When we consider the political space of Japanese modernity, Manchuria seems to possess distinctive significance. It is important to remember when considering Japanese modernity that with the exception of only a very small number of people, such as the actress Okada Yoshiko (1903-92) who defected to the Soviet Union in 1938, and the translator and dramatist Sano Seki (1905-66), scarcely any Japanese took refuge abroad. The issue itself of why there were so few Japanese refugees is important, I believe, in understanding the history of Japanese modernity. In modern Japanese history, Manchuria appears to be something of a space for taking quasi-refuge.
The [South Manchurian Railway], too, provided a site accepting of large numbers of leftist converts. In this sense, it was the only asylum in modern Japan. A moment ago, I mentioned a certain image of Manchuria that was invested with ideals and in which was sought that which could not be realized in Japan. I think Shiba Ryōtarō (1923-96), the famed historical novelist, was no different in this regard. He was drawn to Mongolia out of a yearning for the wilderness of Manchuria and Mongolia. It bore the sense for him of an asylum to which one might escape from the space Japan blockaded. This phenomenon was not limited to men, for looking at the memoirs of Japanese women as well we see some who went to Manchuria because they could not develop personally in Japan. For example, there were a certain number of women who had dreams of developing into teachers or who wanted to teach people of other ethnicities.
In this sense, we have two polar images of Manchuria in tandem: the extremely dark image of a Manchuria as a hellish abyss and that of Manchuria as a site for asylum. Whichever extreme would emerge would depend on the person, and the image of Manchuria, then, was inevitably rent asunder. Although this is a bit of personal experience, I became quite close to Professor Matsuda Michio (1908-98). When I was writing Kimera: Manshukoku no shōzō (Chimera, a portrait of Manzhouguo, published in 1993 [the volume herein translated—JAF]), he once said to me: “It’s strange that you’re using your energy on such a thing as this. As far as we’re concemed, it’d be just fine to forget Manzhouguo altogether. It’s bizarre that such a thing ever existed.” I have never forgotten these strong words of his to me. For people who lived through it, Manchuria remained an object to be rejected but which continued nonetheless. I think that this is one of the reasons that evaluations offered by postwar scholarship on Manzhouguo has been split in bipolar fashion….
One additional issue is the existential importance of Manchuria for the Jewish people. Shanghai was the most important Jewish place of asylum in Asia, but second to it was Manchuria. Of course, once the Tripartite Alliance was signed among Japan, Germany, and Italy, they were to be expelled from Manchuria, too, but such schemes as the “Fugu Plan” conceived of a harmony of the six ethnicities—the five initially conjured up and the Jews—and military officers such as Yasue Norihiro (1888-1950) and Inuzuka Koreshige (1890-1965) were actively trying to realize it. “Fugu” or blowfish carried the meaning that, although this kind of fish is delectable, if it disagrees with you, its poison can be especially strong. If Jewish capital could be well used, this scheme envisioned, then it could be of great value. In the sense of using such a plan to control the Jews in the United States, this tactic was an extremely calculated political ploy.
Reading through the memoirs of people who actually lived in Manzhouguo, it appears that places such as Harbin were relatively easy for Jews and White Russians to live in. We know a bit about what happened to White Russian men who graduated from Kenkoku University. We thus need research which will examine what Manzhouguo, or the Kenkoku University, may have meant for White Russians. For not only Jews, but Muslims who had escaped from Central Asia as well, Manzhouguo provided a kind of asylum, as I describe it in my recent book, Shisō kadai to shite no Ajia (Asia as an intellectual task, published 2001), an important site where people who had escaped Soviet oppression could live. It is an undeniable irony of world history that, for people who escaped from Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, Manchuria bore importance as a space for survival. There were many more who traveled through Manchuria en route to the United States, and we need studies which examine this phenomenon.
Needless to say, there is as well the issue of how Manzhouguo tried to use the Jews and Muslims. Research on ethnic groups in Manzhouguo to this point has examined only the “five ethnicities,” but we need to insert into our vision the flows of such world-historical peoples as the Jews and Muslims and consider the place of Manzhouguo in their migrations. We are collecting material in this area now. There is even a recent book about Poles in Manchuria, published in Poland, describing who was there and what they did.