Imperial Visits and Attitudes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:57 am

I just learned of the Japanese Emperor and Empress’ visit to Hawai’i [via]. It’s not the first time that a member of the Japanese Imperial family has visited the islands, though you would hardly know it from the gushing “historic” reports of the media. Though this is the first visit by Akihito as Emperor, Akihito has visited the islands before, as have other members of Japan’s now-symbolic dynasty. In addition to the Advertiser’s photo gallery, there are some excellent shots on Flickr by “731photo” and “onecardshort”, as well as one picture from the US Pacific Command.1

The continuing connection between the Hawai’i Japanese immigrant community and Japan was a matter of strategic concern from the beginning: The Kingdom of Hawai’i wanted to use Japan as a counterweight against US power; the Republic of Hawai’i used the threat of Japan — which was actively concerned about the treatment of Japanese in Hawai’i — to support the annexation of the islands by the US; in the Territorial era, disputes about immigration and about labor organization often involved the Japanese consulate.2 Yamaguchi Prefecture immigration memorial -FullCentennial And it’s also true that the Japanese government considered Japanese emigrants to be an extension of the nation3 , and tried, in a fairly blunt fashion, to influence foreign opinion through the overseas communities. By the 1910s and 20s, discussion in the media and halls of power of the Hawaiian Japanese community as a potential “fifth column” was pretty common, and that view was also common on the mainland. It took an immigration ban, a war, Japan’s crushing defeat and entry into the US security system, and the “blood sacrifice” of Nikkei serving with distinction in the US military to overcome those fears, and transform the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants into simply “ethnic” Americans. So, a little over twenty years past the end of WWII, fifteen past the end of the US occupation, the centennial of Japanese immigration into Hawai’i could be celebrated with public monuments, publications and events.

This history is why I was so disturbed to read about PRC policy which sees overseas Chinese as intelligence and lobbying agents. There’s a reasonable argument to be made — as Ichioka does — that Japanese government policy towards emigrants gave support to anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and elsewhere. It’s true that other governments treat emigres as resources to some extent, and urge their citizens overseas to represent the nation well, but the level of coordination, and open encouragement distinguishes pre-war Japanese policy and current PRC policy from the rest of the pack. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a “Yellow Peril” panic in the US at this point, but there’s no question that this has lead to serious negative consequences for individuals, and could lead to wider problems in the future.


  1. That it’s a better shot of the Admiral than of the Emperor is, I suppose, not surprising. []
  2. See Gary Okihiro, John Stephan, also Morris-Suzuki []
  3. see also []


Online Image Resources: Pedagogy and Geeky Fun

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:03 pm

One of my projects this summer has to do with the use of images in history classes: I’m trying to improve my teaching, and perhaps help others, by scanning pictures1 and identifying online sources for good images, as well as trying to figure out ways to do more with the images in the classroom. There’s been some great discussion of powerpoint and images in the classroom at Edge of the American West over the last week, the upshot of which is that images don’t really help all that much, unless you use them well. Not a surprising result, but the fact is that I use images sparingly in the classroom (and have never used powerpoint) because my training — and natural talents, I think — is heavily textual. I love a good map or chart, and I do use art in class both for cultural history and as historical documentation, but not enough. It’s not about “appealing to visual learners” as much as it is my belief that visual and physical materials are going to be increasingly important in historical analysis, both as sources and as forms of presentation. This isn’t cutting edge theory, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, that’s by way of preface for some of the stuff I hope to be posting here2 over the next few months: images from my collection, and discussions of what they might mean, historically and pedagogically; other resources for visual materials and commentary on potential uses; links to other discussions of visual analysis; that sort of thing.

So, here’s my first collection of links:

  1. both from books, which has copyright limitations, and from my own collection of slides and digital pictures, which doesn’t (at least for me, which is what matters!) []
  2. and at the other Frog blogs []


ASPAC Blogging: Japan’s Political Present and Future

Fauna of Soka - Squirrel standingMy copanelists on Saturday were political scientists, and it was a good update for me on what what’s going on with Japan in the last ten years or so. “Normalization” is the name of the game: Japan’s political spectrum and international relations are starting to look a lot less like Yoshida’s vision and a lot more like a pretty normal regional power.


ASPAC Blogging: Colonialism and Imperialism

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:27 pm

Soka - Night Ikeda LibraryThere were quite a few papers at ASPAC this year which addressed Japan’s colonial and imperial relationships: my own discussion of migration as an aspect of modernity notes that imperialism — which is clearly a component of modernity, one way or the other — depends heavily on migration for its success.1 The ones I want to highlight were about Korea, Okinawa and Hokkaido.

  1. I’ll talk more about my own paper at some point, perhaps. For now I’ll just say that one of the great things about a generalist conference like ASPAC is that, even though my paper was the misfit on a panel of post-cold-war political science projects, the audience was diverse enough in interests and specialities that I got some nice comments anyway, especially after. []


ASPAC Blogging: Art and Ecology in Japan

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:23 pm

Birds of Soka - HummingbirdIt’s possible that my favorite single panel at ASPAC this year was the first one I attended on Friday: three papers linking art and reality. In all three cases, it’s clear that an understanding of the reality behind the art creates a deeper understanding of social and cultural process. It’s easy to assume that literature and visual arts are clues to historical eras, but no evidence stands alone: putting the visual and textual evidence in the context of archaeological, ecological and other data is critical to making good use of it.

Ian Tullis’ paper described a kind of ecological niche approach to literary tropes: he was discussing the lesser cuckoo (hototogisu), a bird whose call is mostly associated with memory and summer in the fifth month. Tullis described the actual ecological niche of the cuckoo — whose habit of brood parasitism (placing its eggs in another bird’s nest; in Japan it’s usually the warbler [uguisu]) is the origin of the term “cuckold” — to explain the origins of its appearance in Japanese poetry. In contrast to the conventional image of Japanese, especially Japanese poets, as attentive to nature, Tullis pointed out that there was only one substantive reference in the Manyoshu to the cuckoo’s parasitic ways. The niche in which the cuckoo appears narrows over time, and this is true of almost all the birds, flowers and other phenomena of Japanese poetry: each term occupies narrower niches as the poetic tradition ossifies; still, the cuckoo’s association with memory meant that it was sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative association, more flexible than many other birds.1

Joseph Sorensen, who delivered the second paper, had the dubious honor of taking my 20th century Japan class at UC Berkeley in 1993 and is now a premodern literary scholar.2 His paper was on a fascinating literary dead-end: an attempt in 1295 by a group of Ise shrine priest-poets to produce a cycle of poetry identifying and celebrating new “famous places” [meisho] which could be added to the poetic landscape. As Sorensen pointed out, the idea of “new” famous places is an oxymoron, since meisho were, by definition, time-honored. But they tried, producing 160 poems on ten sites, including bridges, toll barriers, villages noted as travel stops — Sorensen noted the “incipient tourism” of the project, and that’s a theme that clearly has legs in Japanese literature — but the manuscript was never widely circulated and there’s no evidence that these shin meisho were ever used by other poets.

The last paper was Michelle Damian‘s discussion of the boats in woodblock prints. She’s done some fascinating work combining archaeology on existing boats, anthropological investigations of traditional practice and, of course, the use of visual texts as historical sources. She discussed the difficulty of using art — which is often stylized and where artists sometimes emphasize things that highlight their skills — as a source, and some of the common errors and adjustments artists make. Often they’re accurate, and when they’re not it’s usually an artist-specific stylistic error. She’s found some fascinating details in the prints which reflect actual shipbuilding and use: my favorite is the use of retired boats for a pontoon bridge; perhaps the most intriguing is the lack of docks and piers in most pictures, especially at river crossings. The link above is to her project journal, which is as close as you can get to liveblogging a thesis project that I’ve seen, and has some great illustrations from her collection.

It was a great start to the conference.

  1. “Ossifies” is my term, not Tullis’, and reflects my belief that the Japanese poetic tradition repeatedly squanders its successful creative developments by valorizing thick context over innovation. []
  2. He didn’t say that I’d driven him to premodern studies…. []

Powered by WordPress