex vision of wartime Japanese state and society. First, she provides more powerful evidence against the classic narrative of peace-loving civilians versus unrepentant militarists in wartime Japan. Rather, central to the campaign for an independent Manchuria, New Order in Asia, Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and national defense state were not only members of the Kwantung Army, the Control Faction of the Imperial Army (Tōseiha), and the Tōjō cabinet but also Kishi Nobusuke and his army of wartime technocrats, who spied in each of these projects an unprecedented opportunity to construct a new “managerial state.” The campaign for total state management of the productive capacities of the nation, moreover, was one rife with conflict, pitting these reformers against established zaibatsu, mainstream party politicians, traditional bureaucrats, imperial advisers, and, at times, even against erstwhile allies among professionals, military planners, the new zaibatsu, progressive intellectuals, labor party leaders, and government engineers. Nor did the campaign ultimately succeed. Total war after Pearl Harbor fostered some semblance of national unity but not the well-oiled “national economy” or “community of work” envisioned by the technocrats.
Mimura, likewise, deals another powerful blow to the classic notion of wartime Japan as a rejection of modernity. There was nothing premodern, romantic, or irrational about the attempt to transform society around technocratic principles. On the contrary, Kishi et al. understood their enterprise as introducing to Japan the most advanced ideas of organizing state, industry, and empire and waging war—those best suited for the new era of technology. Although many of these men shared the idea of an ethnically based...