Mapping Economic Development: The South Seas Government and Sugar Production in Japan’s South Pacific Mandate, 1919–1941

Ti Ngo, University of California, Berkeley
Map of Japan's South Pacific mandate. Source: Blakeslee (1922, 102).
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Japan acquired the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Island chains as a League of Nations mandate following World War I. Why did the local administration (the South Seas Government or Nanyōchō) heavily subsidize the establishment of a sugar industry? While the South Seas Government did not explicitly state why it chose to support the sugar industry despite the wealth of oceanic resources surrounding the islands, imperial maps of the South Pacific produced by the Japanese navy and the South Seas Government provide a window into how both parties envisioned and planned for the economic future of the mandate. These maps included information regarding the available natural resources, land, and culture level of the Micronesian population. The author argues that in depicting the islands as spaces where a “primitive” nonagricultural population failed to take advantage of the islands’ resources, mapmakers and officials planned for the mass migration of Japanese labor to the mandate in order to support a newly established sugar industry.