Tech-Nation: Networks of Technology, Transportation, and Power in Twentieth-Century Japan

AHA Session 195
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Jessamyn R. Abel, Pennsylvania State University
The Audience

Session Abstract

Tech-Nation: Networks of Technology, Transportation, and Power in 20th Century Japan

It is commonplace today to think of Japan in terms of its high-technology industries.  Twenty-first century consumers, with a Toyota in the garage, a Wii in the living room, and a Casio on their wrist, may not remember a time when “Made in Japan” meant cheap and low quality.  The technological advances made in Japan in the 1960s were central to the re-evaluation of Japan’s national identity, as seen both at home and abroad.  Engineers and bureaucrats imagined renewed national glory emerging from technological fixes to the nation’s energy problems in the form of dams and nuclear power plants.  Organizers of the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad hoped the new bullet train and monorail would bring international respect for Japanese industrial capabilities.  Growing numbers of car owners and drivers saw themselves in a new light.  But none of these ideas were completely new.  The role of technology as a driving force behind Japanese expansion during the war left a profound legacy for the postwar period.  Japanese bureaucrats, engineers, and consumers under various regimes and international circumstances used technology to define their sense of self and build communities.  With papers on dams, power plants, automobiles, and trains, this panel will combine social, cultural, intellectual, and diplomatic history to examine the impact of technology on personal, national, and transnational identities in wartime and postwar Japan. 

The papers will consider the relationships between technology and power, the new communities formed by and around technological advances, and the physical networks created and transformed by these technologies.  Jessamyn Abel’s paper on the bullet train will argue that Japanese leaders sought to raise both national pride and Japan’s position within the international community by creating a new image of Japan as a technological powerhouse.  Eric Dinmore will show how the policy discourse on hydroelectric and nuclear power contributed to a larger high-growth-era quest to create a self-reliant, self-confident, “first-rate” country.  Trent Maxey’s transwar exploration of the automobile considers the socially mediated adoption of technology.  Aaron Moore’s paper will examine the colonial origins of the postwar Japanese development policies that transformed not only the Japanese landscape, but also Japan’s international role through its Overseas Development Assistance programs.  This panel focuses on Japan as part of regional and global communities formed by diplomacy, intellectual exchange, and shared experience.  The issues they explore are inherently transnational.  Therefore, it is likely to draw a diverse audience of specialists on Japan and Asia, along with historians of all regions interested in issues of technology, national identity, empire, and international relations.

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