Organized Panel Session
“Japan is not a nation of immigrants.” The centrality of this maxim to Japanese nationalism has long obscured the role migration plays in shaping Japanese identity. However, transpacific Japanese emigration helped lay the foundations for Japan’s identity as an expansive empire and nation between the 1870s and 1945. Building on recent scholarship that bridges Asian area studies and American ethnic studies by Eiichiro Azuma and others, we present three new, substantive studies of transpacific Japanese mobility and emigration. This panel challenges the disciplinary divide between the history of the Japanese empire and Japanese transpacific migration.
The three papers of this panel demonstrate how emigration to the Americas played a fundamental role in shaping modern Japan’s regional, imperial, and global identity before World War II. Sidney Xu Lu discusses how Japan adopted the settler colonial logic of American westward expansion to justify its colonization of Hokkaidō, and argues that imperial apologists also convinced Meiji leaders to support migration to the United States as a form of national expansion. Anne Giblin Gedacht explores how domestic Japanese regionalism shaped the experience of the mobile Japanese body in a case study of migration between Akita Prefecture and Brazil. Robert Hegwood analyzes immigrant support for Japan’s pavilions at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco as a site for exploring transpacific migrant business networks and the role of overseas Japanese in shaping Japan’s global image. Ultimately, this panel frames the creation of transpacific mobility as an important element in the formation of modern Japanese identities.