Discover Nikkei Logo

https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/series/ken-nakazawa/

Ken Nakazawa Rediscovered


May 12, 2024 - June 2, 2024

This series recovers the life and writings of Ken Nakazawa, a multi talented Issei playwright, essayist, and critic who taught at USC in the prewar era. Nakawaza was one of the first ethnic Japanese to hold a position as professor at a major American university. He also was an employee of the Los Angeles Japanese consulate and a public defender of Tokyo’s foreign policy during the 1930s. His prewar popularity career reveals the space open to outstanding talents, even on the West Coast, but also the price of identifying with the Japanese “enemy.”


Stories from this series

Thumbnail for Part IV—After Pearl Harbor
en
ja
es
pt
Part IV—After Pearl Harbor

June 2, 2024 • Greg Robinson

Read Part 3 >> Ken Nakazawa was arrested by FBI agents on December 7, 1941, in the wake of Japan’s raid on Pearl Harbor. Presumably his name had already been marked down on the Justice Department’s prewar “ABC list” of potentially dangerous aliens to be rounded up in case of war. At first, he was placed in detention on Terminal Island, and was then sent on to internment at the Justice Department Camp at Fort Missoula in Montana. In August …

Thumbnail for Part III—the 1930s
en
ja
es
pt
Part III—the 1930s

May 26, 2024 • Greg Robinson

Read Part II >>  Ken Nakazawa would have defined himself as an internationalist. Throughout his career, he advocated international understanding through study of foreign cultures. At an Institute of International Relations in Riverside in November 1927, he gave a speech proposing that differences between East and West be composed through “positive differences,” as had been the case in art and literature. Yet in the years before 1931, he hardly touched on international politics in his public statements and writings. A …

Thumbnail for Part II—Prewar Cultural Arbiter
en
ja
es
pt
Part II—Prewar Cultural Arbiter

May 19, 2024 • Greg Robinson

Read Part I >> Although Ken Nakazawa achieved a modicum of public fame in the 1920s from his plays and his writings, he achieved his greatest renown as a public figure in the following decade. A watershed moment for Nakazawa was his selection as an essayist by the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly magazine. His first contribution, which appeared in the Atlantic’s February 1929 issue, was “The Spirit of Japanese Poetry.” Nakazawa provided an atmospheric, almost Lafcadio Hearnesque reading of Japanese poetry—one …

Thumbnail for Part I—The Early Years
en
ja
es
pt
Part I—The Early Years

May 12, 2024 • Greg Robinson

Prominent among the few Issei to be accepted in mainstream American culture in the years before World War II was Ken Nakazawa. Nakazawa was a well-respected professor at University of Southern California—one of the first ethnic Japanese on the faculty of an important American university—as well as a lecturer, essayist, playwright and interpreter of Japanese culture. He also served as diplomat and community leader at the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles. However, Nakazawa's outspoken support of Japan’s invasions and occupation of China …

We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More
Author in This Series

Greg Robinson, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at l'Université du Québec À Montréal, a French-language institution in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of the books By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001), A Tragedy of Democracy; Japanese Confinement in North America (Columbia University Press, 2009), After Camp: Portraits in Postwar Japanese Life and Politics (University of California Press, 2012), Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era (University of Illinois Press, 2012), and The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (University Press of Colorado, 2016), as well as coeditor of the anthology Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road (University of Washington Press, 2008). Robinson is also coeditor of the volume John Okada - The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press, 2018).

His historical column “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great,” is a well-known feature of the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper. Robinson’s latest book is an anthology of his Nichi Bei columns and stories published on Discover Nikkei, The Unsung Great: Portraits of Extraordinary Japanese Americans (University of Washington Press, 2020). It was recognized with an Association for Asian American Studies Book Award for Outstanding Achievement in History Honorable Mention in 2022. He can be reached at robinson.greg@uqam.ca.


Updated March 2022

Discover Nikkei Updates

NIKKEI CHRONICLES #13
Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
VIRTUAL PROGRAM
Nikkei Uncovered IV: a poetry reading
Join us virtually and enjoy poetry by Matthew Mejia, Christine Kitano, and Mia Ayumi Malholtra.
NEW SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT
We're on Instagram!
Follow us @discovernikkei for new site content, program announcements, and more!