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.


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