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  • Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan by Kate McDonald
  • Takashi Yoshida (bio)
Kate McDonald. Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017. xvii, 254 pp. Paperback $34.95, isbn 978-0-520-29391-5.

McDonald’s study examines the discourse of tourism in the Japanese empire from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century in order to understand the spatial politics of Japanese imperialism in the context of world history. In particular, the author focuses on the imperial tourism from the Japanese mainland to Korea, Manchuria, and Taiwan. This book is divided into two parts, the first of which comprises two chapters, while the second consists of three chapters. There are also a separate introduction and a conclusion. Part 1, titled “The Geography of Civilization,” focuses on the period when Japan became an empire and acquired its colonies, roughly from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 to the 1910s, during which the tourism materials separated civilized Japan from uncivilized new territories. In contrast, part 2, “The [End Page 176] Geography of Cultural Pluralism,” revolves around the tourism discourse from the 1910s to the 1930s, during which the empire stressed unification among the peoples within.

Chapter 1, titled “Seeing Like the Nation” details how imperial travelers and colonial promoters tried to build a space for the imperial Japanese subjects through the lens of the Japanese national people, the term defined extralegally and inconsistently. As its territory was expanded due to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, the imperial Japanese government tried to promote emotional ties between its people and its newly acquired territories such as Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. In order to produce patriotic national subjects, the government utilized expensive state-sponsored tours to and from its colonies so that the participants—Japanese and colonial social and political elites—were able to experience its new territories or metropole firsthand so that they could disseminate their experiences to the other subjects of the empire. For example, between 1897 and 1929, the government arranged eight tours to Tokyo and other places in Japan for Taiwanese elites, including indigenous Taiwanese leaders (p. 42). In July 1906, the Army and the Ministry of Education organized the first “observation travel” (shisatsu ryokō) to Manchuria in which approximately 600 teachers and students (middle school students and older) participated.

In chapter 2, titled “The New Territories,” McDonald analyzes various Japanese tourist guidebooks to Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria including those published by the Government General of Taiwan in 1908, the South Manchuria Railway Company in 1909, and the Government General of Korea in 1915. These tourist guidebooks, as well as itineraries provided by the Japan Tourist Bureau (JTB), a public-private organization, featured three modes—namely economic, historical, and nationalistic—and highlighted the success of Japanese rule over the colonized territories while at the same time disconnecting the pasts and futures of colonial subjects from their lands. For example, all these guidebooks praised the role of the Japanese empire in modernizing colonial port cities such as Pusan, Keelung, and Dairen, while disregarding any contributions by the colonial residents. These guidebooks promoted an imaginary Japanese society as Japan proper consisted of not only modernized cities but also undeveloped rural areas that are much less industrialized than port cities in Korea, Manchuria, or Taiwan.

Chapter 3, titled “Boundary Narratives,” discusses the new boundaries within the empire that emerged after World War I and restricted the mobilization of the colonized people. In order to deal with the threatening notion of self-determination, empires around the globe endorsed cultural pluralism in theory, and the Japanese empire was no exception. While on [End Page 177] the one hand the empire promoted the assimilation ideal and unity among different ethnic groups, it on the other hand limited the movement of colonial people, during which time commercial tourism became very popular and the Japanese people were allowed to travel freely. The chapter examines various narratives in association with tourism and underscores official and unofficial discrimination that colonial subjects endured.

In chapter 4, titled “Local Color,” the author details the process through...


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