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Xenophobia in Shōwa Japan refers to xenophobia and racial discrimination displayed toward non-Japanese during the first part of the Shōwa era.

Racial discrimination against other Asians was habitual in Imperial Japan, having begun with the start of Japanese colonialism. [1]. The Shōwa regime thus preached racial superiority and racialist theories, based on sacred nature of the Yamato-damashii. According to historian Kurakichi Shiratori, one of emperor Shōwa's teachers :«Therefore nothing in the world compares to the divine nature (shinsei) of the imperial house and likewise the majesty of our national polity (kokutai). Here is one great reason for Japan's superiority.» [2]

According to An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus (大和民族を中核とする世界政策の検討, Yamato Minzoku o Chūkaku to suru Sekai Seisaku no Kentō ?), a 1943 report of the Ministry of Health and Welfare completed on July 1, 1943, just as a family has harmony and reciprocity, but with a clear-cut hierarchy, the Japanese, as a purportedly racially superior people, were destined to rule Asia “eternally” as the head of the family of Asian nations. [3]

Attacks against Western foreigners and their Japanese friends by ordinary citizens, rose in the 1930s under the influence of Japanese military-political doctrines in the Showa period, after a long build-up starting in the Meiji period when only a few samurai die-hards did not accept foreigners in Japan.[4]

Racism was omnipresent in the shōwa press during the Holy war against China and the Greater East Asia War and the media's descriptions of the superiority of the Yamato people was unwaveringly consistent. [5]. The first major anti-foreigner publicity campaign, called Bōchō (Guard Against Espionage), was launched in 1940 alongside the proclamation of the Tōa shin Shitsujō (New Order in East Asia) and its first step, the Hakko ichiu. [6]

Mostly after the launching of the Greater East Asia War, Westerners were detained by official authorities or nationalists, and on occasion were objects of violent assaults, sent to police jails or military detention centers or suffered bad treatment in the street. This applied particularly to Americans and British; in Manchukuo at the same period xenophobic attacks were carried out against Chinese and other non-Japanese.


Examples of xenophobia

  • Nationalist gangs threw stones at the British embassy in Tokyo and other partisans in China attacked British citizens in Tientsin.
  • The American Embassy was spotted with excrement at least twice
  • The case of Journalist Cox, a Reuters correspondent and his fate later when in Kempeitai hands.
  • In 1934, a New Zealander named Bickerton, a teacher of English in a Tokyo school, was arrested by Keishicho. He was held incommunicado for 10 days in a dirty jail with common criminals and lunatics. Later he was submitted to interrogation and tortured for 24 hours. Through diplomatic pressure he was permitted to leave. Bickerton gave a detailed story to the Manchester Guardian about his time in prison. He said how he received numerous blows with a baseball bat, trampling and pricking from guards.[7]

Separate from official authorities, with direct or indirect support the Japanese nationalists believed in their "right" to inflict bad treatment on foreigners.

  • In February 1941, when the move of Japanese forces into South Asian lands started, the Count of Tascher, commercial attaché at the French Embassy in Tokyo was subject to a violent assault, suffered blows and was knocked unconscious. The "patriots" kicked the diplomat and inflicted injuries in his stomach and face. The "patriots" abandoned the diplomat with blood over the street, near Kobe where he had recently arriving from Shanghai aboard the American vessel President Coolidge.

This incident provoked diplomatic protests from ambassadors led by American diplomat Joseph C. Grew accompanied by an Italian diplomat, with exception of German Ambassador. The Italian representative added why his wife was also attacked by nationalists in the same period.

  • Other examples of the particular "friendly" reception of natives was with some British merchants, who were objects of citizen "arrests" by nationalists and sent to police prison. It was alleged that they held a list of secret keys. In the end these "keys" were only lists made by his wife for making local crafts from fabric.
  • Joe Dynan, aide to the chief in the Associated Press local office Max Hill, did not return after making a visit to a friend in the outskirts of Tokyo. Joe had taken the last train out to Yokohama at Shinagawa, but seeing as the train did not finish the journey, he decided to wait in a station. Here he saw some military trucks with soldiers and movements of trains full of Imperial Troops. He continued his observation when a Keishicho officer arrested him for espionage at 1:00 a.m. Joe was taken to the police station and submitted to heavy interrogation by the security authorities. The next day with the assistance of some influential friends they convinced the authorities of his innocence, and he was released.
  • The wife of American businessmen of American President Lines, was surprised when meeting some "strange" person searching her home under her furniture for any important papers. This company was important to the authorities and foreign or native workers were kept under surveillance.
  • An engineer of the Lockheed Aircraft Company, had his door forced in the Imperial Hotel and his suitcases searched. He saw this with some frequency and seeing one Keishicho officer by mistake one day, he excused his entry as an "error". Another colleague asked why his correspondence sent from California was opened or lost en route.
  • Hal Schlieder, another American who remained, was calling upon one day by Keishicho authorities, in the Station Hotel of Tokyo, living with his wife. The authorities wanted to know the meaning of some "object" in their window at the Imperial Palace. He explained that the "object" was only a razor blade left there in error.
  • The author of "Goodbye Japan", Joseph Newman was object of similar actions by Keishicho units, and a victim of telephone tapping by the Tokko service, when he sent his information to the New York Herald Tribune.
  • The wife of American Tea businessman who cycled the Taihoku streets, was detained.
  • Matsuo a Japanese worker at the American embassy in the province, was convicted of espionage for the Americans and immediately arrested. The American authorities were ordered to detain any Japanese Custom Dispatches in Manila Port under pressure of the authorities. The allegations by the local security authorities was why Japanese workers had to question about which cars would be bought in the next year. Such questions were considered a national security topic. The Americans energetically protested, but the Japanese reaffirmed their allegations of American spying. Days later Matsuo was freed from jail.
  • Surprised when the war broke out in Europe, German and Italian vessels sought refuge in the ports of Formosa, but the request was denied by the Japanese authorities on the islands

Departure of Westerners

When they saw these attacks, the United States Department of State sent advice to their citizens and other westerners to leave Japan as promptly as possibly; they started the exodus to America in October 1940 to October 1941.

2,500 Americans left; only those remained to support necessary commerce and diplomacy. In October 1940 the last edition of the Japan Advertiser was published, the last American independent journal in Japan. Some of the contributors were: Don Brown (from Philadelphia), the director Newton Edgards (from Seattle), Richard Fujii, (American-Japanese from Honolulu), Al Downs (from Montana), Jim Tew (from Florida, Dick Tenelly (from Washington), the social journalist Thelma Hecht (from Hollywood), Wilfred Fleisher, Ray Cromley along with other collaborators Clarence Davies, Al Pinder, and B.W.Fleisher the advertising director decided to sell the properties to locals before return to United States.

Tenelly decided to gallantly continue as the correspondent working in the National Broadcasting Company and Reuters, Downs working with International News Service, Cromley remained in the service of the Wall Street Journal, Fleisher continued with the New York Herald Tribune as a correspondent and arrived at Yokohama port to take leave of his old friends and companions retiring from the country aboard Yawata Maru the last vessel from Japan. From October 1941 other vessels, the Tatsuta Maru and Taiyo Maru, recovered the last foreigners who remaining in Japan in last days at the outbreak of the conflict.

These voyages were symbols of the situation of foreigners in the last days caused by xenophobic aggression before December 1941, when the Pacific War started.

See also


  1. ^ Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, 2001, p.280
  2. ^ Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War, 1998, p.104
  3. ^ Martel, Gordon (2004), The World War Two Reader, New York: Routledge, p. 245–247  
  4. ^ Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashi, Anti-Foreignism and Western Learning in Early-Modern Japan, Council on East-Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1986. ISBN 0674040376
  5. ^ David C. Earhart, Certain Victory, 2008, p.335
  6. ^ David C. Earhart, Certain Victory, 2008, p. 339
  7. ^ "Good Bye Japan". Retrieved 2009-01-27.  


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