Red Sun Rising: Individuals, Institutions, and Infrastructure in Japan's Space Program, 1920-2003
MetadataShow full item record
CitationWijeyeratne, Subodhana. 2020. Red Sun Rising: Individuals, Institutions, and Infrastructure in Japan's Space Program, 1920-2003. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractDespite being one of the world’s biggest space programs, the Japanese exploration of the cosmos remains a sadly unheralded enterprise. This is regrettable on many levels. The story of how the former empire reached for the stars in the aftermath of their defeat in World War 2 is one of the most intriguing stories of big science and big engineering in the 20th century – a story replete with rocket explosions, mass protests by fishermen, secret submarine journeys smuggling rocket engines, and even a nascent ‘Galactic Federation’. Yet beyond the dirt and drama lies another story – of how states in the late 20th century extended their responsibilities into the realm of scientific development, how localities were transformed by this process, and about how individuals found a place for themselves and their interests in this vast new edifice. The story of Japan’s space program is a story of how science, infrastructure, and discourse came together to redefine the nation and the state, and the place all this in relation to the ‘final frontier’.
This dissertation explores these issues by looking at specific areas of the Japanese space program. My key findings are as follows. First, Japan’s space program was heavily indebted in both origin and formation to the country’s experience during the Second World War. The single biggest connection was the creation of a skilled and determined body of specialists and engineers. Epitomizing these were figures such as Iwaya Eiichi, who headed up work on creating Japan’s wartime rocket plane, Shūsui, and the designer of the wartime Hayabusa fighter plane, Itokawa Hideo. Both embodied the skills and technical knowhow required to build and utilize rockets. They faced the stigma of association with war, and the hardship of lost jobs and aborted careers. They formed the core of Japan’s first generation of space specialists – a tight-knit, independent, and skilled posse who capitalized on state interest, but had no intention of submitting entirely to state control.
Second, the activities and formation of the Japanese space program were heavily influenced by the limits of state power. This was first made manifest in the peculiar institutional formation of the enterprise, which featured several independent institutions pursuing their own space research and technological development programs, sometimes without the cooperation of other institutions – and sometimes actively in competition with them. When it came to setting the agenda for Japanese space exploration, the Japanese state found itself as only one voice amongst many – an agent whose money and protection was more welcome than its guidance. This decentralization also created plenty of room within the Japanese space industry for alternate actors, from fishermen to financiers, to pursue their own agendas.
Third, Japanese space program presents a unique proposition in terms of the stories it tells about itself. The first is that justifications for its existence were intimately connected to discursive preoccupations in Japanese society as a whole – particularly in relation to ‘peaceful usage’. Yet as Chinese spacefaring capacity improved, and the Kim dynasty began playing with their own rockets, some observers argued that peace did not equal unpreparedness. Hence attitudes towards the militarization of space shifted in response to the changing environment – a discursive turn unique to Japan.
Fourth, the space program also played a major role in the development of local identities in the areas where it had a major physical imprint. The arrival of space centres could generate tensions, split communities, and evoke the same sort of resistance that faced other NIMBYs, ranging from nuclear power stations, to army bases. However, unlike these, space facilities often went on to become cornerstones of local identity and economics.
Lastly, Japan’s space program was also heavily influenced by its relationship with the country’s primary post-Second World War ally – the United States. The vagaries of this program had a powerful impact one when Japan’s space program developed particular kinds of technology. Nevertheless, the story of Japan-US relations in space is one of a gradual drifting apart. At the heart of this lay a singular disjuncture between how the two sides viewed the relationship. To the US, providing the Japanese technologies such as the Thor-Delta were a way of encouraging closer relations with a strategic ally, while obviating the development of indigenous technologies that could eventually lead to the construction of Japanese ICBMs. For the Japanese, using American imports as a basis for creating a Japan-based heavy-lift rocketry industry was the entire point.
The work can be expanded in several ways. I would be keen, for example, to extend the end point of the book into the 2010s, integrating the transformations of Japan’s space program under the influence of escalating militarism and technological success. I would also like to integrate further work on the actual technologies of the Japanese program itself. This is, I believe, a rich topic, which will be of great interest to space observers around the world. It is also a subject that has thus far been sadly lacking in the western literature – and it is my desire to plug that lacuna as swiftly as possible.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368854
- FAS Theses and Dissertations