How Imperial Japan Defied Eurocentric Definitions of Cartography! (1942)

Author’s Note: Imagine having an ethnic identity premised upon a derogatory geographical definition formulated by another – antagonistic ethnic group – which perceives itself as ‘racially superior’ in the face of the ‘inferiority’ of all other ethnic groups. This is how the European race has perceived itself (in relation to others) over the last five hundred years. When a European refers to ‘China’ for instance, the term utilised is the ‘Far East’. This is because – from the perspective of Greenwich in London – China ‘is situated a long way away in the Far East’. Now, if a European talk to a person living in China today – perhaps via WeChat – in all likelihood the European would describe the Chinese person as ‘living in the Far East’. This means that the Chinese person is ‘forced’ to accept a subordinate position in a communicative interaction. To the Chinese person, the European lives in ‘Great Britain’ or the ‘United Kingdom’ (which on a map is situated to the ‘West’ of the continent of Europe). The Chinese person has no cultural reference point to access – which would describe the European as ‘living in the Far West’.  Despite China being traditionally described as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ (Zhongguo) the Chinese cultural milieu – particularly under Socialism – does not possess any conceptual platform that allows for other ethnic groups to be implicitly perceived and defined as ‘inferior’ – geographical or otherwise.  Indeed, perceiving other ethnic groups as ‘inferior’ in virtually every context is a product of naked imperialism and habitual racism – this is exactly the interaction rejected by the ‘Internationalism’ advocated by Socialist ideology. Anyone subjected to this Eurocentric perception of reality is treated as if their conscious being exists ‘somewhere else at a distance’ and never existentially present as is their physical body. A Chinese person born in the UK is always treated as if they ‘are not here’. As a consequence, someone who is not present does not have to acknowledged or included – and what they have to say is irrelevant and considered ‘disruptive’. Ending racism is the answer, but during WWII, the Imperial Japanese advocated not the end of racism – but rather an extension of the assumed privileges implicit within Eurocentric racism to include and benefit the Japanese people. Imperial Japan often respected (and copied) the British Imperial model and wanted to be acknowledged as the ‘superior’ race in Asia – dominating all other Asian ethnic groups and being perceived as ‘equal’ to the White race. What the Japanese scholars managed to achieve was to highlight the strictures of Western racism simply by ‘mimicking’ its assumptions, definitions and opinions, etc. ACW (5.1.2021) 

‘Exactly what did Japanese officials have in mind when they spoke of the new imperium? The Ministry of Health and Welfare bureaucrats acknowledged that this had never been clearly defined. As presumedly commonplace assumptions, however, they offered an ambitious schedule concerning the stages of expansion of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, along with a chart projecting the number of Japanese settlers who ideally would be living abroad by 1950. The preciseness of these two “blueprints” is rather exceptional among surviving documents from the war years, and helps explain why the bonfires blossomed so ubiquitously in Tokyo in the days and weeks after Japan’s capitulation. 

The Japanese were determined to revive the Eurocentric cartography of the West and place Japan and Asia at the centre of the map. In October 1942, the government took a map in this direction by announcing that hereafter the term “Far East” (Kyokuto) would not be used at all, since it was so transparently Eurocentric. Indeed, the formal rhetoric of Japan’s “Greater East Asia War” and “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” had already signified the new cartography. There were wilder redraftings of the map, however. Shortly after the fall of Singapore, for example, one of Japan’s leading geographers, Professor Komaki Tsunekichi of Kyoto Imperial University, delivered a series of radio broadcasts which became notorious in the West, although they were directed primarily at the domestic Japanese audience. In these broadcasts, and in numerous popular writings as well, Komaki designated both Europe and Africa as part of the Asian continent, while rechristening America as the “Eastern Asia Continent” and Australia as the “Southern Asia Continent”. Observing that all the great oceans of the globe were connected, Komaki proposed that henceforth they all be known under a single name as the “Great Sea of Japan”.’ 

John W Dower: War Without Mercy, Pantheon, (1986), Pages 272-273 

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