Transpacific Japanese Migrations and Multi-ethnic Nation Formation across the Pacific: 1920s–1940s

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project explores the intersections of intellectual discussions about race, nation, and migration in Japan and the United States from the 1920s to the 1940s. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, a portion of the Japanese population shuttled between the Japanese empire and the American West Coast and Hawaii. While their presence created racial tensions in the United States, it gave Japanese intellectuals important opportunities to reflect on race relations and migrations within the Japanese empire. Meanwhile, between the 1920s and 1940s, there were serious attempts to integrate diverse racial minorities in their own territory, spawning the idea of an expanded/multi- ethnic nation in both Japan and the United States in the context of imperial expansion, war, and the emergence of new theories of race relations. How then did the issue of Japanese transpacific migration historically intersect with or contribute to ongoing nation formation processes on both sides of the Pacific? This is the central question of this project and the importance of this inquiry lies in its introducing a unique trans-regional perspective and addressing the intersections of existing migration and empire studies.

To explore the central question motivating this project, the proposed research will analyse Japanese and American intellectual discourses on transpacific Japanese migrations. Since the early interwar years, Japanese and American scholars in a variety of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, geography, medical science, and psychology had studied Japanese migrants’ racial contacts across the Pacific. Such intellectual discourses offered an authentic view of the nation behind each empire. In particular, building on the principal investigator’s past research on sociological works, this project examines the works of representative scholars who contributed to the studies of migrations, the Japanese medical scientist Ishihara Fusao, the Japanese geographer Komaki Saneshige, the American anthropologist Harry Shapiro, and the American psychologist Edward Strong, Jr., each of whom worked in broader interdisciplinary intellectual networks. The principal investigator will analyse how their works delineated the unstable borders of their own nations and consider the types of racism with which they engaged in their research. The resulting monograph will demonstrate that transpacific Japanese migration provided the basis on which Japanese and American intellectuals discussed and articulated the possibilities of extending the boundaries of their own nations. Moreover, in parallel to this research, the principal investigator will foster knowledge-sharing by creating a website that tracks and reports on this research and using materials discovered in the research in the classroom
Effective start/end date1/09/1828/02/22


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