The Mitsukoshi journals of the late 1930s and early 1940s offered reporting that followed the empire’s actual and anticipated expansion. The articles were pitched to give readers a sense of connection to these regions at the furthest edges of their Asian imaginary. Their tone echoed the official Pan-Asianist critique of European colonialism in Asia, even as local residents were portrayed to varying degrees as backwards, and thus in need of (Japanese) leadership.
The July 1942 article on “Nan'yō no mise” (Retail in the South Seas) exemplifies this view. The author, Sakurai Shōki, began by pointing to the injustice of the economic dominance of Europeans in places such as Malay and Indonesia. He then sought to rebut the apparently common assumption that commerce would collapse without the Europeans, as local residents were so “primitive” and “lazy” that they could not fill in such a gap. Not to worry, argued Sakurai. With the Europeans gone, local talent would flourish, and Japanese capital and modern expertise, grounded by Japanese historical connections with the region, would easily fill the vacuum. (Mitsukoshi anyone?) Indeed, overseas Chinese and Indians, as well as Malaysians and Indonesians, should embrace this opportunity to enter a Japanese-led “co-prosperity sphere.” Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way.