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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien


Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
3-3-6 Kudan-Minami, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-0074
Tel: 03 – 3222 5198
Fax: 03 – 3222 5420


The Bunson-Movement in the 1930s and 1940s:How Japanese Bureaucrats Tried to Bring Millions of Agricultural Settlers to Manchuria

May 16, 2001 / 6.30 P.M.

Anke Scherer, Ruhr-University Bochum

After the Kanto-Army established Manshukoku as a ‘puppet state’ in Northeast China in March 1932, plans were made to people the vast expanses of Manchuria with agrarian settlers from Japan. Until 1936 the Japanese government did not support those plans, mostly for financial reasons. However, due to the constant lobbying of agrarian nationalists around Kato Kanji, a few hundred paramilitary settlers were sent to Manchuria in this early phase.

In the summer of 1936 policy changed, and mass migration to Manchuria was made a national goal. Plans were quickly drawn up to send one million households to Manchuria over the course of the next 20 years. To implement these ambitious plans, the ministries in charge developed the ‘bunson undo’, the “Movement to Divide (and Relocate) Villages”. The objective was to ease the crisis of the domestic rural economy by turning so called ‘surplus population’ from the countryside into the agrarian settlers the Kanto-Army wanted for Manchuria.

However, this new scheme fundamentally altered the nature of the migration, since from now on emigration was no longer the decision of an individual or a family. Communities that participated in this “Village Division (and Relocation) Movement” had to draw up plans for mass emigration – and than had to recruit enough households to fulfil their quota.

This presentation looks into the implementation of the ‘bunson undo’ at the village level. How did prefectural and local administrators plan and carry out the ‘export’ of hundreds of households from a community? Who were the activists – and who the opponents of the movement on the village level? Who was recruited for migration and how? How did the mass emigration affect a village and its economy? And finally – assuming that the main objective of the “Village Division (and Relocation) Campaign” was to solve the problem of ‘rural overpopulation’ and to improve the economic situation of the remaining part of the population – to what extent did the campaign achieve these goals?