Investigating American advisers that spread technologies of settler colonialism and "human exhibits" of Ainu, this panel will set Japan's colonization of Hokkaidō in the context of transnational colonial trends, nuancing the oversimplified description of Meiji expansionism as "mimetic imperialism."
Criticizing one-empire approaches, calls to apply much-needed transnational perspectives and methodologies to colonial history have recently emerged. This groundbreaking scholarship has already revealed extensive cooperation during the period of New Imperialism between European empires previously understood merely as rivals, along with myriad examples of exchanges and transfers of colonial knowledge.(1) Historians of Japanese imperialism have always been aware of the large degree to which it emulated Western colonial discourse and practice. Nevertheless, an oversimplified description of Meiji expansionism as "mimetic imperialism" ignores the degree to which all imperial powers imitated each other during this period and the great extent to which Japan was involved in multidirectional inter-imperial exchanges. It also risks explaining important differences between Japanese and Western imperialism as merely a failure to copy Western colonial models. This panel will address these challenges and join the growing body of scholarship that questions 1895 as the starting date for Japanese imperialism by setting the Meiji state's encroachment into Hokkaidō in the context of transnational colonial trends. Japanese colonialism in Hokkaidō is still too often described as the "development" of a mostly empty "frontier" by "pioneers", whereas closer investigation reveals that the process bore important linkages with contemporaneous examples of Western colonialism. Danika Medak-Saltzman explores how oyatoi-gaikokujin Horace Capron drew on his previous experience as a United States Indian Agent to further Japan's settler colonial goals in Hokkaidō. John Hennessey shows how American advisers charged with establishing an agricultural college in Sapporo spread colonial knowledge to future colonial administrators and analyzes their conceptions of empire. Further problematizing "mimetic imperialism," Kirsten Ziomek argues that Japanese displays of Ainu as "human exhibits" were failures. In contrast to Western displays, where such displays were seen as a way to reinforce colonial hierarchies, Japanese displays defied expectations about the roles of the displayed and viewer. (1) Simon J. Potter and Jonathan Saha. "Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire". Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 16:1 (Spring 2015); Volker Barth and Roland Cvetkovski, eds. Imperial Co-operation and Transfer, 1870-1930: Empires and Encounters (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).