by Ray Matsumoto
Japan acquired the Southern Manchurian Railway Company (Minami-Manshū Tetsudō kabushiki gaisha, SMRC) following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War. The modern railway system, spanning from Changchun to Lüshun (roughly seven-hundred miles), attracted countless tourists from Japan and the West. The SMRC instantly became Japan's largest company. In its inaugural meeting in November 1905, it had an authorized capital of roughly 200 million yen (Fogel and Itō). The company also quickly became one of Japan's most profitable companies as the SMRC netted 14 million yen in profits by 1912 (Fogel and Itō).
Another company that contributed to Japan's rise in tourism was the Japanese Tourism Bureau (JTB). Founded in 1912, JTB served as a tourist company for foreign visitors in Japan. Two years later, JTB opened its first branch in Manchuria. The company served to expand Japanese tourism in Manchuria, the Japanese mainland, and Korea. JTB-Dalian rapidly grew, notably following the Japanese invasion and establishment of Manchukuo. The staff numbers at the JTB-Dalian main branch increased from 160 in 1931 to over 1,000 in 1941 (Young 262). JTB also expanded its locations in Manchukuo, opening offices in Shinkyō (Capital of Manchukuo, Changchun), Lushun, and Harbin, to name a few. Japan's effective tourism campaign in Manchukuo came from the cooperation between the Japanese government and the tourist industry. Government officials actively worked with these agencies to promote Manchukuo tourism—and, ultimately—Japanese propaganda.
The SMRC was not the only feature that attracted tourists to Manchuria. Newly built ultramodern hotels and inns also became increasingly popular. These hotels included luxurious services and amenities, including Western and Japanese food, movie theaters, and golf courses (Ruoff). One of the most popular aspects of Manchuria tourism was the tour buses. Tourists could buy tickets for 1.5 yen to take a three-hour tour around Shinkyō. These tours frequently incorporated the theme of "old and new" by touring historic sites and renovated regions in the city. Many of these spots incorporated traditional Japanese architecture and culture, including the Shinkyō shrine that enshrined the spirits of the Shinto goddess Amaterasu and Emperor Meiji (Ruoff). Another popular tourist destination was the ruins and battlefields from the Russo-Japanese War. Port Arthur, in particular, became popular for war monuments. These sites also became an effective means to spread Japanese propaganda. Many of these tours emphasized ideas of Japanese sacrifice and heroism during the war and its role as a leader of East Asia. At its peak, bus tours in Mukden reached 62,535 people in a single year (1940, Ruoff).
Magazine publications were another popular form of advertising to promote tourism in Manchukuo. For instance, a publication titled "Dairen," published by the SMRC, describes several locations to visit in Dairen (Dalian) for Western tourists. These include museums such as "the Manchurian Resources Museum," "The Industrial Museum," and research institutes, including "The Central Laboratory," and "The Hygienic Institute." The publication also listed the various means of transportation available in Dalian and the price for each destination. These tourism guides and magazines exemplify the Japanese government's emphasis on accommodation for Western travelers. Manchukuo served to highlight Japanese modernism and the nation's ambitions of internationalism.
These publications were not limited to recommendations for sightseeing. They also included brief descriptions of Manchurian and Japanese history. These "historic" descriptions often served to spread pro-Japanese propaganda to Westerners. Many of these guides also highlighted the economic and industrial success of Manchukuo. The publication "Dairen" describes several aspects of the Dalian economy, from the oil industry to fruit production. These descriptions did not merely serve to illustrate modernization but served as an advertisement for Manchukuo as an opportunity for investment and entrepreneurship.
While many Manchukuo advertisements depicted the state as a utopia, in reality, Manchuria experienced one of the worst forms of Japanese brutalities during the Fifteen-Year War. Although many affluent Japanese and Westerners experienced luxury as visitors and residents, most locals could barely survive. The Japanese abused and exploited the Chinese throughout the occupation. Many locals were forced to give up their farms to Japanese settlers and live in ruin. Most Japanese colonists—who were promised abundant land, food, and resources—also struggled to survive. The tension between the Japanese and Chinese locals also sparked countless violent incidents. Lastly, Manchuria hosted one of the cruelest forms of Japanese atrocities during the war, the biological and chemical warfare research units. One of the most famous of which was Unit 731 in Harbin. According to historian Sheldon H. Harris, between 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese people were killed in Japanese germ warfare field experiments in Manchuria (Kristof).
Elliott, Andrew. "'Orient Calls': Anglophone Travel Writing and Tourism as Propaganda during the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1941." Japan Review, no. 33, 2019, pp. 117–42. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26652978. Accessed 28 Apr. 2023.
Kristof, Nicholas D. "Unmasking Horror -- A Special Report.; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity." The New York Times, 17 Mar. 1995.
Kushner, Barak. The Thought War Japanese Imperial Propaganda. Univ. of Hawai'i Pr, 2007.
Ruoff, Kenneth J. Imperial Japan at Its Zenith: The Wartime Celebration of the Empire's 2,600th Anniversary. Cornell University Press, 2014.
———. "Japanese Tourism to Mukden, Nanjing, and Qufu, 1938—1943." Japan Review, no. 27, 2014, pp. 171–200. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23849574. Accessed 28 Apr. 2023.
Young, Louise. Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. University of California Press, 1999.
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