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  • Planning for Empire: Reform Bureaucrats and the Japanese Wartime State
  • Emily Anderson
Planning for Empire: Reform Bureaucrats and the Japanese Wartime State. By Janis Mimura. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011. 240 pp. $39.95 (cloth).

In this informative study, Janis Mimura proposes “to examine the history of Japan’s transwar embrace of technocratic rule and the ambitious drive for power of a group of civilian planners known as the ‘reform bureaucrats’ (kakushin kanryo)” (p. 1). On one hand, this work considers Japan’s invasion of Manchuria as critical, not as a prelude to Japan’s rise to militarism and eventual war of aggression, but in providing a testing ground for a group of highly influential technologically oriented bureaucrats who later promoted a particular vision for Japan that she describes as “techno-fascism.”

At the same time, this work seeks to intervene in two bodies of scholarship: one that claims Japan became fascist because it failed to properly modernize, and a second that denies that Japan was fascist because certain elements—such as a mass party and charismatic leader—are conspicuously lacking in the 1930s militarist state. In response, Mimura counters that in Japan, fascism appeared as a “rational” phenomenon, as opposed to an emotional one, and that its proponents promoted an alternative path to modernity that was adamantly anticapitalist and based on an authoritarian but nonetheless “rational” and technocratic approach to economic and state management.

In chapter 1, Mimura provides an overview of the bureaucrats who are the focus of her study, as well as two other critical groups, the new zaibatsu and army technocrats, who shared a vision of a Japan freed from the demands of capitalism and transformed through scientific social and resource management so that it could overcome Western competition and create an alternative regional empire in Asia. Driven by the conviction that their exposure to the latest Western theories and political trends placed them at the vanguard of reform, she argues, they were confident that with their technical expertise and theoretical sophistication they were ideally positioned to transform Japan into a rational authoritarian state. Sharing a common belief in the supremacy of this technology-inspired vision of a national defense state, these reform bureaucrats, new zaibatsu, and army technocrats joined together in a pragmatic pact to push Japan toward techno-fascism.

From this initial overview, Mimura next turns to the link between military fascism, the invasion and takeover of Manchuria, and how Man churia served as a critical site for reform bureaucrats to begin implementing their new policies. In chapter 2, she summarizes the motives for and process by which the Kwantung army invaded Manchuria [End Page 753] and declared it an independent state. She characterizes the Kwantung army’s “fascist vision” for Manchuria as one that was less a cynical ploy to deflect Western criticism than it was an effort to protect Manchukuo from the corruption of the home islands and, in turn, transform Manchuria into the realization of the reforms they intended for Japan itself.

In contrast to the Kwantung army’s vision for Manchukuo as a state untainted by Japan itself, the technocrats identified it as critical to Japan’s transformation into a fully integrated and efficiently organized empire no longer fractured by the selfish capitalist interests of a few. When technocrats began arriving in the mid 1930s, she suggests, they reconceptualized Manchukuo as a critical piece in Japan’s pursuit of regional hegemony, and this vision overshadowed and subsumed the earlier vision of Manchuria as a multiethnic anticapitalist nation independent of Japanese interference. Once they were firmly embedded into the complex Manchukuo administrative structure, these technocrats attempted to implement many of the reforms they had in mind for Japan. At the same time, these technocrats were driven toward Manchukuo for pragmatic reasons: despite the perceived dangers of working in an unstable region, the posts in Manchuria were attractive because they became available just as posts in Japan itself were in jeopardy due to budget cuts.

In the following chapter, Mimura turns to the “ideologues of fascism” to explore the ideological basis for this technocratic vision of a national defense state. Their belief in the potential of technology to...


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