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In Session: New Approaches to Infrastructures in Japan’s Empire in the Twentieth Century
3: Infrastructure at Sea: Shipping in the Japanese Empire
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of British Columbia, Canada
This paper examines how the institutional structure of the Japanese Empire shaped the development of shipping lines in East Asia. The administration of that empire rested on extensive communication and transportation infrastructures that made possible movements of people, goods, and information. Land-based infrastructures, such as roads, railways, and bridges, facilitated circulation within overseas colonies, while, at sea, a network of shipping lines served as links between Japanese territories. As Brian Larkin (2013) has observed, infrastructure can be examined as a system comprising “an amalgam of technical, administrative, and financial techniques.” In the case of shipping lines, this system comprised material ships as well as institutions that determined ports of call, sailing schedules, and freight and passenger rates. In Japan’s empire, these not only included the private companies that owned and operated ships, but also central, colonial, and municipal government offices that subsidized shipping activities. By developing shipping lines, government officials sought to foster particular movements of commodities and people by reducing transportation costs and thereby transforming what Richard White (2011) has termed “relational space.” Shipping lines were thus at once an integrative infrastructure that linked imperial territories together, and a product of the heterogeneous objectives of multiple institutions. By examining the system of ships, companies, and government subsidies that shaped shipping lines in the Japanese Empire, this paper shows how institutions and communities from across that empire cooperated, and at times competed, to build infrastructure at sea, shape imperial spaces, and generate new patterns of circulation.