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Book review: Masumi Izumi, "Migration and Movements of Japanese Canadians: The Unknown History of Japanese People's Transnational Lives"

The Japanese film "Asahi in Vancouver," released in 2014, depicts the exploits of the "Asahi," a legendary Japanese-Canadian baseball team that existed before World War II. This highly entertaining film, directed by an up-and-coming young director and featuring a star-studded cast, skillfully weaves together historical fact and fiction to convey in an easy-to-understand way to 21st-century audiences the various aspects of Vancouver's Japanese community before the war and the discrimination they faced from white society.

This book, "Japanese Canadian Movements and Movements," written by Izumi Masumi, who specializes in the history of Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans, is a highly academic book that critically examines historical documents based on the latest research trends, but it is also well-written, making it easy for readers who are not familiar with Canadian history to grasp the complexities of Japanese Canadian history and the issues the community faces. In that sense, this book could be said to fulfill a similar role to the film.

This book, published in 2020, also deals with the recent cross-border human exchanges surrounding the Asahi Shimbun, but is not a monograph focusing on a specific theme, but rather a history book that depicts the 140-year history of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Canadians in Canada. Well-known historical works on Japanese Canadians by Japanese researchers include Ishi wo Mote Owareru Gotoku (1975) by Niho Mitsuru, a social history of Japanese Canadians that covers the period up to the "resettlement" after World War II, Iino Masako's History of Japanese Canadians (1997), which uses government documents to capture the history of immigration from the perspective of Japan-Canada diplomacy, and Sasaki Toshiji's History of Japanese Immigrants to Canada (1999), which details prewar immigration and community formation. However, this book is unique in that it reinterprets the "conventional wisdom" of Japanese Canadian history from a unique perspective, while also keeping in mind new academic trends since the 2000s. In other words, it is not a history book that simply updates the facts about a period that previous research could not fully cover.

The key words are two types of movement: "migration" and "movement." This book, which consists of 10 chapters, is divided into two chapters that focus on the "migration" of people who came and went between Japan and Canada from the late 19th century, and chapters that describe how Japanese Canadians of different generations and regions developed "movements" to gain rights while repeatedly experiencing conflict and mutual understanding, but sometimes the same chapters deal with both themes at the same time.

Regarding "movement," rather than portraying immigrants as a one-way story resulting in their settling in the receiving country, the book adopts a perspective that sees immigrants as a return flow of people through cross-border migration circuits, and persuasively depicts the transformation of communities woven by "movement" with specific examples. Regarding "movements," the book highlights the subjectivity of the people involved, such as the redress movement led by Japanese Canadians that sought compensation for wartime injustices, the legal reform movement to prevent serious human rights violations, and the arts movement that connected different generations and served as an opportunity to revive Japanese Canadian ethnic identity, and avoids viewing Japanese Canadians simply as victims or victims of state violence.

Furthermore, I would like to mention two points that make this book particularly outstanding from an academic perspective. First, as mentioned above, this book provides a new perspective that overturns the "conventional wisdom" through critiques of previous research and re-readings of historical documents. For example, the Vancouver Riots, in which Chinatown and Japantown were attacked in 1907, are not viewed as an incidental reaction to the increase in Asian immigrants, but as a turning point in trans-Pacific international migration that occurred inevitably as a result of a combination of various conditions. In order to grasp local phenomena from such a broad-angle perspective that transcends the Pacific, careful reading of historical documents and a solid understanding of synchronic and international trends in labor migration are necessary.

The second reason this book is original is that it incorporates the history of the "Shin-Issei," which tends to be told separately from the history of Japanese immigrants who immigrated before the war and their descendants, into the general history of Japanese-Canadians, and details the movements and community formation that connect the experiences of "Japanese" of different generations, eras of migration, languages, nationalities, regions and classes. There is often a disconnect or weak relationship between postwar immigrants and the existing Japanese community, but this book describes how the Shin-Issei, who came to Canada after the 1970s, connected Japanese-Canadians of different generations and played a major role in preserving the community's history.

Of course, there is no room for debate that the experiences of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Canadians underwent significant changes after World War II, but talking about prewar and postwar history in a completely separate context does not necessarily portray the state of the ethnic community accurately. Even if the connection between postwar immigrants and the existing Japanese community is difficult to visualize on the surface, as the author points out, by considering the context of the "global spread of critical youth culture" (p. 172) since the late 1960s, it should be possible to highlight phenomena such as the construction of new relationships and the diversification and complexity within the community.

So far, I have mainly discussed the academic aspects of this book, but what makes it so fascinating is not the complicated arguments or the development of academic theories, but the detailed explanations written in clear and simple language that even non-experts can easily understand. Each chapter begins with a specific anecdote about an individual, and is written in a way that naturally draws interest in the theme. Each chapter utilizes knowledge from different academic fields, such as political history, social history, and literature, providing a multifaceted perspective. There are also many descriptions of cases and trends in the United States that had a major impact on the history of Japanese Canadians, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding not only of the connections between the two countries, but also of the similarities and differences between the national and legal systems of the United States and Canada. Although some chapters require some effort to grasp the facts, there are convenient summaries at the end of each chapter, which will certainly help readers understand.

This is a book that I would recommend to everyone, from general readers and beginners to experts. I am a little skeptical that this review adequately conveys its appeal, but the wealth of specific examples and anecdotes, such as "fishermen from Mio Village in Wakayama Prefecture traveled back and forth between Steveston and the village during the salmon season," "young Japanese people began to take pride in the 'Japanese Canadian' logo on their T-shirts while preparing for the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration," and "descendants of Vancouver Asahi players played a Japan-Canada baseball game," are exceptionally abundant and fascinating. The strength of the story presented in this book will continue to draw readers into the world of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Canadians.

Masumi Izumi, "Migration and Movements of Japanese Canadians: The Unknown History of Japanese People's Transnational Lives," Takanashi Shobo, 2020

*This book is the winner of the Pierre Savard Prize for Best Book in a Language Other Than English or French from the International Council of Canadian Studies (ICCS).

© 2021 Yuko Konno

history Masumi Izumi reviews The Japanese Canadian Movement (book)
About the Author

Lecturer in the Department of Multicultural Communication, School of International Relations, Asia University. Received an MA and PhD in History from the University of Southern California. Specializes in Asian American history, with a focus on the history of Japanese immigration to North America. Her publications include the essay "Localism and Japanese Emigration at the Turn of the Twentieth Century" published in Amerasia Journal, which won the Lucy Chan Award in 2012.

(Updated June 2021)

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