Japanese Children & Total War


A review of Mobilizing the “Junior Nation”: The Mass Evacuation Of School Children In Wartime Japan, by Gregory Scott Johnson.

In his dissertation on the Japanese wartime evacuation of children and youth (gakudō shūdan sokai) from 1944 to 1945, Gregory Scott Johnson fills a substantial gap in scholarship addressing the impact of the Fifteen Year War on Japanese children and offers insight into the continuity between wartime evacuation policies and contemporary social management and educational policies regarding Japanese children at present.

In Chapter 1, Johnson articulates the overall structure of his argument and the framework of the dissertation as a whole.  Historiographically, he situates his work within an emerging body of literature devoted to understanding the history of the strategic mobilization of children and youth amidst total war during World War Two.  Johnson argues that similar to Great Britain and Germany, Japan’s policies toward evacuation were predominantly a form of strategic mobilization that viewed children as valuable resources of the state, rather than human beings in their own right.  However, Johnson claims, it was the interpretation of the notion of “resources of the state” that created confusion among Japan’s wartime officials as they attempted to develop a coherent policy of evacuation in 1944.  Such confusion delayed the process of formulating a consistent evacuation policy (and thus implementing evacuation itself) and ultimately undermined the notion of “family state” (kazoku kokka).  Theoretically, Johnson focuses on the notion of “social control” in reference to Jacques Donzelot in order to consider the way in which the increased monitoring of children during prewar Japan fostered a strategic and guided mobilization during World War Two.  In this regard, Johnson references works of modern Japanese history devoted to understanding the social intrusion of state power within the lives of its subjects such as that of Sheldon Garon and David Ambaras.  Drawing on the work of Arthur Marwick and Michael Prinz, Johnson ultimately concludes that Japan’s Fifteen Year War is at the heart of social welfare policy during the postwar era and that easy divisions between wartime social policy and postwar social policy cannot be assumed, especially in the case of the education system and the social control of children and youth.

Chapters 2 and 3 trace the antecedents of wartime evacuation policy, from the 1890 Rescript on Imperial Education to the monitoring of daily life and health of the child that culminated in the 1932 “guidance for daily life” program, as well as the adoption of military-style uniforms in 1937 (p. 61). Within Chapter 3, Johnson explores the notion of “out of classroom experiences” (p. 109) during the early twentieth century and the ideal of rustification that became a key underlying rationale in attempting to promote the evacuation policy to communities and parents.  Finally, he shows how from 1938, the Advisory Council on Education justified a series of reforms leading to the extension of the classroom into every aspect of daily life through the ideology of rensei, “life training,” as the complete expression of the Imperial Rescript on Education (p. 90).

In Chapters 4 and 5, Johnson describes the multiple institutional understandings of evacuation and the conflicts that delayed the coherent implementation of evacuation. Chapter 4 illustrates that although officials within Tōjō Hideki’s cabinet (including Tōjō, himself) primarily viewed Japanese children and youth as military resources of the state needed for urban defense, there was an early awareness (1939-1941) of foreign models of evacuation, largely Great Britain and Germany, that ultimately contributed to the 1944 policy of evacuation.  Strikingly, Home Ministry officials were even attentive to evacuation measures taken in Chongqing during Japanese air raids in 1941 (p. 145).  As Johnson shows, municipal officials in Osaka and Tokyo were investigating foreign models of evacuation from 1939, creating separate layers of discussion in regard to evacuation.  Chapter 5 examines the failed attempt to create and implement a coherent policy of evacuation.  While the Tōjō government argued that any move toward evacuation could be perceived as “retreat” (p. 194), municipal officials such as Tokyo Superintendant of Education Ikezumi Motome, reportedly argued that children and youth were vital resources for the continuity and prosperity of the nation in the future (p. 193-194). Ultimately, Johnson’s extensive research reveals that these conflicting visions of children as resources created a chaotic ad hoc strategy that delayed the implementation of wartime evacuation.

Chapters 6 and 9 are devoted to understanding the experience of evacuation for the children and youth who were mobilized as citizens of the “junior nation” (p. 379) and the status of minorities within evacuation.  In Chapter 9 Johnson addresses the larger issue of whether minorities such as children of Korean laborers, burakumin, and the physically and mentally disabled were intentionally excluded from the evacuation program. Johnson argues that while such populations were not definitively excluded within the national policy of evacuation, their evacuation was delayed or disregarded because of economic status or discrimination.  In the case of the Kōmyō Kokumin Gakkō for handicapped students in Tokyo, evacuation was delayed until May 1945; in the meantime, the superintendent asked students to follow the regime of rural evacuation sites in situ. When Kōmyō students were finally evacuated to Nagano, they were held to be “unJapanese” because of their disabilities (p. 404).

In Chapters 7 and 8, Johnson focuses on the ideology of the family state and its relationship to evacuation.  Chapter 7 compares Japan’s program of evacuation to those of Great Britain and Germany in regard to underlying idealizations of family and state, rustification, and group living.  Johnson gives particular attention to the family ideology of the state in Germany and Japan and how this was undermined by evacuation policy in which children were removed from families as collective military resources of the nation.  In Chapter 9, Johnson returns to this point, tracing the way in which the disintegration of the family during wartime Japan conflicted with state visions of the ideal family as a reflection of the state.  For some ideologues evacuation could be viewed as a means to train children and youth collectively for the purposes of the state.  Thus, the notion of evacuation itself revealed internal divisions among officials and created contradictions with the family ideology.

Chapter 10 uses Johnson’s oral histories of individuals who were evacuated in 1944 and 1945, as well as memoirs, to discuss the memory of evacuation and its status in contemporary Japanese society.  While evacuees overwhelmingly recall conditions of privation such as hunger, disease, bullying, and theft, many have transformed their memories into a legacy of endurance and fortitude.  Most significantly, many former evacuees have come to view their experience within an anti-war context.

Historiographically, Johnson’s ambitious dissertation contributes a wealth of information regarding the ideological construction of the policy of wartime evacuation of children and youth in Japan during World War II from 1941-1945. Revised as a monograph, Johnson’s work also promises to reveal significant insights on the tension between social control and its disintegration. In particular, Johnson’s research draws attention to the ways in which powerful ideologies may be weakened due to the chaotic nature of institutional structure and the uncontrollable forces of change.

Tanya Sue Maus
Department of History
Wittenberg University

Primary Sources

Zenkoku Sokai Gakudō Renraku Kyōgikai, ed. Gakudō sokai no kiroku,1-5. Tokyo: Ōzorasha, 1994.
Satō Hideo. Kyōiku no bunkashi, 2 Gakkō no bunka, Tokyo: Aunsha, 2005.
Tokyo-to Kōbunshokan, ed. Shiryō Tokyo-to no gakudō sokai. Tokyo: Tokyo-to Jōhō Renraku Shitsu, 1996.
“Osaka-shi gakudō shūdan sokai genchi ky!iku sankō shiryō,” November 2, 1944. In Osaka no gakudō sokai, ed. Akatsuka Yasuo, 222-249. Tokyo: Creative 21, 1996.
Oral Histories compiled by the author

Dissertation Information

Indiana University. 2009. 486 pp. Primary Advisors: Richard Rubinger, Gregory Kasza, Edward McClellan, and George M. Wilson.