Imperial Visits and Attitudes

I just learned of the Japanese Emperor and Empress’ visit to Hawai’i [via]. It’s not the first time that a member of the Japanese Imperial family has visited the islands, though you would hardly know it from the gushing “historic” reports of the media. Though this is the first visit by Akihito as Emperor, Akihito has visited the islands before, as have other members of Japan’s now-symbolic dynasty. In addition to the Advertiser’s photo gallery, there are some excellent shots on Flickr by “731photo” and “onecardshort”, as well as one picture from the US Pacific Command.1

The continuing connection between the Hawai’i Japanese immigrant community and Japan was a matter of strategic concern from the beginning: The Kingdom of Hawai’i wanted to use Japan as a counterweight against US power; the Republic of Hawai’i used the threat of Japan — which was actively concerned about the treatment of Japanese in Hawai’i — to support the annexation of the islands by the US; in the Territorial era, disputes about immigration and about labor organization often involved the Japanese consulate.2 Chinese Old Man Statue 2 And it’s also true that the Japanese government considered Japanese emigrants to be an extension of the nation3 , and tried, in a fairly blunt fashion, to influence foreign opinion through the overseas communities. By the 1910s and 20s, discussion in the media and halls of power of the Hawaiian Japanese community as a potential “fifth column” was pretty common, and that view was also common on the mainland. It took an immigration ban, a war, Japan’s crushing defeat and entry into the US security system, and the “blood sacrifice” of Nikkei serving with distinction in the US military to overcome those fears, and transform the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants into simply “ethnic” Americans. So, a little over twenty years past the end of WWII, fifteen past the end of the US occupation, the centennial of Japanese immigration into Hawai’i could be celebrated with public monuments, publications and events.

This history is why I was so disturbed to read about PRC policy which sees overseas Chinese as intelligence and lobbying agents. There’s a reasonable argument to be made — as Ichioka does — that Japanese government policy towards emigrants gave support to anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and elsewhere. It’s true that other governments treat emigres as resources to some extent, and urge their citizens overseas to represent the nation well, but the level of coordination, and open encouragement distinguishes pre-war Japanese policy and current PRC policy from the rest of the pack. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a “Yellow Peril” panic in the US at this point, but there’s no question that this has lead to serious negative consequences for individuals, and could lead to wider problems in the future.


  1. That it’s a better shot of the Admiral than of the Emperor is, I suppose, not surprising.  

  2. See Gary Okihiro, John Stephan, also Morris-Suzuki  

  3. see also  


  1. Interesting piece, though I have a quibble/ question; namely, it seems to me the China Beat article is a bit more skeptical about the scale and scope of China’s efforts, and indeed it seems to offer only circumstantial evidence- do you think this is really a big issue? Or is it more a fear that it’ll get blown out of proportion in the US and perhaps eventually lead to some sort of yellow perilesque issue?

  2. The Chinese effort is, arguably, more extensive than the Japanese pre-war effort, and certainly more successful in terms of intelligence sources: there were no confirmed cases of Japanese immigrant espionage in the US before WWII, nor any post-war evidence that such espionage existed, though Japanese government agents certainly tried to develop contacts.

    “Scale and scope” are really matters of perception, at least in terms of political/social effect. The Chinese immigrant population in the US has been pretty well normalized for generations, at least in terms of citizenship, due to the alliance with the US against Japan and a pretty strong sense of separation from the PRC in the Maoist era. The rise of China as a global power (as opposed to an isolated one in the Maoist era) combined with this deliberate cultivation of ties to the Chinese-descended community (I don’t know of a word that’s the equivalent of ‘Nikkei’ for Chinese) really could produce a shift in attitudes, I think.

  3. Do you know of any scholarly research into this? It’s an interesting question on several levels.
    My personal experience has been HK/ Taiwan immigrants from the early eighties and later relate less to the PRC, while mainlanders feel a deeper connection- which makes perfect sense, I guess. One thing I find interesting is how the self-identities of immigrants moving to the US from a competing, rising power would develop, and whether or not the PRC could reverse the development of an American identity.

  4. I admit, I haven’t kept up at all on the literature regarding Chinese American identity. I say with great confidence, though, that such scholarship exists: look in sociology and anthropology journals, and Chinese studies conferences.

  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese government perceived itself as benefiting from strained conditions for ethnic Chinese; alienation encourages nationalism which encourages reverse migration from countries with higher average human development which provides well-educated human resources.

  6. You mean Western government and their respective intelligence agencies never tap their own emigrant citizens and sympathetic corporate/NGO entities for intelligence? Wow, what kinda myopic dreamscape certain people live in? Maybe its high time to beware the White Peril.

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