The Early 1940s Japanosphere

On 12 December 1941 Japan’s media announced that the four-day-old hostilities in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, together with the four-year-old China Incident, were henceforth to be referred to as the Greater East Asia War (Dai Toa senso). During the next three and a half years, the word “Greater East Asia” reverberated through radio broadcasts, newspapers, magazines, academic monographs, Diet speeches, classrooms, and barracks. No other term so frequently surfaced in discussions of Japan’s war aims. Imperial forces were waging a “holy war” to cleanse Greater East Asia of Chiang Kai-shek, communism, and Anglo-Saxons in order to build a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in which Asians could live and prosper under Imperial Japan’s benevolent tutelage.

So closely was Greater East Asia identified with wartime propaganda that the term abruptly dropped out of sight in 1945 and has since been shunned. Japanese writers are loathe to employ something so tainted with emotional associations. Consequently, they have adopted the American nomenclatures: “World War II,” and “Pacific War.” Neither is very satisfactory. The former is too broad, because Japanese forces did not participate in the Soviet-German conflict, nor did they operate in Europe. The latter is too narrow, because it suggests that the war was basically oceanic and in doing so fails to reflect the major fighting that took place on the Asiatic continent. Despite its awkward connotations, “Greater East Asia War” remains the most accurate designation for a struggle that in Japan’s perspective encompassed the Indian and Pacific oceans, East and Southeast Asia.

How far did the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere extend? From the moment the term made its public debut at an August 1940 press conference called by Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, its magnitude remained vaguely defined. Conceptions of the Sphere varied in accordance with individual inclinations and external circumstances. Available evidence clearly suggests, however, that the entire Hawaiian archipelago consistently fell within its envisioned boundaries, both before and after 7 December 1941.

Before 7 December public discussions about Greater East Asia usually referred to Hawaii indirectly through the term Nan’yo (South Seas). Nan’yo, which was said to lie within Japan’s “lifeline” (seimeisen) and “life sphere” (seimeiken) had its nucleus in the Micronesian mandated islands, but at times was said to include Melanesia and Polynesia. Before 7 December mention of Hawaii as part of Nan’yo was usually done indirectly. For example, early in 1941 a book on Hawaii translated into Japanese by former University of Hawaii instructor George Tadao Kunitomo appeared in the “New Japan Sphere Series” [Shin Nipponken sosho] of a Tokyo publisher. There were also, to be sure, more direct intimations of Hawaii’s position. In a booklet published in September 1941 the retired army officer and ultranationalist Kingoro Hashimoto explicitly included Hawaii in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Hashimoto’s public identification of Hawaii with Greater East Asia was consistent with a classified study prepared several months earlier in the Research Section of Navy General Staff. Dated 29 November 1940 and entitled “Draft Outline for Construction of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” this secret (it was stamped gokuhi) report cast Hawaii’s future disposition in sharper focus than did any public document that appeared before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Authors of the “Draft Outline” stated that the objective for establishing a Sphere was: “… to create a new culture by the sharing of respect, by mutual good neighborliness, friendship, joint defense, and economic cooperation in an area with Japan [literally “kokoku” or “imperial country”] as the nucleus and including [a list of nations] … Hawaii.”

The Sphere was to be divided geographically into three concentric subspheres: inner, middle, and outer. The inner subsphere would consist of the Japanese archipelago, Korea, and Manchuria. The middle subsphere would be formed by most of China and all of Nan’yo, “including Hawaii.” The third, outer subsphere, would include “such outer areas as are necessary for the complete economic self-sufficiency of Greater East Asia.”

Defining political relationships within the Sphere, the document enumerated four categories: lands to be annexed outright by Japan; autonomous protectorates; independent states with “unbreakable” defense and economic ties with Japan; and independent states with close economic ties with Japan. Australia, New Zealand, and India fell into the final category. Hong Kong, Thailand, and the Philippines (with the exception of Mindanao, which had a J apanese population of twenty-six thousand) were put in the third category. Indochina and the Dutch East Indies were in the second category. The first category included Guam, Mindanao, and Hawaii. In other words, a Navy General Staff research report recommended, over a year before the outbreak of hostilities with the United States, that the Hawaiian Islands be incorporated into the Japanese Empire.

SOURCE: Hawaii Under the Rising Sun: Japan’s Plans for Conquest After Pearl Harbor, by John J. Stephan (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1984), pp. 135-137

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