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  • On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan by Jeffrey Paul Bayliss
  • Kristine Dennehy
On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan. By Jeffrey Paul Bayliss. Harvard University Asia Center, 2013. 454 pages. Hardcover $45.00/£33.95/€40.50.

Jeffrey Bayliss’s comparative examination of the burakumin and Korean minorities in Japan from the Meiji period through World War II aims to “show how the differences that marked these groups as minorities were constructed through a complex interaction of forces that arose simultaneously with modernization and imperialism” [End Page 348] (p. 11). While Japan’s late nineteenth-century process of modernization included a “preoccupation with sanitation, hygiene, and social order” and held up ideal Japanese men as “honest, productive, and patriotic” (p. 58), burakumin and Koreans, by way of contrast, “were described as filthy, debaucherous, violent, and lacking the will for self-improvement” (p. 383). Bayliss invokes Andrew Gordon’s notion of “imperial democracy” to show how progressive social reformers like Arima Yoriyasu worked to improve buraku living conditions in the early twentieth century, while at the same time did not waver in their commitment “to the ideals of the Japanese state and empire” (p. 157). By the late 1930s, efforts to mobilize burakumin and Koreans for the war effort were characterized by a rhetoric of inclusion, yet it was the “Japanese imperialist worldview,” Bayliss argues, that kept Koreans in a subordinate and ultimately “foreign” position that was “most detrimental to the formation of a viable joint movement against discrimination” (pp. 378, 391). Bayliss looks both at state policies and social attitudes toward these two groups, as well as the movements and daily lives of the minority groups themselves, which he demonstrates were not homogenous, but instead characterized by class and regional differences in many ways.

This book will be particularly useful for those interested in taking a comparative approach to the study of minority groups, as Bayliss provides very thorough summaries of both the English- and Japanese-language scholarship on burakumin and Koreans in Japan. In addition to including a helpful historiographical overview in the introduction, Bayliss frequently cites works on burakumin by scholars such as Ian Neary, Kurokawa Midori, and Sekiguchi Hiroshi, as a way of both summarizing the institutional history of burakumin organizations like Suiheisha and drawing upon the primary source material these scholars have mined in their own work. Bayliss complements this synthesis with an interesting incorporation of sources like the Suihei shinbun that shed light, for example, on the role of buraku women as “the real breadwinners for their families.” This, he explains, was “owing to the prevalence of discrimination against burakumin in employment outside of their communities and the haphazard nature of the work that men typically found as a result” (p. 181).

As for studies related to the Korean minority in Japan, Bayliss is particularly indebted to historians such as Michael Weiner, Matsuda Toshihiko, and Nishinarita Yutaka, and he also draws from collections of primary sources such as those compiled by the indefatigable zainichi Korean Pak Kyŏng-sik. Furthermore, Bayliss has meticulously combed the extensive database of newspaper articles related to the Korean minority maintained by Kyoto University Professor Mizuno Naoki in an effort to document the nature of interminority relations in buraku communities. Some of Bayliss’s most interesting and original contributions come from a number of interviews he conducted with members of both minority communities in 1999. For example, despite the lack of reliable statistics regarding intermarriage between burakumin and Koreans in the early postwar period, we get an intimate glimpse into the family life of one neighborhood through Son Chunmi, the daughter of Korean and buraku parents, [End Page 349] who noted “that these were generally marriages arranged between the Korean men and very impoverished buraku widows” (p. 377, n. 94).

Although On the Margins of Empire is not an expressly theoretical work, readers will encounter names prominently associated with postcolonial theory, such as Albert Memmi and Franz Fanon, known for their work on Algeria and the black diaspora in places like the Caribbean. This body of literature informs Bayliss’s treatment of the...


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