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Nanshin: Japanese Settlers in Papua and New Guinea 1890-1949.


Canberra: The Journal of Pacific History, 1999. Pp.viii, 179, Tables, Maps, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index.

There has been a growing volume of literature on Japan's relations with the South Seas, since the appearance in 1975 of Toni Yano's book, Nanshin no Keifu (The Genealogy of the Southward Advance) (Tokyo: Chuokoron-sha), in which Yano put forward an analytical framework for nanshin (Japan's southward advance). However, studies on nanshin to Papua and New Guinea have been much neglected, and, as far as I am aware, Hiromitsu Iwamoto's book is the first major work on this topic.

In this book, nan'yo (the South Seas) is defined as the regions comprising Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia and Southeast Asia. The author examines the Japanese interest in Papua and New Guinea from 1890 to 1949 in the context of nanshin, in, and sheds light on how the Australian government and the advocates of nanshin-ron (southward advance theory) perceived the Japanese settlers in these territories.

The author traces the Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea as an offshoot of Japanese immigrants to Thursday Island. In the early 1880s, Japanese began to migrate to the island for shell-fishing, and their number continued to increase sharply. As they came to dominate the shell-fishing industry at the expense of European rivals, Australian officials imposed restrictions on Japanese immigration and their activities, with the result that some of the Japanese moved to Papua and New Guinea.

As far as Papua is concerned, according to the author, there is not much information about the Japanese activities there before Australia formally took over the territory from Britain in 1906. In 1913 there were nine Japanese settlers, and they were mainly pearl divers and traders. The Australian administration hardly took any notice of them, largely because they did not pose any threat to the whites.

Regarding New Guinea, which was under German control, the author describes clearly how the Japanese society evolved around Isokichi Komine, a skipper. Komine initially migrated to Thursday Island in 1890, and was in search of a shell-fishing ground in 1901 when he met Governor Hahl in Rabaul. As Hahl needed a vessel, and Komine land to settle, they had mutual interests. Komine was then able to acquire leases of land on Manus Island and in Rabaul. Subsequently, he began to engage in copra-planting, shell-fishing, and boat-building. As the governor permitted him to bring in Japanese artisans and labourers, the Japanese population began to rise, reaching about 100 just before World War I. The author points out that the Germans did not restrict Japanese immigration, as long as the Japanese did not compete with them.

After the outbreak of World War I, New Guinea and German Micronesia were occupied by Australians and Japanese respectively, and were mandated to them at the Paris Peace Conference in 1921. Consequently, the nan'yo fever in Japan, which had subsided after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, revived, and nanshin-ron became an expansionist ideology. Nevertheless, as Iwamoto argues, government officials and the navy were more concerned with Southeast Asia and Micronesia, not with Papua and New Guinea, which were not important to Japan in terms of trade, emigration or capital investment. However, in 1936 nanshin-ron was integrated in national policy as it became more militaristic in the late 1930s. The nanshin-ron advocates wanted to create the image that Japanese immigrants in Papua and New Guinea were part of Japanese expansionism. However, according to the author, the immigrants hardly held any nanshin ideology, for almost all of them came from impoverished villages in Kumamoto, Nagasaki and other Japanese prefe ctures, and were anxious to make money abroad. Isokichi Komine, who employed most of the Japanese immigrants in New Guinea, was largely concerned with his own business operations, even though he had some contact with nanshin-ron advocates.

As for the Australians, they came to recognise the strategic value of the territory, and began to restrict Japanese immigration into New Guinea in the late 1920s, for they perceived that Japanese immigrants in Papua and New Guinea constituted part of government-organised Japanese expansionism into the South Seas. Therefore, as soon as the Pacific War broke out, all of the Japanese immigrants were arrested and sent to Australia for internment. After the war, the majority of the Japanese internees were repatriated to Japan, and only those who were married to local women were taken back to Papua and New Guinea where most of them were kept in custody and were eventually sent back to Japan. Iwamoto asserts that the settlers became the victims of the distorted perceptions of the Australians and nanshin-ron advocates.

The author follows the traditional nanshin approach, which examines how Japan's southward advance was made by 'Japan proper', that is Japanese immigrants, Japanese firms and the Japanese government, and which takes virtually no account of the role of non-Japanese. He also takes up a commonly held view that 'in Southeast Asia, karayuki-san spearheaded Japanese business expansion, and they were followed by [Japanese] traders who mainly sold sundries to them' (p.58). However, in recent years, there has been a growing number of scholars who attach importance to the role of overseas Chinese merchants in Japan, especially those of Kobe, in Japan's southward advance. They cultivated the South Seas markets for Japanese goods through their intra-Asian commercial networks before World War I, and most Japanese trading firms simply followed in their footsteps during and after World War I. Although the author does not describe much about the economic activities of overseas Chinese in Papua and New Guinea, it could be pos sible that some of them were engaged in trade with Japan through overseas Chinese merchants in Japan.

As for karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes abroad), they were certainly the earliest Japanese immigrants in Java, Sumatra and British Malaya, but not in the Philippines. The author points out that in the case of Papua and New Guinea the first Japanese immigrants were pearl divers and artisans, not karayuki-san, and concludes that 'the presence of karayuki-san in New Guinea does not conform to the Southeast Asian pattern' (p. 58), since Japanese economic activities developed independent of the karayuki-san. Is there then 'the Southeast Asian pattern' (meaning Japan's economic advance led by karayuki-san)? Although one should not deny completely karayuki-san's role in Japan's early economic advance into the South Seas, the overseas Chinese merchants in Japan played a far more important role than karayuki-san did.

There are certain parts of this book that may need more detailed description. For example, the reader would like to know how Komine employed Japanese and local workers in his plantations, boat-building, and other ventures, and how much he paid them. The author refers to 'Burns, Philip' several times, but does not give details. Also, he asserts that Japanese pearl divers 'were professional divers paid high wages by white employers and they remitted their money to their homes' (p. 147), but provides no figures. Prior to World War I, several hundred Japanese divers were employed by the Celebes Trading Company for pearl fishing around the Aru Islands, but they hardly made any remittances for they spent most of their earnings lavishly on prostitutes, gambling and drinking during the off-season. One would wonder if the fishermen on Thursday Island did the same.

Finally, I must say that this pioneering work is informative, and recommended particularly to those who are interested in Japan's southward advance into the South Seas in general, and Papua and New Guinea in particular. The author took great pains in conducting interviews in Japan, Australia and Papua New Guinea, and makes use of a variety of primary and secondary sources. The maps, photographs and statistical tables are useful.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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