2015 Sophia Symposium

Empire and Aftermath: New Perspectives on the Legacies of the Japanese Empire

Miriam KINGSBERG (University of Colorado)

“Comprehensive and Cooperative: Human Scientists in Early Postwar Japan”

This presentation examines the role of human scientists (scholars of “race” and “culture”) in recreating a national identify for Japan following the traumatic loss of the empire in 1945. Defeat destroyed the credibility of the government, leaving a vacuum of public influence that intellectuals eagerly strove to fill. During the Occupation (1945-1952), they developed a methodology called "comprehensive human science" (sōgō jinrui kagaku), referring to the interdisciplinary, fieldwork-based study of a defined area. The word "comprehensive" was often used interchangeably with "cooperative" (kyōdō), reflecting the importance of this research in uniting human scientists as a professional community. Working together in the field, scholars overcame lingering interpersonal tensions from the war years and adopted a "conspiracy of silence" regarding past collaboration with the Japanese state and military. Through their claim to produce "objective" knowledge, they asserted the right to define boundaries and belonging in the postwar nation.

However, as demonstrated by the first major comprehensive human science expedition, which ventured to the island of Tsushima in 1950-1951, “objectivity” itself was a political strategy. In the age of empire, human scientists studied Tsushima to find evidence of cultural and biological relationships between the Japanese and Koreans that might in turn justify imperial rule over Korea. During the Occupation, although the United States affirmed Japanese sovereignty over Tsushima, the newly established Republic of Korea also claimed the island. Over seventy human scientists participated in two field seasons of research intended to reframe Tsushima from a "step-stone" between Japan and the Asian mainland, to unequivocally "Japanese" territory. Despite repudiating the "politicized" scholarship of the imperial era, human scientists remained, as before, inclined to use orthodox nationalism