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Anti-Asian agitation in South Africa in the 1930s: reactions to the "Japanese Treaty" and "honorary white" status.

During the Great Depression, many white South Africans expressed great concern about the "threat" of growing Japanese influence in the Union of South Africa. This fear was sparked when word leaked that the Union had concluded a "Gentleman's Agreement" with Japan in October 1930, and alarm increased with the rapid growth of Japanese exports to the Union over the next few years (Bradshaw 1992, 242; Osada 2003, 198; Sono 1993, 317). While some South African leaders regarded the granting of special status to a few Japanese as necessary to facilitate Japan's purchase of South African wool, many whites argued that Japanese would begin purchasing land and settling in the Union and that Japan's exports would hurt nascent South African industries. The specter of a "Yellow Peril" was even used to support the idea that South African whites needed to unite in the face of this threat (Chilvers 1933).

Studies of the Yellow Peril "threat" (Rupert 1911; Thompson 1976; Hirakara 1985; Clegg 1994; Mehnert 1995; Naka 1997; Daniels 1999) have focused on Germany (Gollwitzer 1962), the United States (Hoppenstand 1983; Mugridge 1995, 46-59; Sharp 2007, 107-20; Wu 1982, 3), Great Britain (Hashimoto 2008), Australia (Murray 2004), Canada (Wang 2006), and France (Laffey 2005) but have generally ignored fear of the Yellow Peril in South Africa. Studies of Japanese-South African relations have focused, with few exceptions (Bradshaw 1992; Kitagawa 1997; Furukawa 1991), on the post-World War II period (Payne 1987; Musa 1988; Morikawa 1988; Osada 1992; Ampiah 1997; Alden and Hirano 2003; Skidmore 2004). Many general histories of South Africa rarely if ever mention Japan (Beck 2000, 121; Beinart 2001, 174; Ross 2008; Thompson 2000, 242).

This article examines the debate about growing Japanese influence in South Africa in the early 1930s, particularly as it appeared in the often controversial Rand Daily Mail (Gibson 2007). The anti-Asian agitation that emerged in South Africa during the Great Depression had both local and international consequences. Locally, it was used by advocates of British-Boer "harmony" to promote the establishment of a unity government that increasingly favored tighter controls on "yellow" and "black" peoples. On an international level, it was part of the rise of anti-Asian sentiment and the restriction of Japanese exports to its vital "new markets" such as South Africa in the early 1930s, which contributed to the decision by Japan's leaders to refocus their efforts on securing a "Co-Prosperity Sphere" in Asia (Dietrich 1938; Bradshaw 1992).

The Growth of Anti-Asian Agitation in South Africa

A few Asians from the East Indies (now Indonesia) were brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) soon after it established a fort at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. Some Dutch settlers at the Cape expressed distrust of these often Muslim "Malays," but it was not until the late nineteenth century, when indentured servants from British India were contracted to work in the sugar plantations of Natal along the southern coast of South Africa, that whites in this British colony began to express fears about the increasing number of Asians in South Africa. Many Indians who completed their period of indentured service opted to remain in South Africa and often became merchants. By 1896, Natal's population of Indians (51,000) exceeded the number of whites (50,000), which gave rise to white fears of an "Asian peril." Whites began to pass discriminatory legislation against Indians, who responded by forming an Indian Natal Congress to fight for their rights. By World War I, campaigns by South African Indians against various forms of discrimination had increased the concern of many whites about the presence of Asians in the Union (Worden et al. 1998, 128; Henning 1993; Bhana 1997; Copley 1987, 19, 24; Saqaf 2009).

By this time, South Africans had also become increasingly concerned about growing Japanese influence in South Africa. World War I provided Japan with the opportunity to increase the value of its exports to South Africa by almost 4,000 percent. In 1914 the value of these exports more than doubled, reaching one million yen. Over the next few years Japanese exports rose to over 18 million yen per annum before dropping to a little over 8 million yen in 1919 (Bradshaw 1992). After World War I, Japan's share of trade with the Union declined, but by 1926 the falling cost of cotton thread and favorable exchange rates gave Japanese goods a new opportunity in South Africa (Morikawa 1988, 7). The Japanese Consul at Cape Town submitted a report in 1927 on South Africa that was further intended to encourage Japanese commerce and industry in South Africa (Kitagawa 2003). During the 1920s, Japanese exports to the Union of silk products, cotton textiles, clothing, and other goods grew to such an extent that South African protectionists began to express concern.

A Nationalist-Labor Pact government led by General Barry Hertzog, who served as prime minister of South Africa from 1924-1939, enacted a tariff reform in 1925 that was designed to stimulate the development of South African industry. The steady growth of Japanese imports threatened to undermine the ability of South African industries to attain their full potential. Japanese imports included a considerable quantity of clothing, a category of consumer good that South African industry was attempting to provide (Bradshaw 1992). Because of the limited size of the South African market and a relative lack of capital and technical ability (Houghton 1973, 119), many of South Africa's new factories were engaged in the manufacture of clothing from semi-finished products, and these consumer goods competed with Japanese products.

While Japanese exports to South Africa were increasing, anti-Asian and segregationist legislation was on the rise in the Union. The 1913 Immigration Act, which was aimed at halting Indian immigration into South Africa, prohibited Japanese from residing or doing business in South Africa. In late 1916, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce sent Nunokawa Magoichi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to investigate commercial conditions in South Africa. Nunokawa attempted to negotiate an agreement with the Union government that would have exempted the Japanese from the 1913 Act, but his efforts failed. In 1918, the Japanese opened an office for a representative in Cape Town and continued to work to end discrimination against Japanese citizens in South Africa (Kitagawa 2003, 28-29).

During the 1920s, Prime Minister Hertzog pushed for greater segregation. In the elections of June 1929, he focused on the threat of a Swart Gevaar or "Black Peril" (Worden 2000, 87). Whites' growing fears of Black as well as Asian "perils" made it difficult for Japanese representatives in South Africa to make any progress in their efforts to exempt their countrymen from legislation. In October 1930, the Great Depression hit South Africa and soon led to a rapid decline in South Africa's wool exports. The Union thus felt a need to attract buyers for this important export (MOFA, E.; Bradshaw 1992; Kitagawa 2003, 26-37). Between 1925 and 1932, the average price of wool fell from 8.2 to 1.7 cents per kg. (Houghton 1973, 53), to which wool growers responded by increasing their output, which only helped to drive prices down. Between 1928-9 and 1932-3 the value of wool exports from the Union fell by over 70 percent (O'Meara 1983, 37). Therefore Hertzog's cabinet decided to lift restrictions on Japanese residence and movement within the Cape and Natal in hopes of attracting Japanese buyers to wool auctions in those provinces.

On September 2, 1930, the Union Ministry of Agriculture decided to permit Japanese wool purchasers to enter South Africa. On October 16, 1930, the acting Japanese consul in Cape Town, Yamasaki Sakashige [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the Union's acting external affairs secretary, W.G.H. Farrell, exchanged notes, reaching agreement that Pretoria would, upon the recommendation of the Japanese consul, grant a temporary permit valid for one year to Japanese tourists, students, wholesale merchants, and purchasers of South African goods to enter and reside in the Union. The agreement stated that "no Japanese subject whose admission is recommended by the Consul for Japan in terms of this understanding will be served on arrival at a Union port with a notice declaring him to be a prohibited immigrant" (Osada 2002, 39). This "exchange of notes" was done quietly in order to avoid parliamentary discussion and ratification, but word of this agreement soon leaked and the sparks soon began to fly.

Growing Fear of a "Yellow Peril"

Criticism of the "Gentleman's Agreement" began in March 1931 when General Jan Smuts voiced his strong opposition in the Union of South Africa's Parliament, and it continued throughout the summer. Smuts expressed anger that there had been no discussion of the matter in Parliament and added: "I don't think that of the various international agreements which the Government has concluded during the last few years there is a single one of more far reaching scope and importance than this so-called gentleman's agreement with the Japanese Government." Smuts went on to question the compatibility of this agreement with the Immigration Act of 1913, which prohibited immigration into the Union of any person unable to read and write in a European language to the satisfaction of an immigration officer and was obviously aimed at excluding Asians. Interior minister Dr. D.R. Malan replied that the agreement "was a matter of the administration of the existing law" which had "nothing to do with the Act" (Hansard March 2, 1931; Osada 2002, 39-40). Smuts insisted that entry of Asian people and products posed a serious threat to the Union's economy and that the agreement placed South Africa "at the beginning of a new and very grave departure, the result of which may be more harmful than any of us can see today." Malan, who became prime minister after World War II and is famous for promoting a policy of apartheid, argued that "any refusal of the opportunities of markets for South Africa whether in Japan, China or India is nothing else than a short-sighted policy" (Hansard March 2, 1931; Osada 2002, 40).

A memorandum dated April 16, 1931, and signed by members of all political parties, cited numerous economic, social and political reasons for restricting the category of Japanese who would be allowed to enter the Union under this agreement. Critics feared, above all, that Japanese stores would soon proliferate throughout the country. In response to a question raised in this regard during debates in the Assembly on July 5, 1931, Malan ridiculed the idea that the Union would be overrun by Japanese retail traders, factory employees, and farm hands, but he also disagreed with the suggestion of the treaty's critics that only Japanese wholesale buyers should be allowed admittance into the country (Hansard July 5, 1931).

A few days, later a letter from Arthur G. Barlow in the Rand Daily Mail, a leading Johannesburg newspaper, charged that by the terms of the treaty:

A Japanese wholesale firm may establish itself anywhere in South Africa (except the Orange Free State, where by statute, no Asiatics are permitted to live) and carry on business selling any class of goods, and utilising a hundred percent Japanese staff. As there is no law to prohibit a merchant who has a wholesale license from selling direct to the public, the Agreement means that these wholesale traders can do a retail business. (RDM, July 11, 1931)

Barlow noted that by 1921, the last time the census had been taken, that there were already ninety-eight Japanese residents in the Union. At present, he warned, "one of the biggest merchant princes of Japan is visiting us with an eye to establishing wholesale houses in this country." The Japanese, he added, were busy "spying out the land" (RDM, July 11, 1931).

Smuts voiced another objection to the treaty, arguing that if other Asian nations "like China" were to ask for privileges of a similar nature the Union would be obliged to grant them. He argued that "it would be quite impossible to keep out Asiatic immigrants once [the Union] had very large trade relations with the East" (Chilvers 1933, 228-9). Even Mrs. Smuts spoke out against the treaty in public. At a South African Party gathering, she condemned the treaty and argued that:

We are already having a good deal of trouble with the Indians in this country, and now the Government proposes to introduce a yellow race into South Africa, the strongest and most powerful yellow race in the world. Once they are in we shall never succeed in getting rid of them. (Rhodesia Herald March 5, 1931)

The remarkable rise in imports of Japanese shoes was particularly noted. During the first quarter of 1930, South Africa had imported 75,672 pairs of Japanese shoes, the value of which were estimated at about 6,000 pounds (about US$29,000). ([dagger]) By the final quarter of 1930, these imports were valued at a little over 50,000 pounds (US$241,895) with the number of Japanese shoes having risen to more than 840,000 pairs. Imports of artificial silk and cotton goods were also undergoing a "colossal increase" (RDM, July 8, 1931).

There were attempts in the press to demonstrate exactly how the "dumping" of goods from Japan would hurt local trade. After praising South Africa's "flourishing and excellent boot and shoe industry," a critic noted that Japanese shoes, or "plimsolls," were "selling like hotcakes" for about 1s.6d. to 2s. (about US$.50) a pair. The "poorer of the coloured folk" in Cape Town, he noted, were buying them for as little as 3s. (about US$.75) a pair. These "plimsolls" were threatening the sale of the locally made velskoen, which sold for 5s.6d. (about US$1.35) a pair. Afrikaners had formerly been in the habit of describing Japanese goods as "schlenter," or of low quality, but they now admitted that they were "top-hole stuff." It was thus recommended that the Union impose a 2s. minimum tariff on some types of footwear, especially plimsolls (RDM, July 13, 1931).

The same critic warned that the Japanese were taking samples of South African goods to Japan and studying how to make cheaper ones. Thousands of khaki military shirts were being sold, sometimes for as little as 20s. (US$4.84) per dozen, an amount the South African manufacturers complained would only cover the costs of their material. One Japanese pencil was selling for only 1s. 11d. (about US$.45) per gross at Durban and was a deceitful imitation of a much better English pencil that wholesaled for 27s. (US$6.53) per gross. It would not be long before the Japanese started to sell "these pencils for use in the Civil Service!" Pocket-books and various types of stationary were selling for so little that South Africans had a "duty to keep the goods out." As for labor, it was pointed out that many working girls might lose their jobs. Some of the girls who would be affected, it was stressed, were the daughters of laborers suffering from miner's phthisis (RDM, July 15, 1931).

The acting consul for Japan in Cape Town at this time, Mr. Hongo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], made efforts to counter this rising tide of anti-Asian agitation. He vigorously denied the rumors that the Japanese were setting up warehouses all over the Union. In fact, he asserted, not a single Japanese warehouse had been established during the first nine months since the signing of the agreement. As for the question of commercial competition, Hongo placed the blame on the South African businessmen themselves, who, he claimed, competed unnecessarily among themselves. South Africans, he suggested, should take advantage of the fact that the Japanese were so Westernized and so numerous, by which he meant that Japan was an underdeveloped market for South African goods (RDM, July 15, 1931). On another occasion the Japanese consul let it be known that as a result of his having shown samples of South African wool to potential buyers in Japan, a number of Japanese buyers were planning to purchase increased quantities of certain wools during the next season (RDM, July 8, 1931).

Critics of the treaty were even reminded that during World War I the Japanese fleet had protected South Africa shores. Now there were those who were insulting the Japanese "gratuitously" and preventing their immigration into the Union but were still willing to accept "deposits from them" (RDM, July 25, 1931).

Nevertheless, criticism persisted. In July 1931, at a public meeting in Johannesburg in the Transvaal Province, a prominent lawyer and member of Parliament, Colonel C. F. Stallard, a strong opponent of Asian immigration, claimed that there "had seldom been a matter which had struck deeper at the roots of the prosperity of South Africa." The Union of South Africa was opposed to an influx of Asians "who could not be assimilated ... and live in accordance with civilized standards" (RDM, July 14, 1931).

Members of Prime Minister Hertzog's cabinet appeared unwavering in their support of the treaty but were frustrated by the attempt of its critics to link the question of the treaty with that of increased Japanese imports. On July 16, the labor minister, Colonel Cresswell, and Dr. Malan went to inspect certain industries at Germiston, a manufacturing center east of Johannesburg. They were immediately confronted with complaints of competition from Japanese goods. A representative of Germiston Clothing Manufacturers pointed out that khaki shirts from Japan were being sold at Durban at 33s.6d. (about US$8) per dozen while his own firm's shirts were selling for 40s. (about US $10) per dozen locally. Creswell defended the treaty by insisting that the agreement had nothing to do with the importation of Japanese goods. He also commented that the very people who had formerly been so intent that the government should not raise tariffs were now, for motives that appeared self-serving, raising "a howl" about the treaty with Japan. Further complaints were then raised regarding "yellow standards of living," which, it was claimed, were at the root of the problem. Dr. Malan was compelled to explain, once again, that the Japanese treaty was in no way related to the problem of Japanese imports (RDM, July 17, 1931).

Nevertheless, the treaty was apparently linked in the minds of the public with the growth of Japanese imports, and the government found itself having to explain the disadvantages of raising tariffs. Cabinet members argued that the low prices of Japanese goods ultimately benefited the South African consumer. The poor, they pointed out, were now able to afford shoes for the first time. In any case, if a "wage tariff" were to be imposed on the Japanese goods, it was argued, would it not have to be imposed on goods from Germany and Great Britain as well? That would lead to serious diplomatic problems, something to be avoided at all costs (RDM, July 17, 1931). When questioned during Parliamentary debate about the "serious effects to South African industries created by the importations of Japanese rubber-soled shoes," the minister of mines and industries replied that the government did not intend to increase the protective duty of 30 percent that was already in force (Hansard XVII June 2, 1931, 4707).

General Kemp, the minister of agriculture, defended the treaty on the grounds that prices for South African consumers would be cheaper. He also stressed the prospect that the treaty would lead to the capture by the Union of new markets in the East as well as encourage the Japanese to buy more wool (RDM, July 8, 1931).

Clearly, hope that the Japanese would purchase more wool lay behind the controversial treaty. And yet, before the year was out, Hertzog's government would decide not to follow Britain in abandoning the gold standard, a decision that had the effect of reducing Japanese demand for South African wool. Thus what the cabinet had hoped to achieve by the conclusion of the Japanese Treaty was undone by its reluctance to allow the South African pound to fall in value.

The Gold Standard Crisis in South Africa & Japan

The initial uproar over the Japanese Treaty and the rise in imports from Japan died down during the latter half of 1931. After July there was an occasional article offering more details on the price of Japanese shoes or on the quantity per month sold by a certain Indian retailer (RDM, 29 July 1931), but little more. The underlying anger remained latent, however, and it was only a matter of time before anti-Japanese sentiments surfaced again. When changes in the relative value of both Japan's and South Africa's currencies made Japanese goods even cheaper and South African goods more expensive, the stage was set for a new outbreak of anti-Japanese demonstrations.

In September 1931 the British abandoned the gold standard. For the next fifteen months, Hertzog and his ministers refused to allow the Union to follow suit in spite of growing domestic pressure. Despite the fact that finance minister Class Havenga and most cabinet members were capitalist farmers (O'Meara 1983, 40) who arguably had a direct interest in supporting the devaluation of the South African pound in order to promote agricultural exports, there was a strong desire on their part to demonstrate to the world the status of the Union as an independent-minded, self-governing state. Although Hertzog initially had the support of even the mine owners, his stubborn refusal to abandon gold after its negative impact had become widely apparent had the effect of turning almost all capitalist interest groups (Davies et al. 1977, 16) against Hertzog on this crucial matter.

Remaining on the gold standard had a devastating impact on foreign demand for export-dependent agricultural products such as wool in particular. Australia, which produced three times as much wool as the Union and was Japan's primary supplier, abandoned the gold standard in February 1931. A year later the cost of the Union's wool had risen to almost twice that of Australia's in terms of British pounds (100 pound sterling bought 125 Australian pounds but only 70-75 South African pounds: see Davenport 1977, 213).

The Japanese, for their part, returned to the gold standard in January 1930. Finance Minister Inoue Junnosuke's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] motives for lifting the embargo on gold exports at that time included both his desire to force Japanese firms to become more competitive in the international arena, and his concern that devaluation of the yen would have a negative impact on Japan's national prestige (Nakamura 1989, 464). As was the case in South Africa, the Japanese government insisted on remaining on the gold standard even after the negative impact of the decision had become all too apparent. As in South Africa, the agricultural sector was the hardest hit, but both farms and firms were soon suffering through the worst depression in Japanese history. By 1931 export prices had fallen to 40 percent of their 1929 levels and industries were forced to form cartels in order to restrict output and control prices (Nakamura 1989, 464).

When Britain abandoned the gold standard in September 1931, the Japanese government found itself in a difficult position. Since it was apparent that it would be impossible to maintain the gold standard, Japanese speculators began to sell yen and buy dollars, provoking a crisis that led to the collapse of the government in December 1931. The finance minister of the new government, Takahashi Korekiyo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ordered the abandonment of the gold standard on December 13, 1931, and then allowed the yen to fall to its natural level. By mid-1932, the value of the yen had dropped to half its former level and exports began to rise sharply (Nakamura 1989, 464). When it finally settled, the yen had undergone a devaluation of more than 40 percent, which made Japanese goods even cheaper in South Africa and made wool from the Union much more expensive for Japanese buyers.

The Union was under pressure to protect its industries from the competition of cheaper imports flowing in from all nations whose currencies had dropped in value against the South African pound, and it reacted by imposing duties of up to 12.5 percent on almost all imports. In 1932, South Africa passed an anti-currency depreciation tariff that gave the government the right to impose a special tariff on goods from countries whose prices were thought to be unreasonably low because of their depreciated currencies. Finally, facing acute financial and political crisis, finance minister Havenga announced the abandonment of the gold standard on December 28, 1932 (Beck 2003, 109).

Renewed Outbursts of Anti-Asian Agitation

Although not directed specifically at Japanese imports, the Union's discriminatory measures did decrease the value of imports from Japan in 1932. Imports from Japan fell from about 19.2 million yen in 1931 to 16.4 million yen in 1932. But in 1933 the value of imports from Japan rose higher than ever before, to over 26.7 million yen (about US$6.85). This dramatic increase started a new wave of anti-Japanese protest: politicians called for action, newspapers were filled with articles advocating measures, and various chambers of commerce debated the question. There were constant press reports of new "bombardments" of Japanese imports, and eventually a boycott was initiated. News headlines regarding Japan were striking. One article, headlined "Japan Pours Goods In--2,000 Tons in Three Days," focused on the arrival of "cheap paint," each tin container of which, it was claimed, was sold at Durban "at a figure below the local manufacturing cost of an empty tin" (RDM, August 9, 1933). A Durban industrialist remarked that even a hundred percent dumping duty would be almost completely ineffective. There was hope that the "menace of Japanese trade" would be taken up at a forthcoming convention of South African industrialists at Johannesburg and that the government would thereafter be strongly encouraged to take firm measures to combat the competition. There was concern, however, that numerous Japanese goods entered the Union under false trademarks and that this would hamper the enforcement of the "drastic" measures that were being called for. "Japanese Goods Camouflaged" was the headline of one article, which went on to provide various details. Customs officials were said to be guilty of allowing importers to remove the marks from certain goods and thus circumvent the provisions of the Customs Management Act of 1913. Japanese bicycles, for example, were misleadingly marked as having been "designed by British designers" and "made of the best British material obtainable." Sometimes such goods were destroyed on the spot, but more often customs officials simply insisted that the offending marks be removed. Customs officials found themselves in an awkward position since the outright destruction of large quantities of such items would harm South African merchants as well (RDM, July 16 and July 26, 1933).

By September 1933 news of the South African antagonism toward the influx of cheap Japanese goods began to reach Japan. An article in the Osaka Mainichi (with the headline "South Africa, Losing in Trade Fight With Japan, Flings Mud at Her Rival") argued that while it was true Japan exported considerably more to South Africa than it imported, the Union benefited from the dock fees and port charges paid to the local Railways and Harbours Department. These "invisible exports" from the Union to Japan, added to the various stevedoring charges, bunker coal, and ship storage fees, amounted to approximately 15,450 pounds (US$64,000) in the first half of 1933. Each Japanese ship was calculated to pay fees of about 1,000 pounds (US$4,800). When estimated costs at Durban were added ("net profit instead of sale value"), the offsetting value became significant. Since the total value of South Africa's exports to Japan was 100,435 pounds (US$485,894) in 1931 and 158,858 pounds in 1932, the value of these "invisible exports" to Japan helped make up part of South Africa's growing trade deficit with Japan. Such were the arguments put forth by the Osaka Steamship Company's (O.S.K.) chief representative in Africa, Mr. Tajima [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in response to South African claims that its trade with Japan was unbalanced in the latter's favor (OM&TNN, September 9, 1933).

Such arguments were hardly likely to calm the fears of South African whites. In September 1933 speakers at the Union's Chamber of Commerce voiced their hostility to the rise in Japanese imports. One speaker reminded his audience that the government had not taken strong measures against the importation of Japanese footwear until some "seven million pairs of rubber and canvas shoes were actually in the country, and the lower end of the industry was threatened with extinction" (RDM, September 19, 1933). He did not, he claimed, want to be an alarmist, but he insisted that strong measures needed to be taken immediately.

By the fall of 1933, however, extreme anti-Japanese measures seemed to be in abeyance in most of South Africa except Natal (RDM, September 18, 1933). Many of the Japanese ships landed their goods at Durban, and a number of key industries were located in Natal. The South African Rubber Manufacturing Company, for instance, had a factory at Howick in the Natal with 108 "European" and 290 "mixed" employees (RDM, September 18, 1933).

Due to deliberate measures taken by Hertzog's government and its decision to abandon the gold standard, the price of gold began to rise in September 1933 (RDM, September 19, 1933), and wool prices were up 33 percent from the year before (RDM, September 15, 1933). By the fall of 1933 the end of the depression seemed in sight. There was still concern, however, that South African products had to compete with Japanese products in foreign markets. Coal from Japan, which was mined in Manchuria, was sold in Singapore and elsewhere at a cheaper price than South African coal. A Johannesburg newspaper estimated that South African coal would have to be produced for 4s. (about US$.83) per ton "at the pit's mouth" in order to be competitive with Japanese coal. After leaving the pit, the argument continued, the coal would have to be sent to the coast and shipped to Singapore and yet still sold for 16s. (about US$3.32) per ton or less, and "even then the Japanese are in a position to undersell" South African coal (RDM, September 6, 1933).

Japanese and South African beers were also in competition. South African Breweries (the "biggest brewing organization in Africa") had active agents in Southwest and East Africa, but Japanese beer was beginning to compete with the Union's beer in these locations by 1933 (RDM, September 18, 1933). By 1934, Japan was exporting fifty tons of Union- and Sakura-brand beers to Mombasa and a year later, 352 tons, or 123,360 bottles, nearly a six-fold increase in one year (OM&TNN, July 28, 1935).

South African whites were also concerned about Japan's "export" of people. From the early twentieth century onward, large numbers of Japanese emigrants had stopped briefly in South African ports on their way to settle in Brazil. South African whites were aware of the Japanese government's desire to find overseas outlets for what it termed Japan's "excess population." There were thus strong reactions among white South Africa to any suggestion that Japanese interests might obtain land or concessions anywhere in Africa, whether in neighboring Swaziland or in far-off Ethiopia. Japanese encroachments in Africa were seen by South African whites as threats to white supremacy on the continent.

In July 1931, in the midst of the controversy over the "Japanese Treaty," reports appeared in the South African press that an extensive ranch in Swaziland might be purchased by Japanese investors. According to an 1885 Law, no Asians could own land in the Union, and this prohibition had worked its way into the Swaziland law books by 1907 (Chilvers 1933). There were fears that the Japanese, who were accused of using agents in Cape Town, might get around this legislation by registering the coveted land in the names of European collaborators (RDM, July 7, 1931). Such fears soon subsided (RDM, July 8 and September 11, 1931), but in September 1931 white South Africans again grew concerned upon learning of Japan's invasion of Manchuria. This provoked fear that Japan was determined to expand its influence throughout the world. "It is practically certain that the Japanese military and naval authorities possess a ready-made plan to people the empty spaces here and in Australia," it was reported. All that stood between South Africa and the Japanese, according to some, was the British navy (RDM, September 19, 1931). The Rand Daily Mail's headlines on September 24 claimed that "3 whites" had been killed by Japanese forces in Mudken and that Japan's absorption of China was her first step to "World Domination."

South African whites were aware that there was a certain degree of sympathy for Japan among non-white South Africans. Some evidence of this exists. John Henry Baynes of Johannesburg, describing himself as a European with a "Cape Colored wife" and "leader of the African Proletariat Party," wrote a letter to the Japanese foreign ministry in April 1931 in which he condemned white South African hostility to the Japanese Commercial Treaty and praised the efforts of the Japanese to defend the rights of their colored brothers (MOFA, A 660 1-1-4; Bradshaw 1992). Such sentiments among "colored" South Africans contributed to white fear of a Yellow Peril.

In 1933, Hedley Arthur Chilvers, a South African, published The Yellow Man Looks On (Chilvers 1933). A former member of the Cape House of Assembly and of the Transvaal and Union Parliaments, Chilvers was on the staff of the Rand Daily Mail after 1905 and served for a period as mining editor for that paper (Rosenthal 1961, 98). Chilvers' book argued that there was a need for Anglo-Dutch reconciliation and even for black-white cooperation in the Union in response to the Japanese threat. In his introduction to Chilver's book, Abe Bailey wrote: "If the white races in Southern Africa can only agree to work together, as, fortunately they have been trying to do under the 1933 Hertzog Coalition Government ... they will continue to enjoy the protection of the British navy."

The book appears to have been intended in part to provide support for the coalition or United Party government formed by Hertzog and Smuts in 1933. Just as the "Black Peril" provided a slogan for Hertzog's electoral campaign in 1929, the specter of a "Yellow Peril" provided some justification for Hertzog's controversial decision to join forces with Smuts in 1933.

The book's publication in late 1933 coincided with the first reports that the Japanese government was engaged in negotiations with the Ethiopian government for a large cotton-growing concession and other commercial concession in that country (Rosenthal 1944, 9-10) These rumors were taken seriously enough to provoke debate in South Africa's parliament (Hansard XXII March 7, 1934) and to be the subject of diplomatic and military intelligence correspondence (PRO Batterbee 1934). After March 1934 there also emerged rumors of Japanese activities in Angola (PRO O'Meara to Secretary 1934) and Mozambique. The question of Japan's close ties with Ethiopia would soon be a matter of worldwide concern as the Italo-Ethiopian conflict developed. In the midst of its formidable escalation of trade, Japan's political influence in Africa became a matter of grave concern to all the European colonial powers. Japan's growing political power and imperialism only fed the flames of white South African fears of the Yellow Peril.

Japanese publications indicate the degree to which Anglo-Japanese relations were severely strained by the mid-1930s. In a book entitled Japan Must Fight Britain, for example, Lieutenant-Commander Ishimaru Tota of the Japanese navy discussed the strategic importance of the Cape, arguing that "it would be far wiser for Britain to concentrate on protecting the Cape route" instead of the Mediterranean route and that "Great Barriers have grown up between England and her children, [including] South Africa ..." (Rosenthal 1944, 12; Ishimaru 1936). Some Japanese militarists were clearly aware of the strategic importance of the Union of South Africa and were eager to exploit the tensions between Britain and certain discontented populations in her colonies. This contributed to the decline and eventual rupture of Anglo-Japanese relations during the 1930s (Kitagawa and Okakura 1992; Bradshaw 1992; Towle 2006; Towle and Kosuge 2007).

Japan's Attempt to Increase Imports of South African Wool

The rapid increase in Japanese exports to the Union would have been more acceptable to white South African if Japanese purchases of raw wool from the Union had also increased dramatically, but this was not the case. Early in 1932, a South African authority on wool bemoaned the fact that the Union had lost an invaluable wool market in Japan by remaining on the gold standard. An opportunity had presented itself when Japan looked briefly toward South Africa as a source of wool during a trade dispute with Australia, he explained, but that chance had been lost because of adverse exchange rates (RDM, January 18, 1932).

During 1933, the prospect that the Japanese might become important wool buyers seemed to improve (RDM, October 10, 1933). Japanese had high hopes of acquiring a South African market for their exports and their purchases of South African wool were gradually increasing even though this wool demanded more in foreign exchange than Australian wool (Hubbard 1935, 27). In September 1933, the Rand Daily Mail reported that wool was fetching the best prices in three years and sometimes noted the presence of Japanese buyers at the fleece auctions (RDM, September 15 and 18, 1933).

When he was interviewed by Die Burger on September 15, Mr. Mogaki [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], UL, the Japanese consular officer in Capetown, claimed that the Japanese government as well as textile manufacturers were planning shortly to increase their purchases of wool from 11,000 bales (1932) to a projected 100,000 bales (RDM, September 16, 1933). That same month in Japan, wool dealers and handlers met and asked Kawanishi Seibei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], president of the Japanese Association of the Wool Industries (Yomo Kogyo Kai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), to lower freight rates for wool from South Africa and from South America. Those rates, according to estimates, were an estimated 20 percent higher than those for Australian wool (OM&TNN, October 1, 1933).

Signs that the Japanese were becoming serious about buying South African wool grew so evident that the Australians grew worried at the prospect of losing the Japanese market to South Africa. The Australian Wool Growers' Council even pushed its government to conclude a customs agreement with Japan in order to retain Japanese buyers (RDM, September 10, 1931).

Mr. Shudo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a Japanese Foreign Office official, visited South Africa early in 1934, seeking resolution of the growing trade dispute between the two countries. Shudo found anti-Japanese sentiment in South Africa to be very strong. Moreover, he and his colleagues were treated discourteously at times during their stay in the Union, once being excluded as "Asiatics" from a cinema, among other humiliating discriminations (PRO Sansom 1934).

Shortly after his return to Tokyo, Shudo outlined to George B. Sansom, the commercial counselor at the British Embassy, the steps that the Japanese government had to undertake to improve the situation. Shudo explained that although Japan had promised at the time of the "Gentleman's Agreement" (1930) to attempt to increase its purchase of South African raw wool in particular, it had failed to purchase more than 10,000 bales per annum during any year since then. The time had come, Shudo reported to his government, to adopt more vigorous measures to promote imports from South Africa, even if that meant a heavy sacrifice (PRO Sansom 1934).

The Japanese government took Shudo's advice. It arranged with the Association of Woolen Industries and others immediately to increase Japanese imports of wool from South Africa. The increased cost--a total of 144,000 yen--was to be split between the Association of Woolen Industries and the exporters of goods to South Africa. O.S.K. Shipping Line charged an increase of 5-10 percent on all Japanese exports it carried to South Africa. As there was no direct line to South Africa from Japan other than the O.S.K., there seemed to be little chance of exporters using alternative lines (PRO Sansom 1934).

Both Sansom and the British Consul-General White at Osaka considered this arrangement evidence of how willing the Japanese were to defuse commercial friction with trading partners. White was also struck by the "rather remarkable manner in which the diverse commercial elements are so easily brought to an agreement for the common good" (PRO Sansom 1934). The Japanese government's attempts to increase imports of wool were partially successful. Japan improved its rank among exporters to South Africa. By 1935, Japan was fourth, behind Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. Japan rose to second place, after Germany, in 1936-7 (Roberts 1990, 11), but as a Japanese study reported in 1937:
   South Africa's policy to promote the buying of wool was far less
   successful than expected. At the same time the South African market
   was flooded by Japanese products. In contrast, imports of European
   goods, especially British ones, were declining sharply and the
   pro-British element in South Africa thus strongly attacked the
   failure of the "Gentleman's Agreement" with Japan and the fact that
   Japan purchased such a small quantity of South African wool. In
   addition, every newspaper has been running articles on Japanese
   insincerity and on the unfair competition of Japanese traders.
   Anti-Japanese sentiment is increasing dramatically as the mood of
   the people grows more hostile to Japan and its products. (Minami
   Renpo 1937, 3)


Japanese commercial expansion in the early 1930s was rapid and seemed to threaten the interests of British and South African manufacturers alike. Furthermore, Japanese ambitions were not, it appeared, limited to the expansion of exports. South Africa had begun to fear that Japan harbored political ambitions in the African continent and perhaps even colonial intentions.

The Union of South Africa's decision in October 1930 to grant "honorary white" status to a limited number of "recommended" Japanese visitors ignited fears among white South African that were related to their previous fears of Indian and Chinese immigration, but the fear of the "Yellow Peril" was more intense due to Japan's rapid economic and political expansion. The fear of a Yellow Peril in the 1930s was used by white South Africans to justify the need for white solidarity and even Black-White solidarity in the face of Japanese political and economic expansion. The Japanese, for their part, became increasingly upset by the discriminatory measures aimed at limiting their exports, free movement, and settlement throughout the British Empire, including South Africa. This contributed to the deterioration of Anglo-Japanese relations in the decade before World War II.


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Centre College


Centre College


([dagger]) Unless otherwise indicated, "pounds" refers to South African pounds. In 1930, 1 S.A. pound was valued at about US$4.84.
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Date:Jan 1, 2010
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