A Japanese American Origin of Japanese Studies in the United States: Intersections of Minority Ethnic Politics and State-sponsored Academic Propaganda
Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 6:00pm

The PSU Center for Japanese Studies

and the Friends of History


Professor Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania

A Japanese American Origin of Japanese Studies in the United States: Intersections of Minority Ethnic Politics and State-sponsored Academic Propaganda  

April 20, 2017

6 p.m.

Room 327/8/9 Smith Memorial Student Union
1825 SW Broadway 

Free and Open to the Public

This lecture looks into a pre-World-War-II development of Japanese (“Oriental”) Studies at institutions of higher education in the western United States.  Although many scholars have critically examined indivisible connections between U.S. Cold War diplomacy and the rise of Asian area studies in this country, Japanese studies in the American West had begun its history in the form of a collaborative effort between Japanese immigrants and their homeland to counter the exclusionist politics of white Americans between the 1910s and the 1930s.  Rather than with the United States government as the benefactor, this early and forgotten phase of Japanese studies unfolded under the initiative and financial support of the Japanese government.  Tokyo expected the institution of Japanese studies to serve as a producer of counter knowledge about Japan and the Japanese vis-à-vis prevailing Yellow Peril demagogueries by exclusionists.  Japanese officials and social elite believed pro-Japan discourse would improve U.S. attitude toward Japan’s geopolitical agenda and policy in East Asia.  From the standpoint of defending their livelihoods in America, Japanese immigrant leaders also felt that the favorable knowledge about Japanese people beneficial and necessary, making the U.S.-based ethnic community an ardent supporter and driving force for what can be termed academic propaganda backed by Tokyo.  Not only did prewar Japanese America play the role of middleman between the Japanese government and West Coast universities in negotiating the establishment of endowed teaching faculty positions on Japanese studies, but some of immigrant intellectuals also emerged as first generation Japanologists in America—teachers of postwar white “pioneers” in Japanese studies, like Delmar Brown.  Dr. Azuma’s talk will offer some case studies of this neglected historical development with a focus on first Oriental/Japanese Studies courses and positions at Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, Occidental College, and University of Southern California.  It will conclude with observations on how East Asian countries, including Japan, have recently attempted to rely on U.S.-based immigrant populations and Asian studies scholars and programs as partners in skewed knowledge production, if not outright academic propaganda, in ways similar to the pre-World War II examples.  

Eiichiro Azuma is Alan Charles Kors Term Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at Univerity of Pennsylvania.  He is the author of Betwen Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America.

He is specialized in Asian American history with an emphasis on Japanese Americans and transpacific migration, as well as Japanese colonialism and U.S.-Japan relations. Azuma’s interest in migration and transnationalism has stemmed partially from his personal experience as an immigrant from Japan.