Accepted Paper:

A semantics of transnational mobility: the Japanese migration to Brazil and the political vocabulary  

Author:

Koji Sasaki

Paper short abstract:

An analysis of the Japanese concepts of migration reveals the changing political conditions in which transnational mobility has acquired varied social values. Concepts such as imin, ijūsha, zaigai dōhō, and Nikkeijin are examined in relation to Japan’s emigration policy in the twentieth century.

Paper long abstract:

A close analysis of the Japanese concepts of migration reveals the changing political conditions in which transnational mobility acquired varied social value. In Japanese, the generic term, "imin," is used to refer to both the act (im/emigration) and subject (im/emigrant) of mobility. Throughout much of the twentieth century, however, the word was typically associated with the image of emigration rather than immigration as the Japanese government sought to counter the problem of overpopulation through a large-scale emigration program. Brazil was the largest destination.

While emigration to Brazil played a central role in the Japanese understanding of migration, the vocabulary of mobility became subject to contest. In the first half of the twentieth century, Japanese emigrants in Brazil often perceived themselves as victims of a failed state project, saying that "emigrants were abandoned people" (imin wa kimin). After World War II, the Japanese government introduced a rather neutral term, "ijūsha," in an attempt to bypass the negative connotation associated with the more conventional term. At the same time, the notion of "Nikkeijin" was put into use as Japan sought to reformulate its ties with the overseas population, formerly called "zaigai dōhō". Today, many Brazilian emigrants proudly refer to themselves as imin and remain cautious of the Japanese government's attempt to revise the past.

This paper will trace the history of the Japanese concepts of migration and analyze the process in which the subject of migration was constructed by both the state and the migrants.

Panel P064
Keywords of human mobility: a comparative cultural perspective (EASA/JASCA joint panel)