Studies on Islam and Muslims by Japanese during World War II: A Focus on Geographic Studies

The purpose of this presentation seeks to describe characteristics of those geographical studies published during World War II and to discuss how Japanese geographers recognized and represented the “Islamic world” under geopolitics pressure by comparing with those of pre-World War time. It is said that studies on Islam and Muslims had drawn increasing attention in Japan since the middle of the 1930s, when Imperial Japan was beginning territorial expansion in China and the South Sea or the Southern Area (Nan’yo) as well as economic advance in the Middle East countries. The empire recognized the urgent necessity to adopt an “Islam policy” (kaikyõ seisaku) because those countries had a large Muslim population. Academic institutes were established in the 1930s to study on Islam and Muslims living in those regions and to strengthen ties between Japan and the “Islamic world”, with different financials support and subsequent interventions by the imperial government.

Today’s researchers, mostly historians, anthropologists and area studies specialists, have analyzed and reconsidered publications and reports on Islam and Muslims in wartime Japan from the perspective of its relation to the abovementioned “Islam policy” and other imperialism policies. However, there is no systematic review on geographical studies on Islam and Muslims in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. During World War II, the study of geopolitics came into vogue within the world of Japanese geography studies. Considering the influence of the Pan-Islamism and “Islamic policy” on academic research, it is significant to investigate the ways in which the view of the “Islamic world” held by geography scholars including scholars of geopolitics of those days.

This presentation reviews the regional geography studies published during World War II by the two major trends in geopolitical studies within the Japanese geography world at the time as well as works published before/during World War II that contained the keyword ‘geography’ in the Japanese Islam and Muslim studies database.

In the pre-war period, except for pioneering works on the contemporary Arab countries based on fieldwork, the focus of a geographer’s attention to Muslims was directed to the study of history of geography centring on medieval Islamic geography. Terms such as “Muslim countries” and “Islamic Sphere” used in this study signify an area ruled by Muslims, namely “the historical Islamic world”. However, the attention of Japanese geographers was clearly directed to Muslims living in the contemporary world, and their religious practice, motivated by geopolitical concerns, in order to contribute to national policies due to World War II. Some Japanese geographers including those who actively engaged with geopolitics described the “Islamic world” as a uniform entity that transcends state boundaries, and which has been subjugated by and opposing to the West. They analyses the “Islamic world” and pan-Islamism within the context of the anti-communist measures and building of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.


Academics Under (Geo-)Political Pressure


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