Organized Panel Session
The celebrated 1935 novel by Ishikawa Tatsuzō, Sōbō, follows a group of Japanese migrants from Akita prefecture as they prepare to cross the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean to settle a world away in Brazil. As rain falls on Kobe harbor and its National Emigrant Center, a uniformed officer asks two simple questions of every migrant who crosses the threshold: “what is your name and where are you from?” Those two pieces of information become the markers of identity for each as they prepare to depart Japan: the first records their presence as travelers to Brazil and the second signifies their absence from their native place, in this case, Akita.
This paper will explore ways that the question “where are you from” became a critical category for identification for the mobile Japanese body. Drawing on materials collected in Akita prefecture, published migrant diaries, and Ishikawa’s writings, this paper will unpack the overlapping identities of the mobile Japanese body – individuals whose distinct native place affiliations and sense of regional identity coexisted within, and at times superseded, imperial Japanese subjecthood. By restoring emigrant regionalism to histories of prewar mobility, this paper seeks to both underscore diversity within the “Japanese” community abroad while also challenging parochial views that would restrict regional identity formation to the administrative boundaries of the nation-state.