Between 1869 and 1945, Japan took, expanded and kept a vast empire in Asia and the Pacific stretching from the Aleutian Islands south through Korea, China, Taiwan, Micronesia, Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea to the island of Nauru. Most people accept that although the Empire of Japan had shaping effects on Asia after it collapsed with Japan's defeat in the war against China and the western empires, And yet, remnants of Japanese imperialism persist. These ruins of Japanese imperialism are subjacent in Asia, below but not beneath. From their hidden places, they continue to induce and contour ecologies, personhood, social and political relations, and thinking in forms that resemble the contours Japanese imperialism itself: the undead empire. Vivian Blaxell investigates the subjacent ruins of the undead Japanese empire and reports on their powers in life in Asia today.
In 2007 Kim Soon-ae was an 86-year old woman living in Seoul, Korea. In 1943, she was Mariam Johari, a 22 year-old Malay single mother with three small children living in Plentong, a small town in Johor just across the strait from Singapore. In May 1943 Japanese soldiers abducted her. They forced her to work building an airfield. In the labor camp, Kim met a Korean soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army. They fell in love, and after the war ended, she ended up with him in South Korea without papers. For more than 60 years Kim was stranded and almost entirely invisible. Her three children in Malaya presumed her dead. Then chance intervened. Her story became public and she was able to see her children, now old and gray themselves, again before she died. This project throws long overdue light on Kim and the thousands of other women and their children who, like Kim, ended up far from home, stateless and unseen because of their relationships with imperial Japanese army personnel.
In 2011 a Japanese charity in Bangkok discovered Karja Wiredja living in rags in a remote community near Thailand's border with Myanmar. 65 years earlier he had been taken away to work on the notorious Thai-Burma railroad. When Japan's empire in Asia collapsed in 1945, Karja was left stranded, impoverished and stateless in Thailand. The Japanese charity returned Karja to his small hometown in central Java but it was too late: his family had vanished and people could barely understand his way of speaking the local language. Karja is just one of hundreds of thousands of men from Southeast Asia forced to work on Japan's imperial projects who were taken far from home and never returned after the war ended. This project seeks these vanished men in Borneo, the Andaman islands, and in northern Thailand, and brings them into the light at last.
alive: the undead empire means that the lives of women like Kim Soon-ae/Mariam Johari and men like Karja Wiredja go unrecorded and forgotten no more.
The things that the Japanese Empire built, the spaces that it made, and the artifacts it left behind are not harmless.
Entrance to the 9/18 Memorial, Shenyang, China
The island of Hokkaidō is almost always thought of as a natural, timeless part of Japan: the fourth home island after Honshū, Kyūshū, and Shikoku. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before 1869, Hokkaidō was Ezo, the homeland of the Ainu people. In the summer of 1869, the new government in Tokyo announced that Ezo was part of Japan, renamed it, and began settling and transforming it. Now Hokkaidō is Japan's oldest colony. Here, the empire only seems undead; in fact, it is very much alive, enslaving the Ainu people, their land and their natural resources in regime of poverty and exploitation.
In 1879, Japan annexed the Kingdom of the Ryūkyūs, sent its monarch into exile in Tokyo, and renamed the islands, Okinawa Prefecture, making it Japan's second imperial acquisition. Although Okinawa became a U.S. property when Japan's empire collapsed in 1945, it reverted to Japan in 1972. Now, Okinawa is caught and controlled by the machines of two major machinic powers: the United States military and its machines and Japanese capitalism and its machines.