Jürgen P. MelzerApr 15, 2021
Wings for the Rising Sun
A Transnational History of Japanese Aviation
Harvard University Press 2020
Jürgen Melzer’s Wings for the Rising Sun: A Transnational History of Japanese Aviation (Harvard UP, 2020) traces the history of Japanese aviation from its origins with hot-air balloons in the 1870s until the end of the Pacific War in 1945. Melzer’s narrative centers around three themes: transnational technology transfer and Japan’s efforts to attain technological independence, domestic efforts to mobilize public enthusiasm for aviation development (what Melzer calls “air-mindedness”), and the complicated interplay of aviation with military and diplomatic history.
The first chapters take us to the end of World War I, which was a turning point for Japanese aviation. Until that time, Japan had been most interested in French technologies, but the settlement of the Great War at Versailles provided an opportunity to take advantage of German aviation advancements. Parts 2 and 3 contrast the development of aviation in the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, exposing crucial differences not only between the two services but within each one. Part 4 begins with Japan’s turn to American civil aviation technologies in the wake of the 1931 Manchurian Incident, and the subsequent impact of Japanese aggression and US retaliatory sanctions leading up to Pearl Harbor. The final chapter covers the fevered development of rocket- and jet-propelled aircraft during the war, and therefore in the context of resource shortages and a fast-ticking clock. Melzer, a former Lufthansa pilot, has written a book that will appeal to readers interested in STS, military history, international relations, and Western history, in addition to Japanese history aficionados.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.