Ethnography, borders and violence: reading between the lines in Satō Haruo's Demon Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Satō Haruo traveled to Taiwan in 1920 and published the short story ‘Demon Bird’ (Machō) in the October 1923 issue of Chūō Kōron. The narrator of ‘Demon Bird’ imitates the style of an ethnographic report to tell his civilized audience about a custom of scapegoating in an unnamed ‘barbaric’ society. He offers an interpretation of this custom and recounts a recent episode of persecution. By his literary indiscretions, he also discloses his own position within a colonial apparatus and underscores the connection between ‘barbarism’ at home and violence in the colonies. In the end, this narrative about a violent, ‘barbaric’ other is not what it appears to be. While the narrator of ‘Demon Bird’ sets the episode of persecution in a distant land, he also hints at an unspeakable atrocity fresh in the minds of his readers: the massacre of thousands of Korean residents of the Japanese capital during the Great Kanto Earthquake. This short story thus straddles the border of two genres (ethnography and fiction) and links two separate spaces (colony and metropolis) and times (narrative time and the time of writing). This hybrid text appeared at a time when criticism of Japan’s colonial policies by liberal and reformist intellectuals was at its peak and epitomizes both the strength and the limitations of the liberalist critique of colonialism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-110
Number of pages22
JournalJapan Forum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2007


  • Japan -- Literature
  • Japan -- Literature -- Fiction
  • Japan -- Literature -- Fiction -- Studies & Criticism
  • Taiwan
  • colonialism
  • Great Kanto Earthquake
  • allegory
  • Satō
  • Ethnography
  • Colonialism
  • Haruo
  • Allegory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Ethnography, borders and violence: reading between the lines in Satō Haruo's Demon Bird'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this