Nikkei Histories

Japan Culture and Trade Center in San Francisco Japantown (1968), planning model. UCLA Special Collections.

When writing a global histories of modern Japan, too often we occlude the experience of Japanese abroad. This site is meant to serve as a starting point for Japanese historians and Japanese American communities for research into transpacific Japanese immigrant communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although some sources are in English, my primary focus here is to bring together a bibliography of Japanese-language materials on the Japanese Diaspora in the United States and Japan.

The term “Nikkei” refers to people of Japanese descent. Initially, the term was used to refer to second-generation Japanese emigrants with foreign citizenship, as in “nikkei shimin” (日系市民). After World War II, the term gained a broader meaning to include all permanent emigrants and their descendants. Today there are nearly four million Nikkei living abroad, mostly in the US and Brazil, with varying levels of connection to Japan.

Japan’s global engagement seen through the history of Japanese migration and settlement in the Americas offers a grassroots perspective on the construction of Japan’s image on the international stage, commercial expansion, and public diplomacy. Here you will find a number of tools, reviews of archives, and some examples from my research that illustrate the utility of a diasporic perspective on modern Japan.

“The emigration project is among the greatest pillars of the project of opening our country. Not only will it ease the population (problem), but it will also serve as a medium to make maritime industries prosper, promote exports, enhance industry, and cause commerce to flourish. Moreover, it will lift the people’s sense of place in the world and broaden their minds, while simultaneously importing new knowledge.”

–Enomoto Takeaki— Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1891.


Exonyms in Kanji-rare foreign-place names

Cover page of the 桑港時事 May 12, 1896. Image from the Hōji Shinbun Database

One of the challenges in learning to read old Japanese newspapers and documents that refer to the Americas are Japanese exonyms (invented Japanese words for foreign place names) or ateji ( use of kanji rather than katakana to phonetically represent borrowed terms). You will run into them most often in newspapers and in statistical tables. For non-native Japanese speakers, the rare kanji in these names can pose a real challenge. Scholars of the Japanese empire will be familiar with such names in reference to names in the Pacific, but may not be familiar with the names for San Francisco, Seattle, or Hawai’i. Though not comprehensive, the list below includes the major place names relevant to research on Japanese in North America. (Content from Wikipedia and my own findings)

English nameJapanese name (rōmaji)AtejiAbbreviation
Americas アメリカ州 amerika-shū亜米利加州米州 beishū
North America 北アメリカ kita amerika北亜米利加北米 hokubei
Californiaカリフォルニア karifonia 加利福尼亜,加里保爾尼, 嘉理符尼亜加州 kashū
Oregonオレゴン州 oregon-shū 阿里干, 俄勒岡央周 oshū
Washingtonワシントン州 washinton-shū 華盛頓華州 washū
Hawai’iハワイ州 hawai-shū 布哇ハワイ hawai
New Yorkニューヨーク nyū-yōku 紐育, 紐約
Utahユタ州 yuta-shū 武達, 犹他ユタ yuta
Coloradoコロラド州 cororado-shū 科羅拉多, 格州コロラド kororado
San Franciscoサンフランシスコ san furanshisuko 桑港 sōkō, 桑方西斯哥
Honoluluホノルル honoruru 花瑠瑠
Los Angelesロスアンジェルス rosu-enjeresu 羅府 rafu
Seattleシアトル shiatoru 沙市、舎路
Chicagoシカゴ shikago 市俄古、市高俄
Denverデンバ denbā 伝馬
Portlandポートランド pōtorando 波的蘭, 葡萄蘭土
Vancouverバンクーバー bankūbā 晩香波, 晩香坡, 晩克坡
Torontoトロント toronto 多倫多
Central America 中央アメリカ chūō amerika中央亜米利加中米 chūbei
South America 南アメリカ minami amerika南亜米利加南米 nanbei
Asiaアジア ajia 亜細亜亜 a
Oceania オセアニア oseania大洋州 taiyōshū

Doing text searches with these older, kanji versions of names can produce many more results when using the Hōji Shinbun database, the National Diet Library Digital Collections, or other Japanese-language research portals. If you are looking for other specific ateji you can do a google search with the contemporary katakana name for the place plus 漢字表記 or try checking the Japanese wikipedia page for that place. Kotobank is also a great dictionary for finding old place names. If you have an unknown ateji, use a phone app with hand writing input or an electronic dictionary to try searching for the name or just the kanji themselves. If you don’t find the name that way, at least you can enter the kanji into a browser search and identify the place that way. You can also reference this page for US states, and a global (but not comprehensive) list on Wikipedia. There is also a useful guide to foreign country names. It’s search function is a great reference for Japanese-language global places names from all over the world. As I go forward, I’ll add a section for South American country and city names to the table above.

Archives-US: Japanese American Research Project, UCLA

The Japanese American Research Project (JARP) papers held by UCLA special collections is hands down the most important collection of Japanese-language documents on Japanese American history. According to Brian Niiya in the Densho Encyclopedia, (which I am paraphrasing below) the JARP collection began with a fundraising effort by the Japanese American Citizen’s League to document the history of the first generation of Japanese immigrants (Issei) in 1960. Boston University sociologist T. Scott Miyakawa, Frank Chuman, and Joe Grant Masaoka were some of the first to lead collection efforts, along with Robert A. Wilson, who directed the project at UCLA beginning in 1965. Wilson was one of a handful of postwar Japan scholars interested in asian migration to the US, having written his dissertation in 1942 about the Chinese exclusion in Oregon.

JARP’s main goals were to survey Issei and Nisei populations, to publish an official history of Japanese Americans, and to collect documents, oral histories and memorabilia. Until the project’s initial stage finished in 1972, researchers saw the many primary and secondary sources they collected as of only secondary importance. Luckily historians Yuji Ichioka and Sakata Yasuo organized the collections and published the first bibliographies in 1974.

The JARP collection currently consists of about 850 boxes. Collection materials are quite diverse including periodicals, diaries, photograph albums, and scrapbooks. Please see the current collection guide for detailed information, hosted on the Online Archive of California website. Please note that the several hundred oral histories have been removed for digitization at Waseda University in a project led by UCLA grad Morimoto Toyotomi. While there are some postwar materials, the bulk of the collection date from the 1890 to World War II.

This collection has enormous possibility as a source for the study of modern Japan. The Arai Ryōichirō papers in the collection consist of the personal and business papers of Arai, who was the first to establish direct trade in silk with the US in the 1870s. There are particularly rich collections of Japanese print periodicals from the early twentieth century, consular reports, religious and business associations, as well as prefectural association histories.

See the official bibliographies for a more detailed breakdown of collection contents:

Yasuo Sakata, Fading Footsteps of the Issei: An Annotated Check List of the Manuscript Holdings of the Japanese American Research Project Collections. Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 1992.

Yuji Ichioka et al. A Buried Past: An Annotated Bibliography of the Japanese American Research Project. Berkeley: UC Press, 1974. 

Archives-US: Sakata Yasuo Papers, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Sakata Yasuo Papers, The Hoover Institution Finding Aid

Sakata Yasuo (retired from Osaka University) trained at UCLA and was the author of numerous books about early Japanese migration to the US and early US-Japan trade. During his time at UCLA, he worked with Yuji Ichioka and T. Scott Miyakawa to develop the Japanese American Research Project Papers, the most important collection about Japanese American history. His work is especially valuable for Japan scholars because it places early Japanese migration in the context of efforts by the Meiji-era state and individual entrepreneurs to establish direct foreign trade–as opposed to trade mediated by foreign traders in treaty ports that severely disadvantaged Japanese merchants and producers.

This collection, much like the Yuji Ichioka collection, is the fruit of decades of source collection for numerous projects on early Japanese migration and trade, as well as the religious life of emigrants. Comprised of 64 boxes, the collection has drafts and manuscripts of Sakata’s written works and primary sources. Major subjects include the early silk trade with the US, Japanese foreign policy documents about migration and treaty revision, travel guides to America by Fukuzawa Yukichi, Katayama Sen, and others, as well as materials for his published collection of sources about the Fukuinkai (Gospel Society) in San Francisco and the Wakamatsu Colony.

The Sakata papers and the many other essential collections at Hoover can be viewed in the Hoover Library Archives and Reading Room (closed for renovation until early 2020). Please see this site for more information on how to order materials. For questions contact Hoover at: hoover-library-archives@stanford.edu . I also recommend contacting Kay Ueda (kueda@stanford.edu), head of the Japanese Diaspora Initiative to inquire about other collections related to your research.

Scholars interested in the early silk trade, porcelain, and art goods trades should see his two edited volumes:

  • Sakata Yasuo 坂田安雄 ed. Meiji nichi-bei bōeki koto hajime: chokuyu no shishi Arai Ryōichirō . Tokyo: Tōkyōdō Shuppan, 1996.
  • Sakata Yasuo 坂田安雄 ed. Kokusai bijinesuman no tanjō: Nichi-bei keizai kankei no kaitakusha 国際ビジネスマンの誕生:日米英材の開拓者 Tokyo: Tōkyōdō Shuppan, 2009.

Archives-Japan: Museum of Japanese Emigration to Hawai’i, Suo Oshima, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Museum of Japanese Emigration to Hawai’i 日本ハワイ移民資料館 Link

This museum opened in 1999 and was the first in Japan to be dedicated to the history of Japanese migration to Hawai’i. It is particularly dedicated to telling the history of how those emigrants contributed to the cultural and economic development of their hometowns. The museum was the result of local history project by the city of Suo-Oshima in 1995 into the history of house owned by Fukumoto Chōemon (1881-1970) a successful emigrant trader to San Francisco, California who returned to Japan in 1928. The house is the current home of the museum.

The museum’s permanent exhibit features a sampling of its large (8000 item) collection related to Japanese labor ship passage to Hawai’i starting in 1885, labor contracts, and a wide variety of artifacts from emigrants’ every day lives. First-floor exhibits feature an overview of contract labor migration, Fukumoto’s kitchen, and cultural exchange with Hawai’i. The second floor features exhibits about migration to California, goods brought back by emigrants, and figures in the Fukumoto family.

Address: 山口県大島郡周防大島町大字西屋代2144

Telephone: 0820-74-4082

Hours: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, closed Mondays

Email: hawaii@town.suo-oshima.lg.jp

Japanese Archives: Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (JOMM), Yokohama, Japan

Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (JOMM), Yokohama, Japan JICA Website

The Japanese Overseas Migration Museum in Yokohama, operated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, has a reading room with extensive holdings of overseas Japanese newspapers, community directories, secondary sources on Japanese emigration to the Americas, and several special collections.

Following World War II, an unlikely alliance of labor leaders, leftist politicians, and business leaders came together to advocate for postwar emigration projects. After their first meeting in 1947, at the Tokyo Industrial Club, Diet Member Matsuoka Komakichi formed the Overseas Emigration Association (海外移住協会). Occupation authorities banned emigration projects, despite several requests for labor migration from Brazil and Argentina and a movement among numerous prefectural governments to restart migration, presumably to foster the redevelopment of inbound remittance flows. In 1952 and 1953, the first postwar emigrant groups left for Brazil and prefectural migration advocates came together to form the Japan Overseas Migration Federation (日本海外移住連合会), with former Osaka Shōsen president Shōzō Murata as president. In 1954, the association was given official permission to pursue emigration projects to South America. Much of the financial backing for emigration projects in the early 1950s came from a $1.5 million loan Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru received with help from John D. Rockefeller, 3rd. In 1955, these funds were used to found the Japan Emigration Promotion Co., which bought land in Brazil and other destination countries to sell to emigrants. The company operated until 1963, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs founded the Japan Emigration Service. In 1974, this entity was absorbed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

JICA has posted 240 PDFs of official JICA reports regarding migration and a number of its institutional histories online (most published between 1950 and 1990): Link to Table of Contents

Several of these files detail JICA’s history : Japan Emigration Promotion Corporation [日本海外移住振興株式会社], 1962. PDF and Kokusai Kyōryoku Jigyōdan, Kaigai e no Michi: Nihonjin no Kaigai Hatten [海外えの道:日本人お海外発展], 1980. PDF

These files are a valuable resource, but were digitized quite poorly and can be difficult to read.

JOMM’s collections are catalogued and can be searched here: link

The library holds a wide array of reports about postwar emigration produced by the Japanese government covering financial issues and the significance of Japanese emigration for the nation’s development and cultural diplomacy.

At JOMM you can also find a large number of prefectural association histories, which are a very useful way to chart trans-local migrant networks.

Palladio Network Graphing: From Sources to Graph

In a previous post, I gave a brief introduction of why using Palladio network graphs is a useful methodologies for understanding the reach of transpacific migrant networks beyond just one purpose. You can map out migrant networks outside of a strictly utilitarian view of sketching the various groups involved in spurring migration itself from migration promoters all the way to new social groups in destination countries. Mobile networks are involved in much more than just moving and assimilating into a new culture. Network theory in general has numerous applications, but for here I used Palladio to visualize the relationship between various groups that support Japan’s Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940). I rely especially on the notion from Actor-Network Theory that some actors within networks work to mobilize broader networks.

Palladio is a fairly versatile web platform for network analysis that seems to work best in tracking the relationships between actors who have correspondence. Think, Leonardo Davinci writing letters to other artists and patrons. By logging these letters in an excel spreadsheet and uploading it to Palladio, you have raw materials to visualize Davinci’s social and professional relationships and how they changed over time.

If, as was the case with this project, you don’t have an inventory of letters to use as raw data, you have to get creative. I mainly had a list of members of various associations involved in planning events at the Japan Pavilion like the one below from the Japanese Support Association for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition. These list provide board member names, their employer, and their position on the board. Occasionally, a single member would be on multiple planning boards, which would reveal links between the groups and help us understand how these links played a role in mobilizing groups for Japan’s late-1930s public diplomacy. I know that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs played a key role in organizing the pavilion, but those individual members would only be on one association board. A network graph based on individual affiliation would reveal no relationship between the San Francisco support group and pavilion planners back in Tokyo.

So, I structured the data to show links based on relationships between associations and board members’ employers. I used four headings: ID#, name, employer, affiliation (which association board the individual was on), and employer categories such as importer or media. The name category is not strictly necessary here. I kept it because the spreadsheet is also a useful reference tool.

The links created from this data is more abstract than saying definitively subject A cooperated with subject B. However, you can still see which employers played the most important role in coordinating events at the Japan pavilion. We therefore get to see, in a general way, the structure of international cooperation between Japanese officials and emigrant intermediaries.

Now that I had structured data, I saved the spreadsheet as a tab-separated-volume and uploaded that into the Palladio new project page.

Then I went to Graph, chose Affiliation as the Source and Employer Category and clicked “size nodes.” Then, presto! I have a messy graph showing relationships between world’s fair associations and the types of industries and ministries that supported them. By clicking on Facet below and selecting the dimension “Affiliation” you are then given the option of including some associations and not others. This allows you to see the relationship between specific associations and what industries and parts of government connected them.

Digital Exhibit: 100 Years of Japanese Emigration to Brazil

In 2008, the Japanese Diet Library in Tokyo created a digital exhibit to celebrate 100 years since the beginning of Japanese emigration to Brazil. Based on extensive collections held in the Modern Japanese Political Documents room, this exhibit presents the history of Japanese migration to Brazil in 7 chapters. From initial failed efforts by the Colonization Society of Japan to reach migration agreements to the resumption of migration following the Pacific War, this site offers a concise overview accompanied by photographs and other primary source documents. Most of the supporting documents are written in Japanese, but the exhibit text is offered in English, Japanese, and Portugese.

Highlights: the “columns” section has several interesting stories such as connections between emigration and the Paulista Coffee chain in Japan.

View exhibit here

Network Graphing with Palladio

Below I talk about the utility of using Palladio to talk about transpacific networks, but I don’t provide a step-by-step guide to this process. That will come in a later post.

Network Graphing and the Japan Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition


One of the biggest challenges to writing or speaking about transpacific migrant networks is making them legible for the audience. One of the most common means of doing this is to narrate from the perspective of one or a handful of actors in the network. There are more examples of this tendency than I can count, which all tend to fall in the great-man paradigm of history. Biographies of internationalist Nitobe Inazō and Shibusawa Eiichi come to mind. This poses two major pitfalls. First, because of a comparable dearth of materials written from women’s perspectives, if can be hard to grasp the role women played in transpacific networks. Second, by telling the story from one or a few perspectives, historians can misjudge the extent of networks. For instance, subject A may have regularly corresponded with groups W and X. But if W and X also correspond with group Y and Z on a shared project, then they are part of the network, too. I think this is one way in which emigrants are written out of both national and transnational histories–they are either overlooked or not deemed important enough to the larger project. Remember, the historical figures we may be basing our analysis on have an inherent interest in telling stories of international exchange in ways that overplays their own importance.

Open-source network analysis programs such as Palladio offer a solution to this issue. In a paper I recently presented for the Harvard Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies (link), I used several network graphs made with Palladio to illustrate the support of Japanese Americans in the San Francisco bay area for the Japan’s Pavilion at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE).

Japanese Americans carrying lanterns in parade to celebrate GGIE opening. Shin Sekai Asahi Shinbun, February 18, 1939.

This paper is based on Japanese planning documents for the fair held at the Diplomatic Record Office, Stanford’s Hōji Shinbun Database, and some commemorative albums put together by the Japanese American association created to help out with exposition planning. My main goal with this paper was to show how local immigrants were the public face of the Japan Pavilion and vital intermediaries for Japanese planners in organizing events. This was an extension of immigrant leader’s position as brokers of Japanese engagement with the American public more generally. To prove this, I wanted to show the relationship between Japanese American group such as the local Japanese Association and San Francisco Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Japanese Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The biggest asset in mapping this network were a number of membership lists of groups supporting the Japan Pavilion. It was obvious from some lists that these groups shared members. Below is a graph showing overlap (shown by the connections in the middle) in board membership between the SF Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Support Association (Nihonjin Kyōsankai) local immigrants formed to support the Japan Pavilion. From this we can see the Support Association had a diverse and larger membership made up primarily of local Japanese Association chapters, newspapers, and smaller business groups. The SF Japanese Chamber of Commerce was made up primarily of larger import businesses. We can conclude from this graph that the Support Association was a vehicle for mobilizing the broader Japanese community in California to support the pavilion.

Support and SFJCOC 19.3

By adding other association lists to my network graph, we can see how the effort to support the Japan Pavilion had connections with planning boards for the fair back in Japan. Japanese planners in government, business, and universities formed two major associations to coordinate fair designs and exhibits: the New York and San Francisco World’s Fair Association, and the Committee to Select Exhibits for the New York and San Francisco World’s Fair. While these boards did not have any immigrant representatives, the graph below illustrates that various industries and ministries tied the two groups together: industry associations, the Foreign Ministry, Chambers of Commerce, and transportation companies. To show these connections, I had to make nodes in the networks employer categories rather than individual names.

GGIE 4 2019.3

Finally, I wanted to show the place of the Support Association in the broader field of Japanese public diplomacy and world’s fair celebrations in the late-imperial period. So, I added other association board membership lists, including the Association of Japan International Exposition (for the canceled 1940 Tokyo International Expo.), the Association to Celebrate Japan’s 2,600th Anniversary (of Japan’s mythical founding by Emperor Jimmu), and the Japan World’s Fair Association.

Graph 5 groups 19.3

Again we can see numerous links that we can interpret as avenues of influence and cooperation between the Japanese community of San Francisco and quasi-governmental organizations in Japan dedicated to international cultural exchange and commercial promotion. While these links took this form in 1939, I argue with other evidence that these links were part of a long-term partnership between elite emigrants in California and the Japanese government and business worlds. If I had narrated this story from the perspective of SF Japanese Chamber of Commerce secretary Watanabe Hisakatsu, for instance, we would not be able to see the broader network within which local immigrants were an integral part. Certainly these immigrants were peripheral to the larger process of planning Japan’s cultural diplomacy of the area, but they had an important and ongoing intermediary role to play in promoting Japanese culture and commerce on an international stage.