Japanese science fiction of the 1930s.

Hayato. Hayato was created by Sato Minoru and appeared in Gaikoku no n?j? (The Foreign Farm, 1931). Sato (1896-1945) was a Japanese journalist.

The Foreign Farm is set in the near-future, in Brazil, where a Japanese colony has been established. Hayato is a new immigrant to the Japanese colony, and goes on a tour, discovering that a clever inventor, Abe Shinobu, the “Japanese Edison,” has created a group of giant, steam- and electric-powered machines which are robotically farming thousands of acres of land and turning the jungle into arable land. Despite yellow fever, bad weather, the hostility of the Brazilian government and the attacks of natives, the Japanese colonists are triumphing and the colony is spreading. The colony has even rescued Saig? Takamori (1828-1877), the “last samurai,” from his Siberian exile, and made a home for he and his men. But then the United States, jealous of the colony’s success, begins taking actions to prevent Japan from expanding in Brazil and South America in the way that the Western countries have in China and Asia. Abe sees that war between Japan and the United States is inevitable, with the Brazilian colony being the United States’ first target, so Abe (with the help of Hayato, who proves himself to be handy at inventing) creates a “sens? hik?sen” (“war airship”), a technologically-advanced cigar-shaped airship armed with futuristic weaponry, including guided missiles and solar rays. Abe and Hayato staff the ship with a small crew of faithful and patriotic colonists and attack the United States, first demolishing the Panama Canal and then wiping out various army and naval bases. The United States is forced to surrender to Abe and Hayato and Japan takes over all of the United States’ overseas possessions, including the Philippines.

The Foreign Farm falls into what might be called the “white peril” genre of Japanese fiction. Before World War Two and especially during the 1930s there was a tendency in the genre fiction of various Asian countries, especially Japan, to portray whites, either individually or as a group, as cartoonishly evil and filled with lust, spite, malice, and a desire to subjugate all the non-white races, in much the same way that the Yellow Peril stereotype portrays Asians individually and as a group. It is of course unfair to draw a comparison between the White Peril and the Yellow Peril, as that implies some sort of equivalency between the two–the Yellow Peril is much older, much more widespread, and has its roots much more deeply set in the soil of Western culture–but the White Peril is nonetheless a recurring trope in Asian popular culture of the era. Like the Yellow Peril, the White Peril falls into two categories: the over-the-top, ludicrously-overdone evil individual and the depraved, uncontrollable, undifferentiated masses which are irrevocably hostile toward their racial rivals. The Foreign Farm makes use of the second stereotype.

While Japanese White Peril novels were not always science fictional–the White Peril was particularly popular in Japanese spy and detective fiction–the two quite often mixed, so that it can be fairly said that during the 1930s the White Peril was a dominant trope in Japanese science fiction. This wasn’t always the case; during the 19th century mirai-ki (“chronicles of the future”) were popular without indulging in xenophobic bigotry, but beginning early in the 20th century Japanese science fiction took on a largely imperialistic bent and made heavy use of the White Peril trope. One example of this is Oshikawa Shunr?’s six-volume “Captain Sakuragi” series (1900-1907), about a Japanese inventor and his “undersea battleship,” with which he wages war against the fleets of various white nations. The Foreign Farm’s second half owes a great deal to the Oshikawa’s novels.

The setting of The Foreign Farm might seem unusual to Western readers, but it would not have to Japanese readers of the 1930s. Brazil began allowing the Japanese to emigrate to Japan in 1907, and by 1931 tens of thousands of Japanese lived in Brazil. (200,000 by 1935). As might be expected, these waves of immigration did not take place without causing some local resentment, but by 1931 a significant part of rural northern Brazil was as much Japanese as it was Brazilian, with majority-Japanese villages and Japanese businessmen creating pan-American businesses based in Brazil. The Japanese presence in Japan was so significant, in fact, that in 1935, following Japanese-Brazilians attempts to dominate Brazil’s export trade and become the primary debt-holders for Brazil’s merchant marine, the Japanese-Brazilians attempt to form an actual, official Japanese colony within Brazil’s borders. The writer of The Foreign Farm played on this movement in creating the setting of his novel.

Lastly, The Foreign Farm is interesting as perhaps the leading example of Japanese immigrant fiction about Brazil. Immigrant fiction was common in the 19th and early 20th century; many British novelists wrote stories and novels about Britons who went to India to “shake the pagoda tree” (i.e., get rich in India and then return home), and German immigrants to America did the same. But despite the significant numbers of Japanese immigrants who went to Brazil to “squeeze the melon” (as it became known in Japan), few of them wrote novels about the experience. (Undoubtedly this was in large part because of prejudice in Japan during the era toward those Japanese who lived abroad). It is intriguing that the leading example is science fiction.

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