Minako Sakata – Erasing Convict and the Indigenous: ‘Internal Colonisation’ in Hokkaido as a Process to Transform the External into the Internal


Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Minako Sakata (Tomakomai Komazawa University/Leicester) – Erasing Convict and the Indigenous: ‘Internal Colonisation’ in Hokkaido as a Process to Transform the External into the Internal

From the late 19th century to the end of the Second World War, the Japanese government’s prominent ideology of colonialism was ‘inland territorial expansionism (naich encho shugi)’ that new territories are not colonies but lands which eventually become a part of the main land.  Thus Japan is different from Western powers which dominate and exploit the others. Such ideology first created for and applied to Hokkaido which was the first new territory of the modern nation state Japan and a part of present Japanese territory. In this regard, development of Hokkaido was the first step of nation state building, as well as that of Japanese imperial expansion.

Hokkaido is sometimes called ‘internal colony (naikoku shokuminchi)’ in Japanese historical scholarship without accurate definition. Actually this terminology has an ideological and ahistorical connotation about Hokkaido’s historical position, that Hokkaido has ever been Japanese territory.  Obviously, it was not true. Hokkaido was the land inhabited by the Ainu, the indigenous people, and the early modern Japanese called it ‘Ezochi,’ which literally means the land of the savage or the land of foreigners. In this presentation, I examine both ideological background and empirical process of ‘internal colonization’ of Hokkaido in Japan, as a process to transform external Ainu land into an ‘internal colony’ of Japan.

Hokkaido became Japanese territory in 1855. However it took years until Japanese settlers flooded to Hokkaido after 1890’s. Public construction by convict labour and relocation of the Ainu preceded it. Hokkaido was the destination of convict transportation from 1881 to 1907. Different from the initial government’s plan to make them settle as farmers, these convicts eventually became disposable labour power who left roads and bridges and then disappeared. Relocation/segregation of the Ainu began since the almost same period. Such policies, which were seen in European countries’ oversea colonies, paradoxically transformed Hokkaido quickly into a ‘periphery’ of Japanese state which Japanese settlers believed that they deserve to gain it.


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