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On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan.

On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan. By Jeffrey Paul Bayliss. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013. Pp. 454. $39.95.)

The author of this book offers a comparative study from 1868 to 1945 of Japan's two minority populations, the Buraku people and the Koreans, who lived at the ostracized margins of Japanese society and suffered similar problems of discrimination and exploitation. Discrimination against the Buraku and the Koreans was rampant against a backdrop of such modern ideas as social Darwinism, hygiene, eugenics, and imperialism--ideas that Japan emulated from the West in pursuit of bunmei kaika, or "civilization and enlightenment." Jeffrey Bayliss focuses on three issues: the Buraku and Korean experiences of marginalization and their reactions to it; the Japanese state's policies executed to control these minorities and incorporate them into the empire, and the minorities' reactions to these policies; and the interactions between these two minorities.

Bayliss skillfully frames his question about the Buraku and Korean experiences in terms of "the politics of minority identity," and answers it by tracing the trajectory of what he terms "minority struggles" (388). Indeed, in an effort to seek inclusion in the majority society and to restore a sense of pride and self-worth, the Buraku and Korean minorities employed a range of ideas and strategies and even attempted to prove their patriotism for Japan, but without much success. On the other hand, the Japanese state attempted, to one degree or another, to incorporate these stigmatized minorities with the empire in response to changing circumstances and needs over time. In the 1910s, the Japanese state's catchword was "improvement," and it gradually yielded to "harmony" in the 1920s. During the period of national emergency in the 1930s and the Pacific War years--which demanded stringent social control and mass mobilization-- the Japanese state emphasized assimilation, if coercively, and the unity of the people. In this regard, Bayliss points out that "the discourse on Korean and Buraku identity that portrays both as deviant from the idealized Japanese citizen occurred precisely because the state was trying to consolidate these groups into its vision of a nation-state and empire in which all subjects of the emperor shared a link" (76).

With regard to the relationship between the Buraku and Korean minorities, Bayliss aptly contextualizes the equation of persisting misunderstanding and animosities between them. It was neither something like "a case of similarly disadvantaged groups taking out their frustrations on one another," nor "the result of a 'bigotry of the downtrodden,' according to which everyone needs someone to spit on" (21, 335). Bayliss notes that it stemmed from the economic competition and population pressure between them over similar types of scarce jobs and tight labor markets.

What did the efforts to get the Buraku and Korean minorities close to the majority in Japanese society eventually mean? Here, Bayliss's insights shine: "To be closer, after all, implied that some sort of distance--and thus difference--from the majority remained, which was the dilemma that had plagued modern Japan's minorities (395). This book is a fine piece of research.

Nam-Lin Hur

University of British Columbia

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Author:Hur, Nam-Lin
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2014
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