Japan-U.S. interface: readings on race and culture

Okay. I’m hoping I’m not writing too much…but I did some free-writing earlier today, and it was extremely helpful — I buzzed out 1.5 pages, single-spaced, in 15 minutes. I shouldn’t go without writing, for too long. I need to work time for it — beyond that 15 minutes per day for a free-write — into my daily schedules, or else I end up doing what I did this week (was it a couple of times, this week?), and spend an entire day writing stuff online.

It only takes me 3-6 hours to write and edit a post, but that is an extended period of time, in the scheme of things. I just don’t…really mind, so much.

For that matter, I do want to get back into some of my books on Writing (I’m particularly thinking of The Elements of Style, 4th ed., by Strunk & White — I stopped at the second section some months ago, back when I was helping tutor my cousin in English). There is so much I want to read. Like all that stuff on race and racism and culture that I have lined up. And the short story anthology that spun me off on a feminist tangent, but at least gave me something to think about.

That’s not to mention my Japanese lessons and Python lessons that I’ve put on hold to deal with the following:

I have an upcoming job interview — a major interview — for a Term position. I’ve been preparing for said interview, and the questions they ask are not necessarily easy ones to answer. The major reason I’m stressing over this is that it would really be great to get this job and get in the door…but seriously, the preparation is like studying for a test.

Sorry. “Quiz,” is what they call it when they don’t want to scare people.

But I mean, this is a 90-minute quiz. It won’t break me if I don’t get the position: I am already on notice that my applications are being reviewed in other places. And as unlikely as it is that I will get my other top choice (for now)…that post would also be nice, and fit into my future career plans and personal desire for knowledge, where it comes to working with Japanese language materials and East Asian diaspora and culture. It wouldn’t pay as much, but it would give me time to study and immerse myself in the project, time to seek a position for when that post ends, and a little bit of my own money to replace what I outlaid for my courses and professional association memberships.

So maybe I should prepare for the big interview — of course I should prepare — but I shouldn’t sweat it so much? Especially since that position, ends in September. The greatest use of it to me is to train me in editing metadata, and give me a recent record of employment. The money’s nice, but it isn’t everything. It’s not even the major benefit.

There’s also the possibility of going on within that same system, but I’ll need to ask what the process is, for that.

And I’m reminded of my TBR pile.

This whole thing with Japan-U.S. race relations…where do I start? I suppose I can start by saying that while doing research for — I think it was a Diversity class — I read (for what may have been the first time) that there was no concept of “Asian-American” before the Civil Rights movement. As best I can recall, “Asian-American” as a collective identity developed after the model of “African-American”. This was around the same period of time in which Ethnic Studies classes came into being, due to popular demand.

On the television show, “Amanpour & Co.”, several months ago (it may have been longer), there was a segment on a book by Michael Omi & Howard Winant, titled Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (2015). Apparently, from just flipping through the book, it looks like Omi & Winant go over this history, and the history of the concept of race in general in the U.S., but I haven’t read it yet. It disappeared for a number of months before I found it unread on a shelf, while looking for another book.

That book was: From Race to Ethnicity: Interpreting Japanese American Experiences in Hawai’i, by Jonathan Y. Okamura (2014). From Race to Ethnicity details the lives of early immigrants from Japan to Hawai’i, where they generally served as plantation laborers. As in other plantation systems in the U.S., there were abysmal living and working conditions, which — if I’m remembering correctly — pushed labor to mobilize. (That’s a very glossed-over version of it.) The book seems to follow the development of Japanese-American politics in Hawai’i from 1885 into the 21st century, but I’m not sure: I’ve only gotten 35 pages into this book.

Third, here, we have Subverting Exclusion: Transpacific Encounters With Race, Caste, and Borders, 1885-1928, by Andrea Geiger (2011). This book details the development of understanding of the American concept of “race” by Japanese migrants upon arriving in North America. You’ll keep seeing the year 1885 coming up; this is when Japan began to allow Japanese people to emigrate overseas as laborers. (p. 197)

Although it isn’t spoken about much, there apparently was a caste system in Japan called mibun. I’m not sure of the kanji spelling (I don’t see it given in Geiger), but I typed it into Google and retrieved 身分 from Wiktionary in Japanese, meaning, “social position or status.” (This particular caste system seems to have originated in the Tokugawa era. The Tokugawa era ended shortly after Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1853 and the opening of the borders, but its ways of understanding society lingered in the people.) The Tokugawa understanding of mibun influenced Japanese emigrants’ understandings of newfound low status when encountering racism in at least the United States (the book references both Canada and Mexico as well).

I know I’ve at least gotten 36 pages into this (to the beginning of Chapter 2), but for most — if not all — of that time, I was reading it online via an electronic library database. The database (Project MUSE) stores the full text of many Digital Humanities books — though I should let you know that it had a pretty awful font for this one. Also, libraries can pick what is in this database, so it may not be in your version of Project MUSE.

The last book, which under other circumstances I would give less of a chance, is The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno (2002). I’ve read the opening of this book, and apparently most of the content was written by Japanese students at Ehime University in seminars on cross-cultural communication. It’s meant to explain Japanese cultural concepts to foreigners.

Of course, being freakin’ American, I have a bit of caution about overgeneralizing any group of people. (For example, “what is the woman’s view?” [which I’ve seen men in Japan honestly ask women on camera] is bizarrely reducing, to my [American] sensibilities. Half the planet’s population is made of women; there will be disagreements.) This doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, in Japan…or at least, it doesn’t seem to be loudly and publicly challenged. The latter is not congruent with cultural norms.

But that book, I have barely gotten into. I would use what’s given in the book (if I’m right about its content) to shed light on what I know of my local and extended family, with incidents in my history, with the Japanese-American (日系人 = nikkeijin = Japanese of foreign birth) community, and with my own morals and training. There is a definite history of specifically Japanese-American experience scattered through family memory. Piecing it together, but more than that; understanding its context (nothing arises independently), what filtered through the generations to me, and understanding past generations, are my aims.

For instance, I know that my Japanese-American grandmother was raised Catholic. Catholicism had been in Japan for centuries, but it was a persecuted religion, and could have been a reason to emigrate. In addition, so far as I know, our family may have originated in Hiroshima Prefecture. We really don’t know where, and we really don’t know whether they were wiped out at the end of WWII with the atomic bomb (there is a capital called Hiroshima, which is where the bomb went off; and there is a wider area around it called Hiroshima-ken [or Hiroshima Prefecture], which is more likely as a familial origin area).

But really, a lot of Japanese-American families probably originated in Hiroshima; I’m just forgetting my source, right now. It would really help to have the map I saw, of this.

Looking up my ancestry in Japan probably requires literacy in reading Japanese, which I don’t yet have. It also may require traveling to Japan to see the monuments and archives. That isn’t happening anytime soon.

I know I haven’t outlined these books here, before: but I’m leaving this note up for myself so that I can recall my TBR pile (and maybe move it off of my nightstand).

I suppose that in this specific post, I haven’t addressed the purpose of reading about race, racism and Japan. I’ve mentioned that I’m mixed-race. My non-Japanese parent had a very tough time being accepted by their in-laws, and race…I’d say, is still an issue. Even though no one — not even the person being targeted in this case — can do anything about it. Why does anyone still care about this? Why regard a person poorly because of something they did not choose and cannot change?

I’m not sure. But that was the reason I began looking at Subverting Exclusion. There is also the very credible prospect of generational trauma: my grandmother was alive at the time of the WWII Japanese Internment, though she went East to college, instead of to Camp (as was the norm on the West Coast). I’d think that being a young Japanese woman on one’s own in the U.S. during WWII, must have been harrowing.

Japanese culture is highly hierarchical. It’s possible that she didn’t want her child marrying anyone of a “lower” social rank, and that’s what all this was about. Status. Whereas, my parents married for love, not status.

There’s a whole story here that I probably shouldn’t get into, right now.

I specifically put these four books together to see if the image they painted could help me either in my writing (as I realized that with my Writing and Research skills, I could do a decent job at pursuing the writing of my own book), with my self-knowledge, or in my professional life. As a member of multiple diasporas, there are a lot of gaps in my self-knowledge. Some of these I can trace back. Some are much harder to deal with.

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for any of the texts or services I mention in this post. Also: don’t rely on my overview of a book as gospel; I haven’t read any of them deeply, yet!

4 responses to “Japan-U.S. interface: readings on race and culture”

  1. That sounds so interesting. I’ve read a decent amount about Japanese Americans (because I like reading about Americans, personally) and knew 1% of what you posted—it’s nice to learn new stuff! When you’re done with the books, do you mind giving a review?☺️

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: