Japan’s Diaspora Diplomacy: A Legacy of the “Imperial” Project

Ayumi Takenaka, Ritsumeikan University

The Japanese state has recently rekindled its interest in reaching out to overseas Japanese, especially in South America. Although they are mostly later-generation foreign nationals, the state engages with them as a special type of foreigners, called Nikkeijin, through various exchange programs and economic activities. This diaspora engagement, or “diaspora diplomacy” as I call it, has gained currency around the world. Many emigrant-sending states engage with their diasporas who are seen today as agents of economic development, cultural bridges, and business brokers between their countries of origin and residence. Diaspora outreach activities are not new, however, as seen in the case of Japan. Ever since emigrants were dispatched as part of the country’s national and empire-building project in the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, the Japanese state has been involved in emigrant affairs by establishing Japanese (agricultural) colonies and community institutions. This paper illustrates this by focusing on cotton trade between Japan and Peru (1920s-1940s) in which emigrants played a crucial role. Cultivating cotton with Japanese capital, emigrants in Peru helped supply raw materials for the flourishing textile industry in Japan. Then, textile products finished in Japan were imported back to Peru, mostly in the hands of Japanese traders and immigrant merchants. This type of “diasporic entrepreneurship” helped Japanese immigrants in Peru succeed economically, but it also fueled hostility against the immigrants who were perceived in the host society as “imperial subjects” and “puppets of the Japanese state.” Japan’s diaspora engagement today is a legacy of this history. Although the growing practice of diaspora outreach is typically examined from the perspective of the sending states’ interests, we need to look at the linkages cultivated historically to understand why sending states engage with their diasporas, as well as how they influence the integration of immigrants, today.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 113. Presidential Session: Contexts of Reception in Global and Historical Perspective