ASCJ 2009
Session 43: Room 11-419

The Diplomacy of the Gaimudaijin: Socio-Political Changes in Japanese Foreign Policy from the Manchurian Incident to Pearl Harbor

Organizer: Tosh Minohara, Kobe University
Discussant: Haruo Iguchi, Nagoya University

The literature on the diplomatic history of prewar Japan continues to grapple with one major question: why did the Japanese political elite, who had a long history of collaboration and cooperation with the US and the European powers, enter onto a path that led to a military confrontation with the US, the British Empire and Chinese nationalism? The proposed panel presents the results of recent multi-archival research that attempts to tackle this question through the biography of key Japanese diplomats: Uchida Yasuya,Hirota Koki, Shigemitsu Mamoru, Nomura Kichisaburo, Toyoda Teijiro and Togo Shigenori.

Utilizing diplomatic archival documents, memoirs and secret correspondence, the panelists will discuss the implications of each diplomat’s foreign policy for the common critical issues and themes of Japan’s international relations during the decade from the Manchurian Incident to Pearl Harbor (1931-1941). How can we explain the open embrace of militarism by those diplomats who represented the liberal internationalism during the 1920s? Did the personal experiences of Japanese diplomats during their education or travel in the US, Europe or China influence their decisions? Finally, why did advocates for peace with the United States in the Japanese cabinet have a sudden and complete reversal in their position, and decide to support the war against the US?

While answering these questions, the panelists seek to revise the standard understanding of the transition from the “liberal 1920s” to the “dark valley of the 1930s.” They will also raise questions about the impact of secret intelligence reports and the role of racial identity as well as perceptions and emotions in key foreign policy decisions of the period. Beyond the field of Japan’s diplomatic and political history, the panel will be of great interest to the social scientists who are interested in conceptualizing and theorizing the significance of identity in international politics.

1) Rustin Gates, Bradley University
Pan-Asianism and Prewar Japanese Foreign Policy: The Case of Uchida Yasuya and His Asianism

Studies of prewar Pan-Asian movements have recently enjoyed resurgence due to their applicability to the new transnational discourse on Asian regionalism in the post Cold War world. While scholarship on Japanese Pan-Asianists mostly covers intellectuals and radicals, groups with limited access to power, this presentation offers the case of a Japanese Pan-Asianist who wielded true influence in Japanese foreign policymaking throughout the prewar period. Maintaining deep-seated Asianist beliefs, Uchida Yasuya guided foreign policy as foreign minister in parts of three successive decades (1910s, 1920s, and 1930s). To be sure, Uchida’s Asianism is not wholly unique for a government official. However, most cases, such as that of Konoe Fumimarō, are found in the late 1930s as Japan attempted to create the ill-fated Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. The story of Uchida’s Asianism in the Meiji period reveals that Konoe was building upon the Asianist legacy of his predecessor Uchida in the foreign ministry.

Unlike many of Uchida’s Pan-Asianist contemporaries, the West—not Asia—was the real inspirational factor for his Asianism. To Uchida, Westerners were like termites: they were inherently voracious and destructive and yet awesome in their infestation. His sole impetus to form an Asian union was not to establish Asian solidarity based on a shared cultural heritage, but rather the hope of creating a force equal to that of the West. In this way, Uchida’s Asianism presents an interesting counterpoint to many Japanese Asianists in the prewar era.

2) Yoshie Takamitsu, Chiba University
nterwar Sino-Japanese Relations and American Foreign Policy toward the Soviet Union: With Emphasis on the Role of Foreign Minister Hirota Kōki

The Soviet Union held an important position in interwar American foreign policy. Due to its geographically position situated between Asia and Europe, decision makers in the US needed to consider the dual effects of any policy which dealt with the USSR. At the same time, the Soviet Union was also an important country for Japan in its interwar relations with China.

With this mind, this paper will first illuminate the nature of American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. Then the paper will examine Foreign Minister Hirota Kōki policies toward the USSR in the context of Sino-Japanese relations. It will be revealed that Hirota’s foreign policy possessed a dual nature comprised of both and Asianism and cooperation with the Anglo-American powers. Moreover, the hitherto opaque distinction between the policies of Hirota and Vice Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru will be made clear so that one can better understand the intricacies Japanese foreign policy during the 1930s.

3) Peter Mauch, Ritsumeikan University
The Imperial Japanese Navy and the Foreign Policymaking Process: Foreign Ministers Nomura Kichisaburō and Toyoda Teijirō

This paper comprises a comparative analysis of Foreign Ministers Nomura Kichisaburō and Toyoda Teijirō. Similarities abound. Both were admirals of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Neither believed that Japan could defeat the United States in war. Both served as foreign minister at critical junctures in pre-Pearl Harbor Japanese-American relations: Nomura’s appointment came on the heels of America’s announcement of its intention to abrogate the U.S.-Japan commercial treaty, and Toyoda emerged as foreign minister in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s decision to advance into southern Indochina.

Against the backdrop of these similarities, this paper addresses itself to an equally prevalent difference in both men’s approach to foreign policymaking. For his part, Nomura confronted his colleagues and subordinates with unpopular policy choices – policy choices which were based on his eminently accurate reading of American policies and intentions. Toyoda, in contrast, was a quintessential political fixer who geared his policies first to the prevailing winds in Tokyo and secondarily to his reading of American policies. In its attempt to arrive at a clearer understanding of this crucial difference, this paper seeks to shed light on some neglected aspects of Japan’s road to a ruinous war.

4) Tosh Minohara, Kobe University
Crossing the Rubicon: Foreign Minister Togō Shigenori and Japan’s Decision for War

If there ever existed a Rubicon in the winding path towards Pearl Harbor, a critical date would certainly be on November 26, 1941, when Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori – the leading advocate against war in the cabinet – lost all hope for peace. Although Togō was by no means a pacifist, he fully realized that war with the U.S. was futile. Then what prompted Togō to conclude that Japan had “no choice but to rise”? Was it, as is commonly claimed, because the so-called “Hull Note” was so uncompromising that it basically amounted to an ultimatum?

In light of the new evidence uncovered on prewar Japanese sigint at the National Archives in College Park, the National Security Agency in Fort Meade and the Diplomatic Record Office in Tokyo, the objective of this paper will be the following: first, to provide an overview of the hitherto unknown history of Japanese signals intelligence (SIGINT), and second, to assess the impact that Japanese SIGINT had upon decision making during the critical juncture of November 1941. In conclusion, the paper will set forth a more logical and coherent explanation regarding Togo’s abrupt volte-face – a longstaning puzzle among historians – in his position towards the United States.

Discussant: George Sipos, University of Chicago/Ritsumeikan University