Japanese Diasporic Network across the Pacific before WWII: Migrations of people and coffee plants from Hawai‘i to the Japanese Insular Territories

IIJIMA, Mariko
Associate Professor
English Studies

  In the prewar period, Hawai‘i accepted as many as 240,000 migrants from Japan, who constituted a major labor force on sugar plantations. As other histories of Japanese migrants overseas, a majority of previous researches on Japanese in Hawai‘i have been focused on those who ended up settling in their destination while quite a few of them in fact returned home, or continued their journey to another destination including the mainland US. In this paper, the main focus lies on the Japanese migrants who moved from Hawai‘i to the Japan’s insular territories—Taiwan and Saipan. Despite a small scale of human outflows compared to the one from Hawai‘i to the mainland US, those who migrated to Saipan and Taiwan had significant impacts on the agricultural and economic developments of these newly acquired territories of the Japanese Empire. In addition, a series of movements of businessmen and agricultural migrants who had experienced migrating to Hawai‘i created the diasporic network, which transcended the imperial border between the US and Japanese empires and connected their insular territories. Through this diasporic network, not only coffee but also other agricultural commodities including sugar and pineapple, along with production and processing skills, were introduced to Japanese settlers in Saipan and Taiwan.

This paper attempts to provide two perspectives that have rarely focused on previous discussions of imperial history and global food history. First, in understanding migrations in the field of imperial history, oftentimes movements within an empire (i.e., between a metropole and colonies) have been explored predominantly, whereas movements between the inside and outside of an empire have been rather disregarded; however, this empirical study discusses multi-directional and trans-border migration patterns of people, skills, knowledge and capital from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. Secondly, in examining coffee to understand the historical globalization of food production at the turn of the 20th century, Asian people including Japanese were described as coolies or migrant laborers subordinated to the colonizers. Instead, the history of coffee production in Saipan and Taiwan demonstrates the presence of Japanese migrant settlers as developers and owners of coffee plantations in the Asia-Pacific region.

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 16K03003.

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