Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

World War II and the Japanese in the Prewar Philippines

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

World War II and the Japanese in the Prewar Philippines

Article excerpt

When World War II reached the Philippines many Japanese residing in this Asian neighbour of Japan had for years been fighting their own little war against what, to them, were anti-Japanese policies of the Commonwealth Government, but from the Filipino point of view were economic measures to strengthen the Philippine economy in preparation for its coming independence. Not a few Japanese immigrants and investors felt it was very hard to live and do business in a country which was not under Japanese control. A Japanese businessman in Davao commented that in contrast to Davao, it was much easier for Japanese to operate in the South Seas because the islands were under the Japanese mandate.(1)

The Japanese interned by Filipino and American forces felt the natural human feeling of joy over release from incarceration when they were set free by the invading Japanese. Many more had an additional reasons to be happy: at last, they must have thought, they could continue operating in the Philippines under the Japanese flag. Very few foresaw the destruction and suffering that wars bring regardless of which side wins. Most Japanese including those in the Philippines welcomed the Second World War, and many Japanese residents in the Philippines may have seen the war as a culmination of the long years of toil they had put in the country's lands and natural resources.(2)

This paper will describe Japanese economic expansion in the Philippines in the decades before World War II and what happened to the Japanese during the war in the Philippines. It will show the interweaving relationship between Japanese interests and Philippine independence. To do this, it will first describe the role of the Philippines in Japan's "nanshin-ron" (southward expansion) and pan-Asianism.

Dictates of Geography: From "Nan'yo" to the "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere"

The Philippines is situated in what the Japanese used to call the "nan'yo" (literally, "south seas") an area at present called Southeast Asia.(3) In Japanese literature of the 1920s and 1930s "nan'yo" usually referred to any or all countries south of Japan. At times, however, when Japanese writers identified the countries that constituted the "nan'yo", some would exclude what others would include. The prewar Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce defined the "nan'yo" as "the area consisting of innumerable big and small islands scattered between the Southeast part of the Asian continent and the continent of Australia"; Soejima Yasoroku listed the countries comprising the "nan'yo" as the Straits Settlements, the Malay States, Siam, French Indo-China, the Dutch East Indies, British Borneo, Portuguese Timor, British (formerly German) New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, and the Philippines; and a newspaper, Shin Aichi had a vast concept which took in Taiwan and China.(4)

Some writers were inconsistent: sometimes they included the Philippines in the "nan'yo", sometimes they excluded it. Others arbitrarily excluded the Philippines from the concept: the "nan'yo" comprised the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand, but not the islands "belonging to Asia or America", said Yoshino Sakuzo.(5) Arbitrary deletion of the Philippines from the "nan'yo" was a gesture, sincere and otherwise, to placate the United States which was becoming suspicious of Japan's activities in Asia.

Regardless of how the Japanese intellectuals defined its boundaries, the "nan'yo" had attracted Japanese labourers and investors since the early years of the twentieth century. By the 1920s the growing number of Japanese immigrants and expanding Japanese investments in the Philippines added to the dictates of geography in definitely placing the Philippines within the "nan'yo", in the path of Japan's southward expansion. Toward the end of the 1930s advocates of "nanshin-ron" wrote about the importance of the Philippines as "the cradle" of Japan's southward advance, or as the "stepping stone" to other islands in the South. …

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