chapter  6
19 Pages

The politics of manic depression in the Japanese empire


Since the last decade, scholarship on colonial psychiatry has become extensive enough to allow for comparative research.2 Although Japan has often been overlooked in such studies, imperialism certainly shaped discussions of mental health in the country. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Japan acquired an extensive and multiethnic empire, gaining control over Hokkaido (1873), the Ryukyu Islands (1879), Taiwan (1895), Korea (1910), and Manchuria (1932). As in other empires, ideas about racial and ethnic hierarchies were used to justify rule. Unlike its European counterparts, however, Japan often shared physical traits and cultural traditions of the peoples whom they colonized. There was thus a greater reliance on other methods of setting colonizers above the colonizedmethods that psychiatrists were demonstrably eager to provide through the depiction of mental disorders and differences in susceptibility based on race and ethnicity. Following James R. Bartholomew’s lead, specifically his attention to the

various social, economic, and political factors that interacted with scientific research, this chapter examines a purportedly minor condition for Japanese in illustrating the extent to which psychiatric discourse reflected professional interests and concerns about the maintenance, expansion, and defense of empire.3 Like Bartholomew, historians who have charted the development of psychiatry in various European countries effectively contested the view of medical knowledge as value-free or “derived from supranational scientific principles and hence … impervious to such influences as culture, politics, or individual idiosyncrasy.”4