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  • Writer's pictureArabelle Konrad

A Plunge Into Barbarism: Satō Haruo’s 1923 “Demon Bird”

“Demon Bird,” published in 1923, was written by Japanese author Satō Haruo. Though the story is technically about an unnamed group, it is based on his experiences with the indigenous people of the island of Taiwan, which at that point in time was occupied and administered by Imperial Japan.

“Demon Bird” sheds light on Japan’s history with Taiwan through its mockery of the ethnographic report. Satō had noticed that Japanese ethnographic reports about the native peoples of Taiwan often attempted to take on a “disconnected” view. In other words, it seems ethnographers tried to take an unbiased position in their works. However, Satō also noticed that these ethnographers constantly compared the “savage” Taiwanese to the “civilized” Japanese, meaning that they failed in creating an unbiased narrative. As Robert Tierney wrote in his essay about “Demon Bird”, “the Taiwan aborigines became Japan’s very own ‘savages’” (Tierney, 127). Therefore, the narrator of Satō’s story attempts to take on a disconnected view of the “savages” of Taiwan, despite constantly calling the natives “simple-minded” or “primitive” and constantly referencing and critiquing Japanese or “civilized” society. In short, “Demon Bird” sheds light on the racist views expressed by Japanese colonists about the native Taiwanese peoples. The text also demonstrates how, before Japanese colonization, there was not much of a formal government in Taiwan. Instead, the indigenous peoples had formed small villages and groups of villages that were governed by the people living in them. The story also shows that the Taiwanese peoples were, understandably, not always fond of the Japanese invaders, as the story’s narrator explains that, “I have heard that the people in that region [of Taiwan] harbor an intense hatred for our fellow countrymen” (Satō, 117). The narrator must also travel with armed police officers in case any Taiwanese people decide to fight them. Finally, “Demon Bird” also tells us about the violence Taiwanese people faced at the hands of the Japanese colonizers. An example can be found in the sections of the story devoted to the tale of Pira and Kōre, in which the Japanese come to their village and force the indigenous people to surrender. The Japanese round up eighty men and lock them in a building before burning them all alive. The soldiers were said to have “claimed that the savages in this village were violent and evil creatures” (Satō, 119). Therefore, “Demon Bird” helps us to understand how the Japanese viewed the native Taiwanese peoples, what Taiwan was like before Japanese colonization, and how the Japanese treated the indigenous peoples upon arrival.

This text deepens our understanding and ideas about Japan’s relationship with its neighbors prior to and during this time. Before this text and time, Japan had very dynamic relationships with its neighbors. Throughout the time of Classical Japan, Japan’s relationship with China was similar to the little brother (Japan) relying on its elder brother (China) in order to learn and grow. Japan modeled its government, religion, and even its writing system after what China had been doing. Soon after, during the Medieval and Early Modern periods, Japan became much more bold and powerful which led to them leaving behind this label of “little brother”. They saw themselves as more powerful or superior to those around them, which can be supported by works such as Minister Kibi’s Trip to China and Battles of Coxinga where the Japanese are seen as the powerful and leading figurehead while the other countries were made out to be lesser or even weak. After this came the time in which Demon Bird was written, Modern Japan. In this time we see Japan start to play a much larger part in the world. Expansion and interaction is shown by the Iwakura Mission, Rule of Korea, and even Rule of Taiwan which is what this text describes. It is at this time that this superiority of Japan begins to take a turn as they began to colonize. Here, the relationships with these nations become strained, treating the colonists as “beasts” and “simple-minded savages”. In this Modern Era Japan started to treat their neighbors with more ferocity and aggression than they had in the past. This progression of their attitude towards their neighbors shows how Japan as a nation developed and changed in regard to the times and what was occurring around them. “Demon Bird” directly shows these acts of aggression and violence that the country had become accustomed to through its actions on the colonists. This is how Japan grew from the “little brother” of China to the conqueror of Korea and Taiwan through its various relationships with its neighbors.

Works cited

Satō Haruo and Robert Tierney, trans. “Demon Bird Download Demon Bird [1923].” In Reading Colonial Japan: 109-123.

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