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Japanese Cultural Policies in Southeast Asia During World War 2.

This anthology is a collection of five essays, four of which were presented at the 1989 conference of the Association for Asian Studies as a panel on Japanese cultural policies in Southeast Asia during World War 2. These four essays include Kenichi Goto's "'Bright Legacy' or 'Abortive Flower': Indonesian Students in Japan during World War 2"; E Bruce Reynolds's "Imperial Japan's Cultural Program in Thailand"; Yoji Akashi's "Japanese Cultural Policy in Malaya and Singapore, 1942-45"; and Motoe Terami-Wada's "The Japanese Propaganda Corps in the Philippines: Laying the Foundation". The fifth, Aiko Kurasawa's essay on "Films as Propaganda Media in Java under the Japanese, 1942-45", was added when Prof. Goodman decided to collect the essays into book form.

Some of the important conclusions and themes that emerge from these essays are discussed by Prof. Goodman in his introduction. One of the more significant observations is that the Japanese were not at all prepared to deal with the peoples of the occupied territories in any manner other than a military one; they were largely unfamiliar with the cultures, customs, and languages of these nations. This situation is certainly ironic, considering the Japanese emphasis on Asian solidarity and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere; indeed, the Japanese found themselves in the embarrassing situation of often having to use the English language to communicate with their Asian brothers (or perhaps "little brothers" would be a more appropriate term, considering the Japanese attitude toward their new wards). And the Japanese showed little interest in learning about their Asian neighbours; as Prof. Goodman explains,

Most of the Japanese had little or no respect for the Southeast Asians who were looked upon as "uncultured" and were generally viewed by the Japanese as lazy, cowardly, backward people whose servile condition had been severely worsened under Euro-American colonial domination. Thus, as the Japanese saw it, the only way to "save" these benighted beings was to bring them into the superior world of Japanese values which would, incidentally, at the same time also make more secure Japan's control of the region (p. 4).

Another interesting theme (although one that is not surprising, considering the lack of Japanese preparedness for their occupation of these territories and their attitude toward these cultures) that emerges from the collection is the general failure of the cultural policies of the Japanese in these occupied nations. Except for the program that sent Southeast Asian students to Japan to study, these programs were ineffectual, largely due to the Japanese lack of understanding of these cultures and their own colonial attitudes toward them: "These attitudes, not entirely dissimilar to those of Nazi Germany in occupied Europe, were, of course, in the end self-defeating. Practically no vestiges of Japan's wartime cultural program remain in Southeast Asia today" (p. 4).

An important question to ask about this book is just how much it will appeal to the average scholar of Asian studies. Although all the essays deal with the stated topic - Japanese cultural policy in Southeast Asia during the Occupation - each deals with a very specific area of this topic. For example, Aiko Kurasawa's essay on the use by the Japanese of films as propaganda in Java is of great interest to me as a scholar of Southeast Asian film, and especially of the World War 2 era. How engrossing this (very specific) topic will be to the average reader is another question. Although the rest of the essays are not quite so specialized in their focus, they still deal with fairly specific topics.

This problem could have been solved, I think, with a little encouragement from Prof. Goodman to the writers to broaden their scopes somewhat, and to draw some more generalized conclusions from their excellent and exhaustive research. Another way in which Goodman could have broadened the appeal of this book would have been to provide a more comprehensive introduction, and even perhaps a conclusion, in which he himself made some more generalized observations based on the essays. Perhaps a few more essays could have been added as well, focusing on the more long-term effects of these Japanese cultural programs. Although Goodman is most likely correct in his assessment of the failure of these programs, they probably had some lasting effects; for example, the style of Malaysian films, well into the 1960s, showed the influence of the Japanese films shown in Malaya and Singapore during the Occupation.

An expansion of the book would be most welcome since it is, to begin with, short at 223 pages. And many of these pages are consumed by material that the average reader will very likely not read; for example, Aiko Kurasawa's essay includes a 21-page listing of films made and/or screened in Java during the Occupation. Again, this is both interesting and useful to me, but how many other scholars will be as fascinated by this catalogue?

However, I must say that I personally found the work fascinating. Despite their narrow scope, these essays often are engrossing. This is especially true of Motoe Terami-Wada's account of the Japanese Propaganda Corps in the Philippines. It is, to use the language of mainstream book reviewers, a "good read", and I found myself thoroughly absorbed by it.

In addition, I think this book will prove immensely useful to scholars of Southeast Asia not just for its observations and arguments, but also for its extensive notes. These writers have certainly done their homework; the notes are a veritable treasure of sources (in several languages) of material concerning the Japanese Occupation, and have already proven quite useful in my own research (as have, I should add, the essays themselves, several of which have been cited already in my own work).

Timothy R. White National University of Singapore
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Author:White, Timothy R.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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