This special issue of Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review examines the history of Japanese colonialism by exploring terrain that extends beyond the conventional territories of East Asian studies. The themes discussed in the issue's four articles include the nature of the colonial protectorate in the British and French empires, linguistic and education policies in the German Empire, French colonialism in Indochina during the Second World War, and the anti-British activities of Indian nationalists in exile. For an academic journal devoted to the study of the history and culture of East Asia, this is a rather unorthodox mix.1 The reader might easily expect this issue to be a collective comparative study of Japanese colonialism, identifying its distinctive traits by comparing it with its British, French, and German counterparts. However, this issue is not just another collection of comparative research.2 On the contrary, as the issue's title suggests, it aims to show why the very idea of comparing needs to be transcended.
The question of comparison inevitably presents itself whenever we discuss more than one empire. The tide of globalization has affected academia, and we know that the historical study of colonialism cannot remain in the safety zone of one's own field of research narrowly defined. But many of us are also aware of how the comparative study of empires and colonialisms can be not only technically difficult but also ethically and politically problematic. Breaking from the conventional comparative study of colonialism but without escaping into the safety of area studies, we venture to suggest a new [End Page 427] way for specialists in colonial history to treat the Japanese and other colonial empires at once, rather than first studying them separately and giving them comparative treatment at a later stage. As a step in this direction, we propose historicizing the very act of comparing, rather than utilizing comparison as a historiographical method. Our focus is on the contemporary connections and interactions among and across different empires and their colonies and on how the various historical actors involved have made use of comparison.
All of the articles in this issue tackle the history of Japanese colonialism from these historiographical premises. My own article, "Transimperial Genealogies of Korea as a Protectorate: The Egypt Model in Japan's Politics of Colonial Comparison," is not a piece of comparative history: in introducing the theme of British rule in Egypt, the article does not seek to characterize Japanese rule in Korea by comparing it with the British rule. Rather, the article shows how Japanese policymakers and intellectuals involved in the making of a protectorate in Korea used comparison with Egypt for their own purposes. Through analyzing relevant first-hand materials, the article not only describes the scope and limits of British rule in Egypt as a model but also aims to reveal the complex motives and agendas of those Japanese involved in the comparative debate.
Nishiyama Akiyoshi's article, "School Politics in the Borderlands and Colonies of Imperial Germany: A Japanese Colonial Perspective, ca. 1900–1925," concerns both Japan and Germany as new imperial nations, focusing particularly on language education as a contested site of colonial governance. Again, this article is not a comparative study. Rather, by closely reading relevant primary sources, including administrative reports of the Governor-General's offices in Korea and Taiwan, Nishiyama shows how a host of Japanese administrators, educators, and linguists took a serious interest in educational developments in the German Empire for the purpose of envisioning a suitable education policy for Japan's colonial subjects. The article demonstrates how these Japanese contemplated and assessed the German experience of educating the ethnic and linguistic minority subjects in the border regions of Prussian Poland and Alsace-Lorraine as well as in the overseas colonies.
In her article, "French Colonization and Japanese Occupation of Indochina during the Second World War: Encounters of the French, Japanese, and Vietnamese," Namba Chizuru discusses both French colonialism and [End Page 428] Japanese military rule as they unfolded in colonial Indochina. Rather than describing these two regimes of imperial rule through a comparative lens, Namba engages in a detailed examination of historical materials with a...