Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Teachers Institute: Japanese Period, 1914-1944


IN the previous issue of IL Magazine, Japan allied with Britain during World War I and with Germany's defeat, acquired its possessions in the Pacific, including the Northern Mariana Islands.

Just as Britain declared war versus Germany, Dr. Spennemann said it had already been preparing to occupy German possessions in the Pacific, north of the equator, beginning with Jaluit.

Not long after, on October 14, 1914, Japan occupied Garapan on Saipan and immediately took over the administration of the islands. Some German settlers remained until they were deported on November 5, 1914.

Northern Mariana Islands Council for the Humanities assistant executive director and program officer Scott Russell, in his history lecture, talked about the background for Japan's interests in Micronesia as well as their administration of the islands from 1914-1944.

Russell provided a background for Japan's interests in Micronesia. He contends that World War II did not begin with the bombing of Pearl Harbor; however, it began with the humiliation of Japan in the 1850s that led to its desire to be on par with world powers.

Russell traced the ascent of Japan as a military power in the late nineteenth century, the nascent rivalry between Japan and United States in the Pacific that led to the former attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941.

He discussed Japan's interest in the South Seas citing strategic importance of the islands to Japan. It allied itself with the reigning naval power of the time-the British. Out of their support for Britain versus Germany during World War I, Japan was able to gain the German-held colonies in the Pacific.

Japanese-educated Tun Juan Blanco also joined Scott Russell in the lecture and provided an eyewitness account of what it was like to live on Saipan during the Japanese period. Blanco worked for the Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha or NKK during the Nanyo-Cho Period.

Historical sources

Russell asked his audience: How we know what we know about this period?

He said archeological studies of Japanese period archeological sites revealed slabs and water cisterns. "The Japanese were literally everywhere on this island," said Russell.

These archeological studies, Russell said, tell us about something that is not in the history books like sites occupied by the workers that were not reported early on.

In doing research on the period, Russell acknowledged the need for more research into the primary source documents. He said, "The Japanese were as meticulous as the Germans were in keeping records. Japanese records for the most part remain un-translated and for the most part have not been looked at by historians."

He also said secondary accounts, on the one hand, are very much available.

Russell said oral histories like the account provided by Tun Juan Blanco is an important source.

He also said that oral histories like those of Blanco's are hard to come by these days. He said, "Unfortunately people that lived in the Japanese times, especially the early Japanese times are all gone now."

"If we have started doing oral history 30 years, we could have a lot better record of what happened from the oral point of view. As you learn about world history, you get things from oral history that you don't get from the written sources. Oral history has its strengths and written sources have their strengths. When you lose your oral history, you lose the rich perspective of history. And we are fortunate to have Mr. Blanco here today so we'll be able get that perspective," Russell said.

For a more detailed study of the Nanyo-Cho Period, Russell recommended to his audience a book titled, "Nanyo: Rise and Fall of Japanese in Micronesia" by Mark Peattie. Although 20 years old, Russell believes "that it is still the best English language source."

Background on Japan and her interest in Micronesia

According to Russell, in 1853, Japan was completely different from the Japan that we know today.

Russell said Japan was a feudal society. The Japanese were not interested in going out. It was more inward looking. There was no central government and the emperor was only a ceremonial figure. There was infighting among powerful warlords and these factions were constantly warring to gain control.

There was neither a modern army nor a navy at all, Russell said.

When the American ships pulled into Japanese ports in 1853, it created a big impact not only to Japan but also to the United States.

The forceful opening of the Japanese ports to trade sowed the seed that would sprout later into World War II.

During this interesting period in East Asia, Russell said merchants were going to the Pacific for whaling, China trade, sandal trade out of Hawaii. He said there were a lot of commercial interests by the Americans in the Pacific.

With the United States eyeing expansion in the Pacific, Commodore Matthew Perry and a naval squadron were sent to East Asia at the behest of the United States government.

When the Americans landed on the Japanese shores, one of the problems was Japanese refusal to trade and aversion to foreigners at their ports.

Russell said adding insult to injury, castaways were not treated appropriately on Japanese shores that necessitated the United States to seek for humane treatment of Caucasians washed up on the Japanese shores.

So, Russell said, the United States sent a military squadron to open up markets and harbors for commercial ships to come in. Commodore Matthew Perry who arrived there in 1853 was talking to the wrong group of people and came back the following year.


In 1854, Commodore Perry came back with his squadron of ships with more speed, more firepower and were at the cutting edge of technology then, said Russell.

Even without wind, Russell said, these ships could still sail.

Russell also said the squadron made its presence felt that the Emperor Meiji commented, "The steamships came, peaceful sleep interrupted. We were surprised only at four, it was not possible to sleep at night."

Commodore Perry, Russell said, made his demands on the Japanese and the latter realized that they were too weak to the superior firepower of the Americans. And the Japanese were forced to acquiesce to the unequal treaties as they realized they didn't have anything in their arsenal to withstand the American ships.

Russell said the British and other western forces started to smell blood in the water and also demanded concessions. The Japanese understood that they were vulnerable and gave concessions.

In the face of their vulnerability, the Japanese debated among themselves: learn western ways or keep their traditional ways. This led to a civil war with the side calling for major changes won out.

Thus, the Meiji Restoration engulfed Japan in 1868. With the emperor returned to his formal power, the shogunate was terminated and a Meiji Constitution was framed. The creation of their central government followed suit.

Learning from their past, the Japanese now turned to modernizing their Navy and their Army and they turned to the western powers. As modernizing its army and navy became inevitable, Japan looked to Prussia for its military development while for modernization of its navy, Japan looked to England.

Japan had a special relationship with the British, Russell said. And for them, he said, "Lord Nelson was god."

"From a feudal society, within 20 to 40 years, it was able to transform itself into a modern industrialized nation that was able to compete with the top European country of that time," Russell said.

Japan naval power clearly patterned itself after the British naval power as they had a special relationship with the British. "The Japanese learned all about British naval lore and this had repercussions later on," said Russell.

A powerful Japan rises

Quickly, Japan learned the ropes from its European tutors and soon it had to flex its military might in a duel with China in 1894-1895 and with Russia in 1904-1905.

The Japanese took on the Russians in 1904-1905, a war that sent the signal to the rest of the colonial powers that Japan was a world power to be reckoned with.

Although Russia had a stronger army, it was beaten by Japan in a naval battle. However, the war ended up stalemated as United States President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in and negotiated for the settlement of the conflict.

At about this time, Japan was developing as a naval power and a rivalry was developing as well-with the United States

Russell said the United States had always been seen by the Japanese Navy as its natural enemy while Russia was its natural enemy to the north from the Japanese Army's perspective.

Now a confirmed power, Japan now set its sights on the South Seas. According to Russell, if Japan wanted to become a modern nation, they needed raw materials and places to sell goods. Russell said it was looking for a sphere of influence similar to what the Western Powers had.

Russell said, "The Japanese admired the exploits of the western colonial powers and they wanted to be one-an Asian colonial power."

Japan's interest in Micronesia was rooted in the romantic view-or Nanyo Gunto-that circulated in the press about the South Seas being sort of empty-being populated by a few people-and ready for acquisition.

Russell also said Japan wanted to gain the South Seas in its desire for security.

As early as 1880s, Japanese were already trading in the region.

Russell talked about those prime movers of Japan's move toward the South Seas.

According to Russell, Meiji Period historian and economist Taguchi Ukichi visited the South Seas in 1890. For Ukichi, Russell said, ""Three thousand years have passed and our land remains Inviolate, and yet we live our unreal dream. While other nations break new soil and redeem their peoples, what of Japan? Now is the time to wake and rise!"

In clamoring for the Japanese movement to the South Seas, Ukichi was joined by Hinomoto who was the first person to espouse Japan as a maritime power. Russell said, "Hinomoto was always urging for the occupation of the South Seas territories for trade and for territory to take on excess population from Japan."

According to Russell, Hinomoto was a sailor by trade and worked on a Dutch ship in the 1890s. When civil war broke out in Japan, Russell said he chose the wrong side, lost, was imprisoned, and rehabilitated. He was made into vice admiral of the new Imperial Japanese Navy.

Russell said, Hinomoto, on his own in the 1870s, approached the Spanish government without any provision from his own government if they were interested to sell the Marianas and Palau to the Japanese. Russell said both Spain and Japanese government were not interested then so inquiries went answered.

According to Russell, Hinomoto also established the Tokyo Geographic Society which published articles about the South Seas. He also established South Seas Assembly that aimed to gather data about the South Seas and disseminate information in Japan. The assembly also promoted naval training in Micronesia and ships sailed to Micronesia to train crews. These ships allowed journalists to accompany naval expeditions to Micronesia.

As for the disenfranchised samurai, Hinomoto also set up a fund for them in Tokyo so they could earn a living.

With expeditions carrying journalists who wrote about the trips, Hinomoto caused other Japanese traders to start coming out to Micronesia in their small sailing ships to bring pots, knives, and other useful things.

Russell said there were no stores on the islands; however, trade was conducted only on Guam and all other islands in Micronesia remained isolated.

The islanders traded mainly copra, sea slugs, shells, and traders were collecting things that were only available on island.

Russell said the Japanese traders never had good relations with neither Spanish nor Germans. He said the Japanese were suspected of bringing in alcohol and guns to the local communities. Russell also said the traders were the first Japanese presence in Micronesia in the late Spanish onto German times.

Growing animosity between a more powerful Japan and US


With Japan acquiring a more respectable status among nations with its clobbering of China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and its taming of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, its relations with the United States remained adversarial. Russell claimed that U.S.-Japan relations "was never good, and most of the times, openly hostile." This became evident in the first decade of the 20th century.

Russell said Japan didn't like the policies instituted by the United States and it felt humiliated by the racial policies. Russell said it was a constant source of friction for both countries.

He said Japan didn't like the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth brokered by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. There were tensions over spheres of influence. Japan wanted to be in the Philippines and Guam in the South Seas, Russell said.

With the defeat of the Spanish armada in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898 that resulted in the sale of the Philippines and Guam to the United States, the latter became a world power. Russell said the cartoon depicting the benevolent Uncle Sam showed pro-annexation of the PI.

At about the same time, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt sent his Great White Fleet around the world to impress press people about growing naval power of the United States. The ships made a two-year voyage around the world.

Although the voyage sent around the world was intended for goodwill, Russell said when you send modern battleships around, it was sending a strong signal. But this message, Russell said was lost on the Japanese.

Adding to the Great White Fleet's sauntering around the world to show American naval might, the United States financed the construction of the Panama Canal which made the United States a one-ocean Navy.

Russell said the Japanese didn't like this and felt threatened.

There was also another cartoon that was circulated during the Russo-Japanese War that showed an underlying racial tension among the colonial powers and the emergent power-Japan. The cartoon showed a Japanese clad in yellow kimono battling a white Russian bear surrounded by men which was prominently led by U.S. President Roosevelt in shorts.

Russell said the European powers could not accept Japan as one of them, and they saw Japan as belonging to the yellow race-an inferior race. He added that the cartoon also conveyed the message that westerners' tendency to band together.

Then came the Root Takahira Agreement that made official the recognition of the two nations of the territorial status quo. According to Russell, the said agreement recognized China's independence and territorial integrity, and the American recognition of Japan's influence in Korea and Manchuria.

This somehow doused the brewing tension between the two powers and calmed things down for the next decade up to the beginning of World War I.

World War I and Japan's Acquisition of German colonies

According to Scott Russell, World War I afforded the Japanese the opportunity to seize control of the German colonies in the South Seas.

Russell asked the audience why Japan would involve itself in a European land war?-because Japan had an alliance with Britain signed in 1902 aimed at controlling the Russians. Russell said Japan seriously took its treaty obligations.

Russell told his audience that Japan had a high regard for the British; however, the British were concerned over the mistake they had made. They were worried in the beginning about the Japanese taking advantage of the war and taking territories in the Pacific and also in China.

"They (the British) knew there was nothing much they could do in China. But they were hoping to prevent the Japanese from taking the German islands," Russell said.

On August 7th, 1914 the British were concerned about two missing German warships they thought were in Micronesia. Russell said the British didn't have warships in the area to deal with these German ships. They were concerned the German warships would go into East China Sea and harass British shipping. So, Britain asked Japan to look for them and destroy them as much as possible.

"The Japanese didn't want to ruffle feathers with the Brits in pursuing the German controlled islands. When the Brits asked Japs to look for German ships. They did so," said Russell.

On August 23rd, Japan declared war versus German and sought after the two German warships which at the time had already gone back home.

For Russell, Japan entered the war to pursue its own interests: gain territories. In Japan, Russell said, the taking of the islands had been polarizing the nation. The hardliners wanted to grab the islands and make the southern advance at no cost. The other group wanted not to antagonize the British and cautioned from taking over the islands.

However, the hardliners won out in this debate. So, a naval squadron was dispatched to take over the islands. On October 14th, Japan occupied Garapan on Saipan. With the Japanese on island, the Germans

Meanwhile, Russell said Britain appeared to be a reluctant ally to the Japanese. When the Japanese took over the islands, they became concerned and they realized they couldn't get the Japanese out of Micronesia. There was debate in London at the time over what to do with the Japanese.

Foreign Secretary Edward Grey issued his objection to it; however, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill supported the idea of allowing the Japanese to stay in Micronesia. Russell said Churchill told Grey, "I think you are chilling indeed to these people. I can't see any halfway house between having them in and keeping them out. If they are to come in, they may as well be welcomed as comrades. You may easily give mortal offense-we are not safe yet-by a long chalk. The storm has not yet broken."

Thinking that World War I could be a protracted one, Russell said Churchill thought that England needed allies more at that time.

With the expulsion of the Germans and the withdrawal of warships, Japanese naval rule of the islands commenced. The Provisional South Seas Defense Force was set up with headquarters in Chuuk. The naval government structure was composed of five naval districts: Saipan, Palau, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Jaluit with each district headed by a naval officer.

Russell also said the Japanese, in wanting to consolidate their stake at Micronesia, scientific parties were sent to study Micronesia. As they don't know anything about the islands, the scientific studies aimed at making maps of harbors, identifying flora and fauna, and seeking all information they needed to defend the islands for their own use.

Japan sought to strike a deal with Britain over the administration of the islands. When Japan provided assistance to Britain in the Mediterranean and exacted heavy casualties on the enemies, this tipped the scales for Britain supporting Japan's taking over of the islands in the South Seas. With support from the key players and with the United States left out of the negotiations due to its neutral stance, the League of Nations allowed Japan to administer the islands under a Class C mandate-least developed area. With the Japanese administering the islands as part of its empire, the Micronesians became subjects, not citizens, of the Japanese empire.

Class C Mandate, according to Russell, is the type of mandate for small or isolated territories.

According to Russell, the Americans objected to the Japanese taking over German colonies in Micronesia. He said the United States raised protests after League of Nations ratified the mandate because it feared Japan would militarize the mandate.

Russell said although the islands were put under the administration of the Japanese, there was one major restriction to the mandate: it couldn't be fortified for military purposes. Russell said the Japanese agreed not to fortify the islands and this helped appease the United States.

Aside from not fortifying the islands, the Japanese were to submit annual reports to the League of Nations on how they administered the islands.

With Japanese power firmly entrenched in the islands, Russell said the Americans continued to keep an eye on the Japanese activities in the region. Russell showed an intelligence report dated 4 October 1922 that monitored the developments the Japanese were making on Saipan specifically the railroad construction.

Eight years after the Japanese naval structure was setup, it had to give way to a civilian government or the Nanyo Cho (South Seas Government) in 1922 as a requirement of the Mandate. Russell said, "The Nanyo was not a sovereign colony-inhabitants were not protected by the Meiji Constitution. Russell also added that from Chuuk, the headquarters of the Nanyo Cho was transferred to Koror in Palau.

The Nanyo Cho, Russell said, was headed by a colonial governor who exercised executive, judicial and legislative powers.

Russell showed photos of the Administration Building of the Nanyo Cho which was erected on the same site where the Georg Fritz built the German administration building in Garapan.

He also showed his audience some photos of early Nanyo Cho period with a small Chamorro and Carolinian population on Saipan and Rota while Tinian and the northern islands remained uninhabited.

Russell also said the economy was based on subsistence farming and fishing and land resources intact.

According to Russell, the Japanese didn't encourage immigration and early attempts were made to establish sugar firms that brought a couple of thousand of Japanese workers on island.

Unfortunately, Russell said, the sugarcane industry went bankrupt and the owners fled leaving 2,000 workers without means of support. At the time, the Mandate was looked upon as an unattractive place to do business.

When the industry hit rock bottom, along came Matsue Haruji, who would later be known on island as the "Sugar King." Matsue who had visited the islands on several occasions to explore the islands established Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha, or more popularly known as NKK or Nanko.

Russell said Matsue was a Japanese schooled in the United States. He said he had an MA degree from LSU and went to work for a sugarcane company in Pittsburgh that was making the cubed sugar. Russell also said Matsue spent time in Taiwan and came only to Saipan in 1920. He said Matsue spent several weeks going to inaccessible areas and he also built on the railroad system that the Germans had.

Securing key support from the civilian government, Matsue put stranded workers to work and recruited more workers from Okinawa. Russell said Okinawan laborers were recruited because labor was cheap and Okinawans were used to the same tropical climate.

He also said Matsue constructed a narrow gauge railroad system to transport sugarcane from the plantation to the processing mill. Russell said the Japanese built their mill on what is now the site of Mt. Carmel Church.

Despite the efforts to engender the growth of the sugarcane industry, Russell said initial efforts were threatened by several factors: insect problems, high cost of building railroad, poor quality sugarcane, careless work, and slump in world prices of sugar.

To remedy the infestation of insects, NKK ordered for the burning of all cane fields to get rid of diseased plants. Having discovered varieties weak to infestation, Matsue introduced new insect-resistant varieties of cane. He also trained workers how to trim cane and introduced competitions among plantation teams.

Russell also said Matsue infused additional capital to complete the railroad project that went all the way to the Sugar Dock.

By 1926, Russell said NKK efforts paid off. There were sugar plantations in Kagman and Laulau aside from the previous five plantations in Chalan Kanoa.

NKK decided to expand the sugar industry to Tinian where they found a more suitable soil for sugar plantations. Russell said NKK chose Tinian because it had no local population at the time, land was more flat than Saipan and soil was better.

Russell said the NKK also tried to expand to Rota where the production output never reached the production levels on Saipan and Tinian because the soil was not suited for cane agriculture.

Aside from the sugar industry, Russell said there were also other industries like mining, fishing, and copra production.

Russell said mining was an important industry on Rota where phosphate was being mined. On Saipan, mining was minor as there was limited bauxite and manganese mining.

With economic development came the growth of indigenous population, rise of towns with modern infrastructure, rise in the standard of living, environmental degradation, and marginalization of the indigenous population.

In 1930s, Russell said the NKK relied heavily on outside labor, changing patterns of labor on the islands. According to Russell, it came to a point when there are more Japanese nationals than locals who were outnumbered 10 to 1.

In 1935, Russell said there were 20,280 Japanese nationals (Japanese, Okinawans, and Koreans) on Saipan, 3,282 Chamorros and 10 Carolinians. On Tinian there were 14,208 Japanese nationals versus 25 locals. On Rota, there were 764 locals as against 4,841 Japanese nationals. It was only on Pagan where the Chamorros outnumber the foreigners by a small margin: 131 to 89.


Russell said the islanders were marginalized as local residents were being pushed aside and had negligible role in the affairs of the islands. Local population, he said, was even seen then as "impediment to progress."

He also said the social ranks was very discernible. The social order during the Nanyo consisted of a three-tiered system: first rank, Japanese from the home islands; second rank, Okinawans and Koreans; third rank, islanders (Toming). The Tomings were further divided into Chamorros and other Micronesians referred to as Kanaka.

Aside from growth in population, the islands also saw a steady rise in the standard of living. Russell said wage work was widely available at the time, land leases were common, and there was better healthcare.

When the Japanese occupied the islands in 1914, Russell said there were a few villages but there was no town. During the Nanyo Cho Period, these villages grew into towns: Garapan and Chalan Kanoa on Saipan, Tinian town on Tinian, and Songsong on Rota.

Economic development was not without drawbacks. Russell said it had a huge impact to the environment. He said the extensive clearing of native vegetation to allow for mining and planting of sugarcane affected the subsistence carrying capacities. With the introduction of cane varieties came the introduction of pests.

As for education, Russell said local children attended Kokakko schools that consisted of three years while the Japanese attended eight-year primary schools called Shogakko.

Russell said half of the time spent in classrooms went to the teaching of Nihongo or Japanese language while the other half was divided into teaching moral education, math, geography, gymnastics, and handicrafts.

He added that teaching was "by rote memory with frequent doses of corporal punishment. Much emphasis was placed on hard work and obedience to authority with no expectations for personal advancement.

As for the practice of their religion, Russell said the local community was exclusively Roman Catholic. However, the islanders had had to contend with the absence of a priest from 1914-1921 until the Spanish Jesuits arrived in the Marianas in 1921 with the Mercedarian sisters following in 1927. At the time when there were no priests officiating the mass or overseeing the spiritual life of the people, Gregorio Sablan (Kilili) kept the religious records, said Russell. He said Sablan was an educated man who would later serve as Saipan's first mayor.

During this time, Japan advocated militarism and it made Shinto a state religion. Russell said young men's associations were stressed and inspirational tours of Japan were arranged. He added that Japan, had been at odds with western colonial powers, started to deride western concepts and practices.

Not very long, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that signaled the start of World War II.

(To be continued)

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