Between empire and nation: A micro-historical approach to Japanese repatriation and the Korean economy during the US occupation of Korea, 1945-6

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After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, nearly a million Japanese people initiated a massive repatriation movement back to Japan from former imperial Japanese territories in Manchuria and Korea. Utilizing a micro-historical approach to examine Japanese repatriation in southern Korea, this article argues that repatriation unfolded through a three-phase process that demonstrated the historical agency of the Koreans and Japanese in the midst of US occupation controls. As the Japanese began to determine their own identity within a post-imperial nation-state system, they utilized 'secret ships' to move themselves and their possessions back to Japan. US searches of departing Japanese for money and assets reveal the micro-level processes of dismantling the Japanese imperial economy and creating separate national economies in Korea and Japan. As Japanese repatriates evaded the controls through creative counter-measures, the repatriation process itself and the development of the secret ship system created new economic connections between Japan and Korea. The fragments of the Japanese empire were reassembled into new postwar configurations that were dependent on individual choices being made at the ground level by the Japanese and the Koreans as they stood at the transition between empire and nation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-144
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jan 1


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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