The Empires of Japan
By William Wetherall

The imperial beast as an elephant

As empires go, Japan's was not the largest nor the shortest lived. At its height it was very far-flung, and though it did not endure, it lasted too long for those who did not welcome it, and for those still affected today by its rise, fall, and continuing controversy.

Nor has the Empire of Japan been any easier than other empires to grasp in its singular complexity. The Empire of Japan was, and remains, the proverbial elephant that people describe according to what parts of it they touch and the ideological texture of their gloves.

If you run ungloved fingers over the entire body of the sovereign empire as described in contemporary Japanese laws, and in bureaucratic and other documents based on these laws, it looks very different from the empire described in contemporary English accounts. And the imperial beast described in present-day writing in any language, in terms of what is felt by fingers gloved with "post-colonial critique" ideology, becomes yet another species, if not a different genus or even family, of animal.

This feature feels Japan's imperial elephant with two pairs of gloves -- one pair made with Japanese-language descriptions, the other pair made with English-language descriptions that tended to ignore or distort Japanese metaphors.