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  • On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan by Jeffrey Paul Bayliss
  • Timothy D. Amos
On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan by Jeffrey Paul Bayliss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013. Pp. ix + 437. $45.00.

Jeffrey Bayliss’s On the Margins of Empire explains “the politics of minority identities in prewar and wartime Japan” (p. 388) within the wider context of modernization and imperialism by examining how mainstream stereotypes, mutual self-images, and international events and discourses shaped the construction of Buraku 部落 and Korean identities. The book offers an in-depth exploration of how Burakumin 部落民 and Koreans living in Japan during this period were variously marginalized and stereotyped, how class backgrounds within these groups influenced their responses to changing discriminatory social attitudes and to policies aimed at incorporating them into the Japanese empire, and how members of these groups came to view and interact with each other. The depth of the historical scholarship and the refined nature of many of the core arguments contained in this monograph are such that a proper review demands a summary of each chapter before examining what I consider the book’s most noteworthy features.

Chapter 1 outlines how Meiji state-led attempts to modernize Japan impacted the ways society generally envisioned the place of Burakumin and Koreans in the Japanese nation and empire. Bayliss focuses on how civilizational, racial, and other modern discourses variously affected understandings and treatments of these groups. There are conspicuous commonalities, such as the tendency to highlight “their supposedly pathological tendency toward behaviors that worked against the state’s agenda of social mobilization” (p. 75). Bayliss makes the argument that Burakumin and Koreans were on the receiving end of an extensive list of contradictory stereotypes that emphasized deviation from Japanese mainstream norms. [End Page 451]

Chapter 2 contrasts reactions by elite members of Buraku communities and Korean students residing in Japan to the challenges provoked by constant mainstream articulation of Buraku and Korean deviance. Bayliss shows how Korean exchange students formed organizations that offered them some protection and avenues for resistance in the face of Japan’s imperial push into Korea, an action that ultimately cost these Korean students access to official diplomatic representation within Japan. Bayliss also examines how Buraku elites tended to perceive distinctive past and present community social practices as incompatible with the demands of modernity and to demand the redress of these practices through better education and self- improvement. Resisting older interpretative frameworks that merely castigated these elites for their conciliatory perspectives and seeming unwillingness to actively denounce the discriminatory treatment of their communities, Bayliss makes a concerted effort to understand the perspectives and associated activities of these community leaders both in context and on their own terms.

In Chapter 3, Bayliss notes important similarities in the kinds of rhetoric and policies—most notably the idea of yūwa 雄和 (harmony or conciliation)—applied to these two minorities during the tumultuous period beginning from the 1910s in order to address the so-called problems they posed to Japan’s social, national, and imperial stability. But Bayliss’s analysis of the Buraku-centred Dōaikai 同愛会 and Korean-focused Sōaikai 相愛会 (both translatable as “mutual love society”) reveals considerable differences, particularly with regard to their position on the necessity of assimilation (dōka 同化). Bayliss convincingly argues that the more integrative stance adopted toward Burakumin arose out of the different proximities both groups had to the possibility of national and social inclusion during this time.

Chapter 4 focuses on the radical conceptual transformations and organizational developments that occurred within the Suiheisha水平社 (Levelers’ society), a Buraku organization, and Zainihon Chōsen Rōdō Sōdōmei 在日本朝鮮労働総同盟 (Federation of Korean labor in Japan). While paying special attention to differences between bourgeois elements and members of the rank-and-file, as well as issues of gender, Bayliss emphasizes their common belief in the necessity of privileging class commitments over minority identification in order to achieve equality. He also notes that certain intellectual developments [End Page 452] became important catalysts: for the Korean labor movement, it was the Wilsonian principle of self-determination...


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pp. 451-456
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