Japan in Manchuria: Agricultural Emigration in the Japanese Empire, 1932-1945

Eras Journal – Japan in Manchuria: Agricultural Emigration…

Japan in Manchuria: Agricultural Emigration in the Japanese Empire, 1932-1945
Kevin McDowell
(University of Arizona)


After the Manchurian Incident in 1931, the rural population in Japan, like other segments of the population, joined the movement to tap into the ‘Manchurian lifeline.’ Agriculturists and social scientists began to seek solutions to the 1930s farm crisis in imperial expansion as agrarian ideologues, addressing population pressure and economic decline in rural areas, envisioned large-scale emigration to the Asian continent as a viable option for farming communities.

From 1932, with the beginning of a five-year trial emigration plan, and then later with the mass migration programs that extended to the end of World War Two, Manchuria seemed to offer a solution for rural economic deadlock. In the process, agriculture was tied to colony building as Japanese farmers were settled in the Manchurian countryside as a bulwark against Chinese “bandits” and the possibility of the Soviet Army’s advance into Manchuria, and culture bearers for the surrounding inhabitants.

Emigration planners and army personnel aimed at resolving rural depression in Japan and strategic problems in Manchuria, with racial harmony notions playing a key ideological part in the colonization of Northeast China. That ideology was activated to support the move to rural emigration, to spur hesitant politicians to act, to attract government funding and official support and to motivate Japanese peasants to venture into the hinterlands of the Asian continent.

Yet, despite official rhetoric on racial harmony, ideology disintegrated when confronted with the economic, military, and national aspirations of the metropolitan populace. Devotion to the imperial cause, strategic goals, and agricultural economics negated concern for building racial ties with the surrounding Manchurian communities; and the underlying stress on Japan as the harbinger of modernization along with the sudden social elevation of Japanese peasants in rural areas of Manchukuo meant, in essence, that rather than constructing a new sort of society, Japanese administrators and military planners were building an empire. The racial harmony gloss just obscured the hard facts of Japanese expansion out of the railway zones and penetration into the interior.

Historiographical Currents in Japanese Imperialism and Agricultural Emigration in Manchuria

Many recent studies on Manchuria and Japanese imperialism have shifted attention away from the top-level administrative, economic, and military forces in Manchukuo. They look, instead, at the ideologies and ideas that motivated and propped up the state-building enterprise and the sub-groups and figures that operated within the framework set up by the Kwantung Army and Japan-backed Manchukuo government. Some of the main themes and issues include: how ideas transmitted from the continent to the metropole were refashioned by different groups and organizations to foster popular support for Manchukuo, spur economic investment and business activity, and turn rural activists towards emigration programs;[1] colonization and the shaping of racial identity, based on shifting notions of inclusion and exclusion;[2] and studies of minorities and/or marginalized groups and their place in Japan’s administration of Manchuria. This scholarship shows the complexity of relating propaganda and received concepts to real contact and interplay in the Manchurian colonial arena as different information, ideas, and propaganda flowed out of the colony and back to Japan, shaping public reactions and private decisions. Agricultural emigration programs and participants, too, figure into this process.

The groups of agriculture settlers sent from Japan to the peripheral regions of Manchuria represent the confluence of several important strains of imperial aspirations and imaginings in the period after 1931. Louise Young has written extensively on the nôgyô imin movement and the domestic consumption and construction of Japanese colonialism in Japan.[3] One of her main aims is to follow the 1930s ‘Manchuria boom’ as it merged with domestic concerns and concepts to spur large-scale recruitment and propaganda movements geared to mobilizing farmers to move to Manchuria. This was done by creating a pantheon of heroic emigrant settlements, providing images of a new paradise of bountiful harvests and healthy babies, and underscoring the vital importance of the settlement mission to the creation of a harmonious and stable state.

Sandra Wilson’s “The ‘New Paradise’: Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s,” analyzes the process and motivations behind the movement of rural settlers to the continent.[4] Wilson positions agricultural migration within the larger debate on Japanese overseas expansion, examines the military role of migrants, and also presents an outline of the population pressure issues underlying the agrarianist focus on emigration to Manchuria. But, most important in all this, was the military tinge to the settlements of Japanese peasants, as the emigrants, protected by Kwantung Army soldiers, moved into the rural areas of Manchuria, took up farming, often on previously cultivated farms, and became a kind of vanguard for Japanese imperialism in the outlying parts of Northeast China.

Paul Guelcher’s 1999 dissertation offers an overarching look at the emigration campaigns, imperial images (through an analysis of postcards portraying ‘Manchu’ or Chinese customs, Japanese civic construction, and colonial lifestyles), the interactions of Japanese and native (mostly Chinese) residents, and finally the headlong retreat from the advancing Soviet Army. Guelcher uses a variety of sources in an effort to get at the experiences and memories of individual settlers; these include the aforementioned postcards, personal interviews, and Japanese and English primary and secondary sources. [5]

Memories, collected and articulated in post-war jibunshi(personal histories), too, have surfaced, evoking the settlers’ experiences in the face of defeat and loss, return to Japan and rejection, and now, reemergence as part of Japan’s post-war master narrative.[6] In The Road to a Redeemed Mankind, Mariko Asano Tamanoi presents an ethnographical sketch of some of the jibunshi group members, describes the tropes that serve to mark and shape a collective memory for the former emigrants, and fits the emigrants into the larger hierarchy of Japanese wartime victims. Emigrant memories, Tamanoi shows, largely focus on the collapse of Japan’s colonial edifice in Manchuria, when the settlers, left unprotected by the Kwantung Army, became refugees fleeing before the advancing Soviet Army. What these memories do, of course, is skip right to the final moments of the war, eliding, for the most part, everything that had gone on before, leaving out the settler’s own place as colonizers, complicit in Japanese imperialism.

Finally, Ronald Suleski’s slightly earlier work gives a tight account of the Youth Brigades (Manmô kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun) in Manchuria.[7] Set primarily in Manchuria, this work outlines the tense relations between Japanese settlers and their Chinese neighbors. The Youth Brigade members, Suleski explains, were guilty of a variety of crimes, including rape, robbery, and murder; driving a wedge between the two communities. Suleski’s account isolates the Youth Brigades from the events preceding their relocation to Manchuria; that is, the domestic recruitment, training, and propaganda surrounding the Youth Brigade movement, but does a nice job in clearly showing the breakdown of the racial harmony ideology when Japanese arrived as colonizers and agricultural settlers in Manchuria.

This article brings together studies on Japan’s agricultural emigration programs, weaving in some Japanese language scholarship, to show how domestic reaction to and refashioning of the colonial currents coming from Northeast China drove the development of the emigration enterprise. The agricultural emigration project linked the Manchukuo ‘lifeline’ to Japan’s rural economy and in the process layered the colonial venture with racial harmony concepts and agrarian ideology that, in turn, informed emigration propaganda, influenced government policy, and shaped imperial imagery.

Manchuria and Migration: From the Russo-Japanese War to the Manchurian Incident

Intellectuals, ideologues, businessmen, and military administrators posited a variety of migration theories during the 1930s. Earlier concepts and arguments were reworked to figure in Japan’s expanding empire and the prospect of large-scale migration to the Manchurian plains. In the early stages of the theoretical battle the heady optimism of the pro-Manchuria migration side was offset by a vast body of collected evidence and experience that called into question some of the fundamental underlying assumptions of the emigration proposals.

The litany of unsuccessful emigration ventures before the Manchurian Incident seemed to validate official and academic arguments against emigration to Northeast Asia. But, while doubts lingered, by 1932 Manchuria was emerging in propaganda and popular opinion as a way out of the economic slump for rural society. The issue of Manchurian migration moved into the national consciousness through the convergence of imperial fervor and wartime patriotism, economic crisis, and the steady efforts of agrarian activists aligned behind agrarian ideologues.

Initial rural directives were aimed at fixing the short-term problems gripping farmers. Tenancy and rent disputes increased and agricultural associations demanded fiscal relief measures from local and national governments. But, in a new turn, local farm associations began calling for emigration to Manchuria, circulating petitions, mounting rallies and pressing politicians for efforts to redress rural economic distress through colonial settlements in Manchuria. Emigration moved to the forefront of rural revival plans and Manchuria took on increasing importance within the bundle of initiatives calling for farm relief. In the year following the Manchurian Incident in 1931, 84 local associations were organized with the aim of studying the possibility of emigration to the continent, outlining migration plans, and pushing the Tokyo government for funding and leadership.[8] With Manchuria opened and largely under Japanese control, Northeast China emerged as a ‘new paradise’[9] fit for Japanese agricultural emigration. These grass-roots appeals merged with the larger debate on migration to Manchuria and the fate of the rural economy.

The move to Manchuria campaigns were largely predicated on the population pressure notions that dominated contemporary agrarianist thinking. This view went back to the early years of the Meiji period and the efforts to export ‘surplus’ residents from the rural parts of Japan, geared toward righting the population imbalances purportedly dragging down the farm economy. Havens explains that “Overseas expansion, usually based on the lebensraumrationale, had been a persistent sub-theme in Nôhonshugi discourse since the 1890s.”[10] An article inContemporary Manchuria, which was published by the South Manchurian Railway Company, neatly sums up the prevailing rationale behind emigration to the continent:”From the standpoint of Japan, Japanese emigration to the new State is necessary; first on the grounds of her over-population, lack of sufficient work for her agricultural population, and impoverished conditions of her rural communities. This would then free up the land vacated by the emigrant farmers to the remaining families…”[11] America, Australia, Peru, and Brazil had already thrown up barriers to Japanese immigrants, which made Manchuria seem even more important to emigration advocates. Manchuria seemed the only outlet for Japan’s population pressure.

As the drive towards settling Manchuria gained momentum, petitions and policy initiatives moved from local farm associations to the highest echelons of the government as agrarian thinkers canvassed the political, military, and academic elite for support. With the economic crisis of the 1930s and the opening of north Manchuria to Japanese colonists the enduring idea of alleviating the population crisis by funneling surplus farmers abroad became enmeshed in Japan’s colonial expansion in China.Nôhonshugi (agrarian ideologues) advocates took up the question of emigration primarily as a means of delivering farmers from rural economic ‘deadlock.’

Yet, even as emigration planners and rural associations organized the drive towards moving farmers to Manchuria, many scholars and officials opposed the idea, arguing that it was theoretically untenable. Their attempts to stop the momentum of the emigration movement derived from the belief that Japanese farmers could neither adapt to Manchurian economic conditions and culture nor adopt the farming methods necessary to agricultural success in Northeast China. Moreover, living in the Manchurian hinterlands would mean giving up the amenities of the homeland. “Emigration to Manchuria may not be impossible, but there are three conditions: settlers must not read newspapers or magazines, take baths, or educate their children,” one critic wrote.[12]

At the crux of these arguments was the idea that migration to Manchuria violated the dictates of standard migration patterns. Tokyo Imperial University professor, Yanaihara Tadao, for one, asserted that “As a rule people move from an area of low wages to an area of high wages and living standards. Migration in the opposite direction is unnatural, rather like trying to make water flow upstream against a current.”[13] So, even in the wake of popular support for the push into Manchuria, dissenting opinions were voiced.[14] This, however, did not stop the progress of the emigration campaigns, as they became a staple part of programs aimed at rural revival and gained the support of prominent agrarianist thinkers and military officials.

The merger of colonial emigration and agrarianism reoriented conventional inducements behind migration and reinvigorated the moribund Meiji-Taishô era imperialist goal of peopling Japan’s Asian colonies with settlers. As Young writes, “In the context of the Taishô agrarianism movement, Katô’s[15] advocacy of colonial settlement was unusual – one of the few links between the agrarianist and emigration movements.”[16] The infusion of agrarian ideology into the emigration drive was important because it targeted the lowest rungs of rural society, tapped into the growing allure of Manchuria’s open spaces for rural agricultural associations, and countered the hard-edged economic and theoretically oriented opposition camp with notions of self-sufficiency and service to the emperor.

The Japanese Army, Armed Emigrants and Trial Emigration

The Kwantung Army’s military might in Manchuria and its political muscle in Japan spurred a linkage between strategic and military concerns and rural economics, so that domestic agricultural ideologues were brought into the state building project in partnership with the Japanese Army. A Kwantung Army emigration proposal, paralleling the domestic campaign, came out in 1932. Army planners, from the outset, dismissed theoretical objections and economic concerns; insisting, instead, that emigration was an essential component of state-building in Manchuria. Army administrators moved right to the practical matter of dispatching settlers to the colony and shaping the organizational agencies of the emigration campaigns.[17]

The initial emigration groups were charged with forming self-defense compounds in the region, thereby quieting unrest and facilitating the transfer of sovereignty to the Japan-backed Manchukuo government. However, the emigrants were also expected to merge this military role with racial harmony notions: putting ideology into action on the ground in the colony. From the very beginning this was compromised, as the first emigrants came armed and were closely linked with the imperial policies of the Japanese colonial administration; on the emigrants’ arrival “local military authorities…marched the new colonists in rank through the streets of Jiamusi[18] in an effort to intimidate the locals.”[19] Then, throughout the winter the settlers fought alongside the Kwantung Army, while also joining in the looting, swindling, and raping of local Chinese. By the time the emigrants reached their settlement sites they had already acquired a reputation for brutality that sent the local inhabitants fleeing: deserted fields and homes were often taken over by Japanese settlers.

Often, rather than pioneering uncultivated land, many of the colonists, aided by the heavy-handed methods of the Kwantung Army, the East Asian Development Company, and the Manchukuo government, simply took over Chinese farms. Thus, while lip-service was paid to the notion of opening new land for cultivation, a large percentage of the fields acquired by the colonists were simply taken over from Chinese peasants, who were pressed into selling their property at rock-bottom prices, and then given the choice of either moving out or working for the new Japanese owners.[20] In one instance, “more than twenty armed men were sent to the area in question [regarding a land purchase], and they [Japanese officials and soldiers] either bayoneted farmers who did not comply with their orders or killed their cattle, dogs, and chickens.”[21] For the Chinese, Araragi writes, the transactions were more like forced requisitions than legitimate deals.[22]

Propaganda and Moving Manchuria to the Metropole

Domestic emigration propaganda raised support for Manchurian emigration with the promise of unpopulated, open plains.

Wilson describes a Japanese peasant woman dreaming of empire with an “image of Manchuria as a vast and snowy plain dotted with log cabins…There was no hint that millions of Chinese lived there.”[23] These homey images and grand expectations, of course, contrasted with the actual situation – continued resistance in the interior, a sullen and suspicious native population already stung by confrontations with the army, a harsh, strange terrain, and a hastily laid-out emigration operation. Guelcher writes, “Fed rather hazy images of the wondrous ‘New Paradise’ under construction in pro-emigration propaganda, many colonists departed Japan with little more than an equally vague expectation of instant gratification: an extensive landholding, suitable housing, generous financial aid, white rice every day, an honored position atop the rural social order.”[24] But colonists were faced with a different reality on their arrival in Manchuria: hostile Chinese, extreme weather conditions, unfamiliar farming techniques and implements, insufficient supplies, and a remote metropolitan government. Deflated dreams marked the trial emigration stage of the agricultural emigration campaigns, but rather than stalling the campaigns, the experiences of the first colonists were revised and transferred back to Japan as heroic episodes, feeding the mass-migration push from 1937 to 1945.

While the emigrants struggled to adapt to their new landscape and adjust their expectations to Manchurian realities, propagandists constructed a heroic pioneering discourse focused on the colonists’ struggle against Chinese bandits and desertion, the burgeoning prosperity of the settlements and their role in raising the cultural standards of the local people. Young describes how the early trials of the Japanese farmers were fashioned into legend by emigration promoters in pamphlets, magazines, journals, and travel brochures. The Iyasaka and Chifuri village sites themselves became such popular tourist destinations that “the deluge of visitors was such that many settlers were reportedly forced to give up farming altogether in order to devote full time to ‘showing people around.'”[25]

Settlement reports that filtered back to the homeland followed a standard pattern, starting with the initial troubles such as bandit attacks, disease, desertion, and natural disasters, and then moving on to brighter themes: the arrival of wives, home-building, bumper crops, and a colonial baby boom.[26] Chifuri, an Ideal Japanese Settlementdescribes the development of a Japanese rural community in the colonial periphery complete with wives[27](tairiku no hanayome) private homes, a functioning postal service, large, prosperous fields of soy beans, rice, wheat, and kaoliang, and gainfully employed “Manchus” taking part in the peaceful prosperity of the village.[28] Reports published by the South Manchurian Railway, likewise, were careful to detail the growing size of the settlements and the diverse agricultural industries operated by the colonists, reinforcing the popular image of self-sustaining pioneers working to carve out a civilized home in the Manchurian plains.[29]

The institutionalized reduction of Chinese rights and autonomy, along with the Japanese farmers’ martial training and army backing, and domestic propaganda that showed Manchuria as a fertile, blank, uninhabited place preconditioned the settlers to disdain or dismiss the local inhabitants of Manchuria. In Mariko Asano Tamanoi’s study of ethnic taxonomies in Manchuria she shows how pre-departure images colored settler expectations of life in Manchuria. “The song [a propaganda song aimed at popularizing the migration project] encourages rural folk to migrate to Manchuria by offering up images of a vast, boundless, land. Furthermore, the song, minimizes, or even nullifies, any human presence in Manchuria.”[30] Upon arrival, however, the disjunction between empty lands imagery and racial harmony rhetoric became apparent.

Not only was Manchuria populated with Chinese, ethnic Manchurians, Koreans, and other races, but, also, imperial authority jarred with the official racial harmony ideology. From the government bureaucracy in urban areas to the outer edges of Manchuria in the emigrant settlements Japan possessed and exercised power; at least as projected and fashioned for Japanese consumption. Propaganda and political discourse downplayed the dislocations between official ideology and conditions on the ground in the colony.

Mass Migration Campaigns: 1936-1945

In 1936, as the five-year trial emigration plan neared completion the Japanese government stepped up the pace of the emigration program, initiating a plan to send one million households to Manchukuo over a twenty-year period.[31]Political events in Japan, in particular the February 26 Incident, along with pressure from the Kwantung Army, shaped the new measures, propelling the emigration movement forward more vigorously and removing objections to it. In accordance with the increased scope of the emigration venture the Manchuria Colonial Development Company (Manshû Takushoku Kabushiki Kaisha) was organized to take “charge, not only of the already settled groups, but also of the new project and settlement of 1,000,000 households and 5,000,000 farmers already outlined.”[32]

In Japan, the Manshû imin administrative system was reworked into a “branch village” (bunson imin) organizational structure that separated out economically marginal farmers from the main village population to create colonial communities for transfer to Manchuria. “Each village would consist of at least 200-300 households, with financial assistance provided for fares and for costs in Manchuria.”[33] Removing a certain percentage of the agricultural population, theorists argued, would break the population pressure impasse that blocked the revival of the rural economy in Japan. After surveying farming conditions throughout Japan, emigration leaders set out to engineer the construction of viable farming villages through Manchurian migration.”Confident in the powers of social science,” Young writes, “the organizers of the emigration movement proceeded with great certitude to plan the resettlement of rural Japan based on this simple calculation.”[34] At the same time the Manchurian colonial agencies were fashioning open spaces for the settlement sites and preparing for a similar shift in demographics in Northeast China.

Large-scale emigration, like trial emigration, put military matters first; strategically settling colonists in areas where Chinese guerillas were active and along the border with the Soviet Union. As a measure for suppressing resistance, Japanese authorities worked to divide ordinary Chinese citizens from Chinese resistance fighters by forcibly rounding up peasants and moving them to collective villages. Japanese agricultural colonists were then placed on the newly vacated land, shoring up weak points: that is, places with high levels of bandit activity. Kwantung Army leaders noted that: “The Army expects that colonial emigrants along the frontier will be of great value. In war-time it is absolutely necessary to have Japanese villages and Japanese nationals on the border…Emigrants will defend military facilities, safeguard the border, and supply foodstuffs to the army.”[35] Analyzing the placement of Japanese villages, Kobayashi shows that a high percentage of the Japanese colonists were located in sensitive areas, chosen to fill places recently cleared of Chinese resistance, along transportation routes, and, of course, in the northern border regions.[36]

The Youth Brigade Emigration Program

As the mass migration campaigns were getting under way, however, the clash at the Marco Polo Bridge in July 1937 sparked a widened war with China. The call-up of troops and conscription of young men (targeting exactly the same age group as emigration planners) and war casualties greatly lowered the number of emigrant candidates. And, also, as Japanese factories geared up for all-out war, labour demands began to outpace labour supplies, so that taken together with conscription, the China War “undermined much of the original justification for the colonization program.”[37] Young writes, “Already in 1938, over half of the men fighting in China were reserve soldiers in their thirties. By 1939 the labour shortage for wartime industry had necessitated the implementation of a labour draft.”[38]This resulted in a rural labour shortage and a food production crisis. But, even as the rationale for rural emigration was ending and candidate enrollments were dropping, settlement organizers continued the push, merely adjusting their methods in the effort to fill sagging membership rolls.

To offset the China War’s demands on men and material, the colonization program reached deeper into the countryside. With the “Millions to Manchuria”[39] program emigration planners created new agencies and mobilized the migration bureaucracy at every level towards meeting fixed quotas.[40] Araragi, describing the main characteristics of the colonization program states, “The Manshû nôgyô imin enterprise relied on the Ministry of Colonial Affairs, the Manshû Immigration Council, the Manshû Colonial Council, prefectural governments, and local reserve associations. While emigration was, as a general rule, not compulsory, from the national government, to the prefecture, county, and village a certain quota of emigrants was allotted…”[41]

The increased scope of the colonization drive necessarily entailed a commensurate expansion of the bureaucratic apparatus for, first, spurring enrollment and then training and supporting the colonists. And, it also meant building support at the local level and relying on community and village leaders to follow government directives, initiate discussion, and build consensus for joining the colonizing endeavor.

Over time, however, as the labour crisis deepened and the rural economy in Japan improved it became increasingly difficult for local leaders to meet the assigned quotas. To sustain the movement the Kwantung Army, the Ministry of Colonial Affairs, and other colonial agencies redirected the system to tap into a ready reserve of prospective emigrants, boys aged 16 to 19.

Forming the Youth Brigades was the last major emigration initiative, and again, emerged first as a Kwantung Army plan and then progressed through the domestic political system.[42] While the groups came into existence to make up for shortfalls in adult emigration, the program was infused with a spiritual veneer that joined elements of Katô Kanji’s Shinto tinged ideology with the minzoku kyôwa (racial harmony) mission, training the Brigades as the central element of the settlement movement. Like the previous groups of emigrants the Youth Brigades were intended to function as guards along the border and transport lines, thereby acting to “safeguard peace in the Orient.”[43]

In the initial burst of excitement, and amid a media blitz of positive publicity and strong official encouragement, applications for slots in the brigades nearly doubled the target figure set by campaign organizers.[44] Candidates were sent to Ibaragi prefecture for two months of training at the main Youth Brigade Training Centre, after which they crossed to Manchuria for three years of on-site training at camps scattered throughout north Manchuria, and then moved on to Youth Brigade agricultural settlements.[45]

Every level of government was mobilized in the effort to meet recruitment quotas. But the Youth Brigade movement relied most heavily on community and village leaders and especially school principals and teachers to convince boys to join.[46] School authorities encouraged students to volunteer for the program through classroom lectures, special meetings, and regular programs, invoking patriotism and Japan’s special mission in Manchuria and Asia. National and local governments sponsored a variety of teacher training sessions and tours to Youth Brigade training centres, designed to inform and indoctrinate educators with the Manshû nôgyô imin ethos.

Teachers transmitted the message to the schools. Sakuramoto provides a telling episode underlining the vital role schools played in the Youth Brigade movement: a teacher leads a class of students through a question and answer session about Manchuria, testing responses and concluding with the heroic image of “Japanese farmers in Manchuria, with guns in their right hands and hoes in their left, safeguarding Asian peace.”[47] Education at once encouraged participation in the emigration enterprise in Manchuria and built up a general consensus for the official line on Japanese imperialism, supporting the official discourse on racial harmony and state-building in Manchuria and also the ideals of the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.”

After 1940 special “rise-of-Asia” (koa) courses were added to the school curriculum and a textbook extolling the Japanese mission in East Asia was published in 1941. Further, many prefectures implemented programs designed to prepare boys for induction into the Youth Brigades. Directed by the schools, the programs usually consisted of short-term sessions with a daily schedule of courses heavily weighted to indoctrinating students with “colonizing spirit” and “continental consciousness” while also providing hands-on agricultural and industrial training.[48] A Maebashi national high school program shows the blending of emigration and education in the wartime school system. Representatives from second-grade boys were selected for a four-day training session that focused on military parades, physical exercise, and lectures, all with the goal of infusing a “continental colonizing” ideal in the participants.[49]

Colonization training and “rise-of-Asia” education also targeted girls. A national symposium organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Colonial Affairs in 1939 led to the establishment of eighteen female training centres in Japan. The main purpose of this network of training facilities was to prepare young women to go to Manchuria astairiku hanayome(continental brides) for the Youth Brigade settlements. Indeed, each prefecture was expected to recruit a set number of women specifically for this role. In this way, through national lectures, extra-curricular prefectural and municipal programs, local school boards, and individual teachers, agricultural emigration as well as imperialism seeped into public life, mobilizing support for the Youth Brigades and bringing home the colonial mission in Asia to the metropolitan populace.

Participants who signed on to the Youth Brigade project underwent an intensive two-month training program at the Ibaragi facility with education, activities, and even the “sun-shaped barracks” reflecting the Shinto, imperial, and colonizing orientation of the movement. The circular-shaped barracks, especially, came to symbolize the essence of the Youth Brigade enterprise in the media. The mock Mongolian-Manchurian architecture seemed to suggest fluidity across colonial boundaries, with Japanese youths housed ‘Manchu-style’ in rural Japan before proceeding to their imperial mission on the continent, moving easily out of Japan proper and into the wider imperial domain. One description of the barracks states: “Katô Kanji’s program had spread throughout the country; young men from all parts of the country were coming to the sun-shaped barracks to receive hard training for two months before setting off to conquer new fields, not with arms, but with ploughs and spades and shovels.”[50] In addition to the “exotica” of the barracks, Young notes that at Uchihara, “The huge parade ground and the camp shrine were both named after the first of the trial settlements, Iyasaka.”[51] The training camp took on special significance for observers and camp trainees – selling the heroic side of migration to the public and initiating the Youth Brigade members into the ‘sacred’ traditions of the emigration venture.

Every aspect of the training was geared to instilling a colonizing mentality. Education was divided between classroom instruction, physical exercise, and technical training. Lessons were given on the spirit of the Japanese nation, (kôkoku seishin) the issue of Manchurian emigration (Manshû shokumin mondai), agricultural manufacturing and production, Japanese and ‘Manshugo’, Japanese and Manchurian history, hygiene, and nutrition.[52] For martial training the boys practiced kendo, judo, and sumo. Finally, the participants learned agricultural methods, architecture, and road construction. Through lectures, songs, and even physical training methods (Yamato bataraki)[53] colonization was intertwined with the Japanese emperor system and worship. This emphasis was clearly set out by Katô Kanji, the driving force behind the movement: “The purpose of establishing the Uchihara Training Centre is to cultivate idealistic agricultural colonists. So that Youth Brigade members will firmly grasp the grand ideology of the Japanese race and will act as leaders for the advance of the Japanese race onto the continent.”[54] Racial harmony slogans in songs, training manuals, and lectures were a consistent theme in Youth Brigade indoctrination; butminzoku kyôwa and “respect for other races” teaching was, also, mixed with the patriotic, emperor-centred message.

From 1938 to 1945 86,530[55] members of the Patriotic Youth Brigades went to Manchuria, first for a three-year on-site training period, and then after that, moving to special agricultural settlements (beginning in 1941). Both the training and settlement process were marked by internal and external conflicts. Within the groups many boys, unprepared for the jarring differences – the harsh climate, open plains, and culture of Manchuria – became homesick and depressed. And, moreover, the “inhuman living conditions of the group settlements” had a psychological impact on the boys, driving some into solitary despair and inciting others to violent hazing and beatings of their fellow brigade members.[56]

But, as with the adult emigrants, the Youth Brigades mainly targeted Chinese victims, belying the ‘racial harmony and respect other races’ aspects of the training program. As Suleski notes it was common for the boys to “despise the Chinese as second-class humans.”[57] Kami lists the various misdeeds of the Youth Brigades: stealing soybeans, sorghum, wheat, rice, chickens, dogs, and pigs, as well as fuel for heating, and venturing into Chinese villages to assault girls.[58] Thefts were so common that local Chinese in some areas took to calling the group the “Volunteer Youth Thieving Brigades.”[59]

Yet, in one instance at least, Youth Brigade members gave “failure to live up to the principles of “ethnic harmony” as one of their primary grievances” against their superiors. This suggests that racial harmony was for some of the colonists a credible ideology for managing Manchuria.[60] Ultimately, however, ethnic relations in Manchuria were defined by power and authority within a colonizer/colonized paradigm that set up the settlers and Japan as a higher civilization. Education, training, and experience created a cadre of youths imbued with a sense of imperial mission that, for the most part, clashed with notions of racial concord in the colonial setting.

Agricultural Settlements and the Collapse of Manchukuo

In August 1945 the colonists, reduced by the military draft to the elderly, women, and children, were swept up in the Soviet invasion and left behind when the Kwantung Army moved south in a sudden defensive retreat. This final “tragic” (higeki) phase still resonates strongly in many of the nôgyô imin memories and written accounts.[61] “It was these last hellish months that the settlers who lived to tell the tale would remember and record in the memoirs of their experiences in Manchuria. They cast themselves in the victims’ role – victims of the Chinese, the Soviet Army and the Kwantung Army.”[62] Of the more than 200,000 settlers in Manchuria at the time of the Soviet invasion 78,500 died in violent attacks, suicide, and from disease, starvation, and exposure to extreme weather conditions of Northeast China. Many women and children were left behind in Manchuria – coming to rely on Chinese families. Ironically, racial harmony or, at least, friendly relations with the Chinese community was often a factor in survival. In a personal interview with a former colonist, Tamanoi records “friendship with the Manchus was the key. If you were their friend, they let you go (when Japan was defeated) and even helped you to escape.”[63] But cases of amity and cooperation were rare. In the end colonists were left mainly to their own devices as the agricultural emigration project ended in disaster and death, marking the failure also of the racial harmony ideology as a mechanism for making an empire in Manchuria.

As the emigration movement grew from a small-scale trial emigration program in 1932 to the mass migration project in 1937, economic objectives and ideological conceptions lost force, as imagery and idealism clashed with realities on the ground and military might and the uneven power balance shaped contact and conflict between the agricultural colonists, Chinese, and other local inhabitants. In the process, the emigrants acted as an instrument of Japanese imperialism, suppressing the Chinese population and fortifying the Manchurian-Soviet border. They, too, however, became victims of Japan’s over-reaching imperial ambitions when the Kwantung Army retreated out of north Manchuria, abandoning the remaining settlers in the colony.

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[1] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1999. Back

[2] Barbara Brooks, “Peopling the Japanese Empire: The Koreans in Manchuria and the Rhetoric of Inclusion”, in Sharon Minichellio, (ed.), Japan’s Competing Modernities: Issues of Culture and Democracy 1900-1930, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1998, pp. 25-44, and Mariko Asano Tamanoi, “Knowledge, Power, and Racial Classifications: The “Japanese” in “Manchuria””, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 2, 2000, pp. 248-276. Back

[3] Louise Young, “Colonizing Manchuria, The Making of an Imperial Myth”, in Stephen Vlastos (ed.), Mirror of Modernity, Invented Traditions of Modern Japan, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998, pp. 95-109. Back

[4] Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise’: Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s”, The International History Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1995, pp. 249-286. Back

[5] Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire: The Japanese Agricultural Colonization of Manchuria (1931-1945) in History and Memory’, unpublished PhD. dissertation, University of Illinois, 1999. Back

[6] Mariko Asano Tamanoi, “A Road to a ‘Redeemed Mankind’: The Politics of Memory among the former Japanese Peasant Settlers in Manchuria”, The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 99, No.1, 2000, pp. 163-189. Back

[7] Ronald Suleski, “Northeast China Under Japanese Control, The Role of the Manchurian Youth Corps., 1934-1945”,Modern China, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1981, pp. 351-377. Back

[8] Manshû Kaitaku Shi, Manshû Kaitakushi Kankôkai, Tokyo, 1966. Back

[9] Manshû Kaitaku Shi describes contemporary attitudes as follows; “Both the economic world and farm villages looked to Manchuria as a new paradise (shin tenchi) that needed to be developed [by Japan].” Back

[10] Thomas Havens, Farm and Nation in Modern Japan: Agrarian Nationalism, 1870-1940, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1974, p. 276. Back

[11] “The Immigration of Japanese Farmers to Manchuria: Its Necessity and Chance of Success”, Contemporary Manchuria, Vol. 1, 1937, pp. 96-97. Emigration figures to Brazil for the early 1930s significantly out-distanced the numbers of Manchurian emigrants during the trial period. Nevertheless, the sense of limited emigration options was an important feature in the Manchurian migration program. Young shows also that throughout the period limits on Japanese immigration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Peru and Brazil were periodically enacted and enforced. Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism, p. 313. Back

[12] Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise:’ Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s”, p.256.Back

[13] Quoted in Louise Young,Japan’s Total Empire, p.319. Back

[14] That is not to say that all those opposed to Manchurian emigration were likewise opposed to all foreign migration. See Manshû Imin no Mura , p. 53. Back

[15] Kanji Katô was the primary theorist behind Manchurian emigration planning. Back

[16] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 318. Back

[17] Manshû Kaitaku Shi, p. 49. Back

[18] Jiamusi was the closest city to the initial nôgyô imin (agricultural emigrant) settlement site. Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, p. 144. Back

[19] Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, p. 144. Back

[20] Shinzo Araragi, Manshû Imin no Rekishi Shigaku, Kôronsha, Kyoto, 1994, p. 69. Back

[21] Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise:’ Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s”, p. 267.Back

[22] Shinzo Araragi, Manshû Imin no Rekishi Shigaku, p. 69. Back

[23] Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise:’ Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s”, p. 267. Young also notes the prevalence of policies and propaganda that took little notice of the local inhabitants. See Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 348. Back

[24] Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, p. 140. Back

[25] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 383. Back

[26] For example, “Finally, we must not fail to mention the fact that there are already two hundred babies born in the settlement, the second generation. All are in the best of health. Each year sees at least a hundred new arrivals, and if this rate is kept up, perhaps the day will come when all of north Manchuria will be settled and tilled by the second generation Japanese, born and raised on the soil.” “Chifuri, Ideal Japanese Settlement in the Manchurian Wilds”,Contemporary Manchuria, Vol.2, No.1, 1938, p. 12. Back

[27] Paul Guelcher explains that Japanese officials responded to the high incidences of rape cases involving Japanese settlers and Chinese women by recruiting wives for the settlers,’Dreams of Empire’, p. 57. Tairiku hanayome, literally translated as “continental bride,” refers then to the distinctly Japanese colonial viewpoint of moving towards the continent and forming Japanese settlements, rather than to the idea that Japanese settlers should further racial harmony by marrying with women from the surrounding communities. Back

[28] “Chifuri, Ideal Japanese Settlement”, pp. 9-10. The main crops grown by the Japanese settlers were soybeans, paddy rice, wheat, barley, corn, and millet. Back

[29] See South Manchurian Railway Company, Fifth Report on Progress in Manchuria to 1936, South Manchurian Railway Company, Dairen, 1936 and Sixth Report on Progress in Manchuria to 1939, South Manchurian Railway Company, Dairen, 1939. Back

[30] Mariko Tamanoi, “Knowledge, Power, and Racial Classification: The ‘Japanese’ in ‘Manchuria'”, Journal of Asian Studies , Vol. 59, No. 2, 2000, p. 266. Back

[31] The plan called for 100,000 households in the first five-year phase, 200,000 in the next, followed by 300,000, and finally 400,000 households in the final year of the five-year period. South Manchurian Railway Company, Sixth Report on Progress in Manchuria , p. 119. Back

[32] South Manchurian Railway Company, Sixth Report on Progress in Manchuria, p. 120. Back

[33] Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise:’ Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s”, p. 275.Back

[34] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 335. See also Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, pp. 70-71. Back

[35] Kôji Kobayashi, Manshû Imin no Mura, 1977, p. 78. Back

[36] Kôji Kobayashi, Manshû Imin no Mura, pp. 78-79. See also Sandra Wilson, “The ‘New Paradise:’ Japanese Emigration to Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s”, p. 274. Back

[37] Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, p. 72. Back

[38] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 393. Back

[39] Louise Young’s phrasing for the Twenty-year 1,000,000 households plan. Back

[40] For a discussion of the colonial bureaucracy see Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, pp. 354-362.Back

[41] Shinzo Araragi, Manshû Imin no Rekishi Shigaku, p. 62. Back

[42] See Louise Young on the influence of local leaders as decisive agents in the migration process.Japan’s Total Empire, pp. 376-377. Back

[43] Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, Chûo Kôron Sha, Tokyo, 1973, p. 40. The favorable results of the trial groups provided the basis for enlarging the program in 1938. However, while the first group was reportedly on good terms with the neighboring Chinese, Kami shows evidence to discount the official reports. Shoichiro Kami,Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun , pp. 32-35. Back

[44] Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 37. Back

[45] Tomio Sakuramoto, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, Aokishoten, Tokyo, 1987, p. 45. Back

[46] Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 48. 9,950 boys applied, of which 7,700 were selected, with 6,500 eventually entering the program. See Sixth Report, p. 124. Kami notes that after the first year enrollments dropped noticeably. Back

[47] In a 1941 table listing Youth Brigade motivations for joining 46% gave “teacher’s guidance” as the main reason (3,422 out of 7,299 responses). Tomio Sakuramoto, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 141. Back

[48] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 381. Back

[49] Tomio Sakuramoto, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 25. Back

[50] Tamotsu Iwado, “Sun-shaped Barracks,” Contemporary Japan, 1941, pp. 1198-1199. Young writes that the barracks, for Japanese observers, “represented the Manchurian folk tradition.” Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 391. Back

[51] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 391. Modeled on a Kwantung Army facility that Katô saw in south Manchuria, the buildings were cheap and easy to build. Tomio Sakuramoto,Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 70.Back

[52] Training meals consisted mainly of barley, soybeans, and sorghum. Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 55. Back

[53] This was a form of exercise designed by Kanji Katô. Back

[54] Tomio Sakuramoto, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun , p. 123. Back

[55] Tomio Sakuramoto, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 147. Back

[56] Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 86. Back

[57] Ronald Suleski, “Northeast China under Japanese Control”, Modern China, Vol. 7, No .3, 1981, p. 36. See also Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 90. Back

[58] Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, pp. 91-93. Back

[59] Shoichirô Kami, Manmô Kaitaku Seishônengiyûgun, p. 91. Back

[60] Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, p. 215. Back

[61] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 411. Back

[62] See Paul Guelcher, ‘Dreams of Empire’, pp. 219-268. See also Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire, pp. 399-411.Back

[63] Mariko Tamanoi, “Knowledge, Power, and Racial Classification: The ‘Japanese’ in ‘Manchuria'”, p. 267.Back