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
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. ↩
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. ↩
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 ↩
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. ↩