This panel contends that flows of people—in many cases better understood as circulations—have had an enduring and overlooked impact on Japanese history, and the papers also serve to problematize conventional periodization, framing and narrating of the history of Japanese migration.
Scholars who have examined Japanese migration to the colonial empire and beyond have tended to follow conventional historical periodization even though this rarely makes sense from the perspective of migrants themselves. Colonial migration, for example, is usually examined from whenever a given territory officially became a colony until imperial collapse in 1945, but as will be shown in these papers, colonial settlers, more often than not, built on pre-existing migratory flows (Yamamoto and Ivings), and in addition, these people were again uprooted as Japan's empire was dissolved (Bull). Historical research into Japanese migration has also suffered from what could be described as a two-dimensional approach, namely a tendency to fragment research onto particular sending regions and/or destinations (i.e. migration from A to B; or from the perspective of either A or B) rather than explore the connections between regions and the circulation of people between them. Furthermore, the separation of the field in Japan into scholars who study overseas migration and those who study migration to the colonies has served to replicate prewar official discourse/rhetoric on migration, where a sharp distinction was made between "praiseworthy" colonists (shokumin) working in the imperial interest and self-seeking emigrants (imin) looking to get rich quick. Yet, on the ground, these lines were often blurred beyond recognition. Itinerant individuals drifting between spaces created a set of complex entanglements that contributed to Japan's economic growth and invited colonial expansion (Yamamoto), whilst a closer look at colonists often reveals activities and interests at odds with the imperial visions of the centre (Ivings). Ironically, these distinctions were dissolved after 1945 as these people were suddenly rendered "repatriates" (hikiagesha), but rather than blend into the postwar landscape and forget their migratory past, former colonial settlers sought to mobilize and narrate their experiences for political ends (Bull). Overall, this panel contends that flows of people—in many cases better understood as circulations—have had an enduring and overlooked impact on Japanese history, and the papers also serve to problematize conventional periodization, framing and narrating of the history of Japanese migration itself.