Racialized Citizenship in the American and Japanese Empires

When and Where

Tuesday, March 21, 2023 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Room 208N (2nd floor, North House)
Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON M5S 3K7


Asako Masubuchi (Doshisha University, Kyoto)
Michael Roellinghoff (University of Alberta)


The event will feature the following two presentations:

Transpacific Subjectivities: Okinawan Nisei in Hawaii and Militarization of the Pacific By Asako Masubuchi

This paper examines the transpacific life course of Thomas Taro Higa to explore the shifting identities of Okinawan nisei in Hawaii during and after World War II. By doing so, this paper reveals how the indeterminate status of Okinawa under the U.S. military occupation shaped the distinctive consciousness and identities of the Okinawan diaspora in Hawaii.

Higa was a so-called “kibei nisei,” born in Hawaii to Okinawan parents and returned to Hawaii after receiving his education in Okinawa and working briefly in Osaka and Tokyo. During World War II, Higa served with the all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion. Immediately after the war, Higa organized the Okinawa Relief Movement to send relief goods to war-devastated Okinawa.
In many ways, Higa was at the nexus of Japanese Americans who were trying to restore their status as American citizens and Okinawan immigrants who were building up their ethnic identity through the act of saving their homeland Okinawa. Through examining Higa’s life experiences within the context of the Cold War, occupation of Okinawa, and postwar Japanese Americans’
efforts for citizenship, this paper aims to rethink postwar Okinawa from a transpacific perspective.

Dr. Asako Masubuchi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Policy Studies at Doshisha University, Kyoto. She holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the questions of militarism, racism, and biopolitics in U.S.-occupied Okinawa. Her works include “Stamping Out the ‘Nation-Ruining Disease’: Anti-Tuberculosis Campaign in US-Occupied Okinawa” (Social History of Medicine, Vol. 34, Issue 4, November 2021).


Nation and Nationality as a White "Possessions" in Japan and the United States By Michael Roellinghoff

In this paper, I discuss early 20th century Japanese critiques of Asian exclusion laws in Anglophone settler colonies. Intellectuals such as Mori Ōgai, Nagai Ryūtarō, and Ōkuma Shigenobu understood Asian exclusionism and European imperialism in Asia as constituting a single "white peril”
which threatened all of Asia. At a time when Japan’s “Great Power”
status seemed to signify Euro-American recognition of the Japanese Empire as an equal partner, Asian exclusionism marked the tangible limits of Japan’s acceptance into the international community. Arguing that this reflected a larger dynamic -- well understood by Westernizing Meiji reformers -- according to which Euro-Americans claimed sovereignty, civilization, and the nation-state formation itself as exclusively white "possessions," I analyze “white peril” critiques together with attempts by Japanese immigrants in the United States to "pass" as (the supposedly "Caucasian") Ainu in order to bypass exclusion laws and naturalize as US citizens.

Dr. Michael Roellinghoff (he/him) is a historian specializing in Indigeneity, colonialism, and race in modern Japan. He is currently an Associate at the University of Toronto Asian Institute and a Research Fellow at the University of Alberta.

PDF iconMarch 21, 2023 - Racialized Citizenship.pdf

Contact Information


Dr. David Chu Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Asia Institute