The Newsletter 64 Summer 2013

Consuming empire in wartime Japan

Torsten Weber

Kenneth Ruoff has chosen a fascinating motif to study how the Japanese consumed empire, how they collaborated with their leadership in solidifying imperial myths, and how this contributed to justifying domestic order as well as expansion abroad. The celebration in 1940, of the 2600th anniversary of the mythical founding of Japan, undoubtedly represents a peak of imperial propaganda but has not been studied much. This “climactic moment for the ‘unbroken imperial line’ (bansei ikkei) ideology” (p.1), as Ruoff puts it, is one of those numerous events of tremendous significance in history that in post-war scholarship of Japan’s modern history have been overshadowed by the major political events of this era: the founding of Manchukuo in 1932, the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, etc. We owe much to Ruoff for studying this event and the spectacle that was created to celebrate the anniversary of the assumed enthronement of Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC.

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