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Fulfilling the Targets

Introduction by Christopher Craig, Tohoku University.

One of the most prominent and emblematic initiatives pursued domestically in support of the Japanese imperial project was the creation and implementation of Manchurian Branch Village Emigration Plans (Manshū bunson imin keikaku). Formulated initially on a voluntary basis by local leaders in a handful of scattered villages in the middle years of the 1930s, the plans outlined the intentions of village leaders to dispatch up to half of their fellow villagers to remote Manchurian lands fallen recently under Japanese control to establish continental duplicates of their home villages. While these plans were cloaked in the language of imperial glory, their more salient local motivations are apparent in the economic hopes described in them. For villages in economic crisis (a not-uncommon state for agricultural communities in the mid-1930s), division and emigration promised to siphon off the excess population of landless second and third sons, providing a greater share of farmland and the total village production for those who stayed and the framework for a cooperative economic existence between the new colonial villages and their home island models that would mobilize the strengths of each for the benefit of both.

While it was assumed that villagers mired in poverty would provide enthusiastic fodder for the establishment of Japanese populations in colonial Manchuria, reality often failed to meet official expectations. Even in the villages whose voluntary drafting of branch village plans launched the larger movement, local residents often responded with apathy and sometimes outright opposition (for a detailed study in Japanese of this resistance in the village of Nangō, Miyagi, where the first bunson plan was produced, see Christopher Craig, “Nihon no Tōhoku chihō ni okeru nōmin to Manshū imin: Miyagiken no jinushi, kosakunin o chūshin ni,” Kanrin Nihongaku, 2018). The adoption of branch village plans as a national policy in the summer of 1937 and its vigorous nationwide promotion thereafter failed to overcome the widespread reluctance among villagers. As war mobilization both drained the pressures of excess farming populations and brought about policies protecting agricultural producers, the negative pressures that made emigration an attractive option weakened, while its uncertainties, dangers, and the social sacrifices it demanded continued to give villagers pause.

Faced with what they saw as farmer intransigence, government officials struggled to find ways of soliciting the annual emigrant totals needed to fulfill the ambitious 20-year target of 5 million total emigrants outlined in the national policy. The following document illustrates one way they attempted to rectify the situation. It is taken from a volume published in 1939 by the Economic Revitalization Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry designed inform the public – particularly the elite class of village leaders – of the history and details of the bunson movement and to impress upon them the importance of its success. In line with the goals of the book as a whole, this article attempts to provide village leaders with a guide to help them overcome the reluctance of villagers to join the emigration groups.

Discussion questions:

What can we glean about the ways in which the state was reaching down into the lives of individual villagers in the late 1930s? How does the state, speaking here to village leaders across the country, portray the Japanese Empire and its continental expansion and what relationship does it posit between the imperial project and village populations? What can we learn from the article about the attitudes of the rural population toward the imperial project in the late 1930s?

Source Information:

[Original Publication] Nōrinshō keizai kōseibu (ed.). Shinnōson no kensetsu: Tairiku e no bunson daiidō. Tokyo: Tokyo Asahi Shinbunsha, 1939. Page 26.

[Access] Digitized at the Digital Collection of the National Diet Library,


Fulfilling the Targets

“There is no need to run away to Manchuria at all…” Such sentiments among villagers are the first hurdle that village leaders encounter, in attempting to establish the [Manchurian] Branch Village Emigration Plans. It is possible that underlying this sentiment, is a strong attachment to their hometowns, making it difficult for villagers to leave. Nonetheless, is it necessary to be resolute based on the true purpose(s) of the aforementioned [Manchurian] Branch Village Emigration Plans, and there is certainly no lack of means that the villages can adopt in order to build momentum in this direction.

The first step is to spread the idea of emigration and promote understanding of the present conditions of emigrants. Councils, showing of slideshows and films, tours of Manchuria, lectures by famous people, hamlet round table discussions, and visits to each household are some of the methods that can be used to achieve those goals. Furthermore, there are also Economic Revitalisation Committees to reach the [Manchurian] Branch Village Emigration Plans targets, as well as methods such as hamlet round table discussions, village meetings or visits to each household. It is expected that further progress towards reaching targets will be made by means of group training exercises. It is impossible to make villagers understand completely, just by perfunctorily putting up a single recruitment poster. Such an attitude must not be taken by village leaders, who are devoted to their fellow villagers.

(Translated by Jude Leong Wei Zhong)

[Additional reading]

Christopher Craig. Middlemen of Modernity: Local Elites and Agricultural Development in Meiji Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2021.

· Chapter 6 includes a section discussing the formulation of the first branch village plan in Nangō and its eventual adoption as national policy.

Sandra Wilson. “Securing Prosperity and Serving the Nation: Japanese Farmers and Manchuria, 1931-33.” In Farmers and Village Life in Twentieth-century Japan, edited by Ann Waswo and Nishida Yoshiaki. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. Pp. 156-174.

· Discusses the successes and failures of the attempts to market Manchurian emigration to farmers in the 1930s.

Mori Takemaro. “Colonies and Countryside in Wartime Japan.” In Farmers and Village Life in Twentieth-century Japan, edited by Ann Waswo and Nishida Yoshiaki. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. Pp. 175-198.

· Uses the village of Yamato in Yamagata as a case study to compare the Manchurian emigration with similar emigration to Korea.

Louise Young. Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

· Chapter 7 focuses on rural Japanese emigration to Manchuria in the late 1930s.


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