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  • Lost and Found: Recovering Regional Identity in Imperial Japan by Hiraku Shimoda
  • James L. Huffman
Lost and Found: Recovering Regional Identity in Imperial Japan. By Hiraku Shimoda. Harvard University Asia Center, 2014. 170 pages. Hardcover $39.95/£29.95/€36.00.

The political scientist Benedict Anderson convinced us decades ago that the nation is an “imagined community,” constructed in our communal visions rather than through some natural or objective force.1 Here, in Lost and Found, Hiraku Shimoda expands the reach of Anderson’s ideas to the regional level, which most of us have tended to see as less artificial because it is smaller and closer to the lives of ordinary citizens. Using as his lens the domain of Aizu (located in the western part of today’s [End Page 321] Fukushima prefecture) and drawing on an impressive trove of writings, both primary and secondary, Shimoda argues that “regionalism should be viewed as no less an artificial mode of spatial thought than nationhood” (p. 6). If “Japan” was not natural, he contends, neither were its domains and villages. Moreover, even in regions such as Aizu that at one time were famously cast as rebel domains, the national construction can be expected eventually to win out in the image-creating process.

During the early years of the Meiji era, Aizu was typically depicted as the antithesis of Japanese modernity: a small place that had been fiercely loyal to the Tokugawa government, a “loser domain” that had fought against the emperor’s troops in the key battles of the Boshin War that established the new Meiji government’s power, a backward region of disloyal rebels. By the early twentieth century, however, Aizu’s image had changed. The long-time allegiance to the Tokugawa regime had faded in importance; the Aizu troops had become imperial loyalists who simply took the wrong side; and sons of Aizu—called Aizuppo—had become paragons of stubbornness, loyalty, and patriotism. Thus, “what history took away from Aizu was restored to it through historiography” (p. 126). Both the process by which those shifts occurred and the complex reality beneath them form the core of Shimoda’s story.

Two brief chapters on the Edo period set the narrative approach, demonstrating that despite continuing official efforts to create both a reality and an image for Aizu as a unified region with close ties to the bakufu, the relationship between the domain and the Tokugawa regime was often tenuous, and domain unity remained largely a myth. A grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hoshina Masayuki, was placed over the 270,000-koku domain in 1643, and the Hoshina family (later renamed Matsudaira) used numerous methods across the next two centuries to foster Aizu identity: maps, daimyo inspection tours, domain awards, and school textbooks that “introduced Aizu as a distinct spatial body” and made “Matsudaira lordship … the origin of both space and time” (p. 19). Private merchants and labor groups also trumpeted domainal particularities when they felt threatened by competitors from other regions, and the village headman Sase Yojiemon wrote agricultural works arguing that Aizu agriculture was unique; his poetic 1704 Aizu uta nōsho (Aizu Agriculture Manual in Verse) called “farming the basis of the realm” (p. 22). Nevertheless, the idea of Aizu as a unit unto itself failed to gain much traction among any but the samurai and a portion of the economic and intellectual elites, in part because “the people” were not brought into the political process in any meaningful way beyond providing tribute and labor. Accounts of peasants absconding illegally to other regions and workers ignoring domain rules were heard regularly. Loyalty to any kind of domain regime was absent. “No sustained discourse circulated a shared sense of ‘Aizuness’ until modern times when, ironically, Aizu was no longer” (p. 34).

The emergence of an idea of “Aizu” as an entity worth belonging to came in the aftermath of the Meiji Restoration battles, through a process that began in the brokenness of defeat and ended in the triumph of Aizu as a national symbol. The immediate years after the Restoration in 1868 were terrible for the domain because it had led anti-Meiji forces in the Boshin War. Hit...


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