In a collective project such as this volume, where different modern imperial formations are discussed side by side, it is tempting to see our chapter on the Japanese Empire as an unassuming addition to what may be called ‘comparative imperial studies’.2 Just as in the British and French empires, Japanese ‘modernisation’ was used to justify the ways in which acquired territories and conquered peoples were transformed and mobilised ultimately for the benefits of the imperial metropole. Modern Japan emerged as a geopolitical ‘centre’ whose relationship to the ‘peripheries’ was one of hierarchical order and insurmountable inequality. Unlike its European counterparts, however, Japanese imperialism involved domination over peoples who appeared infinitely familiar to – rather than different from – the colonising nation in terms of both race and culture. Of particular importance was the fact that much of the East Asian region that fell under the sway of Japanese imperialism had already been culturally unified in its common use of Chinese characters as a medium of writing and intellectual discourse.3 In such a context, the asymmetrical relationship across national borders was legitimised not just by the notion of jinshu (‘race’ in European racial theory),4 but even more importantly

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