Reexamination Of Japanese “Southern” Experience

from The 1920s To 1950s



[Paper] Origin and Development of the “Japan Myth” in Indonesia: The 1930s and 1960s (In Reports and Papers)

Susy Ong (Lecturer, Graduate School of Japanese Area Studies, University of Indonesia)

 Information about Japan is now readily available online, and travel to Japan from Indonesia has increased exponentially in recent years. However, even today, the prevailing Indonesian image of Japan is that of “the ideal people,” with the Japanese spirit being equated to bushido (the way of the samurai), and the conviction that “the Japanese have preserved their traditional (unique) culture while succeeding in modernization.”
 A major role in this phenomenon has been played by the arguments to this effect of bureaucrats and cultural figures in authority, as well as the mass media which has made such arguments widespread. When, why, and how, then, did Indonesian figures of authority create this image of Japan in which Japanese culture = bushido and Japan = a balance of tradition and modernity?
 This paper addresses the image of Japan in newspaper and magazine articles published in Indonesia in the 1930s and 1960s, and the contemporary contexts in which this image was created and established, in order to examine the interaction of Japanese and Indonesian cultural figures in these eras and the views on Japan of the Indonesians involved therein. Specifically, in the 1930s, Indonesian intellectuals were exploring the future national culture of Indonesia, while Japan was on a wartime footing with a new Japanese culture of anti-communism and anti-liberalism being developed. In the 1960s, Indonesia was facing a national economic crisis while Japan was in the midst of its economic miracle.
 Because of limited access to materials, the analysis on the 1930s is restricted to the monthly magazine Pudjangga Baru (New Poets), founded in 1933 by cultural figures who had received a Dutch education in Batavia (now Jakarta), the 1930s capital of the Dutch East Indies, and to Cultural Nippon, published in Tokyo from 1933 in English, German, and French. Cultural Nipponwas the journal of the Nippon Bunka Renmei (League for Japanese Culture), founded by Matsumoto Gaku, then Director of the Police Bureau of the Home Ministry, to spread “Japanism” as a theoretical weapon in the suppression of the communist movement. Its main objective was propaganda for “traditional Japanese culture,” pleading the case for the legitimacy of Japanese policies internationally, particularly after Japan’s exit from the League of Nations [1]. Interestingly, Cultural Nipponis still to be found in the National Library of Indonesia (having been passed down from the Dutch colonial era); New Poets’ discourse on Japanese culture includes direct quotes from Cultural Nippon, as well as other less explicit similarities. For the 1960s, the paper addresses the discourse on deified “culture” and Japanese culture in national Indonesian newspapers.

1. The 1930s: Intellectuals in the Dutch East Indies and their encounter with Japan
. The Dutch East Indies in the 1930s: Seeking a future national culture
 In the wake of World War I, the Western-educated elite of the Dutch East Indies began to develop a national consciousness, further influenced by the anti-imperialist movement of the 1920s Comintern; the 1928 Youth Congress held in Batavia, bringing together the leaders of youth groups from around the country, was a symbolic event in which the Youth Pledge (“one motherland, one nation, one language”) was taken. After independence, this event came to be considered a milestone of national consciousness in Indonesian history; at the time, however, it was probably known only to a few urban intellectuals.
 Nevertheless, it is certain that this blooming national consciousness was passed on to the Sumatran intellectuals living in Batavia at the time. In search of the future national culture of the nascent nation of Indonesia, they founded the journal Pudjangga Baru (New Poets) [2]. Incidentally, the use of the word “poet” in the journal name was based on the existence of “national poets” or literary masters symbolic of national unity in each European country, and the argument that Indonesia must likewise establish the position of poets as symbols of national unity.
 New Poets is notable for the first debate in Indonesian history on the national culture of Indonesia as a new country, and for the role of its theorists as elders of Indonesian criticism long after independence as well.
 Most of its contributors were born around 1910 and received a modern education at Dutch colonial schools, becoming literate in European languages (Dutch, English, French, and German) and using European-language publications (books, newspapers, and magazines) to actively seek out information on world affairs after World War I, such as national independence movements, German cultural philosopher Oswald Spengler’s subversive The Decline of the West, the worldwide attention drawn by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize in Literature as a symbol of the “Spirit of the East,” the New Culture Movement in China, Japanese modernization and so on. Based thereupon, they debated what the future national culture of the new Indonesia should be, and how it was to be created through education.
 The debate focused on how highly local traditional cultures were to be handled in the future national culture. Inspired by Spengler’s theory of the decline of Western culture and Tagore’s Eastern spirit, some argued that Indonesian national culture should be a composite of the traditional cultures of each region. The counterargument was that Indonesia’s colonization was proof that regional traditional cultures had been defeated by Western modernity, and that therefore these traditional cultures should all be left behind, instead adopting the superior culture of the West as Indonesia’s new national culture. Both sides argued in support of their points with the examples of various foreign countries.
 Interestingly, the only country or nation discussed and critiqued individually was Japan.

1.2. The “image of Japan” in New Poets
 Discourse on Japan in New Poets appeared as follows.
 1. July and August 1935, “Bushido as the basis of ethnic education” in two parts [3]
 2. September 1935, “The imperial way: Japan’s ideal social structure” [4]
 3. December 1935, “Sentimentalism in Japanese literature” [5]
 4. January 1936, “Modern Japanese art as seen by Westerners” [6]
 5. July 1938, “The new culture movement in Japan” [7]
 The author of 1 to 3 above is listed as Soewandhie, but it cannot be confirmed whether this is the same person as the post-independence (1950s) Minister of Education. No author is listed for 4; the author of 5 is Purwadarminta, invited to Japan by the national government in 1932 and a teacher of Indonesian at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages until 1937, later known as the editor of a dictionary of Bahasa Indonesia.

1.2.1. The bushido of Soejima Yasoroku [8]
In the article on bushido, printed in two parts, the author first notes the astonishing recovery of Germany at the time and discusses The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a book by the Nazi cultural policy strategist Alfred Rosenberg, to emphasize the importance of an “ethnic myth” (volksmythe) for national education. Japan’s “bushido (samurai) spirit” is cited as a successful Eastern example thereof, with quotations from the English edition of Soejima Yasoroku’s The Essence of Bushido, defining bushido as the spirit of the Japanese people dating back to the time of the gods and arguing that the “spirit of bushido” had become ever more firmly established as the ethnic spirit of Japan through the influence of Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism. In the Tokugawa era, bushido developed into chonindo (the way of the merchant), and after the Meiji Restoration, into Nippondo (the way of Japan). Now (as of 1935, after Japan’s departure from the League of Nations), with injustice and evil running rife in the world, bushido must be spread worldwide as ningendo (the way of humanity).

1.2.2. The imperial way
 The article introducing Japan’s “imperial way” begins by noting that at the time, with the survival of the Japanese nation threatened by the influence of foreign ideologies such as Marxism, the path to resistance was through a return to the “unbroken imperial line” of the emperor system. Quoting from Nitobe Inazo’s 1932 Some Basic Principles of Japanese Politics and diplomat Kitazawa Naokichi’s 1929 The Government of Japan, the paper concludes that the Japanese have a tradition of honoring self-sacrifice, but modernization has promoted individuality and weakened self-sacrificial spirit; however, in response to external threats, the Japanese will stand up as a single people.
 The source for this paper is not clear, but it bears similarities to Fujisawa Chikao’s “The Kodo Principle and Present Economic Problem” in the June 1934 issue of the previously mentioned Cultural Nippon journal of the League of Japanese Culture. The author of this English-language paper, Fujisawa Chikao (1893–1962), was a nationalist who later served as director of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association East Asia Bureau.

1.2.3. The Japanese supremacy theory put forth by the League of Japanese Culture
 “Sentimentalism in Japanese Literature” compares the Japanese classics with modern European literature and argues that European (Western) literature emphasizes humanity in contrast to the emphasis on life perspectives and spirituality in Japanese literature. Specifically, Yoshida Kenko’s Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) is compared with Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and 18th-century Dutch poetry, for an argument that Indonesian writers should imitate Japanese literature’s spirituality in creating an Indonesian national literature.
 The source for this paper was “Definition of the Sentimentality in Japanese Classics” from the October 1935 issue of Cultural Nippon.

1.2.4. Japan learned from the West and then defeated the West: Léonard Foujita
 “Modern Japanese art as seen by Westerners” is a critique of an art exhibition held by the Ministry of Education in Tokyo. According to the author, while many marvelous works of art created in the West were already ignored by Western society, it was truly wonderful that Japanese artists like Léonard Foujita were mastering Western techniques and spreading the spirit of Western art throughout Japanese society, using reproductive technology to bring the wonders of Western artworks even to people in the most remote areas.
 It is unclear where the author got their information on Foujita; however, because Japan was actively promoting tourism from overseas at the time, the information may have come via an actual visit to Japan.

1.2.5. The movement to return to tradition in Japan
 “The new culture movement in Japan,” in the July 1938 issue of New Poets, is a brief introduction to Japan’s establishment of the International Association of Cultural Promotion as a way out of its international isolation after the Manchurian Incident and leaving the League of Nations, and its ethnic nationalism and unification of religion and state in an attempt to overcome Marxism and liberalism. The author had high praise for the various traditional cultural organizations which had been established recently around Japan, in their active creation of a new national culture [9]. The author, having just returned from five years in Tokyo, had probably been in touch with people from these organizations while in Japan and was therefore writing from personal experience.
 The author concludes that members of New Poets, self included, should learn from the stance of Japanese cultural figures and their active involvement in the creation of a new Japanese national culture.
 The points of this article are introduced in detail in “A new trend in the contemporary cultural movement of Japan” in the March 1938 issue of Cultural Nippon. It is thought that Purwadarminta referred to this article when writing his own.

1.3. Attitudes toward Japan in proponents of full Westernization
 The loudest voice arguing for full Westernization in the New Poets cultural debate was Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana; in response to the view that Indonesia should adopt Western science and technology while preserving traditional culture as the spirit of the people, similarly to Japan’s wakon yosai (Japanese spirit with Western learning), Alisjahbana retorted that Western science and technology were the creations of the spirit of the West, and could not be mastered without adopting that spirit as well. He praised Japan’s modernization and held that it was not the preservation of traditional culture but the attempt to create a new national culture that had enabled Japan to achieve modernization. He emphasized that, with Japan as a model, Indonesian cultural figures should likewise work actively to create a new national culture [10].
 During the Japanese military occupation (March 1942 to August 1945), Alisjahbana cooperated actively with the occupation army’s cultural policies; after Indonesian independence, he revived New Poets and continued as a leading critic. In 1949, along with other Dutch-educated Indonesians, he founded National University, the first private university in Indonesia, in Jakarta and became its president. He was also a prolific novelist, established as a leader of Indonesian culture until his death in 1994.

[1] Unno Fukuju “1930-nendai no bungei tosei: Matsumoto Gaku to Bungei Konwakai (Literary control in the 1930s: Matsumoto Gaku and the Literary Discussion Association)” in Sundai Shigaku (Sundai Historical Review) 52 (March 1981).
[2] Previous research on New Poets includes Heather Sutherland. Pudjangga Baru: Aspects of Indonesian Intellectual Life in the 1930s. In Indonesia. No. 6 (Oct. 1968), Cornell University Press.
[8] Soejima Yasoroku (1875–1950) attempted to visit the United States in the late Meiji period but failed repeatedly; with the support of Yamaji Aizan and Okuma Shigenobu, he was able to travel to the South Seas and India, serving as a trustee of the Japan–India Association and starting businesses in the Dutch East Indies. The list of documents relating to Soejima in the National Diet Library suggests that he had wide-ranging connections among Japanese political, economic, and governmental figures, as well as similarly positioned people overseas.
[9] Former Police Bureau Director Matsumoto Gaku argued for the creation of Japanism/nationalism as an ideology intended to resist Marxism and prevent students and young people from turning communist, extracting funding and authorization from financial and governmental authorities. For the names, descriptions, business content, and budgets of these organizations, see Unno, op. cit.
[10] Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. DI TENGAH-TENGAH PERDJOEANGAN KEBUDAJAAN. POEDJANGGA BARU Vol. IV no. 3 / 4 (Sept./Oct. 1936)

(本文は、2021年7月16日に当サイトにて公開した、スーシー・オング 論文「インドネシアにおける日本「神話」の誕生と展開 1930年代と1960年代(『報告・論文集』所収)」の英語版です。)

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