Erica X Eisen

Sun of All Suns


ISSUE 96 | PROPHECIES | JAN 2021


Avenue and Unit Quantity by Ravi Zupa.

In 1950, a religious studies scholar by the name of Ōkawa Shūmei1 completed a curious translation of the Qur’an. By that time, Japanese translations of Islamic scripture were no longer such a novel thing—his was the third to be published in the space of roughly two decades—but the manner of its creation was very strange indeed, completed as it was over three years while Ōkawa was in solitary confinement in a wing of Matsuzawa Hospital for the Insane in Tōkyō. A clinician’s report about his translation reads as follows:

Ōkawa believes Muhammad comes to him. In his vision, he states that he sees Muhammad dressed in a green mantle and white turban. Muhammad’s eyes glow brilliantly, and his presence fills him with courage, enthusiasm, and contentment... Patient believes that this is a religious experience. Muhammad enables him to understand the Qur’an as he was never able to understand it before. There is no conflict with his Buddhist faith because he states that there is only one God: and Muhammad, Christ, and Buddha are all prophets of the same God.
Though on second thought, it’s not entirely clear how much credence one should give to Ōkawa’s claims about hallucinations, as he had been ordered confined to the asylum at a military tribunal where many of his fellow defendants were sentenced to execution by hanging; as such, it’s an open question as to whether he was merely feigning madness when, for instance, he started slapping former prime minister Tōjō Hideki in the courtroom and had to be forcibly restrained. Had the charges against Ōkawa not been dropped due to his mental state, it’s likely he would have received the death sentence for the war crimes of which he stood accused.

Then again, perhaps this translation—and the admixture of Japanese nationalism and Islamophilia out of which it was born—is not so unusual after all. Before the end of the 19th century, Japanese contact with the Islamic world was virtually nonexistent; today, the country’s Muslim population remains small, consisting almost entirely of labor migrants and students from countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. But for a brief period in the early 20th century, a group of Japanese Muslims was earnestly proposing that the future of their country was Islamic—and people in serious positions of power were listening. What follows is an account of the rise and fall of their movement—and the ways in which their religious dreams became increasingly intertwined with the political aspirations of the Japanese fascist state.

* * *

For all intents and purposes, Japan’s engagement with Islam begins in 1890, when the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II dispatched the good ship Ertuğrul as a gesture of goodwill, only for it to be sunk by a typhoon off the coast of Kushimoto, drowning over 500 souls along with it. The Ertuğrul tragedy led to an outpouring of national sympathy in Japan, culminating in the creation of a monument to the dead, the dedication of a day of remembrance held every five years (still observed to this day), and the disbursement of consolatory payments to the family of the bereaved, brought to Istanbul by a merchant called Yamada Torajirō.

For the sake of our story, Yamada’s trip to Istanbul is significant for two reasons. First, he was not merely content to accompany the Ertuğrul survivors back to Turkey; he stayed, set up a lacquer and porcelain shop in the fashionable district of Pera, adopted the penname Shingetsu (Crescent Moon), and converted to Islam, the first-ever Japanese citizen known to have done so. Prior to this, Japan’s isolationist foreign policy meant that records of contact between it and the Islamic world are few and far between. There’s a 17th-century Turkish map that describes Japan as a nation of people who “love to take cold baths and have high morals”; there are stray accounts of the Turks cobbled together from Dutch traders’ hearsay and printed in Japanese books of exotica like Kōmōzatsuwa (Miscellaneous Stories about the Red-Haired Peoples). Beginning with Yamada, however, inhabitants of the two nations could communicate directly, admiringly. There follows an explosion of cosmological metaphors, as though the heavens themselves were feting this momentous occurrence: the crescent moon and the rising sun, the ascendant star of the east.

The second reason that Yamada’s story is important for our purposes is that it marks the capitulation of a theme that would come to be of paramount importance: the intertwining of Japanese militarism and Islam. For many political thinkers in the Ottoman Empire—which by the time Yamada arrived was not long for this world—Japan was an inspiring example of a non-Western power that had managed to accumulate real military clout on the international stage in the space of a few short decades. This interest only increased after Japan’s rout of Russia (long a geopolitical opponent of the Ottomans) in the Russo-Japanese War, a victory that marked the first time a European empire had been defeated by an Asian power. Togo, the surname of the commanding admiral of the Japanese fleet during the war, enjoyed a brief flare of popularity as a given name for boys in Turkey. As for Yamada, he would go on to receive an appointment to teach Japanese at the Ottoman military academy; fittingly, when he received an audience with Abdulhamid in 1892, he presented the sultan with a suit of samurai armor.

The Ottoman Empire was not the only Muslim country at this time to be studying Japan closely: elsewhere, too, young pan-Islamist thinkers looked to Japan as a model of patriotism, military might, and—perhaps most importantly—cultural and political independence from the West. The Persian poet Adib Pishavari, for instance, wrote a long poem of praise addressed to Emperor Meiji entitled the Mikadonameh.2 In the early 1900s, a Calcutta newspaper went a step further and printed rumors that the emperor of Japan had actually converted to Islam; from there, word of this wonderful occurrence spread into Iran and Central Asia. Abdul-Azim Sāmī, a scribe at the Manghit court in what is now Uzbekistan, latched onto this theory, interpreting Japanese Muslims as the “house of Qahtan” mentioned in Islamic eschatological writings. The emperor’s conversion, he declared, could only hail the coming of the mahdi and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Few went as far as Sāmī, but the year 1906 brought perhaps the most exciting, most widely discussed bit of news about the state of Japan’s soul: the announcement that Tōkyō was preparing to host a congress on world religions, after which a council of shrewd judges would select the one true religion to be the faith of the nation. It was in this context that, in 1906, a young Indian Muslim by the name of Sarfaraz Husayn, determined to bring the light of Islam to a new land, boarded a steamship bound for Japanese shores.

* * *

“ASIA is one”—so reads the declarative opening sentence, caps and all, of Okakura Kakuzō’s Ideals of the East, written in English during the author’s stay with the Tagore family in Calcutta. Okakura continues: “The Himalayas divide, only to accentuate, two mighty civilisations, the Chinese with its communism of Confucius, and the Indian with its individualism of the Vedas. But not even the snowy barriers can interrupt for one moment that broad expanse of love for the Ultimate and Universal, which is the common thought-inheritance of every Asiatic race.”

Ideals of the East is probably the most famous distillation of the philosophy of pan-Asianism, which posited both that Asia was united by a single, unified culture and that this culture was fundamentally and irreconcilably different from that of the West (also conceived of as a single cohesive unit). Though Okakura treats the Islamic world in less depth than he does the cultures of Japan, China, and India, he nevertheless argues that it was fundamentally of a piece with East and South Asia:

Arab chivalry, Persian poetry, Chinese ethics, and Indian thought, all speak of a single ancient Asiatic peace…. Islam itself may be described as Confucianism on horseback, sword in hand. For it is quite possible to distinguish, in the hoary communism of the Yellow Valley, traces of a purely pastoral element, such as we see abstracted and self-realised in the Mussulmân [sic] races.

Let us not take this very concept of “Asia” itself for granted. The most common Japanese word for Asia, アジア (Ajia), is simply a foreign borrowing that came into the language after contact with the West.3 Prior to this, Japanese maps drew from both Buddhist cosmology—producing three-country maps, with India at the center flanked by Japan and China—and Confucian ideas that arranged countries according to cultural proximity and degree of perceived “barbarism.” Not only did these earlier ideas of geography provide no unifying conceptual link between Japan and places such as Central Asia and the Middle East—these latter regions were not even included. So if Okakura’s three-word mantra that “ASIA is one” was the culmination of major conceptual shifts in the way that Japan viewed the world and its place in it, it also relied upon and replicated Western colonial ideas about an undifferentiated “East.”

Writing with an Indian pro-independence readership in mind, Okakura sharply criticizes the British Raj and sees in it an object lesson for why Asia needed to unify politically—but not on an equal playing field. For Okakura—and others who followed in his philosophical footsteps—Japan was clearly the country that should be at the head of this great continental union. Japan, after all, had rapidly industrialized without jettisoning its traditional beliefs and cultural practices, a tricky balancing act embodied in the political slogan wakon yōkai (Western technology, Japanese spirit). Japan, unique among all countries in the world, possessed an unbroken imperial lineage (connected to the gods, no less) that granted it a special, quasi-sacred status as a nation. And Japan had preserved, intact and immaculate, the material culture that had elsewhere been despoiled due to invasions by Western powers or internal political instability.4 As such, pan-Asianists concluded, Japan was the only country that could even begin to (re)build a unified Asia.5 Here we arrive at the contradictory heart of the pan-Asianist philosophy: a promise of international brotherhood that quickly morphed into a stalking horse for Japanese ultranationalism, a movement in opposition to Western imperialism that ended up merely paving the way for Japan’s tanks to roll through China, Malaya, and the Philippines.

* * *

Things began to go south for Husayn immediately upon disembarking in Japan. Much to his shock, none of the people he encountered seemed to know that their country was poised to select a new state religion, an issue that should surely have been on everyone’s lips. More worryingly still, the would-be missionary was unable to locate the site of the grand religious conference or to find any of its organizers, speakers, or attendees. The journalists he spoke to when he visited newspaper offices were unable to help him; pitying columnists wrote up the story of the lost Indian traveler and asked locals to provide any information about the conference that they could. None was forthcoming.

The organization Husayn was looking for, the Society for Religious Research, did not exist, nor did the congress of world religions that it had supposedly organized. The emperor had not converted, nor were his subjects poised to do so, and the mahdi, it seemed, was still waiting in the wings of eternity. Despite all the wishful thinking on the part of pan-Islamist writers from mainland Asia, the actual Muslim community in Japan at that time had quite a lot of growing to do. In these early days, the few Muslim who resided in Japan were immigrants—largely from either Russia’s Turkic communities or from India—who were more interested in going quietly on with their lives than they were in proselytizing to their neighbors. But just a few years after Husayn left the country without having won a single soul to his cause, a decidedly more charismatic figure would arrive, a Tatar nationalist who would succeed in making the first conversions to Islam on Japanese soil.

Abdürreşid İbrahim was on the run from the Russian law when he first set sail for Japan in 1908: a journalist and political activist, he’d been forced to leave his home when the anti-Russian pamphlets he authored fell afoul of the tsarist authorities. Though his initial stay in Japan lasted only a few short months, he quickly managed to ingratiate himself with the wealthy and influential. He managed to score a visit to the House of Representatives, for instance, where he was warmly introduced by an MP as “our Tatar brother of Genghis Khan descent.” At a soirée hosted by a pan-Asianist club, İbrahim proffered a square of white silk and inscribed upon it a line from the hadith with a calligraphic flourish: “Seek knowledge even unto China; if not found, look for it around China.” This quotation, he explained to his audience, surely illustrated the high esteem in which the Islamic world had held Japan (which İbrahim asserted was no doubt what the Prophet meant by “around China”) since the faith’s very inception—a brotherhood, he argued, that it was up to them to rebuild in the present.

And in this rebuilding he saw a great role for himself. In a travelogue he later published in Turkish, İbrahim describes the moment he was “called” to convert the Japanese: when he witnessed Christian missionaries in a village handing out anti-Islam screeds whose covers featured an illustration of Muhammad brandishing a sword in one hand and a Qur’an in the other. If Japan’s citizens didn’t hear the truth about Islam from Muslims, he realized, they would certainly hear lies about it from non-Muslims. The secret to converting skeptical interlocutors, he related, lay in framing it as a matter of cultural preservation: Christianity, if it made inroads in Japan, would attempt to supplant traditional values, whereas Islam would not. “Many of the most important personalities as well as many members of parliament and of the elite [have] converted to Islam,” he boasted in the pages of an Istanbul newspaper. “Although this movement is still small, the future will be brilliant.”

İbrahim’s activity began attracting not only souls but also scholars. In 1920, Sakamoto Ken’ichi published the first-ever translation of the Qur’an into Japanese, followed by another 18 years later; copies of it were sent abroad to Muslim countries as gestures of goodwill and fraternity. The 1930s witnessed an explosion of research institutes on Islam: the Association of Islamic Culture, the Research Institute for the World of Islam, specialized departments in the East Asia Economic Research Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We arrive then at the day in May of 1938 when Islam in Japan reaches its golden moment: the opening of the first-ever mosque in Tōkyō. The event had been timed so as to coincide with Muhammad’s birthday; a prince of Yemen was in attendance, a Saudi ambassador, and consuls from Afghanistan, Egypt, and Turkey. İbrahim, who was appointed to be the community’s imam, led the crowd in prayer. Also present was Pu Gong, a cousin of Manchuria’s puppet emperor Pu Yi and himself a convert to Islam, who stated in a speech that he had decided to become a Muslim because he was awed by the degree of respect Japan accorded to Islam.6 Present too, albeit unseen, was a flow of money from both the Japanese state and some of its largest corporations (corporations, we might note here in passing, that escaped war crime indictments after the armistice by only the narrowest of margins when America’s anti-communist hysteria made allowing the Japanese economy to rebuild along capitalist lines a more attractive prospect than crushing it vengefully into the dust). The Tōkyō Mosque was Japan’s most high-profile house of Islamic worship but not its first: it was only the latest in a string of new religious centers from Nagoya to Kōbe. “The Sun of Islam has now risen in this Land of the Rising Sun,” a Muslim magazine in England proclaimed. “Japan, through the ever-living Muhammad, can indeed be the conqueror of the world, and at the same time it can be the savior of Humanity.”

* * *

But there was another group in attendance at the Tōkyō Mosque’s opening ceremony—or, if they were not actually present, at least they were watching, listening, recording, and reporting back via secret channels. That group was the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, which opened its report “Japanese Infiltration among the Muslims around the World” with a vivid description of the ribbon-cutting event, at the end of which the agent-authors present us with a strange and puzzling bit of information:

All this interest in Islam might seem to indicate the presence in Japan of a large and highly influential Muslim community. Yet precisely the opposite is true. One of the chief sponsors of the Tokyo Mosque made public in 1941 these revealing figures: total number of Muslims resident in Japan—six hundred; number of native Muslims—three or four.7
So if Japan had so few Muslims—and so few converts after all that fuss—why was the government pouring so much money into researching and supporting Islam? Why had the state and its corporate and military arms gone to such lengths in orchestrating the pomp and circumstance of the mosque opening? And why was the OSS going through the trouble of drafting long reports about the topic?

If İbrahim was a charmer and a fierce advocate for the rights of Turkic peoples, he was also a bit of a liar—when he met with Japanese journalists, for instance, he variously claimed to have been a Russian MP or the leader of Russia’s Muslim subjects despite having held neither of those titles. The hadith he wrote out on a piece of silk at a party is generally considered to be of dubious veracity, and in any case I can find no version other than his that includes the second half, the key half, the half that supposedly references Japan. İbrahim seriously exaggerated his strengths as a missionary in reports to the Turkic world. But that’s not to say that his time in Japan had no effect—he was, after all, a skilled political operator. He had a goal: the liberation of Russia’s Muslims. And he knew how to play to his audience in order to try to reach that goal. And that worked for his audience because they had a goal too. Only their goal was different. Their goal was the conquest of a continent.

Let us take a look at who exactly İbrahim was socializing with when he was touring the country, visiting schools, making speeches, and hobnobbing at parties. The people he spoke to, the people who listened. Let us start with the organization that hosted him on his first trip to Japan: the Black Dragon Society,8 whose founder, Uchida Ryōhei, is often considered the godfather of fascism in Japan. Arguably the most infamous Japanese ultranationalist cell of the period, the Black Dragons were committed pan-Asianists who undertook political lobbying, espionage, and assassinations in the service of expanding Japan’s territorial control. (They also at one point came very close to murdering Charlie Chaplin.) The group counted among its members a number of high-ranking military figures and cabinet members; tellingly, it also included several liberal politicians willing to look past its less savory activities because they supported the goal of expansionism. İbrahim seemed unfazed by all of this; on the contrary, he encouraged Uchida to convert to Islam, telling him that if he did so he would become “a leader for the whole Oriental nation.” In 1909, Uchida, İbrahim, and future Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi (also a member of the Black Dragon Society) signed a pact resolving to promote the spread of Islam throughout Japan.

For right-wingers like Uchida, the appeal of Islam was purely mercenary: turning Japan into a Muslim (or at least Muslim-friendly) country, he thought, would make Japanese rule more appealing to the many Muslim subjects Japan stood to gain as it expanded its territory across Asia. They saw the potential to enlist the sizeable Muslim minorities in countries such as China and the USSR in order to destabilize their enemies. In 1942, the same year Japan completed its invasion of Indonesia, Ōkawa (who would go on to translate the Qur’an in a mental hospital after the war) published a volume of his lectures on religion in which he explicitly framed his scholarship as a tool for Japanese colonial governance: “Now that the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere includes a great number of Muslims it is necessary for our nation to obtain knowledge on Islam,” he wrote. Japan also undertook an intense hearts-and-minds campaign to win over the Muslim communities of Asia, publishing Islamic periodicals, defraying the cost of the hajj, and building and restoring mosques throughout the territory it occupied. “The goodwill of [Asia’s Muslims] promises incalculable political advantages. Japan is in an unequaled position to capture that goodwill,” warned an alarmed OSS agent. İbrahim agreed: “If the Japanese converted to Islam,” he predicted, “they would conquer a third of Asia.”

When İbrahim came off as bullish about Japanese imperial rule, it may just have been because he knew which side his bread was buttered on—he eventually came to reside in Japan at the invitation of the Japanese military. But these kinds of sentiments were not that uncommon among Muslim commentators at the time. Consider this excerpt from an editorial by Sheikh Mushir Hussain Kidwai of Uttar Pradesh, written on the occasion of the opening of Kōbe Mosque in 1935:

I most heartily welcome the rise of Japan in the East as the one power in the East whom Europe and America cannot intimidate.… I feel sad when I notice that even certain Indian journalists attack Japan mercilessly on her foreign policy. I am prepared to forgive one thousand and one faults in Japan for one virtue of protecting at least one portion of Asia from the bloodthirsty hounds of Europe and who had already torn up large and important slices from that portion of Asia over which Japan has now instituted herself definitely as a guardian and has ordered in unmistakable words, in a commanding tone, “hands off China.” [emphasis mine]
The text that follows is an apologia for Japan’s invasion of China and the installation of a puppet government in Manchuria. Kidwai’s article condemned Western imperialism in the harshest possible terms on the one hand and excusing Japanese imperialism and precisely the kinds of “benevolent custodian” framing that bureaucrats of the British Raj might use to justify their control on the other. For these commenters, European colonial powers were so despised that it was tempting to believe Japanese propagandists’ promises of “liberation.”

And it would not be a 20th-century fascist movement if there were not some strange and disturbing race theories involved: a small subset of scholars began pushing the idea that Japanese people were “Altaic,”9 that is, related to the nomadic peoples of Central and Inner Asia (of which, it should be noted, a significant percentage are Muslim). İbrahim himself advanced this argument, referring to Japan’s people as “our Altaic brothers” and drawing numerous connections between Japanese and Tatar culture in his writings. If these arguments about an “Altaic race” strengthened Japan’s claims to a brotherhood with Muslim peoples on the mainland, they also accomplished another rhetorical goal that was close to the heart of many Japanese nationalists: denying ties to China.

But all of this is not to say that there were no true believers among the Japanese pan-Asianists who latched onto Islam. Many of these converts proposed their own idiosyncratic blends of Islam and other religions in an attempt to reconcile their new and their old beliefs. Yamaoka Mitsutarō, a Black Dragon who was converted by İbrahim before becoming the first Japanese hajji, saw in Allah a parallel of the Shintō sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom the imperial family claimed descent. As Yamaoka saw it, Japan’s right—indeed, its duty—to invade other countries fell out of this realization: it was “the heavenly task of our people” to conquer Muslim lands, teach their inhabitants about the connection between Islam and Shintō, and “let them partake of the virtuous rule of our emperor.” Tanaka Ippei, a friend of Yamaoka’s who worked as an army interpreter (and, according to the CIA, as a spy), was likewise drawn to Islam by the web of connections he drew between its practices and those of other religions in Japan. Reading about Ramadan fasts or wudu or the call to prayer, he was reminded of Zen asceticism, Shintō ablution rituals, Esoteric Buddhist mantras. “When I thought about the view of the universe, which was the core idea of the old Chinese belief system,” he wrote,

I could not help but see how the divinity of Muhammad resembled that of kami in Japan. I found a relationship between Confucianism and Islam as well as a relationship between Confucianism and Zen Buddhism; as a result, I discovered the connection between Islam and Shintoism.
If these sound like fringe religious theories, they proved immensely appealing to people in high places. The commander of the Japanese army expounded upon the compatibility of Shintō and Islam at a gathering of Malay religious authorities in 1943, framing Japan’s military campaign as a “holy war” and pressuring his listeners to refer to the war effort as a jihad when addressing their congregations.

For Ariga Bunpachirō, a businessman-turned-missionary who worked on the second translation of the Qur’an into Japanese, Shintō and Islam could be reconciled to each other by simply denying that the former was a religion—merely a way of showing reverence for one’s ancestors that in no way conflicted with the Islamic pillar of monotheism. “Ame-no-Minakanushi is the only kami equal to Allah of Islam,” he argued. “So I suppose that belief in Ame-no-naka-nushi equals belief in Allah.” According to these theories, the Japanese people had really been Muslims the entire time—they just hadn’t realized it. Making Japan a Muslim country, then, was not a question of conversion—merely one of national anamnesis.

But beyond that, turning to Islam was essential for Japan, Ariga thought, because Islam “does not yield in battle and does not fear death.” Just as Okakura had labeled Islam “Confucianism on horseback, sword in hand,” Ariga and his peers embraced Islam probably above all else because they understood it as an intrinsically militaristic religion that was therefore perfectly suited for a growing imperial power like Japan. Ironically, their statements echo (albeit approvingly) the kinds of Islamophobic rhetoric found in the writings of European travelers or colonial administrators—texts that would have been, prior to the Ertuğrul incident, Japan’s primary source of information on the Islamic world. Ultimately, despite their lofty promises of a brighter, freer future for all of Asia, pan-Asianists followed the same Western imperialist playbook they disavowed: making broad and often baseless generalizations about the Muslims in whose best interests they claimed to act while using entire communities as pawns in a much larger geopolitical chess game. Even in their most strident calls for liberation from Europe and America, these thinkers were unable or unwilling to disentangle themselves from Western imperial discourses about Islam. Given this fact, Japanese Muslim nationalists’ dream of conquest through conversion was destined to fail from the start.

* * *

Nor were they able to foresee the resistance put up by Muslims when their invasions began. Muslim minority groups in Burma mounted an insurgency against the Japanese army, and Chinese Muslims pled with members of the League of Nations for intervention against Japan’s attacks. In Malaya, the occupying government’s promises not to interfere with Islamic affairs were repeatedly broken when the Japanese took control of the appointment of religious judges and suspended the work of the Chief Ulama Council, which was responsible for interpreting and transmitting the body of Islamic law. Mosques were also made to host ceremonies of imperial pageantry, such as commemorations of the beginning of the war and the emperor’s birthday, and the Culture and Religion Office would sometimes dictate that political addenda praising the Japanese war effort be added at the end of Friday sermons. Despite what zealots like Yamaoka and Tanaka felt about the self-evident unity of Islam and Shintō, military dictates that required Japan’s colonial subjects to visit Shintō shrines and bow in the direction of the imperial palace greatly upset many Muslims, who saw them not only as an offense to their religion but as a naked attempt at political indoctrination.

Few of the most vocal exponents of an Islamic future for Japan survived the war. Tanaka passed away shortly after returning from his second hajj, receiving the first full Islamic funeral rites ever conducted in Japan in 1934. İbrahim, who conducted the service, died in Tōkyō a decade later, just one year before American firebombing of the city killed almost 100,000 people in the course of a single night. I can find no information about the circumstances surrounding Ariga’s death except that it occurred in 1946. That leaves Yamaoka, who died, senile and destitute but by all accounts still pious, in an old folks’ home near Ōsaka in 1957. And Ōkawa, of course, who continued to be visited by the ghosts of his past visions for the future. From a clinician’s report dated May 11th, 1946:

The patient believes that he has extraordinary powers which others might consider supernatural, but have been attained only because of his profound knowledge of nature, he states. He insists he can cause a man to die by kissing him, and explains the process by saying he extracts poison from the elements of the air, exhaling it in a lethal form.… He has an even greater power, which he will confide only to General MacArthur. His secret will enable him to cause a million men to lay down arms. If MacArthur will not listen to him, it is God’s will, and he will not try to persuade him. But by application of his secret power, the earth would become a paradise, all men brothers, all religions would be unified, and OKAWA would be the embodiment of Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, and Jehovah. If MacArthur agrees to this plan, the foundations will be laid this month, and by July 4 America and Japan can join in ruling the world.

1 All Japanese names are rendered here in family name-given name order.

2 cf. Shahnameh

3 The word is sometimes rendered in Chinese characters as 亜細亜, though this is merely a sound-based transliteration in which the actual meaning of the characters is irrelevant—a “translation” would produce the incomprehensible string of words “sub-thin-sub” or some such nonsense.

4 The idea that serious political arguments were being made on the strength of how well a country had preserved ancient statues and buildings may sound bizarre, but such factors were indeed of extreme importance to Okakura and other aesthetic philosophers of the time, both inside and outside of Japan. It’s of note that Okakura was the architect of Japan’s modern National Treasure system, which designates exemplary works of cultural patrimony for protection and preservation by the state.

5 It’s worth pointing out that Rabindranath Tagore—for all that his family assisted Okakura during the composition of Ideals of the East—was extremely wary of the political views espoused therein. In a letter dated 1915, he wrote, “I am almost sure that Japan has her eyes on India. She is hungry—she is still munching Korea, she has fastened her teeth on China, and it will be an evil day for India when Japan will have her opportunity.”

6 The far more plausible explanation is that he converted because he married a Hui woman.

7 For comparison, the Russian Orthodox Church would have theoretically been in a better position to vie for religious dominance in the country, with 32,000 believers in Japan at this time.

8 Also known as the Amur River Society, the group took its name from the river beyond which it wanted to repulse the Russians, leaving “Asia for the Asians.” The Chinese name for the Amur River is Heilongjian, or Black Dragon River.

9 This is more properly a term for a proposed linguistic family that “metastasized” into the sphere of racial classifications.

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