Episode 474 – Southward, Ho! Part 3

So far, we’ve talked about how Micronesia came under Japanese rule, but what was Japan’s rule over the region like?


Peattie, Mark R. Nan’yo: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, 1885-1945.

Hezel, Francis X. Strangers in their Own Land: A Century of Colonial Rule in the Caroline and Marshall Islands.

Poyer, Lin. The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War

Dvorak, Greg. “‘The Martial Islands’: Making Marshallese Masculinities between American and Japanese Militarism.” The Contemporary Pacific 20, No 1 (2008)

Issue 143 of Shashin Shuho, a pictoral weekly put out by the Cabinet Information Bureau during the 30s and 40s. This edition has coverage of the establishment of Nan’yo Shrine on Koror.


A cafe on Saipan catering to Korean workers, c. 1938.
Nanyo Kohatsu sugar factory on Saipan, 1932.
Coverage from the Japanese weekly Shashin Shuho of the establishment of Nan’yo Shrine on Koror. All of these images were staged for propaganda purposes back on the home islands.
Main street of Koror.
A Micronesian public school on Palau.


So the last few weeks have been about the process by which Japan became the ruling power in Micronesia. This week will be all about the nature of the Japanese empire in the region–what was Micronesia like under Japanese rule?

From what I’ve seen, the nature of the Japanese empire in Micronesia was defined by two questions–both of which were central to the Nan’yocho, or South Seas Office, the colonial government of the region, but neither of which was ever answered satisfactorily.

First was the complex question of what relationship Micronesians now had to the Japanese state. They were, in a sense, subjects of the empire–and the League of Nations mandate in the region both charged Japan to modernize Micronesian life and to include Micronesians fully under the laws of Japan itself.

And yet, the Nan’yocho always maintained that the Japanese constitution did not apply in Micronesia due to the area’s status as a League of Nations mandate, and functionally operated as an appointed dictatorship in the region. As for the Micronesians themselves, Japanese bureaucrats in all their writings about the region never fully seem to have accepted the Micronesians as a part of the empire. Japanese colonial policy was always a bit of a mishmash of ideas; on the one hand was the rhetoric of pan-Asian unity, and in Korea and Taiwan of shared Confucian culture and the shared benevolence of the Japanese sovereign. On the other was a strong sense of Japanese cultural particularism and chauvinism that, in this mindset, gave Japan the right to ‘lift up’ other Asians even against their will.

In Micronesia these clashing ideas were even more acute, because the rhetoric of ‘shared culture’ didn’t even apply. Instead, Japanese leaders in the region seem to have accepted the idea of Micronesian racial inferiority as simply a default reality and designed policy around that idea. On the surface, the rhetoric of imperial beneficence and uplift never vanished, but in practice, Micronesians were often second (or even third-class) citizens in their own land.

The other question was what the hell Japan was even doing in Micronesia itself. Japanese interest in the region had initially been driven by overblown economic promises of the riches of the area, as well as notions of the threat it presented as a strategic base of operations against Japan itself. It was for that latter reason that the more aggressive leaders of the Imperial Japanese Navy had pushed so hard during WWI for Japan to occupy the islands, but in the final settlements after the war Japan was forced to agree to a demilitarize presence in order to get its mandate recognized. By the mid-1920s, the only imperial navy presence in the region was a single liason officer attached to the Nan’yocho, whose sole responsibility was updating purely theoretical plans for how the islands might be used in a war emergency.

And while the islands were indeed strategically located–among other things, some of the closest anchorages to the Japanese mainland in the Asian Pacific, and lying smack in between American-controlled Hawaii and the American outpost on the Philippines–by the standards of 1920s militaries the islands themselves were not actually particularly great bases.

Your ideal 1920s island naval fortress has deep, protected harbors that can accommodate very large warships, of course, and protect them from the ravages of the open ocean. But outside of these open harbors, the island also needed to be mountainous, rough terrain–the idea being that said terrain could easily be fortified with lots of coastal guns that would then be able to fire freely on enemy fleets passing by, while being protected from counterfire by the rocky terrain. That would also make said defenses difficult to storm.

Unfortunately for the Imperial Navy, most of the islands of Micronesia did not fit this bill–their harbors were too small and needed expansion, or (in most cases) they were simply too flat and impossible to fortify. Only one island, Truk atoll in the Carolines, fit that bill.

The rest could have been brought up to speed with expensive fortifications, except that Japan was now banned by treaty from actually building those forts in Micronesia. So what was even the point of being here, again?

Was Micronesia supposed to be an economic powerhouse for the empire? A strategic outpost? A dumping ground for the growing population of the main islands? Nobody was quite sure, and so policy in the region was always a bit of a mess.

So far, I’m speaking quite generally, though. What did any of this mean in terms of practical policy in the daily lives of the Micronesian population? To get into specifics, we’re going to divide things into three different spheres of life: education, economics, and broader social life.

So first, let’s talk education. And I think it’s a good idea to start here because, to use the words of the scholar Mark Peattie in his study of Japanese Micronesia, “no Japanese policy more clearly illustrated the contradiction between Japanese self-interest and Japan’s obligations under its mandate than the education programs which the [Nanyo’cho] made available to Micronesians. Intended to be a showpiece to demonstrate Japan’s commitment to its mandate obligations,they also served as a means to perpetuate Japanese rule and keep the indigenous population in a state of perpetual dependence.”

Which is one hell of a strong statement, but honestly, I think it’s pretty immediately clear that he’s right. For a quick refresh: in Japan proper at this time, there were eight years of mandatory primary education (after the Second World War, that was expanded to nine years). In Micronesia, the kougakkou, or public schools run by the Nan’yocho with the help of the Education Ministry, only offered three years of primary education, supplemented by two more for students who showed particular aptitude.

On the larger islands, or those closer to Japan itself (particularly the Marianas) all school-aged Micronesians were required to attend. Chiefs from the more remote atolls were given quotas of the number of students they could send to the nearest school; students enrolled in this way had to board at their own expense with friends or family in the area.

The vast, vast majority of time in this mandatory education curriculum was devoted to the study of the Japanese language–more than half the school day, on average. Despite this, given the vast differences between Micronesian languages and Japanese (they aren’t even in the same language family), very few Micronesians were able to read or write Japanese. Even if you were selected for the special five-year instructional program, you probably would not make it beyond the phonetic kana syllabary and some very basic kanji–based on what I’ve seen of the curriculum, it’s more or less where you’d be at after taking slightly less than a semester of college level Japanese, if that.

At the same time, these kids were forbidden from learning, or even using in school, their own languages–and, Japanese education being what it was at the time, were often beaten publicly if they spoke their native tongue instead of Japanese at school. Combined with a minimal history and geography education that focused solely on Japan, the net effect was the creation of a generation of young people cut off, in essence, from their own culture.

What time was not given over to language education was mostly directed toward what prewar education bureaucrats euphemistically called doutoku, or morals. But this isn’t ethics in the sense you think of it–this is, in essence, propaganda class, where students learn all about the greatness of Japan’s emperor and their obligation to serve him.

These sort of classes–which would involve reading hagiographic biographies of famous figures who ‘died for the nation’, or the recitation of poems enjoining loyalty to the emperor and to his state–existed on the Japanese mainland as well (at least, until the post-1945 educational reforms). But on the mainland, there was a lot more actual education sprinkled in there given the eight years of mandatory schooling (as opposed to just three). The Micronesian schools, by comparison, were overwhelmingly focused on what might be called “education for subordination”–courses that were clearly aimed at making Micronesians obedient to the state and useful to the Japanese, but not at allowing them to aspire to anything beyond this.

That’s not to say there weren’t better schools in Micronesia; the Nan’yocho also ran a school system for the children of Japanese immigrants (about whom more in a bit) that was virtually identical to the one back in mainland Japan. But the two systems were functionally totally segregated–Nanyo’cho education bureaucrats did not ever allow Micronesians to enroll in them, on the grounds that Micronesian kids simply didn’t have the Japanese language skills necessary to succeed.

Which, to be fair, was true–but there are ways to support students in situations like that, and the Nan’yo bureaucrats were just not interested in them. Very rarely, Micronesian students who were particularly promising were given permission to travel to Japan for continuing education after completing their mandatory schooling, but once they got to Japan they similarly were totally unsupported in terms of language (not to mention the cultural challenges inherent to any long-term study abroad program). As a result, pretty much all the students so selected dropped out.

Beyond those rare opportunities, the only other chance for continuing education for Micronesians during Japanese rule was a vocational school established on Koror in 1926 to train apprentices for careers in carpentry (eventually blacksmithing, electrics, and automobile repair were added to the career tracks). And that was literally it.

David Ramarui, who would go on to become a civil servant and eventually senator in the government of Palau after the end of the Second World War, would later recall his education under Japanese rule. Specifically, he recalled seeing the difference between Palau’s two schools. One, for Japanese children, had a statue of the late Edo thinker Ninomiya Sontoku as a schoolboy–carrying wood on his back while reading a book. It was a symbol of diligence, of course, but also of the potential of learning to unlock your own abilities–after all, Ninomiya Sontoku had gone from the simple son of peasants to one of the most respected thinkers of his time.

The other school–his school, as an indigenous Palauan–also had a statue in front of it. But it was far simpler, bearing four inscribed Japanese characters for “diligence”, “honesty”, “obedience”, and “faithfulness.” It was simply a reminder to conform, without the promise that learning could offer anything else. Frankly, I think that sums up the whole topic pretty well.

Nor do things look much better when we look at the economic picture. Early on, Japan’s economic interest in Micronesia was limited; after all, the Japanese move into the region had been based on security interests, rather than economic ones. The only substantial economic policy enacted in the early years of Japanese rule was a ban on non-Japanese ships entering more than a few open harbors (most of which were in the Marianas, where the Japanese presence was at its strongest). That ban was intended, not as a security measure, but as an economic one to give the Japanese firm Nan’yo Boeki (South Seas Trading company) a monopoly on shipping within the islands.

It did not apply, by the way, to transit through Micronesia; ships could move through the region freely, as long as they didn’t stop at a Japanese-run port outside of the open ones without permission.

But other than this heavy-handed approach to setting up an economic monopoly in the region–which helped Nanyo Boeki, to be sure, but didn’t make the company rich–there wasn’t a lot of thought given to the regional economy. Which is not unsurprising: remember, the folks staffing the Nan’yocho are Home Ministry bureaucrats from Japan, alongside a small number of Education Ministry types. In other words, they were more concerned with laws and regulations than dollars and cents (or yen and sen, I guess).

So, without much in the way of intervention from the Nan’yocho, the economy of the region continued as it had under German rule. Nanyo Boeki and a host of smaller companies ran operations on individual island selling consumer goods from Japan and buying resources (mostly fish and copra from coconuts) to ship back to the mainland. Copra in particular became a major cash crop because of its industrial uses, with many Micronesian communities setting up large-scale copra farms to sell to the Japanese.

But all that began to change in 1920, with the arrival in the region of one Matsue Haruji. Matsue, born in 1876 in Fukushima, was already an established man in Japan’s economy by 1920; he’d begun his career employed by a Japanese sugar company, and in 1903 received a government scholarship to go study sugarcane cultivation in Louisiana. Eventually, he found his way to Taiwan, where he became involved in efforts to cultivate sugarcane on those islands. And in 1920, he made his way to Micronesia on the hunch that the even warmer, subtropical climate of the region would be better for sugar than Taiwan.

And it turned out he was right. By 1922, he’d secured funding to found the Nan’yo Kohatsu Kaisha, or South Seas Development Corporation, and to begin clearing space in the Marianas Islands–the farthest northern chain of Micronesia outside of the uninhabited Bonins–for sugar plantations.

And sugar cultivation in turn made Nan’yo Kohatsu and Matsue rich. I won’t go too into the details here but Matsue was absolutely right that sugarcane would do well as a cash crop in the region.

But the thing about cane cultivation is that it’s hugely labor intensive, not to mention dangerous–and when industrially produced, requires massive sugarcane fields. To solve these problems and with the collaboration of the Nanyo’cho government, Matsue began to buy up land in the Marianas and to bring in cane farmers from other parts of the empire–he and the Nan’yo bureaucrats assumed that Micronesians could not handle the highly technical practice of sugar cultivation.

Specifically, Matsue brought in Japanese managers alongside large numbers of Korean and Okinawan workers. He also began buying up land in the Marianas en masse, aided by new land registration laws put in place by the Nan’yocho.

Those land registration laws attempted to formalize land tenure and ownership, something the Germans and Spanish had never really bothered with. The new system was hugely weighted towards Japanese looking to purchase land in the area; any land not clearly ‘owned’ by someone else was handed over to the Nan’yocho to sell as they saw fit, and ownership was defined very narrowly–common lands used for hunting and fishing were treated as ‘unoccupied’, for example.

This resulted in some truly horrifying bureaucratic decisions, such as a Nan’yo bureaucrat on the Nomoi islands southeast of Truk who decided that all land between the high and low tide marks was unoccupied and thus state property–and thus banned fishing in them, closing off a key part of the local economy.

Decisions around land tenure were made and recorded in Japanese and could only be appealed in that language, which most Micronesians had minimal facility with (even those ‘educated’ in the colonial system). Small wonder that Matsue and his company had little trouble buying up huge swaths of the Marianas.

The result was an astounding demographic transformation of the Marianas. From 1928, the population of non-Micronesian Japanese subjects in the islands absolutely ballooned. By 1938, Palau was 3/4th non-Micronesian in its population; Saipan, an ideal setting for sugarcane farming where basically everything that wasn’t a mountain had been converted to cane fields, was over 90% non-Micronesian, having gone from around 2000 non-Micronesian inhabitants in 1920 to 45,000 18 years later.

By comparison, there were about 3000 indigenous inhabitants from the Chamorro people left on the island by the mid-1930s. Tinian, just to the south, had an extremely small indigenous population that was displaced completely in the mid-1930s to make room for sugar fields.

The vast majority of the workers to brought in during these early years were either poor rural Japanese or Okinawans or Koreans. They’d been promised work by Nan’yo Kohatsu as either tenant farmers or employees of the organization itself, and on very favorable terms. Nan’yo Kohatsu would take 12% of the yearly sugar crop and buy the rest at a pre-determined price, meaning the value was not subject to market fluctuations. And during bad harvest years that 12% was waived. Employees, meanwhile, worked under pre-determined and public pay scales that were comparative for the (admittedly lower standards) of poor, rural Japan, and very good for economically marginalized Korean and Okinawan communities. Simply put, the terms offered to workers were good; it’s not surprising many took them.

The Marianas, being the closest of the inhabited island chains to Japan proper, were the main site of immigration–again, primarily Korean and Okinawan workers brought in for industrial agriculture. Other islands saw an influx of Japanese nationals who came in search of jobs–Ponape in the Carolines was about 25% non-Micronesian by 1938, for example–but the Marianas were by far the primary site of immigration

Still, the net effect on Micronesia’s population was incredible; by 1938, Micronesia as a whole was majority non-Micronesian in its inhabitants, as just over half were Korean, Okinawan, or mainland Japanese.

Micronesian inhabitants who lived in areas targeted for economic exploitation by Japan were forced to relocate to new lands–reservations, in essence–set aside for them. For example, the island of Rota in the North Marianas islands was targeted by Nanyo Kohatsu for development into sugarcane fields in 1929. As the Japanese population expanded, the island’s only major town, called Rota Town, proved unable to hold the swelling population numbers. And so one day in early 1936 all Micronesian residents were gathered in the center of town by police and told they were being relocated to a new village, given the Japanese name of Tatacho, a few miles north. Their homes were then redistributed to make room for even more Japanese laborers, eventually more or less swamping the numbers of the native Chamorro.

It’s a bit of a tangent but–part of the reason that this happened was stagnation of Micronesian population growth in general. The isolated islands had been ravaged by disease during the mid-19th century brought to the region by Europeans, as had happened to basically every other population isolated from Eurasia. Turns out smallpox is a hell of a disease if you have nobody in your population with a pre-existing immunity to it.

But disease was not the only issue. Those land tenure rules I talked about dislocated many Micronesian communities, which in turn destroyed the community and extended family support networks families relied on for things like childcare. At the same time, the drafting of Micronesians to do public works labor–a common practice any time the Nan’yocho needed anything built, since it didn’t have much in the way of mechanized construction gear–resulted in malnutrition, which is not great for population growth.

All of which meant that the Micronesian population largely stagnated under Japanese rule. And in turn, that just made it easier to bring in more Japanese tenant farmers.

By the mid-1930s, the demographic shift had taken on a more permanent tone, as the Nan’yocho and Nanyo Kohatsu began to shift policies once again. In the past, nearly all the workers brought over to Micronesia had been men sent there to do some kind of physical labor, largely following the age-old pattern of dekasegi, or work away from home. That is, these laborers would come to Micronesia, work for a few years to make money, and then usually use that to return home.

In the interim, they would sometimes take Micronesian spouses; there were more than a few brothels, especially in the Marianas, with Chamorro women catering to the interests of foreign men. However, it is worth noting–and says a lot about the idea of Micronesian ‘integration’ into the empire–that even though there were very few Japanese women even in the area, there were substantial informal and on some islands outright legal bans on Japanese women having relations with Micronesian men.

In the early-1930s the Nan’yocho began subsidizing family immigration in the hopes of getting more women to come to the islands. This policy paid dividends; while in the early 1920s, the male-female ratio among non-Micronesians was 5:1, by the mid-1930s it was 3:2. More women in the area of course meant more Japanese kids, which would further expand the Japanese population–and possibly result in more Japanese nationals staying in Micronesia longer. And so the marginalization of Micronesians in their own homeland continued; there’s no reason to think, had World War II not abruptly ended Japanese rule in the area, that this trend would not have continued.

Even fishing, long a part of Micronesian economies, was dominated by outside labor by the 1930s. Micronesia was particularly suited to the production of katsuobushi, a sort of dried fish flake made from bonito that forms the basis of dashi–a base that’s core to Japanese cooking in the way that vegetable, chicken, and beef stock is to European cuisine.

Producing katsuobushi is extremely labor intensive and requires a great deal of expertise, particularly in the early 20th century when the process was just beginning to be mechanized. Local Micronesians proved unable to ward off large Japanese businesses like Nan’yo Kohatsu (which set up its own fishing subsidiary) and imported, you guessed it, even more Korean and Okinawan workers to man their large fishing ships.

Where Micronesians were offered employment by the Japanese businesses operating under the auspices of the Nan’yocho, it was almost always in dirty and dangerous work. For example, Palau is home to substantial phosphate deposits, the mining rights for which were a major cash cow for the Nan’yocho. The businesses given contracts to mine there employed large numbers of Micronesians from all over the region–most voluntarily, but some having been essentially dragooned into the work. Conditions in the mines were terrible–long shifts and deadly hazards within the mine shafts were the norm. The workers were subject to other abuses as well; the first company to get a mining contract from the Nan’yocho had it abruptly terminated within a year when it was discovered they’d been paying workers not in cash, but in worthless IOUs that had no money to back them.

Together, these three products–sugar, phosphate, and katsuobushi–formed the backbone of Micronesian exports to Japan–and remember, due to the policies set by the government back in Tokyo, the colony was not allowed to trade with any nation outside of Japan proper.

Sugar accounted for more than 50% of exports by value in 1938; katsuobushi and phosphate another quarter. Of these, Micronesians themselves only ever really saw profits from the phosphate industry, and only under exploitative and dangerous conditions.

And there was a lot of profit to be made, make no mistake. In the early 1920s the Nan’yocho was more or less permanently in the red, with the bulk of its revenue coming from subsidies sent by Tokyo to prop the colonial government up. By the mid-1930s the Nan’yo region was turning a substantial profit, and the Nan’yocho itself had 3 million yen worth of reserves in its back pocket. The sugar industry alone had grown from about 4 million yen of exports in 1927 to 19.5 million 10 years later.

But basically none of that money was coming back to the Micronesians themselves; much like the land, which now housed more colonists than native people, the economic benefits of industrialization were accruing far more to the colonizers than the colonized.

Finally, and at long last, we come to social policy. And this is a tricky one to talk about, because in many ways the Nan’yocho never had a coherent social policy towards the Micronesians themselves. Put simply, the bureaucrats sent from Tokyo didn’t really know what they wanted Micronesians to be.

On the one hand, those bureaucrats would often try to follow a template from the systems of social control implemented on the Japanese mainland; we’ve already seen this in the form of the ‘ethics’ classes offered in colonial schools, where the ‘ethics’ in question were less ‘what is right and wrong’ and more ‘is the emperor a great ruler, or the greatest ruler?’ Conveniently, unlike the former question, the latter did at least have an easy to guess right answer if you didn’t want your teacher to hit you.

Nor was the education system the only place where these attempts to mold Micronesians into ‘good subjects’ in the manner of mainland education took place. For example, Nan’yo bureaucrats made a concerted–but largely ineffective–effort to extend the state-backed system of Shinto shrines into Micronesia.

In Japan, state control of Shinto was a fraught and complicated thing–even the term Shinto was coined in the early Meiji period, which is why you see some historians who are hesitant to refer to practices from before that time with the term ‘Shinto.’

There was a whole complex web of government bureaucracy navigating the exciting world of the old shrines and their traditional privileges, figuring out a delicate balance of updating traditional practices to be more ‘modern’ (like constructing a ‘Shinto Wedding’ ceremony modeled on church weddings) while maintaining a sense of antiquity. And of course, all of that was bound up in the complex notions of the divinity of the imperial line, which had grounded its legitimacy in Shinto.

But honestly, all those tangled webs don’t really matter in Micronesia, because Shinto was fundamentally a practice with zero roots in the region and as a result it never really found any sort of footing among the Micronesian population.

The Nan’yocho went through the motions well enough, constructing a network of shrines across the entirety of Micronesia. The centerpiece Nan’yo Jinja, or South Seas Shrine, was built on the city of Koror on Palau (the same place as the administrative headquarters of the Nan’yocho). Established in an elaborate ceremony lasting over three days in November, 1940, the Shrine was dedicated to the veneration of Amaterasu, the sun goddess and progenitor of the Japanese imperial line. It was intended to serve as the highest ranking shrine in Micronesia, a parallel to Koror’s role as the center of Japanese administration in the region.

The intended message, it has to be said, was not subtle.

But even here, there were signs of the ambiguity that Nanyocho bureaucrats always had toward their Micronesian charges. There was always a lingering sense that Micronesians could never really assimilate–and honestly, Shinto is such a uniquely Japanese thing that it’s hard to see it having much appeal even without the specific context of it being forced on the locals at gunpoint.

Micronesian kids learned the basics in school–how to bow at the torii gates, wash your hands, give offerings, all that good stuff–and turned out for celebrations of the shrine matsuri, the festivals where the mikoshi, or portable shrine, was carried around the area to bless it. In some cases, like the shrine on the Yap islands in the Carolines, Micronesians were even encouraged to participate directly in these processions.

More impactfully, they found their other options for religion reduced; in the 30s, the Nan’yocho began to clamp down on and then ban Christian missionaries, who had been operating in the region since Spanish days and had set up parochial schools all over the area. Previously tolerated under the guise of enlightened rule (but really to avoid pissing off the West), the Christian faith came under increasing attack in Micronesia as contradictory to patriotic Japanese spirt.

But all these changes were pretty obviously superficial. Rather unsurprisingly, once the Nan’yocho collapsed, so did any interest among the locals in Shinto; you don’t exactly see practitioners of it running around today in Micronesia.

That Nan’yo shrine in Koror? Most of it was torn down after the war for construction materials to help rebuild the city after allied bombing raids.

Somewhat more effective was the attempt to construct pro-Japanese youth groups called Seinendan (roughly ‘young men’s associations’). Particularly in areas with a heavier Japanese presence, Micronesian seinendan began to spring up, organized by colonial bureaucrats for the purpose of ‘kouminka’–roughly, the creation of imperial subjects.

And these were a bit more effective than attempts at compulsory state shinto participation were, for reasons that frankly are pretty obvious in hindsight. Young men who joined the Seinendan got spiffy uniforms and got to march around looking fancy in them. They had social events, from dances to sports competitions. In a word, they did the kind of social organizing that young people have always enjoyed.

Thus, the Seinendan were actually able to get some genuinely enthusiastic participation from their membership, and several even organized themselves into volunteer labor battalions to help with the construction of public works organized by the Nan’yocho or to help with relief after natural disasters.

All of these activities were suffused with ‘imperial spirit’, of course; for example, on the Marshall Islands, the the Seinendan regularly sang a tune called “Taiheiyo Koushin Kyoku”, or “The March of the Pacific”, which was essentially a fight song for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The lyrics, if you’re wondering, roughly are: “ (If you’re a seafarer, if you’re a man, your day has come, to sail the Japan current bravely together, over the Pacific of your yearning, with a thrill that makes your blood boil.”)

This is getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that when World War II came, it was pretty much only Seinendan members that volunteered for the Teishintai, volunteer units of Micronesian auxiliaries to support the war effort. And those volunteers would find themselves pretty disillusioned fairly quickly.

Indeed, in pretty much every respect, Japanese social policy in Micronesia was a mile wide and an inch deep. Even in areas where the Nan’yocho brought what on the surface was an unambiguous benefit to the population–such as expanding access to medical care–the results were mixed at best. For example, the Nan’yocho did expand hospital access and bring doctors into the region, and on paper Micronesians had equal access to them. But these public services were always profoundly underfunded; for example, in 1935, the total budget in the Nan’yocho for all public services was slightly under 170,000 yen, where the government subsidy for the shipping industry alone was 665,000 yen.

Economic exploitation always came first. And even when it didn’t, the sheer number of immigrants into the region meant that Micronesians had a hard time getting access to the “benefits of civilization” in the form of healthcare; there just wasn’t enough capacity.

I think it is fair to say that in summary, the only thing the bureaucrats of the Nan’yocho cared about was economic exploitation; the welfare of Micronesians came second, if at all. That reality is apparent in pretty much every policy we’ve looked at, from an education system intended to turn Micronesians into useful second class laborers in their own homeland (or even third class, under the Koreans and Okinawans) to immigration and land policies displacing people from their own homelands.

Those policies would, in turn, pay dividends once Micronesia found itself at the forefront of war with the United States–and the carefully constructed edifice of Japanese rule in the area collapsed in just a few short years.