H-Diplo Review Essay 321- "Into the Field"

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H-Diplo Review Essay 321

3 March 2021

Miriam L. Kingsberg Kadia.  Into the Field: Human Scientists of Transwar Japan.  Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2019.  ISBN:  9781503609082 (hardcover); 9781503610613 (paperback).

Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Andrew Szarejko | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Annika A. Culver, Associate Professor of East Asian History, Florida State University

Focusing on the prolific Japanese ethnologist Izumi Sei’ichi (1915-1970), Miriam Kingsberg Kadia’s superb study Into the Field:  Human Scientists of Transwar Japan investigates the careers of an influential generation of social scientists, or “human scientists” (5) in the subfields of ethnography, anthropology, and archeology, whom she terms “men of one age” (1).  This characterization stems from a quotation by University of Michigan anthropologist Richard K. Beardsley (1918-1978), who, in his eighteen months of fieldwork in Japan the early 1950s during the Allied Occupation (1945-1952), noticed certain commonalities in his Japanese counterparts, with whom he developed a survey on postwar village life in Japan since the end of World War II.  Educated largely in the 1920s, they subscribed to “empirical research” and “enjoyed an ecumenical colleagueship” (1) until the war, after which they reemerged in domestic and global Anglo-American circles as proponents of what Kingsberg Kadia describes as “democracy, capitalism and peace” (2) to dominate Japanese academia until the late 1960s.  She argues that, as “men of one age,” these scientists had been influenced by a common set of generational experiences marked by educational formation during the interwar period, scientific research for imperial purposes during the 1930s, support of the wartime state, and then assisting in a variety of state aims in the postwar period from the Occupation period into the beginnings of Japan’s “Economic Miracle” that lasted from 1955 to 1991.

Kingsberg Kadia’s book thus joins studies by Hiromi Mizuno and Morris Low that critique, but also promote, the important mid-century contributions of Japanese scientists whose work was enmeshed in the particular aims of their nation.[1]  In a more recent volume, Mizuno, Aaron S. Moore, and John DiMoia argue that the postwar success of both Japanese reconstruction and the development of southeast Asia rested in the hands of Japanese engineers whose knowledge networks spanned the colonial era and prewar period, after which they invested their energies into the overseas international development projects of the Cold War.[2]  This is also very much true of the human scientists who are examined in this monograph.

On the whole, the author utilizes an impressive variety of sources, and the book shines where she inserts Japanese social science endeavors into a broader global context.  Too often, the contributions of Japanese scientists have been given short thrift in contemporary histories that are dominated by Euro-Americans, despite a nearly one-hundred-and fifty-year history of thriving scientific exchanges between Japan, Europe, and the United States.  While the contemporary role of the imperial family in furthering a tradition of biological research has allowed a greater recent understanding of the global contributions of Japanese zoologists and biologists, the contributions of Japanese social scientists, or “human scientists,” are much less well-known.  Though the author begins her study in the early twentieth century, it is important to note that the study of the sciences in Japan developed not merely from outside stimuli but built upon an indigenous tradition of honzôgaku [materia medica], wherein Japanese proponents of the empirical study of plants and animals who had been inspired by earlier Chinese models had also absorbed the multidisciplinary aspects of Rangaku [“Dutch Learning”] beginning in the seventeenth century.  These forms of investigating the natural world in premodern Japan have been extensively researched by art historian Timon Screech, who views the eighteenth-century Japanese Confucian-infused notion of kyûri [“investigation of principles”][3] as a precursor to Western empiricism, and historian Frederico Marcon, who argues that the late nineteenth century formation of Japanese natural sciences rested upon a formidable base of domestic methodologies of knowledge.[4]  Nevertheless, the study of human sciences like “anthropology, archeology, and ethnology” lagged behind in a Tokugawa-era Japan (1603-1868) that was relatively closed off to the outside world, and only took off once imperial Japan began to acquire its own colonies in Okinawa, Taiwan, and Korea, where local officials started to acquire and codify knowledge on Indigenous peoples in order to rule over them.[5] 

By the early twentieth century, Kingsberg Kadia notes that “Recognition of Japan’s ability to formulate objective knowledge allowed the nation to enter the Euro-American intellectual community, transforming it from a Western to a truly transnational network” (4).  To illustrate this process, the author begins her study with a discussion of the term gakujutsu (literally “study skill/methodology,” often translated as “academic” or “scientific”), which she translates as “objectivity” (4).  With a particular emphasis on Japan’s human scientists, she focuses on scholars who engaged in allegedly empirical knowledge formation through expeditions “into the field” during a time when the imperial state often used their data and observations in policies that extended colonial rule or influenced the empire’s peripheries. 

After two initial chapters on fieldwork in the Japanese empire and during wartime, the bulk of the text focuses on the Allied Occupation and postwar period during the first decade of the Economic Miracle.  Although the term “transwar” appears in the title, the author regrettably omits a clear definition of this concept which emerged out of earlier intellectual debates.  According to some historians, the chronology of Japan’s transwar period, spanning the prewar, wartime, and postwar eras, is suffused by certain assumptions based upon how one might view the wartime period.  For example, historian Nakamura Masanori was one of the first Japanese scholars to address the concept of the transwar, since it reveals important questions on whether the war was a ‘break’ or part of a larger continuity of historical developments issuing from the prewar period.  In assessing the postwar, Nakamura understands transwar in the sense of "persistence," especially regarding the emperor system and the ambiguous postwar reshaping of the imperial institution.[6]  Andrew Gordon, in his work on Japanese social and labor history, views similar economic and political issues as having recurred in the 1920s as in the 1950s.[7]  For the human scientists that she studies, Kingsberg Kadia focuses on the 1930s until the 1960s, bookending the rise of Japanese militarism with late 1960s student protests during an economically prosperous postwar.  However, in her periodization of a transwar era beginning and ending a decade later than Nakamura or Gordon, Kingsberg Kadia proposes that, for the human scientists, the needs of the nation that they were serving were first imperial and then were subsumed into wartime aims, while those of the postwar “cultural nation” (73) were to culminate in the rebirth of Japanese nationalism in the form of Nihonjinron (theory of “Japanese-ness”) or discourse on Japanese exceptionalism. 

While conducting her own eight-year-long research for this book, Kingsberg Kadia quite impressively traveled to many of the locations where the scientists worked:  numerous locations in Japan, multiple American universities on the East and West Coasts, and several countries in Latin America, including Brazil and Peru.  In retracing portions of their paths, and examining their writings in archival collections, she reconstructs their scholarly agendas and their winding careers within the trajectory of Japan’s broader national fortunes.  Occasionally, the author delves into the private lives of the scientists she covers—most notably that of Izumi, whose nearly irreparable rift with his son during the 1968 student protests was sparked by an outburst during a family dinner—but more profoundly, she investigates how their careers intersected with agendas of the Japanese state, whether imperial or democratic.  The revelation of more such personal details could, however, have enhanced the broader, grand narrative of Izumi and his cohort to paint a more vivid picture of their complex era. 

While readers learn about the prodigious amount of liquor required to assuage the anxieties of Izumi and his men during a circuitous February 1943 journey to Papua New Guinea amidst enemy fire (57), as well as the rigors of camp life in late 1950s Peru where scientists rarely slept more than four or five hours at a time (171), Kingsberg Kadia’s narrative would have been enriched by a deeper analysis of some of the more private motivations of these “men of one age.”  These could have possibly been gleaned from diaries, as well as from more personal interviews beyond the few individuals that the author did interview, like Izumi Kimiko, the scientist’s widow and a scholar in her own right.  Indeed, with remarkably few exceptions, most of these protagonists were men, who came of age in the early twentieth century that was marked by the patriarchal norms of their society.  Notably, Kingsberg Kadia points out that from the time of the inception of imperial Japan’s premier public institutions of higher learning like Tokyo Imperial University or Waseda University, women had been barred from entrance, and also could not matriculate at any of the Higher Schools, which prepared boys for their eventual university studies.  Therefore, “(w)omen could not attain the qualifications, networks, and knowledges expected of full colleagues in the human sciences.  Such research accordingly developed as an almost wholly male enterprise” (7).  A deeper discussion of gender in mid-twentieth century Japan would have been illuminative, as might have been an examination of the men’s careers from a life-course perspective informed by feminist scholarship.[8]  Clearly, such research enterprises also showcased Japanese imperial masculinity, which had been enacted through expeditions within the empire’s peripheries during the imperial period and in domestic Japan’s othered spaces during the occupation, and then progressed into areas previously neglected by Western scholars, such as Peru’s pre-Incan archeological histories.

For imperial Japan’s human scientists, Izumi’s 1938 Expedition to Mongolia was the first state-funded overseas expedition involving the collaboration of multiple disciplines.  In the late 1930s, Mongolia joined earlier areas of interest that had been subjected to the forcible imposition of Japanese imperial power, like Manchukuo, a putative new nation that was formed in 1932 and carved out of a region invaded and occupied by the Japanese Kantô Army since 1931.  An expedition focused on the natural sciences, led by the Waseda University geologist Tokunaga Shigeyasu (1874-1940), took place in Jehol (Rehe) from June to October 1933, and prefigured Izumi’s work, utilizing a collaborative structure involving the combined talents of twelve scientists in the fields of geology, botany, zoology, entomology, and others.[9]  Tokunaga’s group initiated a codification of empirically-based knowledge that soon impacted the social sciences as well.  Intriguingly, during the postwar Allied Occupation, the findings of imperial Japan’s research scientists were compiled by a team headed by Yale University anthropologist George P. Murdock to create the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) “as a comprehensive database of empirical information, indexed not only by region and population but also by cultural traits, structures, and phenomena” (91) amidst a Cold War atmosphere where the United States aimed to engage in counterinsurgency actions in former Japanese imperial colonies in order to combat and “contain” Communism.  Funding sources included the American government and military, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), along with a whole host of universities and organizations (90).  Kingsberg Kadia pointedly notes how, “Thus deconstructed and revised, knowledge of human diversity originally intended to support Japanese imperialism came to prop up the global geopolitical goals of the United States” (90).

One of Kingsberg Kadia’s greatest contributions is the chapter that discusses an understudied topic that merits a full-length text of its own, or the late 1950s initiation of cooperative efforts by Japanese anthropologists, archeologists, and ethnologists to the study of Indigenous cultures of the Americas before the Spanish conquest.  She discusses Izumi’s role in setting up the eleven-year Scientific Expedition to the Andes, which was led by the scientist’s senior University of Tokyo colleague Ishida Eiichirô (1903-1968) to investigate pre-Inca cultures in the Kotosh temple entombment as the first Japanese major archeological excavation outside of Asia and in Latin America (169).  While Izumi and his colleagues braved the spartan conditions in the field during the dig, in contrast to earlier Anglo-American archeologists, they were remarkably sensitive to the feelings of the local populations that hosted them.  Their cultural sensitivity to their Peruvian counterparts and perceived racial kinship with Indigenous Quechua allowed them to proceed in an atmosphere where they were able to successfully co-opt their outsider status into one of cooperation with communities of people that they believed physically resembled them. 

The journalist Gotô Toshio (1903-1975), who was known by his pen-name Hayashi Fusao and who had been a former proletarian writer converted to ultranationalism during wartime, accompanied the first 1958 venture, sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s leading papers (175).  In his sensationalistic accounts heightening the Japanese researchers’ rugged masculinity amidst an exotic and mountainous landscape, he purported Japanese kinship to the Quechua people, and opined that “They have an appealing bone structure, and their color is very similar to ours... We are from the same blood” (177).  While such notions stemmed from earlier Western ideas amongst Enlightenment-era philosophers and an apocryphal 1945 text by a Japanese diplomat that imputed shared bloodlines between the Japanese and the Incas, they arguably aided most in establishing “the idea of transpacific confraternity” (176).  In other words, here a group of non-white scientists worked fruitfully amidst a formerly colonized population with a mixed heritage.  Apparently accepted as non-white actors amongst people of mixed European and Indigenous backgrounds, the Japanese researchers minimized the top-down racism and sense of superiority, either overt or implicit, that accompanied white researchers with a largely European ancestry. 

Interestingly, the findings of this expedition were celebrated in early 1960s Japan, and set off a highly-commercialized “Inca boom”—despite the fact that the Chavín era (c. 900-200 BCE) culture predated the Inca empire (1400-1533 CE) by nearly two thousand years.  Indeed, the name of the Incas was commodified to advertise a slew of coffee-table books as well as herald popular department store exhibitions.  One of these at Isetan was even visited by Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako, lending it an imperial seal of approval which afforded Izumi and his team a coup of recognition for their pioneering efforts and rendered them quasi-celebrities.  These exhibitions were usually held on the top floors of notable flagship Japanese stores like Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya, and others, and attracted customers who might not normally patronize department stores.  The author’s description of the particular items that had been exhibited would have been illuminative, and one wonders whether they might have stimulated the proliferation of goods purveyed by the store, which consumers could have purchased to further enjoy their personal consumption of the ‘Inca’ at home. 

Aside from the subsequent commercialization back in Japan of the Japanese scientists’ findings in a far-off Peru, the greatest global impact of their research was in its collaborative nature; this, Kingsberg Kadia points out, was a holdover from the 1930s, while their use of Indigenous informants and the respectful treatment of local Peruvian authorities was also unprecedented for that era.  In addition, Izumi and his team utilized methods of knowledge production that previous Anglo-American and European archeological digs had undervalued or dismissed.  Izumi notably pioneered the use of public history and education in local schools so that for children would understand their region’s prehistory.  While these are common present-day forms of outreach, it was unprecedented in the early 1960s for Japanese scholars to mingle with the general public, and in particular, school children.  In fact, the members of the expedition had endeared themselves so much to the local communities hosting them that a street was later named for Izumi to commemorate his role.

Clearly, by the 1960s, Japan’s human scientists enjoyed a multi-faceted renown that was unmatched anywhere in the world, and their nation harbored the third largest community of anthropologists in the world, with Izumi declaring, “The people who were once the objects [taishô] of research are now the creators [shûtai]” (202).  Yet, in 1968, most of his cohort had passed middle-age, and their ideas no longer resonated with a younger generation that believed in the utter fallibility of empiricism and the lack of objectivity in endeavors laced with state-aims that often intersected with policy goals of the United State, which was now using its military bases in Japan to launch a war in Vietnam.  The crisis of 1968, which was marked by student protests and an occupation of key Japanese universities like the University of Tokyo, ushered in the advent of people’s history [minshûshi], whose proponents like Irokawa Daikichi (b. 1925) alleged that ideals like those propounded by Izumi and his cohort, such as “democracy, capitalism, and peace had not liberated the masses but had instead re-enslaved them through the degradation of the environment, increased social and economic inequality, urban congestion, materialism and commercialism, complicity with the American military agenda, and a general mood of alienation and anomie” (216).  Nevertheless, the protests died down after only a couple years, when university administrators were able to co-opt some of the demands of the students, who largely returned to their classrooms.  In addition, the nation began to focus on showcasing its attributes for the 1970 World Exposition held in Osaka, which heralded in a new packaging of knowledge about Japanese-ness that reanimated the commercial agenda that had been pioneered by researchers like Izumi.  

Kingsberg Kadia’s Into the Field is an excellently researched, fascinating study on the careers of Japan’s human scientists who began their work during the imperial period and who, after their empire’s wartime defeat, found great opportunities in reviving collaborations with the Americans who occupied their nation from 1945 until 1952.  Out of this domestic cooperation arose further opportunities for fostering their international contributions in the United States and beyond, and positioned Japanese human scientists as true pioneers of contemporary research methods that are widely accepted on a global scale.


Annika A. Culver serves as Associate Professor of East Asian History at Florida State University (FSU), where she specializes in teaching courses related to Northeast Asia.  Culver’s research and publications have focused on advertising and propaganda, cultural production in Manchukuo, and more recently, history of science.  She has written Glorify the Empire:  Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo (University of British Columbia Press, 2013), and with Norman Smith, co-edited Manchukuo Perspectives:  Transnational Approaches to Literary Production (Hong Kong University Press, 2019).  Her latest book, Japanese Imperial Migrations:  Aristocrats, Westerners, and Transwar Ornithology (Bloomsbury), will be published in late 2021.



[1] See Morris Low, Science and the Building of a New Japan (London:  Palgrave MacMillan, 2005) and Hiromi Mizuno, Science for the Empire:  Scientific Nationalism in Modern Japan (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2008).

[2] Hiromi Mizuno, Aaron S. Moore, and John DiMoia, Engineering Asia:  Technology, Colonial Development, and the Cold War Order (London:  Bloomsbury, 2018).

[3] See Timon Screech, The Lens Within the Heart:  The Western Scientific Gaze and Popular Imagery in Later Edo Japan (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[4] See Frederico Marcon, The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2015).

[5] See, for example, Leo T. S. Ching’s Becoming Japanese:  Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2001) and Robert Thomas Tierney’s The Tropics of Savagery:  The Culture of Japanese Empire in Comparative Frame (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).  Even though these texts focus largely on literary constructions of an “Other” in Taiwan or Micronesia, the works of Japanese writers were deeply implicated in the colonial apparatus sustained in these imperial possessions and were sometimes officials themselves.

[6] Nakamura uses the word貫戦史 [kansen-shi, "persistent (traversing) war history"] to refer to imperial continuities from the prewar into postwar periods.  See Nakamura Masanori, Sengoshi [Postwar History] (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2005).

[7] For example, see Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1993); The Evolution of Labor Relations in Japan:  Heavy Industry, 1853–1955 (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1988); and A Modern History of Japan:  From Tokugawa Times to the Present (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002).  In his 2007 article, "Consumption, Leisure, and the Middle Class in Transwar Japan," Gordon makes his claim for transwar continuity in other realms of historical study beyond politics:  "This essay argues for the importance of a longer, but nevertheless bounded, era of 'transwar' transformation, and it seeks to extend the concept of a transwar process of change to realms of daily life, leisure and consumption.  To speak of a transwar era in this sense is also distinct from a perspective linking pre- to postwar while leapfrogging the 'abnormal' dark valley of wartime."  See Andrew Gordon, Social Science Japan Journal 10:1 (April 2007), 4.

[8] See, for example, Jonathon Vespa, “Gender Ideology Construction:  A Life Course and Intersectional Approach,” Gender and Society 23:3 (June 2009): 363-387.  For a basic definition of “life course theory,” see G. Elder, “The Life Course as Developmental Theory,” Child Development, Issue 69 (1998), 1–12; and G. H. Elder, M. K. Johnson, and R. Crosnoe, “The Emergence and Development of Life Course Theory,” in Handbook of the Life Course, eds M.J. Shanahan and J.T. Mortimer (Boston: Springer, 2003), 3–19.

[9] A full critical examination of this expedition is lacking in scholarly literature, with an exception of Morris Low’s Japan on Display:  Photography and the Emperor (London:  Routledge, 2006), 64-65; and Low, “The Japanese Colonial Eye:  Science, Exploration, and Empire,” in Christopher Pinney et al., Photography's Other Histories (Durham:  Duke University Press, 2003), 105-115.  In my forthcoming book, Chapter five, “The Japanese Empire and Manchukuo (1932-1940) – The Thrill of Collecting Imperialism,” covers this expedition in detail.  See Annika A. Culver, Japanese Imperial Migrations:  Westerners, Aristocrats, and Transwar Ornithology (London:  Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming late 2021).