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  • Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945
  • Brandon Palmer (bio)
Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, by Mark Caprio . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009. 320 pages, illustrations, notes, glossary, bibliography, index. $75.00 cloth, $35.00 paper.

Mark Caprio's Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea is an illuminating account. It emphasizes the vibrant debate among Japanese politicians, journalists, academics, and businessmen about the viability, extent, and nature of Japan's assimilation of the Korean people. Caprio uses newspapers, movies, pamphlets, and government-sponsored publications to show that the Japanese were not of one voice or one mind about how Korea should be incorporated into the Japanese empire. Readers should note that this book does not recount the Korean nationalist paradigm that highlights the exploitation and oppression of the Korean people. Instead, his purpose is "to analyze and evaluate Japanese assimilation as a policy in Korea" (p. 17).

Caprio raises the specter of internal, external, and peripheral colonization as a pedagogical tool. For him, internal colonization was akin to nation building and was reserved for peoples deemed prepared for citizenship while external colonization was generally reserved for distant lands populated by ethnically different peoples. In between these was peripheral colonization that "assumed an inferior people being integrated into a more civilized body, rather than, as in the case of the internal subject, into a body to which they theoretically already belonged" (p. 10). He states that the Japanese ruled Korea as a peripheral colony.

The book begins by providing an overview of the global context in which the Japanese colonized Korea. Caprio discusses the successes and failures of America's assimilation efforts with the Native Americans and Blacks, England's with the Scots and Welsh, the French in Vietnam and Algeria, and Germany in Alsace and Lorraine. In a prelude to his discussion of Japan's colonial ventures, Caprio demonstrates that cultural assimilation was doomed to failure whenever rhetoric was not put into practice. The Japanese adapted the French and German models of assimilation "that attempted to change the cultural fabric of their colonial subjects" (p. 48). Japan's incorporation of Ezo (Hokkaido) and Ryukyu (Okinawa), as well as the colonization of Taiwan, provided the Japanese with oft-ignored colonial experience before the colonization of Korea. Caprio's analysis of assimilation in these territories, as well as Korea, centered on educational standards as instruments of assimilation.

Caprio discusses the debates over Korean assimilation in three phases: the formative years (to 1919), the period following the March First Independence Movement (1919 to 1931), and the war years (1931 to 1945). [End Page 157]

The formative years were critical to the assimilation policy because the Japanese first had to formulate opinions and images of who the Koreans were, particularly in relation to the Japanese nation. Caprio ably includes accounts of the multiple voices expressed by the upper echelons of Japanese society for and against the assimilation of Koreans. The consensus was that Koreans were unprepared for the rights and duties of Japanese citizenship because of the Korean dress, diet, and general lifestyle that resulted from a stagnated culture and centuries of inept governance.

The post-March First debates centered on the shortcomings of Japan's assimilation policies that led to the uprising in 1919. The author argues that most Japanese public opinion leaders believed that Japan needed to provide more guidance to Koreans in order to achieve assimilation. Yet, there were Japanese who challenged assimilation by arguing such policies were misguided. For example, one school of thought believed that the two peoples, despite their common past, had evolved in different directions for too long and that the Japanese people would not accept Koreans as equals.

The final phase of assimilation, during the war years, included the most radical policies. The outbreak of war in the 1930s increased Korea's importance as a reservoir of manpower that could labor for the Japanese empire. As a result, Japan redoubled its assimilation efforts to prepare Koreans for their duties as imperial subjects. Caprio discusses these radical assimilation policies largely through social policies such as increasing the numbers of Korean students attending schools, the nationalization of the school curriculum, the...


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