Scholars discuss research in JA studies at JAMsj


SAN JOSE — A group of scholars shared the findings of their research in Japanese American studies July 13 at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Jane Yamashiro, Jeffrey Yamashita and Dean Adachi spoke to an audience of approximately 50 people as part of a lecture, “Emerging Research in Japanese American Studies.”

The event focused on subjects such as Japanese American identity in Japan, a Nisei war hero, and the significance of Christianity in the Japanese American community.

Moderator Steve Fugita, a JAMsj board member, introduced the graduate researchers as “three cutting-edge scholars.”

He said, “They research and write textbooks on who Japanese Americans are and what they do.”

Fugita said that the goal of the event was to allow the graduate researchers to share their insight into the history of Japanese Americans.

“Our goal is to bring a sample of Japanese Americans’ history to the general public,” Fugita said, adding that it is a busy time for the graduate researchers.

“They will know more about Asian American studies once they get into the tenure track. We are catching them on the cusp,” he said.

Jane Yamashiro, who is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California’s Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, spoke about how Japanese Americans living in Japan develop unique national and racial identities.

She said that Japanese Americans, who are a minority in the United States, face unique challenges in Japan because they blend into Japan’s population and at the same time are “foreigners.”

Yamashiro, who previously lived in Japan as a participant in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, said, “Since ‘Japanese’ means ‘not a foreigner’ and ‘foreigner’ means ‘not Japanese,’ people who are both ‘Japanese’ and ‘foreigners’ do not really fit.”

As a result, Yamashiro said that many Japanese Americans living in Japan must develop a new “racialized national identity.”

“Looking Japanese and lacking fluency in the Japanese language and culture leads to a ‘recategorization.’ Japanese Americans feel misunderstood,” said Yamashiro, who has conducted graduate research in Yokohama, Japan.

Despite the fact that Japanese Americans frequently feel misunderstood in Japan, the Japanese in Japan often respect them, Yamashiro said. “I realized we are more valued as English-speaking foreigners, specifically as Westerners,” she said, adding that Koreans and Chinese who move to Japan do not receive the same respect as Japanese Americans.

She added that Japanese Americans who live in Japan frequently develop more pride in being American.

“Some are able to represent the U.S. for the first time,” Yamashiro said.

The event also featured a lecture by Jeffrey Yamashita, a doctoral student in ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He spoke on “The Most Honorable Sons: Framing Heroic Masculinities in the Japanese American Community.” Yamashita documented the struggles of Nisei war hero Sgt. Ben Kuroki, a U.S. Air Force gunner who served in combat in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Yamashita, who is also the co-president of the Berkeley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, spoke about the intersection of masculinity and race in relation to Kuroki.

Yamashita said that Kuroki, who was raised in Hershey, Neb., was originally rejected from the U.S. military due to his Japanese ancestry.

After completing his service, Kuroki was invited to speak to a group of predominantly white men at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at the suggestion of political activist Ruth Kingman.

Yamashita said that after Kuroki’s speech, Kingman offered an analysis in which she spoke of the war hero in racist terms.

“She said that Kuroki was a ‘little, wiry, thin, buck-toothed Jap’ and that he was certainly not commanding. Kingman’s account denigrated Kuroki. The undertone of the message is paternalistic,” said Yamashita, who has two great uncles who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

He said that after Kuroki made his speech at the Commonwealth Club, he visited many concentration camps to encourage men to enlist in the war. For instance, he spoke at the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho. The Minidoka newspaper described Kuroki as a “Nisei war hero.”

Yamashita said that Kuroki represented a complicated image of a war hero, in that he was the picture of both U.S. military might and racialized identity.

Following Yamashita’s lecture, Adachi spoke about the role of religion, specifically Christianity, in Japanese American history.

Adachi, who is a doctoral candidate in history at Claremont Graduate University, focused on one of the first Japanese American Christian converts, the Rev. Kanichi Miyama, who was ordained as an Episcopal minister. Born in Japan, Miyama eventually moved to the United States, where he became a member of the California Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He subsequently became ordained.

“Miyama was the first Japanese American to be baptized as Christian. He transformed Japan into a global, industrialized leader,” Adachi said.

While serving at the Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco, Miyama was sent to Hawai‘i to help organize the Honolulu Japanese Christian Church in 1887. The congregation had been seeking a Japanese-speaking minister. At the Honolulu Japanese Christian Church,

Miyama evangelized to Japanese immigrants who worked on the plantations. He held prayer services each morning and eventually converted many Japanese who formerly practiced Buddhism. Following his ministry work in Hawai‘i, he eventually returned to Japan, where he continued to evangelize at a Methodist church.

Adachi said that while researching the roots of Christianity in Japanese American communities, Miyama was the only minister whose name repeatedly appeared.

Barbara Zaslow, an attendee at the event, said that she found the researchers’ lectures to be insightful.

“I thought that the presentation was interesting,” said Zaslow, who stopped by to listen to the researchers before heading out to enjoy the San Jose Obon.

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