“Enemy Soldiers” and “Ball Mates”: Intra-Imperial Football and Identity Politics in Interwar Northeast Asia
Atkins, E. Taylor, 1967--
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Nowhere in the colonial world was intra-imperial competition in association football (soccer) more common than that between imperial Japan and colonial Korea. Korean sides won an impressive 73% of their matches against Japanese between 1926 and 1942. If the Tokyo-based Japan Football Association (of which the Korea Football Association was a regional affiliate) was the organizational center of the sport within the empire, in terms of quality play the peninsula displaced it. This article argues that although football competition certainly reflected nationalist animosities, it also exemplified what imperial integration (naisen ittai) was supposed to look like. Football was one area in which Koreans and Japanese could and did collaborate on terms of relative parity. Though it was certainly a venue for expressing nationalist animosities, the football pitch was also a liminal, meritocratic space, in which ethno-national animosities were temporarily suspended.