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  • Japanese Modernity from the Siberian Silo
  • Ed Pulford
Tatiana Linkhoeva, Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and Soviet Communism. 300 pp. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020. ISBN-13 978-1501748080. $27.95.
Sherzod Muminov, Eleven Winters of Discontent: The Siberian Internment and the Making of a New Japan. 384 pp. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2022. ISBN-13 978-0674986435. $46.00.

The idea that there are pairs of countries whose identities and geopolitical standings have emerged in dialogue with one another is an appealing one. Be it England and France, Brazil and Argentina, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or numerous other examples including Russia and China (covered in my own work), various dyads of counterpart, rival, or partner nations appear to have had outsized influence on one another's sense of place in the world, and only sometimes because of footballing grudges.

Among such examples, Russia and Japan seem a decidedly odd couple in the international arena. Anthropologists or social historians would struggle to identify two more different places at the level of culture, politics, or society: aside from having unrelated linguistic and religious traditions, one state promotes a self-image based on continental vastness—a trait the current Russian president has doubled down on by invading Ukraine—while the other, at least today, is identified with the insular particularism of the "island nation" (shimaguni). At a more granular level, each society also approaches institutionalization and formality very differently, something illustrated by the tumultuous recent history of the Sakhalin–Hokkaido passenger ferry, suspended since 2018 amid repeated clashes between incompatible bureaucracies. [End Page 669]

But as explored in two important recent books, the early to mid-20th century saw experiences of contact with Soviet Russia refract in intriguing ways in Japanese society. Tatiana Linkhoeva's Revolution Goes East explores the reverberations of the 1917 October Revolution and its reception across the Japanese political, military, and intellectual spectrum up to the early 1930s. Sherzod Muminov's Eleven Winters of Discontent picks up the thread on the other side of Japan's sweeping colonial expansion into continental northeast Asia, examining the fate of the thousands of Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) held captive in the USSR after 1945. Tracing the transnational currents of contact, conflict, exchange, and engagement in the periods around Tokyo's 1930s–40s attempts to construct a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, these excellent histories between them reveal much that is new—particularly to an anglophone audience—about these two late arrivals to revolutionary modernity and their colliding Eurasian imperial ambitions. At a number of pivotal moments in history, it turns out, Soviet Russia served as a foil for Japan's emerging sense of national direction.

See You at the Crossroads

Among recent scholarship which has revealed the Russia-Japan dynamic as a site for transnational history par excellence, Linkhoeva's and Muminov's books are in some respects written to different purposes.1 While much of Revolution Goes East argues that Red October, for all the global elite's fears of impending socialist revolution, carried as much geopolitical as it did ideological weight for Japanese actors, Eleven Winters of Discontent considers how Soviet policy and socialist ideology shaped the Japanese POW experience, complicating purely nation-based narratives which have cast the captives as Japanese victims of communism. What they share, however, is a transnational and multilingual perspective on the Soviet-Russian factor in recent Japanese history. Of particular interest to Kritika readers, refracted views of the early to mid-Soviet project played at least as important a role here as, for example, the 1904–5 Russo-Japanese War or Japan's postwar alliance with the United States. In showing this, these books also [End Page 670] join recent publications which trace various 20th-century leftist moments as "crossroads" in "the making of modern Japan."2

Linkhoeva's argument for 1917 as a crossroads moment shows how revolutionary Russia served as a lens through which to examine "what constituted modern Japan" (2). Drawing on a trove of both Japanese and Soviet archival material, the book persuasively and economically shows how the spectrum of responses to Soviet communism diagnosed problems of modernity, from democracy to industrialization and the global...

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