- Former Visiting Professor (Lecturer at Leiden University)
- History of Modern Japan / History of Indonesia under Japanese Occupation
Knowing Japan from questing of history
Since finishing my PhD in the field of modern Japanese history at Columbia University in New York, I have been teaching at Leiden University in the Netherlands. My research is focused on the experience of modern Japan and its empire before and during World War Two-along with the legacies of this experience in Japan and across Asia. I'm particularly interested in the experience of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia (1942-1945). In my PhD thesis and my new book which will be published in 2017 (The Japanese Occupation of Indonesia: A Transnational History) I explore the complex wartime interaction between Japanese and Indonesians and its evolution before, during, and after Japan's occupation. I focus on Japanese civilians who accompanied the army as propagandists (「文化人」), and Indonesians who chose to collaborate with them hoping that Japan would live up to its promise to "liberate Asia from Western colonialism." The story is tragic but also fascinating, and very important for subsequent Asian and global history.
My ongoing research on Japan's experience in Southeast Asia has also inspired me to think about the history of the Second World War from a global and comparative perspective. I think looking at the war from an Indonesian perspective, for example, yields new and very important insights into the war's global dimensions. When the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942, Indonesians had been suffering under Dutch colonialism for several hundred years. For this reason they did not see the war the same way as the Europeans or Americans saw it--as a struggle between democracy and fascism, for example. Rather, they saw and experienced the war as a struggle between competing imperial powers--Japanese and Western--and they hoped to take advantage of the situation to build a new and independent nation. The Japanese, for their part, realized that in order to win the war, it was necessary to try to convince Indonesians and other Asians to cooperate with them--they could not afford to repeat the disaster of their war in China. So each side tried to use the other side for their own purposes. If we look around the world during World War Two, we see the same sort of complex situation in many places, such as British India, North Africa, even in Korea and Taiwan: local people caught in the middle between the competing Allies and Axis powers and suffering from it, but also trying to take advantage of the situation to achieve improvements in their lives and national independence, and the imperial powers meanwhile adjusting their rhetoric to try to win local hearts and minds to their side. Over the course of the war, you can see the impact of these sorts of struggles on the thinking and rhetoric not only of Indonesians, Indians, and Africans, but also Americans, Europeans, and Japanese. In this sense, in terms of global history, World War Two was truly a war about the fate of empires and the rise of independent nation states. This is a story that most conventional histories of the war do not pay enough attention to because they are focused on the experience of the combatants--the Americans, the Europeans, and the Japanese--and not enough on the experience of the great majority of the worlds' population who were "in-between."
This is the kind of global perspective that I enjoy developing not only my research, but in my teaching. At TUFS (as well as at Leiden) I offer courses about Japan's and Asia's experience during the 1930s and 1940s, along with the memory of these experiences, from a global and comparative perspective. I think it is very important to continue to explore this history, not only because the war experience continues to have a great impact upon Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors in particular, but also because understanding the complex nature of such phenomena as imperialism, fascism, and nationalism in the past helps us understand the forces that are shaping the present in Asia and around the world.