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  • Transnational Nazism: Ideology and Culture in German-Japanese Relations, 1919–1936 by Ricky W. Law
  • Ken Ishida (bio)
Transnational Nazism: Ideology and Culture in German-Japanese Relations, 1919–1936. By Ricky W. Law. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2019. xvi, 343 pages. $120.00, cloth; $28.99, paper; $24.00, E-book.

Ricky Law's new book has two unique characteristics. First, the author assumes there existed civil societies in both Japan and Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. Second, he uses a symmetrical approach as a basis for comparison and contrast. Many scholars engaged in the history of cultural intercourse often analyze processes of negotiation or points of contact between two countries. However, this author focuses on the sociopolitical and intellectual milieu of each society.

The book has two parts. Part 1 contains chapters 1 to 4 which are concerned with the narratives of Germany in Japanese newspapers, lectures and pamphlets, nonfiction, and language textbooks. In part 2, chapters 5 to 8 cover the public utterances of views on Japan in German newspapers, films, nonfiction, and voluntary associations. The two parts consist of 136 pages and 128 pages, respectively. The parallel analysis of the cultural tendencies in both countries highlights their differences.

As the author considers transnational Nazism to be an ideological outlook, his stated objective is to write "an ideologically and culturally contextualized history" (p. 10) instead of describing short-term power politics or relying on generalized structural history. Hence, the book deals with the rhetoric and imagery which influenced the popular views in Taisho Japan and Weimar Germany. In connection with learning from Germany in the 1920s, "admiration for Nazi Germany without necessarily advocating the Nazification of Japan" (p. 128) took place in the 1930s.

In addition, the author's cultural-historical perspective emphasizes the ideological background of the German-Japanese entente, which led to the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936. In order to situate specific events such as the Sino-Japanese conflict and the Nazi seizure of power within an intellectual milieu, Law tries to pay balanced attention to the reciprocal interest or indifference of both nations. Ironically, the book suggests that the influence was quite one-sided from Germany to Japan; however, its comparative analysis putting the two countries on equal footing brings into relief the asymmetrical trend of their foreign relations more clearly (pp. 17, 301).

Since the book underlines public discourse in Japan and Germany rather than diplomatic negotiations or plain propaganda, its readers can find valuable peculiarities in each country, which have been ignored in previous [End Page 220] historiography. For example, the existence of personality cults in Japanese journalism is revealed in articles reporting even trivia related to the ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II, as well as Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler (p. 35). Moreover, the Japanese papers strongly opposed prosecution of the German emperor and still considered Hitler's putsch in 1923 as a monarchist plot (p. 40). Furthermore, almost every Japanese language textbook contains the phrase "Long Live the Kaiser" in German (p. 154).

In contrast to the Japanese personality-driven style, the German press amplified common stereotypes of traditional Japan. The chapters suggest that despite the progress of technology, democracy, and internationalism during the Taisho and Weimar periods, narratives in the two countries did not change their basic positions but shifted in the 1920s from political and economic topics to social and cultural ones. During the Nazi period, the image of Japan as a powerful modern state distinct from the "Asiatics" supplanted the anthropological accounts of missionaries and travelers (p. 203).

From the viewpoint of social history, Transnational Nazism is also informative and interesting. The development of communication tools such as the return to the regular operation of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1927, the arrival of the airship Graf Zeppelin in Japan in 1929, and a two-way radio broadcast in 1933 accelerated the cultural exchanges between Japan and Germany. Every chapter gives us helpful facts, such as how much such infrastructure cost, how deep the influence of the media was in both countries, and what kind of prejudices were revealed in their reciprocal public images (pp. 42–47, 57, 110, 199, 212–17).

The book...