Diasporic Remnants

I’m always interested in interesting tales and connections regarding the Japanese diaspora. Here’s a couple that I’ve run across: New research on Japanese settlers in Korea; Jorge Luis Borges, the great surrealist, married a Nikkei Argentinian woman late in life; Japanese post-WWII settlers in the Dominican Republic abandoned by both governments. I love being part — a small part, but nonetheless — of the diaspora studies movement. We’re complicating the history of the world, chronicling the wonderful diversity of seemingly simple things. [continued…]

I followed Konrad’s note about Sayaka’s new blog and the post at the top points me to this Asahi report about a new research conference about “Japantowns” in colonial Korea. The tendency of Japanese migrations to be … lumpy? maybe there’s a better word… anyway, they often involve a lot of people from the same region ending up in the same place. It happened in the Hokkaido settlement, it happened in the migration to Hawai’i, it was deliberately built into the Manchurian settlement program.

Jorge Luis Borges1 married an Argentinian of Japanese descent [via]:

In 1970 a collection of more traditionally “Argentine” stories came out, El Informe de Brodie, “Dr. Brodie’s Report.” He developed an acquaintance with one of the students who attended his lectures, María Kodama, an Argentine with Japanese ancestry. She agreed to work as his secretary, and eventually their association blossomed into a collaborative friendship. He would later marry her during the last year of his life.

Life still had much in store for Borges, however. In 1976, the Japanese Ministry of Education invited him to Japan, and he finally got to visit a culture that had long fascinated him. ….
His travels continued, and accompanied by María Kodama he journeyed around the world and compiled a travel atlas – he provided the text, and she the pictures. The resulting work, Atlas, was published in 1984, and presented their journeys as an almost mythical voyage of discovery, a travelogue through both time and space. It was during these travels that he finally had the chance to fulfill a childhood dream – stroking the fur of a living tiger. Unfortunately, the tiger’s thoughts are unrecorded.
Two years later, near the end of his long and wondrous life, he and María were married. On June 14, 1986, at the age of 86 and having never won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Jorge Luis Borges died of liver cancer in Geneva.

There’s even some connections between Japan and the Carribbean2 , though not much and not very happy.

Thomas Snitch writes

In early 1956, ads began to appear in Japanese newspapers offering free land to any Japanese citizen who would immigrate to the Dominican Republic [DR]. As a nation, Japan was still suffering the aftermath of World War II and both housing and jobs were scarce. In Tokyo, the Government decided to lease land in the DR–the thought was that this would encourage large numbers of unemployed war veterans and underemployed farmers to leave Japan for this purported tropical Eden.

For those Japanese farmers and fisherman who decided to move, the dream of paradise quickly turned into a never-ending nightmare.

In July 1956, 28 families left Yokohama bound for the Dominican Republic. During the next 3 years, another 1700 individuals followed in their footsteps, and most ended up on small farm plots in eight colonies located very near to the DR’s border with Haiti. The few fishermen who made the journey quickly discovered that there were few fish in the waters they were allowed to fish in, and many gave up. For the farmers, the problems were insurmountable.

Instead of moving to an area of verdant acreage, the Japanese were sent to a land with extremely poor soil in a region plagued with drought. Promises of schools and hospitals were not met, and the farmers had no access to transportation options so they could not take their meager crops to market. The Japanese could barely feed themselves, let alone develop a thriving farm business.

By late 1961, most of the original settlers had left the Dominican Republic for Brazil or to return to Japan. A census in 1962 showed only 276 Japanese emigrants still in the DR.

However, some of the original emigrants and their descendants stayed in the DR and eventually moved to more fertile land. They managed to gradually create a viable community as well as a thriving agricultural business; a number still live in the DR.

In 2000, some of the surviving emigrants filed a legal suit in Japan requesting compensation from the Japanese Government for sending them to a land that proved to be unsuitable for farming. After a six-year legal battle, the emigrants won their case and Prime Minister Koizumi apologized to them for their sufferings. In addition, each emigrant still living in the DR received a 2 million-yen payment, while those who returned to Japan received a lesser amount. The emigrants who decided not to become party to the suit were also compensated.

This last one is particularly striking. The conventional narrative of Japanese emigration stops after 1945, except for war brides and, much later, business emigres. There’s the big wave of repatriation, which effectively ends Japan’s diaspora, as an active process. Then, as Japan’s economy grows, it becomes a destination rather than a source for mobile labor. But apparently, in the period before high-speed growth, there was still a little of the settler spirit — and the bureaucratic search for ways to push problems elsewhere — left.

  1. I read Borges in college and found him fun, almost familiar. Most people find Borges challenging, bizarre…. but they didn’t grow up reading my father’s science fiction and fantasy collection  

  2. I always pick the wrong topics to study: I could be doing my research there  

1 Comment

  1. One thing I have found interesting about recent work on Chinese diasporas is that many of them matter even if the Chinese eventually disappear. As an American I am used to thinking that immigrants matter to the extent that the people stick around and become part of the rich tapestry of colorful ethnic groups that is the foundation stone of American culture. Of course Chinese coolies mostly came as single men, and thus while they can matter a lot to the economic and political history of, say, Cuba, they mostly vanish as that first generation dies out and nobody is inclined to care about their history. I think Japanese patterns are a bit different, but as a historian I like to think that even things that are entirely in the past matter

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