Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Nan'yo: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, 1885-1945

Book Cover

Book Title

Nan'yo: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, 1885-1945. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press , 1988


Peattie, Mark R.


The nanshin - 'the southern advance' toward tropic lands and seas - existed for many Japanese as a kind of national holy grail, pursued in the 1940s with fatal consequences for the nation. By setting the context for Japanese expansion, Peattie seeks to provide a multi-dimensioned account for the how's and why's of Japanese expansion, not just of Micronesia but also toward the Nan'yo (south islands).

Like Britain, the basic orientation of Japan in ancient and feudal times was continental. Culture and politics peacefully inclined Japan toward China in the seventh and eight centuries; aggressive designs pulled Japan onto the continent in the sixteenth century. Yet the maritime orientations was compelling, Thus, about the time that Elizabethan seamen had established a commanding maritime presence off the coast of northern Europe, Japanese ships ranged from the East China Sea to the Straits of Malacca. The motives for expansion are clearly outlined: domestic settlement of Hokkaido, admiration for Western overseas expansion and a desire to emulate these practices which would strengthen her national power and the dominant Malthusian fears of population growth.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The focus here is on the rise and fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, in the period of 1885-1945. The author explores topics such as the motivation for Japanese expansion, as well as the process of Japanese intrusion into Micronesia. The time covered is more recent since Japanese imperialism had started later than the other Western powers. Yet, 1917 was a milestone in this venture since it was the year that secret treaties were signed with Britain, France, Russia and Italy, for Japan to possess the official document necessary to pursue her claims of the Micronesian Islands after the First World War.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

While outlining the progression of Japanese expansion into Micronesia, there is also a detailed examination into exactly what was obtained at each stage. This highlights the nature of colonization for the Japanese, themselves operating in a new order where it was no longer like the situation surrounding the formation of early European empires, where it was still free-for-all. Japan's expansion into Micronesia contains several parts such as "The First Japanese in Micronesia, 1885-1914", "The Japanese Acquisition of Micronesia, 1914-1922", "The Structure of Japanese Authority in Micronesia", and "Japanese Policy toward the Micronesians".

Another important argument that the author compels readers is the interpretation of the rules by which Japan took possession of Micronesia under its League of Nations mandate. The historian must therefore seek to understand whether, in the pursuit of its opportunities for national self-interest, Japan had betrayed its obligations to the international community and more importantly, to the indigenous peoples placed in its trust. As such, Peattie was able to widen the discussion for the construction of the Japanese empire to the wider context of the international stage, which had provided the official and legal framework for Japan to extend her control over Micronesia.

Annotated by Michelle Djong