JPRI Working Paper No. 72: October 2000
Shedding The Unwanted: Japan's Emigration Policy
by Toake Endoh
In July 2000, some 126 Japanese immigrants and their families, who in the 1950s had migrated to the Dominican Republic, filed a $23 million group lawsuit against the Japanese government, seeking to recover damages to them caused by the state-sponsored emigration project. This news refreshed Japanese citizens' memory of the historical details-- that Japanese emigration to Latin America continued well into the 1960s, under state auspices and as national policy.
Japan's emigration policy, particularly its sending of some 300,000 Japanese to Latin America and the Caribbean, lasted from the 1920s until the 1960s. Emigration has usually been treated as an international economic "phenomenon" and therefore as policy- or politically-neutral. But this was certainly not true of Great Britain's export of convicts and other undesirables to the American colonies and later to Australia. Similarly, the Japanese state was the active underwriter and director of its emigration policy, which has often been criticized as a "dumping-people policy" (kimin seisaku). Under what conditions, both global and domestic, did this policy emerge? What was the state's motivation or intent, and where did the emigrants originate?
The Japanese state's policy was developed in the 1920s, postdating the emigration phenomenon itself, which had already started in the 1890s. What used to be conducted by private migration agencies, the prewar Japanese state intensified by its direct involvement, ranging from making international arrangements with host governments to institutionalizing domestic recruitment processes via the Ministry of Home Affairs (Naimusho), the Department of Overseas Affairs (Takumusho), and regional governments. Where Japanese emigration to Hawaii and the U.S. was concerned, the government maintained a neutral position out of fear of the growing U.S. antagonism towards Asian immigrants. However, the Japanese state did not hide its assertiveness and aggressiveness in advancing emigration to Latin America. Despite the worsening social circumstances of Japanese immigrants in South American host countries such as Peru and Brazil, the government continued to promote the policy until Manchuria-bound migration took its place in the mid-1930s.
After World War II and the ensuing occupation by the Allied Forces, the Japanese state, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as chief sponsor, resumed its Latin American emigration policy. During the 1950s and mid-1960s, about 65,000 Japanese were herded to the Brazilian Amazon and the interior, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay-- the less developed economies by Latin American standards. Tokyo said its policy was a solution to the population pressure caused by the massive repatriation of Japanese civilians and veterans, which is said to have amounted to 8-9 million during the late 1940s.
Both the prewar and postwar policies of sponsored emigration to Latin America have the following paradoxes in common:
- Emigrants were sent to less developed countries or regions where market conditions for immigrant labor were unfavorable in terms of profitability, chances of success for settlement, and local demand for immigrant labor.
- Emigrants came primarily from southwest Japan, which is mostly rural and traditionally agrarian, but not outstandingly so compared to other regions at the time. This pattern of regional concentration in the emigrants' place of origin was also evident in the period of voluntary migration. However, the pattern was not diluted nor did it disappear when Tokyo began to promote Latin American emigration as a national policy, whereas recruitment for Manchuria-bound emigration was nation-wide. The southwest concentration of Latin American-bound emigrants re-emerged in the postwar period.
These anomalies raise further questions. Why did the Japanese state insist upon continuing the policy for so long despite unfavorable conditions and social animosity toward the Japanese immigrants? Why, despite the official pretext that these were "voluntary emigrations," was permanent settlement in state designated "colonias" a de facto requirement? And why did the sender state regulate the settlers' professions, place of residence, and products for cultivation? Why did the Japanese state continue to try to exercise control over its diaspora communities in South America?
I believe that as a developmental state Japan utilized its emigration policy in order to maximize domestically available "resources" (i.e., emigrants). By relocating redundant (i.e., unwanted) labor offshore and utilizing these diasporas in the Americas, the state attempted to accumulate national wealth by means of foreign exchange remittances, diversification of import suppliers, market expansion for Japanese exports, and development of a foundation for Japan's multinational operations. The policy also had a distinct political function-- to attempt to prevent civil strife within Japan and to maintain social order. Political ferment in the southwest, the cradle of the emigrants, and the convergence of various radicalized social protest groups and classes, prompted a deep sense of crisis and vulnerability within the central state. In order to maintain internal order, the Japanese state-- both prewar and postwar-- employed its emigration policy to weed out actual and potential sources of social unrest and to send them abroad. However, the policy was more dynamic than simply "dumping the unwanted." The state then attempted to re-program the former dissidents to be obedient national loyalists and to re-incorporate them into Japan's organic polity. It did this with subsidies to the colonias and other programs, and-- most recently-- its willingness to reimport descendants of these emigrants back into Japan.
Postwar Japanese government-sponsored emigration to Latin America (that is, from 1951 to 1969) comprised approximately 70,000 individuals. Their destinations are given in Table 1.
|Destinations of Postwar Japanese Emigrants to Latin America (1952-1969)
||Number of immigrants
Table 2 reveals their places of origin.
Note: *=Southwest regions
|Prefectural Contributors to Overseas Migration (Postwar: 1952-1983)
||Percentage of total
|Other southwest areas*
Source: Data from Saga-ken Norin-bu Nogyo Shinko-ka, Saga-ken Kaigai Ijuu-shi(1986), p. 138.
Just as in the case of Italians who migrated to the U.S. in the 1920s from Sicily and Southern Italy, Swedes who came to Minnesota largely from the lower south and coastal areas, Spaniards going to Cuba who were mostly from Galicia, and Chinese emigrants who came largely from Fujian and Guangdong, it can be argued that Japanese emigrants also came from Japan's poorest prefectures. And I certainly would not rule out the economic-push factor, particularly in the prewar period before emigration became a state policy. But while socioeconomic factors may have been necessary conditions, they are not sufficient to explain the regional clustering in the southwest of emigrants to Latin America.
The Political Profile of the Emigrants
The reason the Japanese state focused so much on the southwest in its Latin American emigration policy was that it felt uneasy about social instability in the region. A substantial number of emigrants who were recruited by state promoters were among the most radical elements in southwestern politics. They were peasants, burakumin, and unionized coal miners during the prewar period and burakumin and coal miners during the postwar.* While the southwest is not the only region of Japan that had a large agrarian population, burakumin and coal miners were heavily clustered in the southwest. Political radicalization of these social groups caused the state to view them as politically dangerous and unwanted, to be removed abroad by emigration. While their emigration was disguised as "voluntary" migration (as opposed to exile or ostracism), it was in fact quasi-forced, involving various forms of state manipulation and control. The policy did not target specific individuals (e.g., activists or people who had been arrested) but it was intended to alleviate possible political strife in the southwest region.
The timing of the implementation of the state-organized policy coincides with the culmination of social protests by the above-mentioned groups. The decades of the 1920s and 1950s were "decades of living dangerously" in southwestern politics. In the prewar period there were two peaks (1928-30 and 1933-34) in the number of emigrants sent to Latin America, and these immediately followed major economic and political disturbances-- recession, riots, union strikes-- in the southwest. In the postwar period, as the regionally-based confrontation between the state and social protesters (burakumin and organized coal miners) intensified during the late 1950s, the number of emigrants increased accordingly.
The state's sense of insecurity was particularly strong regarding the situation in southwestern Japan because this area has traditionally been a region of separatist movements and rebellions, notably at the time of the Meiji Restoration. Although the politicization of peasants, burakumin, and labor became a nation-wide phenomenon in both cities and the countryside during the crisis decades, no other region was under such enormous pressure, created by the synchronism and coalescence of multiple social movements. A united popular front sharpened people's criticism of the state's ideology of developmentalism, monopoly capitalism, and social control. This convergence of multiple anti-system social movements made southwestern politics distinct and dangerous in the eyes of the central authority.
It is widely known that Japanese emigrants to Latin America came from rural farming villages. While there is no comprehensive census data that specifies the original occupations of all these emigrants, their more specific social profiles were tenant or minuscule farmers, fishermen, and other "rural blue-collar" workers (mostly coal miners) in the prewar period, and the expatriates from Japan's former colonies, the unemployed, and coal miners in the postwar period. Yet, one crucial fact about the social profile of the Japanese emigrants that is hardly mentioned in official histories is that the Latin American emigrants included a substantial number of so-called burakumin. The socially-discriminated-against burakumin were heavily concentrated in the southwest and consisted of tenant and small-scale farmers or farmers-turned-into-miners. While it is extremely difficult to give the exact number of burakumin emigrants to Latin America (since they tended to conceal their former "social identity" once they started a new life there), one can gain some idea from the fact that "villages" of origin of the emigrants were those heavily populated by burakumin.
These socially marginal groups emerged in the 1920s as active participants in the Japanese political system as Japan became more liberalized. Their exploited, discriminated-against, and underrepresented conditions made their collective claims and actions highly radical and politicized.
The farmers who had formed major peasant movements in the Tokugawa period were largely landless tenants or small farmers on the verge of being at a subsistence level. However, the introduction into this pre-modern mode of agrarian production of a new system of commercial capitalism (growing crops for export and for money) worsened small and landless peasants' plight and sharpened their discontent. When the Meiji government launched a series of anti-agrarian laws (such as a land tax, unilateral valuation of lands, and rice quality control), the peasants took direct action against land speculators and landlords' arbitrary rent increases. From the very early days of the Meiji Restoration, collective protests by tenants and small farmers had unnerved the countryside. Tenant disputes during the first decade of the Restoration (1868-1878) alone already amounted to over 190 cases, compared to less than 600 throughout the 264-year-long Tokugawa period.
Moreover, the left-wing peasant movement, such as the communist-affiliated National Peasants Association (Zenkoku Nomin Kumiai), was mostly based in the western and southwestern parts of Japan, with its headquarters in Osaka and large memberships in Okayama, Fukuoka, Nara, and Shimane prefectures. Influenced by Christian socialism and Soviet-Marxism, the radicalized peasant movement became more sophisticated in its demands and methods. While rent reduction continued to be the focal issue in their protests against the landlords, their internal discourse and public propaganda became more ideological. In the past, tenants would "plead" for a temporary reduction of rents due to bad harvests; now they started to demand a permanent reduction of arbitrary rents and to assert their rights vis-ö-vis landlords, even though the Meiji Constitution still guaranteed a landlord's right unilaterally to decide his rent fees as well as whether or not to rent his farm land at all.
Burakumin are the socially marginal group that has been discriminated against in Japanese society for what George De Vos and Hiroshi Wagatsuma call a "pseudo-historical religious mythology." Small in numbers (less than 1 percent of the total population), the burakumin are largely clustered in southwest and central western Japan. As of 1924, the southwestern region held some 24 percent of the total burakumin population. In southwestern Japan burakumin were mostly rural peasants, fishermen, or coal miners. This meant that in terms of their revolutionary potential they could constitute a multiple social threat: a burakumin could also be a farmer or a miner, or both. In fact, many peasant-burakumin became coal miners because their tiny and often infertile farmlands forced them to take second jobs as colliers. In the prewar period, they launched a highly militant struggle to improve their status and advance their rights, known as the Suiheisha (the Leveling Society). Its anti-system ideology and alliances with other "minorities" (e.g., Koreans) unnerved the political establishment.
Despite the occupation's democratization from above, social, political, and economic discrimination against the burakumin continued after the war. Moreover, land appropriation by the U.S. military in Itazuke in Fukuoka, Nihonbara in Okayama, Etajima in Hiroshima, and other places displaced former burakumin residents from the new military facilities. Many of these displaced small farmers migrated to northern Kyushu to find jobs in the coal mines.
Frustrated by the state's inattention to their problems and their political under-representation in party politics, the autonomous burakumin movement reconstituted itself outside the formal political arena and developed into a major social critic of postwar conservative politics. On August 18, 1945, three days after Japan's surrender, the former burakumin leaders, many of whom had just been released from prisons, formed the National Committee of Buraku Liberation (Buraku Kaiho Zenkoku Iinkai). In January 1946, at its first national assembly meeting in Kyoto, the National Committee unveiled a radical manifesto to fight against zaibatsu monopoly capitalism, privileged aristocracy (demanding its abolition), and all other obstacles to popular democracy. This national organization, which in 1960 became the Burakumin Liberation League, came under socialist leadership and Committee Chairman Jiichiro Matsumoto ran for the Lower House from the Fukuoka district in the first postwar general election of April 1947. He won 420,000 votes, the fourth largest among all the candidates. Matsumoto's popularity among his constituency shocked the political establishment.
The leftward inclination of the burakumin movement under Matsumoto was conspicuous throughout the 1950s, as was its alliance with organized labor in the Kyushu coal mines and its protest against the Japanese government's revision of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The burakumin-labor united front exacerbated the political atmosphere in the Kyushu region and from the late 1940s until the early 1960s increased the central state's fear of an open class confrontation in the rural southwest.
In 1948, Jiichiro Matsumoto also made a public gesture to show his pro-democracy belief in front of Emperor Hirohito in the Imperial Palace. Rejecting the convention that all public officials walk sideways like a crab when approaching the Emperor (so as not to face him directly), Matsumoto instead walked directly up to him. Matsumoto thought the crab-walking custom was anti-constitutional and outdated. His "disloyal" act deeply outraged royalist politicians, such as Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. The conservative leader denounced Matsumoto as an "avowed opponent of the Emperor system." Matsumoto's act must also have appeared as a recurrence of the 1910-1911 Great Treason incident, in which anarcho-syndicalists, including a burakumin, allegedly plotted to assassinate Emperor Meiji. A vengeful Yoshida in turn plotted Matsumoto's purge from public positions with the help of General MacArthur, who was also determined to keep the emperor on the Japanese throne. However, contrary to Yoshida's intentions, Matsumoto won overwhelming sympathy and support from unions, political parties, and other groups. Nonetheless Yoshida's and MacArthur's efforts against Matsumoto were well remembered as a bitter collective memory among the burakumin that later carried over into their anti-U.S. actions.
The Coal Miners' Movement
Like the burakumin, the miner population was concentrated in the southwestern part of Japan because this was where the coal industry was predominantly located. During the heyday of the industry (that is, until the 1960s), four of the six largest mining centers in the nation were located in the region: Chikuho, Miike, Takashima, and Karatsu. Among them, Chikuho produced about 50 percent of the total national production during its peak. Production increases were achieved by increasing the labor force, mostly via domestic migration. As a result, northern Kyushu underwent rapid population growth. The once sparsely-populated and industrially-backward region became a magnet for domestic labor, mostly from the rest of Kyushu and the Sanyo regions. In Fukuoka prefecture, for example, the number of miners grew from 32,000 in the early Meiji period (the 1870s) to 70,000 by the 1910s.
Japan's rapid economic development as well as its prewar militarization required a large amount of "black diamonds" (i.e., coal). The larger the domestic demand for more coal production, the more exploitative companies' labor use became. And the worse the exploitation, the sharper class antagonism between labor and employers grew. Encouraged by the rising labor movement in the early 20th century, coal miners started to unionize in order to expand workers' rights and improve their working conditions. Their labor movement developed into a highly militant and politically progressive anti-system movement. From Tokyo's viewpoint, the organized miners were leading southwestern society into "class war."
It is no accident that the state's need for labor in the mines and its fear of organized labor led it to turn to the use of more docile and unorganized Koreans after the annexation of Korea in 1910, and to the use of Filipino and American prisoners of war during the Pacific War. Immediately after the war, the Japanese state attempted to secure enough labor power at the mines by offering material incentives (the Emergency Labor Force Supply Law of October 1945). SCAP, also hoping to strengthen the labor supply, ordered the repatriation of former miners to their old job sites. Preferential treatment by the state in food, housing, and wages easily attracted others, like war veterans and expatriates from the former colonies, who were in desperate search of food and jobs, even if they had no previous experience in mining. In this way the Kyushu coal mines became a focus of internal migration and the new miners, later on, a reserve army for emigration to Latin America.
But no sooner had the occupation army marched into Tokyo than labor was endowed with rights of unionization and negotiation with capital. The former authoritarian structure that had severely restricted labor's economic and political life was demolished by democratization from above. SCAP's permission to unionize immediately reached the ears of coal miners in Kyushu. The first postwar coal-miners' union was born in Tagomori, Kyushu, as early as October 1945, just two months after the war ended. After that, labor unions began to mushroom at all the major mining companies, literally "one union per pit face."
The drastic changes in the international political arena of the 1950s also turned the state's relationship with the coal industry into one of mutual distrust and antagonism. Communist expansion in East Asia (the communist victory in China in 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950) influenced southwestern Japan. Communist infiltration into unions like the Sanbetsu federation became conspicuous and the number of radical union members who belonged to these left-wing unions increased. However, Cold War developments in Japan made Washington change its basic policy toward Japanese labor-- from a softline to a hardline approach. SCAP became less tolerant of labor's exercise of workers' rights. In the 1950s, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida introduced a "reddo paaji" (red purge)-- McCarthyism ö la Yoshida-- to eliminate prominent activists from the coal-mining unions using the Subversive Activities Prevention Law (the so-called Habo-ho).
On the economic front, the post-Korean-War economic contraction (1953-1954) in Japan sent the coal industry into deep recession. The oversupply of coal and the competition with cheaper foreign sources depressed domestic coal prices. Mining concerns responded to the market crisis with wage cuts and the "rationalization" of production, including massive layoffs. The "energy revolution" to replace coal with oil as Japan's basic energy source was a fatal blow to the coal and coal-related industries. In 1955, the state initiated a five-year plan to rationalize (or gradually phase-out) this sunset industry by shutting down inefficient mines while intensifying the productivity of the surviving ones (the "scrap and build" policy under the Coal Mining Rationalization Special Measures Law of 1955). By then, coal miners became not only politically but also economically "unwanted people" for the state. Now the state had to draw up a strategic plan for "how to get rid of those unwanted people."
The "scrap and build" policy planned to eliminate 60,000 jobs in the coal industry within five years. However, the layoff plan provoked strong resistance among the miners' unions. The confrontation between the radical unions and the state culminated in the Great Miike Strike (1959-1960), the longest and biggest strike in Japan's labor history. The Miike workers tried to mobilize a nation-wide labor movement against capital and the state while gaining financial and moral support from the society. Labor Minister Hirohide Ishii admitted that this movement mobilized more people than the total who fought in the great Satsuma Rebellion early in the Meiji period.
Along with the "scrap and build" restructuring plan, the state also had to address the issue of how to cope with the laid-off workers and how to create new jobs for them. Discussions took place within the Ministries of Labor, Health and Welfare, and Foreign Affairs and the Economic Planning Agency about a compensation program for the former coal miners. In addition to severance pay and new housing subsidies, overseas emigration was put on the table as an option. The Law on Rationalization Measures for the Coal Mining Industry (Sekitan Kogyo Gorika Shochi Ho) of 1955 even planned a temporary migration of 500 miners to West Germany. On November 2, 1956, the West German labor ministry agreed to this request and between 1957 and 1965 the program in fact sent 436 Japanese to coal mines in the Ruhr region on three-year contracts.
The state also increased its interest in miners' emigration to Latin America, which had re-opened its gates to Japanese immigrants in 1952. The Latin American option seemed more promising than the German one because Latin America possessed a larger capacity to absorb immigrants on a permanent basis (as opposed to the temporary emigration to West Germany). The Ministry of Labor prepared for a mass relocation project of sending agriculturalists, silkworm growers, and coal mine workers to Latin America, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and overseas organizations of Japanese.
Because the Japanese state worried that countries accepting the emigrants and their overseas Nikkei communities might not be pleased to be receiving "militant" workers from the then world-famous Miike mines, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Economic Planning Agency tried to "disguise" miner-emigrants as agricultural migrants by providing them with a 520-hours-long agricultural-training program in Japan. Prefectural governments whose local economies depended heavily on coal were also eager collaborators. The legislature of Saga prefecture voted a bill to purchase settlement land for Japanese emigrants in Gatapara, Brazil, even though the prefecture's fiscal position was in deficit. The Saga administration hurriedly trained the unemployed miners to become eligible agronomists. Meanwhile, mining companies like Mitsui and Meiji showed an interest in Latin America as a way to ease their internal rationalization. They persistently lobbied the Japanese embassies in Argentina and Brazil and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send abroad as many miners as possible. According to the Sao Paulo Shinbun, Mitsui executives even visited Brazil and Argentina to look for opportunities to help miners relocate in these economies, especially in projects funded by Japanese foreign direct investment. With the central bureaucracy, prefectural governments, and mining companies all in close collaboration, the route for large-scale Latin American emigration was prepared for the southwestern coal miners.
Quasi-forced Emigration Plus Re-integration
Postwar government promoters of Latin American emigration insisted on "permanent settlement" as a prerequisite for each applicant. Although odd for "voluntary" emigration from a democratic country, Japan's official guidelines for Latin American applications specified "family-based permanent" migration as a condition. This was a firm requirement for emigration-related loan applications, for which virtually all postwar emigrants applied. Later on, repeated pleas of the troubled diaspora for repatriation, as in the case of the Dominican Republic, were either ignored or dismissed by the home government and its local embassies as signs of a "lack of endurance and diligence," "criminal tendencies," or "spiritual and mental deficiencies." Dekasegi (migrant labor) emigrants, who returned home to Japan with savings within several years, were not what the state promoters envisioned. The seeds of dissent had to be ejected from the country.
At the same time, the Japanese state wanted to keep the emigration "window" wide open and always bright-looking. Therefore Japan zealously solicited many host governments, regardless of the development level of their local economies or their political situations-- it was basically looking for any country that would willingly accept citizens of a former World War II aggressor. This policy resulted in emigration to Bolivia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic-- economies among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and with relatively shallow historical relations with Japan. Generally speaking, Japan "humbly" agreed to any terms of labor or settlement proposed by the host country. This eventually led to diaspora ordeals and tragedies, like quasi-prison-labor conditions in the Dominican colonias, desertion and isolation in the Amazon jungle, and misery and death in Bolivia.
In order not to let the window shut, Japan tried to secure a "stable" delivery of labor-emigrants at a customer's request. In the prewar period, when Latin America was losing popularity because of the Manchurian-colonization boom, government promoters struggled to recruit emigrants by any available means. In the postwar period, prefectural governments, the direct subcontractors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked for the cooperation of municipal administrators to "discover potential emigration hopefuls." One prefectural administrator even "pleaded" with a repatriated family from Manchuria to migrate to the Brazilian Amazon in order to meet the quota for his district.
In order to make emigration opportunities more attractive to Japanese citizens and to secure sufficient "inventories," the official promoters created grandiose and at times false advertisements. Misleading phrases, such as "coffee trees bear gold nuggets in Brazil," "a paradise in the Caribbean," or "land entitlement without payment" certainly sounded inviting to those who were on the verge of financial collapse. Meanwhile, mishaps and hardships experienced by their recent predecessors were kept from new applicants. Reminiscent of the wartime media control and propaganda by the Daihonei ( Imperial Headquarters), good news was exaggerated and failures and difficulties hidden or distorted.
Yet, people-dumping is only one side of the whole story. Japan rigorously inculcated new modes of state-and-society relationships within the diasporas so that they could be used to further the growth and prosperity of the Japanese nation state. In the process of reincorporation, the diaspora's national origins were constantly repeated and reinforced, their patriotic and nationalist consciousness was aroused, hierarchical authority was stressed, and new civic duties were assigned. Oddly enough, transcending official territorial boundaries, the home state opted for controlling and extracting profits from the diaspora populations living in the territories of other states.
First, the process of reincorporation required the emigrant's internal (mental) transformation from a dissident into a disciplined, loyal subject (shinmin) of Japan. Overseas relocation separated an emigrant's social awareness from the cruel reality at home to a "new harsh reality" in Latin America. So while the emigrants' animosity toward their former enemy (the state and capitalism) lost intensity because of physical separation, a sense of nationalism was being nurtured in reaction to the anti-Japanese sentiment extant in many Latin American societies.
Second, the reincorporation process involved a fundamental change in the diaspora's role vis-ö-vis the home state. The prewar Japanese state institutionalized means to directly administer the diaspora population and their communities. It intended to make official and preserve the blood-based linkage with the homeland. For example, while naturalization in a host country was encouraged for diplomatic considerations, Japan nonetheless required the migrants during the prewar period to register with the Japanese Consulate. Also, membership in a Nihonjin kai (a Japanese association) under the supervision of the Japanese Consulate was made compulsory. The associations also helped Japan extract surpluses from the diaspora communities in the form of remittances and emergency contributions. These rules were meant to control the census data of individual emigrants and their extended families and to monitor the rate of growth of the Japanese communities overseas.
The prewar state via local embassies or consulates also instructed emigrants to create voluntary associations, offering them subsidies to do so. Single-interest groups were formed along gender (such as women's or housewives' associations), age (youth associations or old-age groups), and occupational lines. Educational and economic institutions were particularly influential in reinforcing the cultural and socioeconomic reproduction of "little Japans"-- i.e., children's schools for education and cultural heritage purposes, Japanese newspapers and other media for information and news dissemination or ideological propaganda, agricultural cooperatives, and mutual aid and credit cooperatives (tanomoshi-ko) for agrarian or industrial development and social security. These associations also contributed to the further growth of the Japanese immigrant population by preparing jobs and social safety nets for latecomers. In other words, they were a major contributor to Japan's Latin American emigration policy. Reaching into every corner of the diaspora's social life horizontally and vertically, these social institutions outlived the prewar authoritarian regime and continue to the present time as one of the most important catalysts for sociocultural reproduction of the Japanese communities in the Americas. Today, of course, they also function to alert these communities to the need for labor in Japan, teaching the future dekasegi workers basic Japanese, and aiding them in getting visas.
Okinawa as a Deviation
Okinawa, one of the major sources of Latin American emigrants in southwestern Japan, deviates from the rest of the region. The prefecture is the only one out of the nine southwestern prefectures considered here that produced a large number of emigrants to Latin America both prewar and postwar in the absence of Japanese state intervention. More specifically, prewar Okinawan emigration to Latin America was encouraged by the initiative of social advocates and proceeded through family and friend networks. This pattern of "purely" voluntary migration continued while the Japanese state maintained a neutral position. The pattern of postwar migration from Okinawa partly supports my contention that emigration to Latin America was a state-supported political safety valve, but in this case it was the American military occupiers in the form of the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands that employed the policy to remove political opposition.
In the prewar period Okinawan emigration was propelled by severe economic and demographic distress. Okinawa has historically suffered from land scarcity, overpopulation, and unemployment; in other words, it had the right ingredients to create a "push" factor for Latin American emigration. In fact, from the very early years of Japanese emigration, Okinawa produced a large number of emigrants to Hawaii, the U.S., and South America.
However, in the 1920s, when the Japanese state began to carry out its Latin American emigration policy, it excluded Okinawa. It even instructed immigration companies to "avoid applicants from Okinawa." Instead, the Okinawan overseas emigration movement continued as an endogenous and grassroots movement. The Japanese state remained skeptical or cautious about Okinawan emigration while its own project to relocate Okinawans to the southernmost Ryukyu islands ended unsuccessfully. It was not until the mid-1930s that the expansionist state incorporated Okinawans into its Latin American emigration policy.
My conjecture as to why state-managed Latin American emigration was not important in prewar Okinawa is that there was no serious political challenge from below; hence the Japanese state did not feel a strong need to remove Okinawans from the national territory. Unlike the historically rebellious populations of Okayama, Nagasaki, or Fukuoka, Okinawans had long been docile and subservient to either the Ryukyu kings or the Japanese government. Okinawan society itself was too weak and small in numbers to challenge the central Japanese authority. As a result, the prewar Japanese state remained relaxed about the political situation in its "colonized" islands.
In the postwar period Okinawa again stood as a deviation from the rest of southwestern Japan since it remained under direct U.S. military occupation from 1945 to 1972. Nonetheless, the U.S.'s Latin American emigration policy toward Okinawa was in essence similar to Japan's Latin American emigration policy and probably copied from the Japanese central government.
At the beginning of the occupation, the U.S. prohibited the Japanese government from implementing or even discussing an overseas emigration policy to help alleviate its postwar overpopulation. Japanese emigration abroad was a taboo subject because the U.S. feared a revival of Japan's imperialism, as in the prewar Manchurian emigration. But the U.S. started to think differently when it came to Okinawa. After forcibly appropriating privately-owned land in Okinawa and displacing as many as 120,000 families, the U.S. began to fear the intense and at times bloody island-wide protests that continued from 1951 until 1958.
Against this backdrop of political volatility stemming from the U.S. land confiscation and involving literally the entire Okinawan population, Latin American emigration emerged as a policy to mitigate the crisis. As early as 1951, the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands ordered James Tigner, an American academic, to conduct a feasibility study on Okinawan emigration to Latin America. His report recommended the planned emigration of 400 families to Bolivia, where earlier Okinawan emigrants had already constructed colonias in the prewar period. From 1954 to 1964, some 3,200 Okinawans emigrated to the newly established Uruma colonia in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where they experienced numerous ordeals. For a full account of the Uruma settlement, see Kozy K. Amemiya, "The Bolivian Connection: U.S. Bases and Okinawan Emigration," in C. Johnson, ed., Okinawa: Cold War Island (Cardiff, Calif.: JPRI, 1999), pp. 53-69.
I believe that the U.S. government, no different from the Japanese government, was trying to rid itself of a politically volatile population. In the 1950s, the Committee on Military Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives discussed the budget for Okinawans' emigration expenses together with a resolution on the U.S. land appropriation issue. In September 1958, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles met with Japanese Foreign Minister Aiichiro Fujiyama to discuss Japan's financial and technical assistance to Okinawa, including a human relocation project. In the late 1950s, the U.S. and Japanese governments conducted a joint research and development project on the feasibility of moving 50,000 Okinawans to Iriomote and Yaeyama islands in the Ryukyu chain. And in 1955, then Vice President Nixon encouraged "Japanese" emigrants to come to the Dominican Republic on his visit there, emphasizing that they made excellent colonists.
Just as in Japan itself, there is no official documentation available (or none has yet been discovered) that reveals Latin American emigration was a U.S. policy to "dump unwanted people." But the indirect evidence is strong, as are the statistics concerning state-sponsored emigration from southwestern Japan in both the prewar and postwar periods.
NOTE: *The term "burakumin" is highly controversial in legal, political, and social discourse in Japan. It refers to people of a particular buraku (hamlet) and is thus itself discriminatory in that it differentiates one group from the rest of the Japanese people based on their place of origin. In this paper, I use the term simply as a matter of pragmatism. The term itself is as meritless as the social and historical reasons for discriminating against the so-called burakumin.
TOAKE ENDOH will receive the Ph.D. degree in political science from Columbia University in October 2000. This paper is excerpted from her dissertation, which contains a complete explication and substantiation of her thesis. She did her undergraduate work at Tsuda College, Tokyo, and received the M.A. degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a New York-based country risk analyst for emerging markets.