Tabling Death: Life Insurance in Modern Japan, 1881-1945


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project focuses on the history of life insurance in prewar and wartime Japan. It examines the emergence of Japan’s first private life insurance companies in the 1880s and the state-run systems that later emerged in Japan and colonial Korea. Private companies articulated new visions of mutuality in response to the danger of death that awaited all. In doing so, they both reflected and helped to instantiate newer expectations for familial responsibility. Insurance would also become an important means by which the state attempted to manage the labor problem and the problem of peasant unrest in colonial Korea. During World War II, the state would once again use insurance as an important means of martialing the spiritual and economic resources of the populace. In its ability to mold conduct, commodify lives, and rearticulate mutuality, life insurance significantly impacted the constitution of social life in modern Japan and colonial Korea.