Wombs of Empire
Population Discourses and Biopolitics in Modern Japan
Sujin Lee





I think there is a relation between the thing which is problematized and the process of problematization. The problematization is an “answer” to a concrete situation which is real.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia (1983)

Déjà Vu: All-Too-Familiar Problems and Solutions

For decades, Japan has struggled with low fertility rates and rapid population aging issues. Its fertility rate has been hovering around 1.4 births per woman since the mid-1990s, which caused a series of demographic challenges, including the nation’s aging and shrinking population and a labor shortage. The Japanese government has drawn up some solutions in response to the multifaceted population problem. Notably, Kōsei rōdō-shō (Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare of Japan) has taken the initiative in providing financial and medical support for infertility treatments for married couples since the early 2000s.1 Their initiative culminated in enforcing the national health insurance coverage program for infertility treatments starting in April 2022. The program aims to relieve the financial burdens of married couples with fertility issues by including certain types of infertility treatments (i.e., artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and micro insemination) in the national health insurance package.2 Working closely with advisory groups such as the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Central Social Insurance Medical Council, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has sought to facilitate medical and technological intervention in reproduction and thereby increase the nation’s birth rate. Although the infertility treatment support program is expected to incentivize married couples with fertility problems (who account for 35% of all married couples with wives younger than 50 in Japan)3 to opt for medical treatments, some drawbacks cannot be overlooked. Conspicuously, the fact that only married couples with wives under age 43 are eligible for the program reveals conservative gender binaries underlying the government’s population policies. More specifically, while the Japanese government normalizes heterosexual families as the basic unit for procreation, it reaffirms the norm of women’s natural motherhood according to which female infertility is seen as abnormal and pathological. In this view, both heteronormativity and motherhood norms are instrumental in fulfilling the Japanese government’s plan to address the demographic challenge.

Government and medical intervention in reproduction and fertility as primary means of population control are by no means new tactics. They are reminiscent of modern population discourse that attempted to address pressing population issues in multiple ways in the interwar and wartime periods. Since the late 1910s, there was a growing call among social scientists and social reformers to solve the “population problem” (jinkō mondai), which became a buzzword in prewar Japan. Unlike today, Japan wrestled with high fertility rates and the allegedly resultant economic issues, primarily poverty and unemployment, back in the interwar period between the 1920s and 30s. Despite the difference in demographic patterns between the early twentieth century and today, interwar discussions on tackling the pressing demographic issues among scholars, activists, and government bureaucrats reveal more similarities than differences with the ongoing social discussions of population challenges. Particularly, birth control activists, feminists, eugenicists, and social scientists argued for the regulation of population size and the optimization of its quality on eugenic grounds. The interwar discussions on the control of the population evolved into the pronatalist, comprehensive population policies under the total war regime (1937–1945), which sought to transform its population into readily mobilizable human resources for the war efforts and to instrumentalize women’s bodies under the slogan of the “fertile womb battalion” (kodakara butai).

Wombs of Empire: Population Discourses and Biopolitics in Modern Japan traces the trajectory of population discourse in interwar and wartime Japan and illuminates population as a critical site where different visions of modernity came into tension and rationalized differences among bodies. I define population discourse as a constellation of interconnected practices, including knowledge production, social movements, and policymaking for problematizing, regulating, and governing the quantity and quality of a population. Historically, population discourse manifested in the forms of birth control movements, the eugenics movement, and various public health policies and programs involving population science. Although national circumstances influence how population discourse emerge and develop, nation-states are not the predetermined condition for population discourse to exist but their forms of expression that necessitate borders and boundaries between nations, in tandem with racial and gender differentiation. The patterns of how population discourse have emerged and diverged are, in fact, transnational as the discourse have produced protean justifications for dominance, that is, ethnonationalism and racism, colonialism and imperialism, and gender segregation.

It is noteworthy that the notion of population (jinkō) was already introduced in Japan well before different mechanisms of problematizing the Japanese population emerged in the late 1910s. The Meiji government established Tōkei-kyoku (Statistics Bureau) in Naimu-shō (Ministry of Home Affairs) in 1885 and surveyed population dynamics every five years starting in 1898. The centralized survey of demographic statistics in the late Meiji period enabled the quantification of life for the first time in the modern Japanese state.4 Discussions of population quality emerged at the same time with the introduction of eugenics into Japan. Pioneering eugenicists including Unno Yukinori (1879–1954) and Nagai Hisomu (1876–1957) played an essential role in initiating intellectual discussion regarding eugenics. These early eugenicists called for the need to improve the quality of the Japanese race on eugenic grounds.5 The historical narratives around the emergence of the concept of population in modern Japan reveal that population became rendered as a quantifiable form of life on one hand and that the problem of its quality was subsumed under that of the Japanese race on the other. The dyad representation of the population as quantity and quality during the Meiji period set the discursive tone for interwar social discussions and movements around various population issues.

What was distinctive about interwar population discourse compared to the preceding discussions around population was that an inextricable link between quantity and quality problems in the Japanese population began to be established. What was also new about population discourse that emerged in the late 1910s was that the population problem became associated with broader political, economic, biological, and moral problems. How was the intersection between the quantity of population (jinkō no ryō) and the quality of population (jinkō no shitsu) understood by those who called for the need to address a volatile problem labeled as a “population problem”? If particular patterns of population discourse shaped the idea of population, did the population problem actually exist in social reality or did it remain only as a social imaginary? How did the varying discussions of the population problem constitute a focal point where solutions to the problem were justified? In response to these questions, this book delves into ideas, movements, and policies that co-constructed a discursive site where they discussed and deployed various mechanisms of regulating and governing human life instead of searching for the presumed objective truth underlying demographic facts.

Since the late 1910s, when the so-called Great War ended, Japanese reformers and intellectuals actively referenced European and American discourse on population quantity and quality and reproduced them to address contemporary socioeconomic crises experienced in Japan. The formation and growth of neo-Malthusianism, the leftist birth control movement, the eugenics movement, population science and policy during the interwar period reveals multidimensional social and intellectual responses to the crisis of modernity such as economic inflation and depression, class stratification, and social instability. What these various forms of population discourse collectively did was to formulate the modern crises as the problem of population and reproduction, and accordingly, to seek out solutions that primarily involved population control and management either genetically or socially. Despite varying definitions of the population problem, different actors in the population discourse ultimately reimagined wombs as a controllable, predictable, and optimizable entities for their own causes. Given this, the interwar buzzword “population problem” is not descriptive but symptomatic of increasing social, medical, and government interventions in the size and health of the Japanese population to overcome pressing socioeconomic issues. What Michel Foucault calls “problematization”—by which he denotes the discursive process of rendering certain behaviors, phenomena, or processes as a problem—provides critical insight into this discursive construction of “population problem.”6 This book characterizes the wide range of discussions and practices around the population problem as a technology of life constituting certain truths about social relations instead of presuming the existence of the truth about the problem.

Although population discourse arose in response to the predicament of modernity, the historical trajectory of population discourse from the interwar to the wartime period in Japan suggests that both social and governmental sectors attempting to solve the population problem did not necessarily overcome modernity. They rather consummated modernity by maximizing various aspects of modern ideas, practices, and institutions. During the interwar years, neo-Malthusianists ascribed poverty to overpopulation and, therefore, advocated birth control to address the imbalance between population and resources. The idea of controlling over-reproduction and fertility aimed both to optimize the population size and improve its quality, which would ultimately contribute to national progress from the neo-Malthusianist viewpoint. The interplay between scientific knowledge and nationalism is also found in the role of interwar think tanks that produced population science and developed a blueprint for governing various demographic aspects. As will be discussed in more detail in Chapters 4 and 5, the interwar blueprint for managing the quantity and quality of population comprehensively (e.g., fertility and mortality, nuptiality, the standard of living, public health, sanitation, employment, labor productivity, distribution of resources, food production and consumption, migration, and so forth) eventually came into effect under the wartime regime.

With the notion of a “biopolitical state,” I emphasize the integration of interwar population discourse into the wartime state systems and practices that sought to optimize both the quantity and quality of a selected population. The ways in which the total war state orchestrated knowledge and institutions to rationalize demographic management under the quintessential slogan “healthy soldiers and healthy people” (kenpei kenmin) indicate that the wartime regime materialized the interwar initiative to institutionalize population control. By looking into how the wartime fascist regime consummated the interwar blueprint for biopolitical rationalities and institutions, I emphasize the maximization of modern systematic and scientific intervention in the population, as opposed to the blind equation of fascism with merely an irrational, regressive form of power. In so doing, I aim to dissociate Japanese fascism from a culturalist and particularist account and, instead, situate it among various inflections of biopolitical modernity that valorized the systematic, scientific management of bodies.

Population: A Protean Site of Problematizing Life

Previous scholarship on population discourse in modern Japan has primarily examined particular patterns of state control over and knowledge formation around the quality of the Japanese population. Most existing work on state intervention into population control delves into the formation of a range of social policies, including public health and family support policies in the interwar period and discusses the growing importance of population quality (jinkō shishitsu) to the modern Japanese state that ultimately enforced eugenics policies under the National Eugenic Law during wartime.7 The development of social movements and scientific knowledge around eugenics is another central subject of the existing literature on Japan’s population discourse. A body of work on the history of eugenics in the context of Japan illuminates how, on the one hand, eugenic ideas and practices rationalized government and technological intervention into reproduction in the name of science and progress, and, on the other hand, normalized discriminatory treatment of others—whose inferiority was defined on health, genetic, racial, and sexual grounds.8 Meanwhile, there has been an increasing body of literature on the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction in prewar and wartime Japan employing a critical approach to the questions of gender and sexuality.9 Although the concept of population is only indirectly touched upon in the existing research on state and social control over women’s bodies in modern Japan, their critical observation of the history of birth control movements, abortion laws, eugenics laws, and other measures to regulate reproduction has contributed to understanding the politics of sexuality and reproduction—in other words, the social construction of women’s bodies as a primary site of state and scientific intervention in the name of national and racial progress.

As mentioned above, both Japanese and English language scholarships have mainly focused on government-level policies and intellectual discussions that sought to improve the quality of the Japanese population either by enhancing their living conditions or by controlling reproduction. While most existing literature has discussed population control without necessarily explicating what population signified in modern Japan, there is a small body of research that traces the trajectory of the development of population policies to highlight the continuity between the prewar, wartime, and postwar government’s interest in optimizing both the quantity and quality of the Japanese population.10 By defining population policy broadly to include a wide range of government measures addressing both the size and health of the population—for example, the interwar public hygiene and demographic research initiated by Hoken eisei chōsakai (Hygiene Investigation Committee) and Jinkō shokuryō mondai chōsakai (Population and Food Problems Investigation Committee), the wartime National Eugenic Law and pronatalist policy, and the postwar family planning campaign and Shin seikatsu undō (the new life movement)—this body of research on Japanese population policies elucidates that consistent efforts were made to increase control over the life of the population as an aggregated body while individual reproduction became instrumental to the state’s population control measures.11

While this book echoes previous works that highlight the continuity of population policies in transwar Japan, it expands the scope of discussion to include a broad range of intellectual discussions and social movements that problematized the quantity and quality of the population in different ways. The concept of “population discourse” is deliberately adopted to avoid the reductive assumption that population has been merely an object of policies; instead, I argue that population has been a site of politics that seeks to redefine modernity through the biological reordering of human societies. A critical approach to population as a discursive space has been embraced by some scholars who dissociated themselves from the conception of objectivity underlying so-called demographic facts to unveil the complexity of institutional, ideological, and technological landscapes that have legitimized the problematization of a population.12 These scholars have contributed to a renewed understanding of population as a discursive form whose elements are not only quantified but also “selectively disaggregated and made the objects of social policy and projects,” as Bruce Curtis puts it.13

If a population is a discursively composed entity to identify subjects to be governed, a population problem is “discovered” to facilitate institutional, ideological, and technological interventions into individual health and reproduction.14 Therefore, close scrutiny of population discourse allows us to understand the patterns of how a population is constituted as a demographic truth; of how a population problem is constructed vis-à-vis economic indicators, political ideologies and identities, and social and biological hierarchies; and lastly of how such discovered problems legitimize the interplay of institutional and scientific control of a population to address larger issues than a population itself. As Alison Bashford keenly observes, population has always been more than the politics of sex and reproduction; it has “touched on almost everything: international relations; war and peace; food and agriculture; economy and ecology; race and sex; labor, migration, and standards of living.”15

Revisiting Japanese Modernity, Biopolitics, and Governmentality

Adding to the growing body of research that critically engages with the politics of population, this book focuses on the genealogy of population discourse in the Japanese historical context to revisit particularized narratives of Japanese modernity on one hand, and to create a non-teleological yet rather constructive dialogue of population discourse in general on the other. First, the former goal of reviewing Japanese modernity through the lens of population primarily concerns a challenge to the characterization of wartime Japan as a deviation or distortion from universal modernity and, not unrelatedly, the disjunctive periodization of the twentieth-century history of Japan—that is, prewar/interwar, wartime, and postwar periods—in history writing. As J. Victor Koschmann explains, since the immediate postwar period, the approach to Japanese wartime history has been dominated by the idea that the wartime social structures (mainly manifested as fascism, militarism, and imperialist expansionism) were pathological consequences of Japan’s premodern residues.16 Maruyama Masao’s analysis of the ascendance of ultra-nationalism in wartime Japan echoes this prevailing narrative given his claim that Japan failed to acquire mature forms of modern nationalism—that is, nationalism tied with “bourgeois democracy and popular sovereignty as seen in classic Western nationalism”17—due to remaining feudalist social relations. The denunciation of the wartime fascist regime in postwar Japan was ingrained in the postwar social imaginary that sought a “new beginning”18 to make a complete break from the dark side of incomplete modernity.

Given this, the discursive rupture between the wartime and the postwar eras evolved out of a dual desire: that is, collective memory building in postwar Japan to reconstruct itself into a liberal democratic state on the one hand, and a longstanding endeavor to consummate “modernity,” a concept referring to the imagined unity of the West that has dictated History or the universal flow of historical development, on the other.19 The postwar narrative that particularizes Japan as an incomplete yet catching-up-in-the-progress modern state is therefore closely interlinked with the narrative of exceptionalizing wartime Japan. The underlying temporal binary between modern and premodern is both spatially and hierarchically translated to render the West as rational, civilized, and universal as opposed to the non-West as irrational, feudalistic, and particular.

Against this logic of particularizing both Japan and the wartime regime, this book aims to de-colonize the notion of modernity and illuminate a collective inertia to control and govern life by mobilizing government institutions and scientific knowledge throughout the first half of the twentieth century and beyond. The revisiting of modern Japanese history through the lens of population discourse will allow us to understand how consistently yet variably population has been problematized as an object of state control and scientific investigation since the interwar period. Furthermore, it will help us grasp how the wartime fascist regime appropriated and even augmented elements of modern government apparatuses—for example, statistics, population science, eugenics, and public health administrations. My argument, which focuses on the historical continuity of population discourse, does not claim that Japan achieved modernity in a Western-centric historicist sense. Instead, I aim to unsettle such a claim as an inevitable step toward unveiling the heterogenous nature of modernity that Japan, just like anywhere in the world, struggled to consummate and overcome simultaneously.

A second goal of this book is to create a constructive dialogue with broader discussions of Michel Foucault’s “biopolitics” and “governmentality” without subsuming the historical narrative surrounding Japan’s population discourse under the alleged universality of Foucauldian theories of power. It is no exaggeration that Foucault has had a considerable impact on academic discussions regarding tactics and technologies of power. The notions of biopolitics and governmentality have been significantly influential among scholars whose work shed light on legislative and administrative regulation and management, and on scientific knowledge and technological intervention that center on various aspects of population phenomena, such as sexuality, reproduction, health, welfare, and so forth. While this book, too, draws upon Foucault’s analytical concepts that he primarily developed vis-à-vis European historical contexts, it does so by acknowledging an inherent tension between theoretical frameworks and historical experiences and by critically engaging with a conversation with historical complexity and specificity.20

In his lectures at the Collège de France between 1975 and 1976, Foucault sketched out the emergence of biopolitics. For Foucault, biopolitics is a crucial framework for explaining a new technology of power that emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century and took precedence over, if not replacing completely, existing sovereign power. This new technology of power, according to Foucault, “deals with the population, with the population as a political problem, as a problem that is once scientific and political, as a biopolitical problem and as power’s problem.”21 The essence of biopolitics is that it regulates a population as an aggregated form of life to make subjects live and let them die. This principle is radically different from the sovereign power that wields rights to take subjects’ lives and let them live. Biopolitics also differs from disciplinary power, another modern technology of power that emerged in the first half of the eighteenth century, in the sense that whereas disciplinary power is exercised over “man-as-body,” biopolitical power is directed at “man-as-species,” that is, a massified, quantified, and regulated form of life called “population.”22 Foucault suggests that with the emergence of biopolitics, new regulatory mechanisms of power relations are introduced: biopolitical mechanisms of regulating a population involve “forecasts, statistical estimates, and overall measures” to achieve an equilibrium of demographic indicators, unlike disciplinary power that seeks to correct or modify conducts at an individual level.23

In the succeeding years, while the notion of biopolitics was largely put aside, Foucault’s interest turned to “governmentality”: that is, an art of government and governmental rationality whereby he delved into the underlying problem of the state and population.24 According to Foucault, governmentality, which he called an “ugly word” presumably due to its substantial obscurity,25 is broadly defined as follows:

The ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has its target population, as its principal form of knowledge political economy, and as its essential technical means apparatuses of security.26

As Mitchell Dean points out, the relationship between biopolitics and governmentality remains unclear in Foucault’s accounts due to his, whether intended or not, failure to articulate how the two themes are distinguished from each other.27 If population is both a biopolitical problem and a governmental problem, and both the target of biopolitical power and of governmentality, why did Foucault not use a single framework in the first place? I argue, though, that the ambiguity of the connection of biopolitics and governmentality does not necessarily unveil the weaknesses of Foucault’s accounts of power but rather urges us to look into how the notion of governmentality reorients the question of power relations. Considering the abovementioned definition of governmentality, it is worth noting that the problem of government is much larger than that of institutions or functions of political technologies. By focusing on governmental rationality and its practices underlying power relations, multiple domains where different technologies and mechanisms of power intersect to optimize their target population come into view. For Foucault, it is both the external and internal structure of the state that becomes a focal point through the analytic lens of governmentality. The modern state, according to him, is not a uniformed entity possessing power, but it is merely constitutive of totalizing governmental rationalities, as he puts it, the “‘governmentalization’ of the state.”28

This book draws on the notion of governmentality to underline the complex dynamics of power relations that led to the construction of population as an object of scientific inquiry, regulatory management, and disciplinary control in modern Japan. In so doing, this book opposes interpreting population policies from merely a top-down perspective and instead situates policy-level discussions within the broader genealogy of population discourse. Taking such an approach as a premise, I use the term “biopolitical state” to conceptualize the Japanese wartime state’s incorporation of population governance into its system, which in turn led to the transformation of the state into a constitutive of governmental rationalities aiming to optimize population quantity and quality. A close investigation into the continued patterns of population discourse in interwar and wartime Japan will help us identify the location of the Japanese biopolitical state in the broader map of modern governmentality.

It is noteworthy that the use of Foucault’s frameworks in analyzing particular historical experiences of modern Japan requires an elaborate approach to the tensions between theory and history and that between the general and the particular. These tensions by no means stem from the presumed incommensurability between the West and the Rest but from common misconceptions of theory as teleological texts and of history as self-enclosed narratives.29 To avoid such misconceptions, this book will utilize the account of biopolitics and governmentality as a window through which to examine why and how population became rendered as a multifaceted political problem during interwar and wartime Japan. By doing so, I seek to create a constructive dialogue between the biopolitical frameworks of modernity and modernity as lived experiences in the Japanese colonial empire.

Particularly, this book will delve into two crucial questions that have been neglected in the account of biopolitics and governmentality. These questions include, first, how Japanese colonialism and imperialism informed population discourse in Japan proper (naichi) and vice versa, and second, how bodies were not only massified in the form of population but also differentiated and excluded along the lines of gender and race. As for the question of colonialism and imperialism, the missing link between metropole and colony in Foucault’s account will be articulated to dissect colonial desire inseparable from political discussions and governmental measures to control the Japanese population.30 The close attention to the historical conditions of Japan’s colonial empire will allow us to grasp the discursive proximity between biopolitical rationality and colonial political economy.

In the meantime, the second question regarding the differential ordering of bodies will be examined mainly through the discursive construction of motherhood (bosei) in modern Japan. The problem of reproduction was foregrounded in various forms of population discourse due to its instrumentality in national productivity, race betterment, and masculine imperialism. The interwar birth control and eugenics movements, as well as wartime population policies, made wombs a pivotal focal point on which to optimize the quantity and quality of a selected population. Therefore, motherhood became a political means by which different population discourse reified the gender binary and valorized scientific and administrative interventions into reproductive bodies. By de-essentializing the norms of motherhood, I will illuminate how the biopolitical regime in the Japanese imperial context reordered life through the gender lines to instrumentalize wombs as a source of the health and welfare of the Japanese race and, thereby, how reproductive functionality embodied in the subjectivity of motherhood intersected with and reinforced racial and ethnic differences in the Japanese colonial empire. In sum, the history of population discourse in modern Japan will reveal to us both inclusive and exclusive dimensions of modern power relations that primarily manifested in knowledge, practices, and policies concerning the quantity and quality of a selected population.

Chapter Outline

The body of this book is arranged in both chronological and thematic order. The first three chapters examine interwar population discourse that variously constituted and responded to the “population problem” and discuss how the cacophony of population discourse in the 1920s and 1930s essentially indicates multifaceted versions of restructuring modernity through population governance. The last two chapters turn to the wartime population policies and inquire into how the total war state incorporated preceding population discourse into its mobilization strategies and practices, and how the state’s effort to consummate modernity through population governance imperatively necessitated exclusion and differentiation along gender and racial lines.

Chapter 1 examines how Japanese neo-Malthusianists and leftists articulated the population problem differently in the interwar period. In response to salient symptoms of the crisis of modernity, Japanese social reformers and labor activists waged a heated debate around the issue. The term “population problem” remained undefined because there was no consensus on what ought to be problematized, let alone agreement on how to tackle it. Notwithstanding their disagreement, both sides advocated birth control as a biological tool to achieve their respective political goals. By tracing the history of the population debate in interwar Japan, this chapter illuminates different utopian visions channeled through population control and their reconfiguration of modernity as biological progress.

In Chapter 2, I trace the historical trajectory of prewar feminist discussions on voluntary motherhood. Since the early 1920s, the rise of the birth control movement and the introduction of contraceptives allowed feminist thinkers to envision alternatives for natural conception that they thought to be constraints on women’s empowerment. The idea of artificial birth control created a new basis for thinking beyond the naturalness of women’s maternity far before the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in the postwar era. This chapter elucidates the historical link between feminists’ rearticulation of motherhood and contraceptive technologies by focusing on the transpacific circulation of the “voluntary motherhood” slogan. A close investigation into this birth control activism allows us to understand heterogeneous feminist approaches to the fashioning of ideal motherhood and the underlying gender schemas applied to positioning women within the nexus of ethnic nation (minzoku), race, and class.

Chapter 3 turns to the roles of scholars in legitimizing the “scientific” governance of the Japanese population. Against the backdrop of worldwide economic depression and the rise in agrarian and industrial disputes across the nation, leading scholars in economics, statistics, public policy, and sociology took the initiative in developing population science and joined think tanks, including Jinkō shokuryō mondai chōsakai (Population and Food Problems Investigation Committee, established in 1927 and dissolved in 1930) and Jinkō mondai kenkyūkai (Population Problem Research Society, established in 1933). The principles laid out by these scholars range from social scientific reconfigurations of the Japanese population to the necessity of a permanent national institution to regulate and manage the population. Through a close reading of a range of population investigations, this chapter casts light on the inflection of population science against the backdrop of the foundation of Manchukuo in 1932 and discusses the historical entanglement between population governance and colonial domination in the context of the expanding empire.

Chapter 4 explores the process by which the Japanese wartime population policies were established under the banner of total mobilization. The historical trajectory from the creation of Kōsei-shō (Ministry of Health and Welfare) to the establishment of Kenmin-kyoku (Healthy People Bureau) under Kōsei-sho in November 1943 allows us to raise crucial questions about why the wartime fascist regime functioned as the primary agency of population discourse, and what roles a set of Japanese wartime population policies played in the transformation of a population to human resources (jintekii shigen). In arguing that the wartime population policies materialized the interwar blueprints for the biopolitical state, this chapter offers a critical look at the conventional association of Japanese fascism with a deviation from universal modernity. It also illuminates how the fascist regime reified biopolitical rationalities to transform the population into mobilizable human resources for the war efforts. Ironically, the perpetual wartime mode of life under fascism created a murky zone where the lines between life and death, biopolitics and necropolitics, and welfare and warfare became indistinguishable.

Chapter 5 shifts the analytic focus to the government’s increasing attention on the maternal body during wartime. The chapter situates the wartime pronatalist policy under the slogan “give birth and multiply” (umeyo fuyaseyo) within the broader context of population discourse and discusses the gendered nature of the biopolitical state that normalized the roles of female Japanese citizens in producing as many superior and healthy citizens as possible. A set of wartime population policies such as the government’s “fertile womb battalion” (kodakara butai) commendations and “Ninsanpu techō” (Handbook for the Expectant Mother) of July 1942 offer a revealing look at the instrumentality of motherhood and family in the governmentalization of the state. In addition to the gendered division of citizenship, this chapter further examines the differential effects of biopolitical rationalities along racial and class lines. So-called comfort women, or military sexual slaves mobilized across the Japanese colonial empire, were transformed into women unfit for motherhood. Their fertility was denied by the imperial total war regime that mobilized “comfort women” only as disposable sexual resources.

In the Epilogue, I provide a brief insight into the impacts of interwar and wartime discourse of population on postwar Japanese society. After the defeat of Japan in World War II in 1945, Japan underwent a drastic change in its political, economic, and social structures: the deconstruction of the Japanese empire and the reconstruction of the nation-state. However, this post-imperial postwar process of rebuilding Japan continued to involve the remaking of population discourse, particularly population control through the family planning campaign and eugenic policies to accelerate economic recovery. The continued politics to control the population and reorganize gender relations makes clear the necessity to reconsider the historical legacy of population discourse in Japan and beyond.


1. Muramatsu Yōko, “Funin chiryō no hoken tekiyō kakudai ni muketa ugoki” [A move towards the expansion of health insurance coverage for infertility treatment], NLI Research Institute, accessed February 14, 2022,

2. “Funin chiryō tekiyō, chakushōzenkensa wa handan miokuri, taigaijyusei nado taishō e, Kōsei-shō” [The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare announced the health insurance coverage for infertility treatment including IVF while the plan to cover preimplantation genetic testing is shelved], Asahi Newspaper (December 15, 2021),

3. Muramatsu, “Funin chiryō no hoken tekiyō kakudai ni muketa ugoki.” Muramatsu cited the census data published by Kokuritsu shakai hoshō/jinkō mondai kenkyūsho (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research) in 2015.

4. Kawasaki Shigeru, “Nihon no tōkeigaku no rekishiteki hatten ni okeru kōteki tōkei no yakuwari” [Roles of official statistics in the historical development of statistics in Japan], Nihon tōkei gakkaishi 49, no. 2 (2020): 169−171.

5. Fujino Yutaka, Nihon fashizumu to yūsei shisō [Fascism and eugenic ideas in Japan] (Kyoto-shi: Kamogawa shuppan, 1998), 56−62; Honda Sōshi, Kindai nihon no yūseigaku: “tasha” zō no seiritsu o megutte [Eugenics in modern Japan: on the formation of images of “others”] (Tokyo: Akashi shoten, 2022), 28−36.

6. Michel Foucault, Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia (six lectures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California, Berkeley, October–November 1983), ed. Joseph Pearson,

7. Existing research on the intertwining relationship between social policies and eugenics in modern Japan includes Sugita Naho, Jinkō, kazoku, seimei to shakai seisaku [Population, family, life and social policy] (Kyoto-shi: Hōritsu bunkasha, 2010); Sugita Naho, Yūsei yūkyo to shakai seisaku: jinkō mondai no Nihonteki tenkai [Eugenics, euthenics and social policy: the development of population problem in Japan] (Kyoto-shi: Hōritsu bunkasha, 2013); Sugita Naho, “Nihon ni okeru jinkō-shakai hoshōron no keifu” [A genealogy of population-social security theories in Japan], Jinkō mondai kenkyū [hereinafter SPP] 73, no. 4 (2017): 239−253; Takaoka Hiroyuki, Sōryokusen taisei to fukushi kokka: senjiki Nihon no shakai kaikaku kōsō [Total war system and the welfare state: Japan’s wartime plan for social reform] (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2011).

8. On the historical trajectory of eugenics movements and policies with a critical approach to the political nature of scientific knowledge and its integral role in the social control of bodies and reproduction, see Fujino, Nihon fashizumu to yūsei shisō; Honda, Kindai nihon no yūseigaku; Yokoyama Takashi, Nihon ga yūseishakai ni narumade: kagaku keimō, medhia, seishoku no seiji [The history of eugenic society in Japan: scientific enlightenment, media, and politics of reproduction] (Tokyo: Keiso shobo, 2015). Also, there is a body of research that revisits Japan’s biopolitical modernity—that is, the construction of the Japanese race in the process of nation-building—through the lens of eugenics, which includes Sumiko Otsubo and James R. Bartholomew, “Eugenics in Japan: Some Ironies of Modernity, 1883−1945,” Science in Context 11, no. 3−4 (1998): 545−565; Sumiko Otsubo, “Between Two Worlds: Yamanouchi Shigeo and Eugenics in Early Twentieth-Century Japan,” Annals of Science 62, no. 2 (2005): 205−231; Jennifer Robertson, “Blood Talks: Eugenic Modernity and the Creation of New Japanese,” History and Anthropology 13, no. 3 (2002): 191−216.

9. The body of research examining state and social control over reproduction in modern Japan by employing gender analysis includes Sabine Frühstück, Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Ogino Miho, “Kazoku keikakue no michi: kindai nihon no seishoku o meguru seiji [The road to “family planning” politics over reproduction in modern Japan] (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2008); Takeda, The Political Economy of Reproduction in Japan: Between Nation-State and Everyday Life (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005); Yuki Terazawa, Knowledge, Power, and Women’s Reproductive Health in Japan, 16901945 (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); Fujime Yuki, Sei no rekishigaku: Kōshō seido, dataizai taisei kara baishun bōshihō, yūsei hogo hō taisei e [History of sex: from the system of licensed prostitution and abortion laws to the system of anti-prostitution and eugenics protection] (Tokyo: Fuji shuppan, 1997).

10. For the research on the continuity of population policies in transwar Japan, see Ogino Miho, “Shigenka sareru shintai: senzen, senchū, sengo no jinkō seisaku o megutte” [Bodies transformed into resources: on prewar, wartime, and postwar population policies], Gakujutsu no dōkō 13, no. 4 (2008): 21−26; Hiroshima Kiyoshi, “Gendai nihon jinkō seisaku-shi shōron: jinkō shishitsu gainen o megutte, 1916–1930” [An essay on the history of population policies in modern Japan: on the concept of the quality of population], SPP, no. 154 (1980): 46−61; Hiroshima Kiyoshi, “Gendai nihon jinkō seisaku-shi shōron (2): kokumin yūsei hō ni okeru jinkō no shitsu seisaku to ryō seisaku” [An essay on the history of population policies in modern Japan (2): policies on the quality and quantity of population according to the National Eugenic Law], SPP, no. 160 (1981): 61−77.

11. Although postwar population control is beyond the scope of this book, it is worth mentioning that a growing body of research—mainly in the fields of Japanese history and science and technology studies (STS)—has investigated the continuity of population discourse in transwar Japan and revealed a broader meaning of postwar population policies represented as family planning and the Eugenic Protection Law in relation to cold war geopolitics, nation-rebuilding, and demographic imaginaries. On research of postwar population discourse, see Aya Homei, “The Science of Population and Birth Control in Post-War Japan,” in Science, Technology, and Medicine in the Modern Japanese Empire, eds. Philip C. Brown and David G. Wittner (London: Routledge, 2016), 227–243; Aya Homei and Yōko Matsubara, “Critical Approaches to Reproduction and Population in Post-War Japan,” Japan Forum 33, no. 3 (2021): 307–317; Astghik Hovhannisyan, “Preventing the Birth of ‘Inferior Offspring’: Eugenic Sterilizations in Postwar Japan,” Japan Forum 33, no. 3 (2021): 383–401; Yōko Matsubara, “The Enactment of Japan’s Sterilization Laws in the 1940s: A Prelude to Postwar Eugenic Policy,” Historia Scientiarum 8, no. 2 (1998): 187−201; Tiana Norgren, Abortion Before Birth Control: The Politics of Reproduction in Postwar Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci, Contraceptive Diplomacy: Reproductive Politics and Imperial Ambitions in the United States and Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018).

12. For the research on discursive aspects of population, see Alison Bashford, Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Matthew Connelly, “Seeing Beyond the State: The Population Control Movement and the Problem of Sovereignty,” Past & Present 193 (2006): 197–233; Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2008); Bruce Curtis, The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840–1875 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler, Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005); Susan Greenhalgh, Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Carole R. McCann, Figuring the Population Bomb: Gender and Demography in the Mid-Twentieth Century (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017).

13. Curtis, The Politics of Population, 3.

14. As for the genealogy of demographic knowledge in the mid-twentieth century, McCann points out how the “population crisis” is “discovered” both socially and epistemologically not only to create a social imaginary regarding the normality of family planning but also to uphold U.S. imperialist hegemonic masculinity. McCann, Figuring the Population Bomb, 6, 14–21.

15. Bashford, Global Population, 5.

16. J. Victor Koschmann, “Introduction to Total War and ‘Modernization,’” in Total War andModernization,” eds. Yasushi Yamanouchi, J. Victor Koschmann, and Ryūichi Narita (Ithaca: Cornell University East Asia Program, 2001), xi.

17. Masao Maruyama, “Nationalism in Japan: Its Theoretical Background and Prospects,” in Thought and Behavior in Modern Japanese Politics (London: Oxford University Press, 1969). This article was originally published in the Japanese magazine Chūō kōron in 1951. Meanwhile, J. Victor Koschmann also points out Maruyama’s view of Japan’s “incomplete project of modernity” in contrast to the universalized conception of Western modernity. J. Victor Koschmann, “Maruyama Masao and the Incomplete Project of Modernity,” in Postmodernism and Japan, eds. Masao Miyoshi and H. D. Harootunian (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989), 123–141.

18. Carol Gluck explains the discursive rupture between the wartime and the postwar period as one of the main characteristics of postwar Japan that presented itself as a new beginning through a binary narrative of “feudalistic/fascist” versus “democratic.” Carol Gluck, “The ‘End’ of the Postwar: Japan at the Turn of the Millennium,” Public Culture 10, no. 1 (1997): 1–23.

19. Naoki Sakai sharply points out that the binary historico-geopolitical pairing (i.e., modern–premodern and the West–non-West) has served as a discursive scheme according to which Japan presented itself as a particular unity (i.e., nation) as opposed to the universal, putative entity of the West. Naoki Sakai, “Modernity and Its Critique: The Problem of Universalism and Particularism,” in Postmodernism and Japan, 93–122.

20. Although both biopolitics and governmentality are mainly discussed vis-à-vis the European historical context in Foucault’s discussions of both notions, there has been a body of research that draws on Foucault’s frameworks to examine forms of power targeting population in Asian contexts and to engage with a broader conversation of modernity without essentializing a region in a culturalist manner. Examples of those works include Mark Driscoll, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895–1945 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); Greenhalgh and Winckler, Governing China’s Population; Stephen Legg and Deana Heath, eds. South Asian Governmentalities: Michel Foucault and the Question of Postcolonial Orderings (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Takeda, The Political Economy of Reproduction in Japan.

21. Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–1976 (New York: Picador, 2003), 245.

22. Ibid., 243.

23. Ibid., 246.

24. Foucault’s discussions on governmentality are mainly found in Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: With Two Lectures by and an Interview with Michel Foucault, eds. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 87–104; Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France: 1977–1978 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

25. Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 115.

26. Foucault, “Governmentality,” 102.

27. Mitchell Dean, The Signature of Power Sovereignty, Governmentality and Biopolitics (Los Angeles: Sage, 2013), 39–41.

28. Foucault, “Governmentality,” 103.

29. In a similar vein, Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler argue against the culturalist objection about the use of Foucault’s ideas in Chinese historical contexts and highlight the usefulness of Foucault’s governmentality as an “entry point” into an investigation of modern power relations embedded in China under PRC rule. Greenhalgh and Winckler, Governing China’s Population, 31–33.

30. There is a rich body of literature that attempts a postcolonial reading of biopolitics by discussing the interplay between biopolitical rationalities and colonialism/imperialism and the dyad of racial inclusion and exclusion justified by colonial biopolitics. Such work includes Sarah A. Radcliffe, Dilemmas of Difference: Indigenous Women and the Limits of Postcolonial Development Policy (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015); Annmaria M. Shimabuku, Alegal: Biopolitics and the Unintelligibility of Okinawan Life (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018); Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).