Organized Panel Session
In 1933, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) accepted Nagai Hisomu’s proposal for a comprehensive investigation into the medical condition of the Ainu people in Hokkaido and Southern Sakhalin. Occurring during the height of the Japanese government’s rural daily life reform movement, the project recruited seven medical departments from three universities to gather epidemiological and physiological data for the improvement of healthcare within Ainu communities. As several of its participants later became the principal architects of the National Eugenic Law of 1940, the JSPS investigation also constituted one of the earliest experiments by Japanese medical professionals to systematically apply the German discipline of racial hygiene to Japan.
In analyzing the medical networks that incorporated Hokkaido into the global discourse of eugenics, this presentation will focus on the psychiatric and neurological research of Uchimura Yūshi, head of the Psychiatric Clinic at Hokkaido Imperial University, and his interactions with Ainu patients and German physicians. It argues that his work on primitive hysteria amongst Ainu women, which pathologized embodied difference by asserting the unique disposition of their central nervous system, should be analyzed within its historical context of a transnational reconfiguration of the Ainu body from an ethnic to racial category. Such a transformation, though, was a heavily contested processas several Ainu oral historical accounts questioned Uchimura’s diagnosis,articulating new possibilities for a redemption of the body from the discursive limits of race at a time when the legacies of eugenics are still being experienced in Japan.