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Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964

Takashi Nishiyama

Publication Year: 2014

Naval, aeronautic, and mechanical engineers played a powerful part in the military buildup of Japan in the early and mid-twentieth century. They belonged to a militaristic regime and embraced the importance of their role in it. Takashi Nishiyama examines the impact of war and peace on technological transformation during the twentieth century. He is the first to study the paradoxical and transformative power of Japan’s defeat in World War II through the lens of engineering. Nishiyama asks: How did authorities select and prepare young men to be engineers? How did Japan develop curricula adequate to the task (and from whom did the country borrow)? Under what conditions? What did the engineers think of the planes they built to support Kamikaze suicide missions? But his study ultimately concerns the remarkable transition these trained engineers made after total defeat in 1945. How could the engineers of war machines so quickly turn to peaceful construction projects such as designing the equipment necessary to manufacture consumer products? Most important, they developed new high-speed rail services, including the Shinkansen Bullet Train. What does this change tell us not only about the Japan at war and then in peacetime but also about the malleability of engineering cultures? Nishiyama aims to counterbalance prevalent Eurocentric/Americentric views in the history of technology. Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964 sets the historical experience of one country’s technological transformation in a larger international framework by studying sources in six different languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. The result is a fascinating read for those interested in technology, East Asia, and international studies. Nishiyama's work offers lessons to policymakers interested in how a country can recover successfully after defeat.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book is the culmination of an intellectual odyssey that lasted over a decade. It had its genesis in my many conversations with my mentor and colleague in the United States, James Bartholomew. He has shaped my lifelong exploration in the field of history of technology in Japan. He read and commented on all parts...

Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-xvi

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Introduction: Technology and Culture, War and Peace

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pp. 1-6

On March 28, 2000, Japan’s sole public broadcaster, NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai), introduced the enormously popular documentary program Project X: Challengers and televised it for the next five years. Most of the 191 episodes were “success stories” of multiple guests, mostly males. The program lionized the ordinary...

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Chapter One: Designing Engineering Education for War, 1868–1942

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pp. 7-24

Ōki Takatō was an idealist with determination. On February 12, 1873, five years after the Meiji Restoration, this first governor of Tokyo (1868–69) and Minister of Education (1871–73) submitted his proposal for modernizing Japan’s education system. “The growth of the talents of a civilized people,” he wrote, “is imperative...

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Chapter Two: Navy Engineers and the Air War, 1919–1942

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pp. 25-61

In 1927, a proposal submitted to the Lower House of the 52nd Imperial Diet raised expectations for a stronger aviation capability in both the civilian and military sectors. Toward this end, from February 19 to March 25, a series of discussions were conducted on the need for coordinated efforts by army, navy, and civilian...

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Chapter Three: Engineers for the Kamikaze Air War, 1943–1945

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pp. 62-84

“Victory is before our eyes [because] divine lightning will annihilate our enemy with a single stroke,” wrote Kawabata Yasunari on June 1, 1945. This wartime navy correspondent in the South Pacific later achieved worldwide fame as the first Japanese to earn the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature. The “divine lightning”...

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Chapter Four: Integrating Wartime Experience in Postwar Japan, 1945–1952

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pp. 85-104

At noon on August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced the end of World War II in a four-minute, prerecorded radio broadcast, presenting himself as the guardian of those who survived the destruction. “I am terribly concerned about those injured, suffering, or lost in war,” he said in a reedy, crackling voice...

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Chapter Five: Former Military Engineers in the Postwar Japanese National Railways, 1945–1955

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pp. 105-123

“In winning the war, the victor is only too likely to assume that he is superior to the vanquished in every respect, not only materially, but also intellectually, ethnically, and culturally,” warned Dr. Fritz Zwicky, a Swiss émigré and an expert in jet propulsion at the California Institute of Technology. His appraisal from November...

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Chapter Six: Opposition Movements of Former Military Engineers in the Postwar Railway Industry, 1945–1957

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pp. 124-156

From September 21 to 28, 1957, the Japanese rail industry carried out a series of high-speed test runs between the cities of Hiratsuka and Fujisawa, both located about 50 to 60 kilometers away from Tokyo. It was a joint project between the Japanese National Railways (JNR) and the private railway company Odakyū. The...

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Chapter Seven: Former Military Engineers and the Development of the Shinkansen, 1957–1964

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pp. 157-183

At 6:00 in the morning on October 1, 1964, leaving behind fireworks and the marching song composed for the occasion, the Shinkansen slowly left the Tokyo station to head for Osaka for the first time, a distance of 515 kilometers. Fifty doves symbolizing peace were released into the air. It was a historic moment...

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Conclusion: Legacy of War and Defeat

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pp. 184-196

For about a century following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan had to acquire or develop appropriate technology in a very challenging environment. The nation capitalized on both the intended and unintended consequences of war, and especially after World War II, the latter carrying a greater impact on technological...

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A Note on the Appendix and Sources

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pp. 197-200

The socio-technological transformation in many countries has been treated as the product of some sort of artificial and inorganic system—be it military, political, economic, social, or environmental. With few exceptions, recent scholarship subscribes to some form of top-down verticality, focusing on central civilian...

Appendix: List of Informants

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pp. 201-202


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pp. 203-242


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pp. 243-258


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pp. 259-264

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412672
E-ISBN-10: 1421412675
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421412665
Print-ISBN-10: 1421412667

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 9 halftones
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870994422
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964

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Subject Headings

  • Military engineering -- Japan -- History -- 19th century.
  • Military engineering -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Engineering and construction.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Japan.
  • Railroad engineering -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Railroads -- Design and construction -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
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