Migration, Nationalism, Empire

Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s recent Japan Focus article, “Migrants, Subjects, Citizens: Comparative Perspectives on Nationality in the Prewar Japanese Empire” is an ambitious attempt to integrate identity, legal and strategic issues related to the problem of citizenship in the context of migrations within and between empires.1 The primary comparative material is to British examples, and students of “empire” as a category will find both familiar and new material to work with. Japan itself had such complicated migratory patterns that it really is a whole class of “comparative” study in itself. Morris-Suzuki pretty much covers the whole gamut: Japanese emigration to Hawai’i, N. America, S. America and Asia; Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese migration under Japanese imperium to places within Japan and within the empire.2

What makes the article particularly interesting, aside from the valiant attempt to clarify the various legal contortions of Imperial citizenship3 , is that it parallels some of the arguments I made in January (and June) — that Japanese attitudes towards emigration and immigration are structured by nationalistic and imperialistic narratives which obscure important aspects and which lay the foundation for current problems with immigrant assimilation. Morris-Suzuki is taking a more legal and strategic approach, noting the various places in which the end of Japan’s Empire left former colonial subjects stranded without citizenship, and the political and diplomatic problems, some of which are still unresolved, and seemingly unresolvable.

Some of these problems clearly should have been solved by the US and allies after WWII: full repatriation of Korean subjects in the Japanese home islands, Sakhalin and Manchuria, for example, would have been entirely appropriate. Or would it? Part of me thinks that the diversity represented by Koreans in Japan should have been a good thing for leavening, a bit, Japan’s self-definition as homogenous, but clearly, if it was supposed to accomplish something with regard to multi-cultural understanding, it’s a gloriously failed experiment. The paper almost invites counter-factual speculation: if the lines had been drawn differently, would there have been a significantly different result? Could Japan, in the early 20th century, have developed a version of Imperial Nationalism which wasn’t racialist, or a citizenship system which wasn’t patriarchal and instrumentalist?4

  1. It also contains a citation to one of my own publications, which is always fun, but it’s on a minor point, and her main discussion of material related to my article comes from other sources. Oh, well. []
  2. She does talk about the integration of Okinawans to some extent, but leaves out their anomalous status after WWII. Not a complaint or a criticism, though it does raise fascinating questions. There’s just not enough room in the world to cover everything. []
  3. and in this regard, Japan’s koseki family registration system seems to be arguably simpler and more reasonable than several of the British attempts to both authorize and limit the mobility of colonial subjects []
  4. there was an article in one of my regular journals recently — AHR, JAS, JJS — which argued that Japan’s Imperium forced it to adopt a more flexible definition of multicultural national identity, but I can’t remember which one and the move has obliterated any organization I had in my journals. I wasn’t terribly convinced at the time, and a large part of my reservation had to do specifically with what Morris-Suzuki highlights: the rhetoric of integration was one-sided and the legal status of colonial subjects was never considered a subject for rectification. []


Wonders of Modern Life

I’m pleased to announce the publication by Shinsensha of the translated version of Japanese Diasporas, ジャパニーズデイアスポラ, 足立伸子 (編著), including my article “一八八五~九四年の移住者への訓示.” 1 I learned, in the process of writing this post, that my article (in the English language edition) is actually cited and used correctly on the Wikipedia Japanese Diaspora page: “The Japanese Government was keen on keeping Japanese emigrants well-mannered while abroad in order to show the West that Japan was a dignified society, worthy of respect.” I may have to revise my opinion of wikipedia, after all.

Japanese Diasporas in Japanese

In other news, Manan Ahmed sent me this Japanese Robot video, and while watching it I was struck by the realization that the early modern Japanese robots are based on a much older Japanese technology: Bunraku puppets. In this video, for example, you can see a demonstration of how the facial features are manipulated.

  1. Professional Question: Is the translation listed as a separate publication on the c.v.? If so, do you note that it is a translation of an earlier publication? If not, do you just list it under the original publication: “published in translation as….”? []


Remembering Meiji: Translations

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:26 am

Keene includes several extended reminiscences of Meiji published immediately after his death. Unfortunately, some are included in the original French (pp. 707 and 709). Many thanks to Nathanael Robinson, who generously and meticulously translated these from the 19c formal French. I’ve appended these to the chapter guide for future reference.

Ito Hirobumi:

Whatever might be the causes which helped Japan in its progress, and whatever part we might have had in its success over the years, all that is insignificant when compared with what the country needs from his majesty, the emperor. The imperial will has always been the light that guides the nation. Whatever could be the contributions of those, like myself, who are trying to help his enlightened government, it would have been impossible to obtain such remarkable results had it not been for his great, wise and progressive support that is always behind every new reform.

Suematsu Kencho:

His Majesty provides the steadiest attention to each area of the affairs of the state. Every day, from the early morning till the late hours, he works with his cabinet on public affairs. He knows what matters concern each department, above all that which affects the army and navy. . . . Sometimes he astonishes [us] with his knowledge of events among his people. He takes a keen interest in everything that happens in the major countries of the world, his only desire being to learn from other nations.

The comment of the French editorialist was astute:

The emperor was able, at certain times, to influence the policy of his ministers, because his ability to act and his intelligence were not in doubt. But his main work, which he achieved with remarkable wisdom, was to be the head of state, the living symbol of national life and the public interest . . . . The great kings are not those who, like Philip II, want to manage the affairs of state by themselves, but those who, having placed their trust in great ministers, support them with all the prestige of the monarchy.

Reporter for The Journal (G. de Banzemont)

Mutsu-hito was not only one of the most celebrated emperors of Japan, but also one of the greatest monarchs of the modern world. One need only recall the anguish that gripped the Japanese nation at the first news of the sovereign’s illness. Over several days, the tearful crowd marched, without concern for the torrid heat, under the windows of the imperial palace. On their knees, their foreheads covered in dust, in a common voice, they pleaded with the gods. And as soon as a dull lamp, illuminating the room of the deceased, announced that the monarch passed away in agony, there came the most violent explosion of sorrow that can be imagined.

Ito’s comment seems somewhat noncommittal — “support” and “guides” aren’t specific — but emphasizes the “progressive” modernizing elements of the regime.1 Suematsu, on the other hand, who served as an ambassador and Home minister, is effusive and clear. The “astute” French editorialist presents what could well be a summary of Keene’s own views.2 de Banzemont’s narrative is echoed, but not quite confirmed, by Japanese sources Keene cites, and seems a bit excessive.3

  1. Keene, in footnotes, says that the date of this statement “is not clear” but doesn’t explicitly remind the reader that Ito’s been dead for three years. []
  2. That’s what “astute” means: agrees with me []
  3. At some point, when I have more time, I want to go back to Japanese newspapers of the time. []


Studying Keene’s Emperor Meiji

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:42 am

Much of my Meiji Japan course is taken up with Donald Keene’s Emperor of Japan: Meiji and his World, 1852-1912. It’s been a pretty good experience, but I probably won’t do it again. I’ve enjoyed reading it1 and my students do seem to be getting a great deal out of it, but it is too long and really fails to answer some of its own critical questions. My students are in the process of writing about it now, and I thought it was time to share some of my own reactions.

As part of the reading process, I created a page of short chapter highlights: one of Keene’s quirks is that the book’s sixty-three chapters are neither titled nor listed in a table of contents. The book is arranged almost entirely chronologically, so it’s not too hard to find what you’re looking for if you know when it is, and it has an index (with definitions of Japanese language terms, so it doubles as a glossary), but it still seems deliberately perverse — or perhaps novelistic — to have such fine-grained divisions without explanation.2


  1. I read through it last year along with my directed study students, but I was doing the directed study on top of a four-course, four-prep semester, so it was a perfunctory read. []
  2. Another moment of perverse traditionalism comes from the pages of untranslated French on p. 707 recording thoughts on Meiji’s reign by the late Itō Hirobumi, Suematsu Kenchō and an “astute” French journalist and p. 709 recording “the sorrow of the Japanese people.” I will add translations of those to the summary page when I have them. []


Hawaiian Kanji

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:48 am

No, I’m not going to show you some cartoon of a spam musubi or a “remove your shoes” sign. This is, apparently, serious stuff: Educators working with the Hawaiian language revitalization and immersion movements have begun to use Kanji — and Japanese language generally — as a teaching tool for the Hawaiian language.

In spite of the fact that this press release came from my own institution, I actually know nothing about this. It’s wild stuff, but it has some very interesting pedagogical and cultural and linguistic foundations. There is a PDF from ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (‘APL) which has a great deal of detail and examples, including the one mentioned in the press release.

The core of the program is that both Hawaiian and Japanese are, phonetically speaking, syllabic languages, and that there are a lot of Japanese in Hawai’i, including relatives and ancestors of students in the Hawaiian program. The teachers who designed the program, aside from instilling respect, understanding and aloha in their students, wanted to use the ideographic characters to emphasize the syllabic nature of Hawaiian, as opposed to the alphabetic system of Roman letters. After assigning basic characters to each of the forty-five syllables of the Hawaiian language, they went on to teach the students more kanji by meaning, as well as conventional Japanese language instruction.1

I have to admit, it seems like a terribly roundabout way of handling the languages.

There’s an interesting historical side note to this, though. As I wrote in my dissertation2:

Hawaiian King Kalakaua visited Japan in 1881 and made three proposals which, although they were rejected, endeared the Hawaiian monarch to the Japanese authorities. The offer to revise their treaty to eliminate extra-territoriality was rejected so as not to interfere with similar negotiations with the Great Powers. An impulsive offer by King Kalakaua for a marriage alliance between his niece and an Imperial Prince (ages six and fifteen years, respectively) was turned down after a show of due consideration. Finally, a “Union and Federation of Asian Nations and Sovereigns” which would have given Japan a platform to demonstrate leadership and build prestige in the Pacific was rejected as endangering the generally good relationship between Japan and the United States, which had particularly strong interests in Hawai’i.

Hawai’i and Japan might have had a much closer relationship, and there might have been even more Japanese influence on the islands than there already is. There is also considerably more influence the other way than most people realize. There is an extensive Hula halau (school/team) network in Japan, whose members regularly visit Hawai’i to study with local teachers and immerse themselves in the culture.3 The Japanese government has even promoted the Hawaiian shirt (in its Okinawan form, officially) as a cool answer to the problem of work attire, and there are still lots and lots of Japanese who come to Hawai’i for honeymoons and vacations who could do some good for the economy and ecology of both countries by stocking up.

Sheer geography and the history of Japanese migration to Hawai’i has created an interesting — and definitely under-studied — relationship. One that could be shaped anew by a really creative reimagining of language pedagogy. Or it could be a complete dead end.

  1. as the press release points out, one of the criticisms of the Hawaiian immersion program is that it seems somewhat limited, in terms of economic potential after graduation. Japanese, of course, is the road to riches. At least that’s what it says in the big print. []
  2. p. 20. The citation is to Hilary Conroy’s The Japanese Frontier in Hawai’i, pp. 50-52 []
  3. one of the best Hula dancers and Hawaiian singers I’ve seen recently was a Japanese woman who teaches Hula in Japan []


Marginalizing Discourses at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:01 am

For the conclusion to my ASPAC blogging, I want to talk about the panel which invited me to serve as moderator. It was a pleasure, and not just because three of the four of us were Harvard Ph.D.s., though catching up with gossip was fun. The papers covered a solid range of early modern and modern topics — outcastes in the early 19th century, historiography of rebel domains in imperial Japan, political violence in the 1950s — and was uniformly excellent research which should soon see publication. My introduction tried to tie things together thusly

Marginalizing discourses are, of course, actually intended to normalize. These are not out-groups for the sake of individuality or obtuseness, but groups trying to function within society, negotiating from positions of weakness, but using available leverage — function, ideology, resistance — which is considered legitimate. But there is a trend away from formal stratification, through uniformity towards equality: modernity shifts from marginalizing people to marginalizing behavior.



Girls’ Day 2007, Hilo

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:45 pm

The Hawai’i Japanese Center had an open house today for Girls’ Day, and I brought my camera. I didn’t make my 5-year old sit through the boring speeches, but once they were over we all had fun wandering the exhibits (actually, when you do it with a 5-year old, you’re not “wandering” but “examining in great but sometimes random detail”) and eating mochi and brownies.


Trying not to whine….

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:45 am

It’s syllabus time here at FrogInAWell. I’ve got a bit of an overload this semester, and I’m trying to be really good-humored about it, but I suspect that the mid-semester crunch is going to strain my acting abilities. I got dragooned into teaching a course in our graduate program, our US-China Masters degree (no, they haven’t built the dorms yet, either), but the History department really can’t give me a release to go do something in another course, so I’m teaching it as an overload. Then my seminar on Meiji Japan came in under the limit for enrollment, so it was decided to drop it and have me teach a second section of World History; more grading, but it means one less course prep, so I said OK. It would have ended there — three preps, four sections — but a few of the students who had registered for the Meiji course actually need it (or something like it) to graduate, so I agreed to tutor them through the course as a directed study. So I’m up to the functional equivalent of five sections of four preparations.

My Early Japan course (pre-1600) is very similar to the last iteration, with the biggest difference being the addition of Mary Elizabeth Berry’s Culture of Civil War in Kyoto as a capstone reading. It’ll be a challenge, but it’s the kind of secondary scholarship I love: richly detailed with primary materials, with a kind of “core sample” approach that gives a taste of what’s going on from the highest to lowest levels of society. The Meiji Japan course is mostly material that I’ve read over the years…. except for Donald Keene’s biography of the Meiji Emperor — I think “magisterial” is the only word we’re permitted to use to refer to books of that magnitude — which I’m really looking forward to seeing students respond to. If my dedicated directed study kids can handle it, it might work in actual classes.

Finally, there’s my China course, the first time I’ve ever gotten to teach a “what’s happening now” instead of a historical syllabus, not to mention my first graduate course. It’s fun! I did have to do some scrambling on readings, though, including one I just picked up in Atlanta. On the other hand, any news articles on China that come out in the next three months are classroom fodder.


Thanksgiving Vacation and Homework

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:17 am


Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I went over to the Waikoloa Hilton. My son loves the boats and trams, and there’s nothing like watching dolphins play. The pools are great and the food, though pricey, is good.

But the fun part, for me, is their immense collection of Asian and Pacific art. Most of it is arranged along a mile-long “Museum Walkway,” and one evening after my son was asleep, I went out and walked the mile with my digital camera. Conditions were not ideal: a lot of the collection is under glass, and the hallway is narrow enough that larger pieces were sometimes hard to fit in the viewfield; as a result there’s a lot more pictures at an angle than I’d like. I went back the next day to see if I could get better non-flash shots, but the oddities of light and shadow on glass actually made it harder to get most things. Short of convincing the hotel to let me shoot a catalog for them, this is the best I’m gonna get.

I was pondering how best to archive and share these pictures, and I finally decided to set up a Flickr account (I had to upgrade, since I’ve got about a gigabyte’s worth of material and that would take about 50 months to upload on the free account). I haven’t gone through the whole collection yet, but you can see a nice sample of about a dozen pictures here. The collection ranges from South Pacific to Asia, with a bunch of Western stuff thrown in for good measure; eventually my goal is to have the whole collection uploaded and sorted into sets. If anyone sees something here that they want more of, let me know and I can start there….

Also, in the category of sharing great collections of images, if you aren’t on H-Asia you might not have seen this: “The Section of Japanese Studies of the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna is pleased to announce the opening of the internet database: UKIYO’E CARICATURES 1842-1905” There’s a lot more than just caricatures, and the images aren’t very heavily annotated (though they did transcribe the texts, which is a nice touch), but it’s worth noting.

Update: I’ve been rooting around Flickr — well, OK, I just plugged “Japan” into their group search box — and came up with a whole bunch of Japan-related collections: Japanese Archaeology, Japanese 20th Century, Buddhism in Japan, the very mixed Japan-Hawai’i Connection, and the deliberately mixed Japan: Old and New. Timesink!


Escaping the Binaries of Meiji Modernity

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:29 pm

I gave a talk at the “Promoting and Resisting Westernization in Meiji Japan” symposium this past weekend at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. The symposium, associated with the opening of an exhibition titled “Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints,” was a lot of fun and included a diverse mix of art historians, historians, and religious studies scholars. The dominant analytical themes were, not surprisingly, “nostalgia,” taken from the catalog and exhibition, and “resisting and promoting Westernization,” taken in part from William Steele’s opening lecture on the “Civilization and Enlightenment” critic Sada Kaiseki.

The proceedings included a few surprises for me, one of which was that the basic opposition of promoting and resisting Westernization, as if Westernization were a coherent and tangible thing, went relatively unchallenged. This seems a bit like piling one problematic binary structure on top of another. I think the organizers intended the name of the symposium to become fodder for analysis, but instead the idea that Westernization and tradition stood in stark contrast, and that people alive during Meiji could be categorized as either promoters or resisters (what I like to think of as the “cheerleader” vs. “rebel” model of Meiji ideology), didn’t really endure much sustained probing. (Maybe we were all too busy looking at the woodblock prints, many of which I hadn’t seen before.)

Today I was back in the classroom teaching “Modern Japan” and I found myself remembering the way that this binary had been taught in my undergraduate days: as a pendulum of public opinion, swinging back and forth between pro- and anti-Westernization. This was a clear and easy hermeneutic to follow when I was 19, but it seems to me now that for many in Meiji the reality was a hybrid culture that emerged from shifting engagement with new ideas, technologies, and people from all over the world. When Kyoto held the first domestic exposition or hakurankai in 1871, it was engaging in a practice that had been learned, in some ways, from the phantasmagoric International Expositions that had been held in Europe and that would soon also be held in America, to be sure. But as Peter Kornicki has shown in his 1994 Monumenta Nipponica article, ample domestic precendents existed. Wannabe industrialists as well as tea masters organized that event, and both were trying to make sense of recent political changes and new socioeconomic opportunities. Of course the dialectic of “bunmei kaika” and “tradition” was an important part of Meiji discourse, but weren’t both of these ideas fundamentally part of Japan’s modernity and thus not really in opposition?

This is, I know, an old debate, but I’m wondering how people deal with this in the classroom? How, when you have to cover a period of time like 1868 to the present, or 1600 to 1945, or however you structure a course on Modern Japan, do you devote ample time to teasing out these lived complexities?

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