Tōhoku Unbounded: Regional Identity and the Mobile Subject in Prewar Japan


In 1870, a prominent samurai from Tōhoku sells his castle to become an agrarian colonist in Hokkaidō. Decades later, a man also from northeast Japan stows away on a boat to Canada and establishes a salmon roe business. By 1930, an investigative journalist travels to Brazil and writes a book that wins the first-ever Akutagawa Prize. In the 1940s, residents from the same area proclaim that they should lead Imperial Japan in colonizing all of Asia.

Across decades and oceans, these fractured narratives seem disparate, but show how mobility is central to the history of Japan’s Tōhoku region, a place often stereotyped as a site of rural stasis and traditional immobility, thereby collapsing boundaries between local, national, and global studies of Japan.

This book examines how multiple mobilities converge in Japan’s supposed hinterland. Drawing on research from three continents, this monograph demonstrates that Tohoku’s regional identity is inextricably intertwined with Pacific migrations.

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Anne Giblin Gedacht, Ph.D., (2015), UW-Madison, is Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese History at Seton Hall University. She has published in the Journal of Social History and the Japan Studies Review.
Preface: Reading Harry Potter in Japan


List of Figures

Introduction Region Matters

1Looking North Assessing the Boundaries of the Meiji State
 1 Before Tōhoku: Placing Ōu Cartographically and Politically

 2 Becoming a Borderland-in-Transition and Catalyzing Frontier-to-Frontier Migration

 3 Dismantling Ken, Dismembering Maps, and Defining Tōhoku

 4 Settling Hokkaidō through Patronage: Tōhoku Families Move North

 5 Repositioning Power through Co-dependence: Date Kunishige in Iburi

 6 Identifying a Pattern: Regionalism as Cornerstone of Private Settlement

 7 Mobilized Regionalism and Reframing the Soldier-Settler Villages

 8 Tondenhei in the Imperial Army: Confounding Loyalties and Readjudicating the Modern

 9 Pragmatism and the Hokkaidō Modern: Blurring Class and Rising Regionalism

 10 Conclusion

2Exporting Regionalism Tōhoku-Japanese Immigrant Culture
 1 To Be ‘Japanese’ Abroad: The Hegemonic Culture of Japan’s Southwestern Issei

 2 Emigrants as Embodiments of National Prestige

 3 Imagining ‘Japan,’ Discovering the ‘Japanese’

 4 To Be from Both Japan and ‘Tōhoku,’ Regionalism from the Outside

 5 To Be Both Emigrant and Immigrant: The Institutionalization of Difference within Unity

 6 Tōhoku-Based Kenjinkai in Southern California: Sharing Wealth and Building Community

 7 Sojourners and Settlers: Building Bridges between Japan and Canada through Kenjinkai

 8 Conclusion

3Normalizing the Exceptional History, Myth, and Memory in Immigrant Ethnicity
 1 Narrating the Exceptional: History and Mythmaking

 2 Gannen-Mono and Boshin War Refugees: Revisiting Wakamatsu Colony

 3 Martyred Memories: The Ghost of Okei and the Nobility in Failure

 4 The Roots of Migrant Lineages: ‘Fathers of Migration’ Narratives

 5 Katsunuma Tomizō, Progenitor of a Migrant Network

 6 Oikawa Jinzaburō, Patriarch of a Trans-Pacific Village

 7 The Afterlives of Oikawa and the Suian Maru Story

 8 Remembering to Forget: The Filipino-Japanese Community

 9 Conclusion: Memorialization and Mobilization

4Writing Domestic Regionalism Seeking ‘Authentic’ Tōhoku in Interwar Japan
 1 Rooting Modernity in Tradition: Seeking Authenticity to Combat Modern Alienation

 2 “Where Are You From?”: Linking People to the Land to Combat Alienation

 3 Tōhoku and Tōno Monogatari: A Heterochronic Region Outside of Time

 4 Tōhoku in the In-betweens: Region in International Waters and at Emigration Centers

 5 The Postwar Satire of Inoue Hisashi: A Tōhoku Native Revisits Tōno Monogatari

 6 Conclusion

5“Leading Tōhoku Asia” Regional Identity within Imperial Japan
 1 Love of Hometown as Love of Nation: Placing Empire through the Periodical Furusato

 2 Patriotic Emigration to Greater Japan: An Extreme Makeover of the Countryside

 3 Historicizing Manchurian Emigration: Hokkaidō and ‘Father of Migration’ Narratives

 4 Divided Villages: Manufacturing Bridges to Greater East Asia

 5 Tōhoku at War: Patriotic Expansionism as Regionalist Discourse

 6 Conclusion: Coupling Patriotic Nationalism to a Mobile Tōhoku Identity

Epilogue Tōhoku-damashī: Viewing Regionalism after the Triple Disaster of 11 March 2011



This interdisciplinary monograph speaks to academics seeking alternative models for incorporating Diaspora/Mobility Studies into national histories and students exploring connected narratives of Japan in the global Pacific.
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