Introduction by Kirsten L. Ziomek, Adelphi University, New York.
When we try to understand Japanese imperialism and think about what life was like for people living under Japanese imperial rule it is easy to imagine the Japanese empire at the height of its expansion and power. And it is harder to remember that the shape of the empire changed over time and that initially who was considered a colonial subject was in flux. Recently over the last several decades, scholars have argued that the incorporation of Hokkaido and Okinawa into the empire was more akin to colonialism than nation building, countering conventional thinking that places Taiwan as Japan’s first colony and as the official start of Japanese imperialism. When we push the starting date of the Japanese empire back to coincide with the incorporation of Hokkaido (1869) we see that many of the policies directed toward the Ainu people, were repeated in Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea and so on. So what does empire look like by the late Meiji period, when the people of Okinawa, Hokkaido and Taiwan were now all part of the Japanese empire?
The Human Pavilion(人類館) at the 1903 Fifth Domestic and Industrial Exposition in Osaka is a perfect entry point to answer this question. The Human Pavilion was the first time human beings were displayed in an anthropological exhibition in Japan meant to showcase the various races of the world. Among the people displayed were Ainu, Okinawans, Indigenous Taiwanese and Han Taiwanese, Koreans, Chinese, Javanese, Indians, a Turk and an African. Much of the previous scholarship on the pavilion has focused on the protests against the pavilion by the different groups (Chinese, Okinawans and Koreans) who had representatives displayed. For Okinawan historians and scholars in particular, the Human Pavilion is evidence of a long tradition of discriminatory treatment that has lasted up until this day. (See Chinen Seishin’s 1976 play Jinruikan which is still performed today and connects the Human Pavilion to the terrible treatment of Okinawans by the Japanese military during WWII).
But how did the people on display feel? Why did they participate and how did the Japanese view the display? Did they take pride in this “symbol” of Japanese imperialism?
In chapter one of my book Lost Histories, I show how the majority of Japanese responses to the display criticized it as a jindō mondai or humanitarian problem, in that it violated what it means to be human by putting humans on display as objects. Some Japanese brought up previous expositions in other foreign countries that had displayed Japanese and asked why the Japanese were doing what they had once protested against. Others protested the inclusion of imperial subjects in the pavilion like the Ainu and Okinawans alongside people of foreign countries; some thought new Japanese (shin Nihonjin) like the Taiwanese should not be treated in this manner either. Interestingly, the words imperialism or colony (shokuminchi) were not used in these responses, indicating that this display was not talked about in these terms. So although this display can be seen as a display of Japanese imperialism, it was not simply a matter of Japanese supporting the display of ethnoracial others within Japan and those on display protesting it.
Take for example Ainu, Fushine Kōzō, who became the overnight sensation of the pavilion and who had participated in the pavilion primarily to raise money for an Ainu school he had founded. It is estimated he received between 80,000-100,000 yen in donations for this school from the visitors of the pavilion. Fushine, a Christian man who usually wore western suits and a trilby hat and had a pocket watch, donned traditional Ainu clothing for the display. He gave several speeches in Japanese while in the pavilion and years later he also spoke about his time in Osaka. He recalled his time at the pavilion coinciding with what he called a jindō mondai where some Ainu had been forced to perform a play in the Dotonbori entertainment district of Osaka under restrictive circumstances. He recalled how he helped to free those Ainu. What can we make of the Human Pavilion knowing that some people who were in it like Fushine did not see his participation in the same way as some of its critics did? If the Japanese viewing the pavilion criticized it and did not laud it as a symbol of imperialism, what does it mean about the formation of imperial mentalities at this time?
Below is one of the speeches Fushine gave in the pavilion.
An Ainu’s speech
At the Human Pavilion (Jinruikan), Fushine Yasutaro, a Hokkaido Ainu who serves as the chief of the Ainu and is particularly enthusiastic about education, gives a speech to the people who have come to visit the Human Pavilion, saying:
Although we Ainu are the poorest people who cannot read, we never lie to others. When we make a promise to others, we tie a rope to secure the promise for things that will happen in one or two months. If we make contracts for half a year or a year, we will say what to do when the snow that has accumulated on the mountains has melted, or what to do when the spring comes and several buds have emerged on the trees. In this way we make promises and the promises are never broken.
Recently people from the mainland (naichijin) have barged in extremely intrusively promising to pay us exclusively in money. However, there have been many times when that wasn’t the case. Don’t teach us how to break promises, teach us about education. All of us sad Ainu wish to be drafted into the military but the sad thing is because we cannot read, the government will not hire us. Therefore, regardless of the fact that I am not qualified, I am teaching more than eighty children at the Ainu school I founded. I am uneducated and cannot read. It is like when I came to Osaka, and I mistook an udon shop [as the place to find] a police officer.
We 16,000 Ainu really are a pitiful people, holding the idea that we are, like you, ladies and gentlemen, subjects of the empire. If this is so, I ask that you do your bit, by putting your efforts toward Ainu education.
Also, even though I was invited to attend this Human Pavilion, it is an Ainu custom, if you have a house, no matter what changes you encounter, one should never abandon your house. That is why although I wanted to come to Osaka, I refused. When I was asked, if your house was moved to Osaka with you how about that- I said if that was the case that would work. And that is why this old house was moved here together with me. In other words, because this house next to me was brought from Hokkaido with some difficulty, ladies and gentlemen, before your eyes you are able to know the look of the Ainu lifestyle.
 Fushine’s Ainu name was Chanraro, and his nickname was Hotene. He changed his name to Fushine Yasutarō in November 1898, and then to Fushine Kōzō in May 1916  The meaning is unclear- Fushine mentions mistaking an udon restaurant and a police officer- so it is my guess he meant mistaking an udon restaurant for a police station.
(Translated by Ni Cai and edited by Kirsten L. Ziomek)
“Ainu no enzetsu,” Osaka chōhō. April 5, 1903.
What are the numerous ways Fushine tries to convince the Japanese audience to contribute money to help support Ainu education?
How would you characterize Fushine’s view of the Japanese? Does he want the Ainu to become Japanese or do you think he is proud of being Ainu? Support your answer with evidence.
What Fushine told the audience about the Ainu never leaving their houses (and that it was being able to bring his house to Osaka that compelled him to come) is not true. We know, for example, from historical records that Fushine had traveled to Tokyo in the 1870s and did not bring his house with him. Fushine in some ways performed his role as an Ainu, something that other Ainu tourist leaders did when visitors from the mainland came to Ainu tourist villages. Based on Fushine’s speech, what larger conclusions can you draw about the lives of colonial people like the Ainu during times of imperialism and their ability to affect their own lives?
[Selective Secondary Readings]
Kirsten Ziomek, Lost Histories Recovering the Lives of Japan’s Colonial Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2019).
www.kziomek.com for more images relating to the Human Pavilion and other human displays at colonial expositions in Japan
Alan Christy, “The Making of Imperial Subjects in Okinawa” positions Asia Critique vol. 1, issue 3, Winter 1993 1(3): 607-639.
David Howell, “Making ‘Useful Citizens’ of Ainu Subjects in Early Twentieth-Century Japan,” The Journal of Asian studies, vol. 63. No. 1 (2004):5-29.