The “Lock on the Northern Gate”: Tondenhei Villages and Japanese Settler Colonialism in Hokkaido

Speaker: Dr. Michael Roellinghoff (Postdoctoral Research Associate, The University of Tokyo)

Date and time: December 5, 2022 (Monday), 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm

Venue: CPD-3.16, Centennial Campus, HKU

In this presentation, Dr. Roellinghoff examines the lives of Japanese Tondenhei (屯田兵) farmer-soldiers as well as their family members in late 19th century Hokkaido. An occupying army, the Tondenhei both enforced Japanese claims to the unceded territories of the Ainu, Hokkaido's Indigenous people, and protected these claims against the supposed machinations of the neighbouring Russian Empire. On this settler colonial borderland, Tondenhei villages became liminal spaces where distinctions between public/private, civilian/military, Indigenous/exogenous, and foreign/domestic were blurred. This included the Japanese state’s remodelling of the Tondenhei to resemble Russian Cossack hosts, its plans to assimilate Ainu communities on the model of these “Cossackized” Tondenhei, and its use of military discipline to define and police gendered labour inside the home. All of this, he argues, was aimed at maximizing Tondenhei villages’ agricultural output and Tondenhei soldiers’ martial potential. However, the modus operandi of the Tondenhei – that is, becoming the “lock” on Japan's “northern gate” – was ultimately something of a red herring. With Russian agents directly assisting the Japanese state in constructing and reforming ostensibly anti-Russian Tondenhei villages, he suggests that the Japanese and Russian colonial empires were not only competing but also collaborating in the colonization of Ainu land.

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