U.S.-Asia Relations: Trade, Empire, and Religion

Solicited by the OAH-Japanese Association for American Studies Japan Historians Collaborative Committee

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 8:45 AM - 10:15 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Consumerism and Consumption; International Relations; Transportation, Travel, and Exploration

Papers Presented

Japan and the U.S. cotton trade in the 1930s

The history of the American South is fundamentally intertwined with the evolution of the cotton trade. New Orleans, the South’s largest city and principal port, held a significant share in this commerce. The narrative of this history has long remained uneven and incomplete. Until recently, scholars of the cotton South tended to focus their attention on the 19th century, and especially the antebellum years, when “King Cotton” dominated American trade, culture and politics. In fact, the story does not end there. Rather, beginning in the 1890s the port of New Orleans regained its importance as a port, and continued to expand through the early 1900s and into the 1930s, when raw cotton represented the nation’s chief export commodity. During this time, trade shifted to a new center: Japan. Throughout the period raw cotton represented the bulk of US exports to Japan, helping fuel Japan's industrial revolution—by 1931 Japan surpassed Great Britain as a producer of cotton textiles. Trade expanded most heavily after 1918, when the the Panama Canal and the end of World War I made direct shipments practical. In the process, New Orleans became directly integrated into a global Japanese trade network that included exchanges with Africa and South America. The growing networks of commerce between Japan and New Orleans also led to the establishment of a Japanese presence in the Crescent City, most prominently a Japanese consulate, and the New Orleans Japan Society. Although total exports to Japan fluctuated during the 1930s, in response to the course of international relations, Japan represented a major customer for New Orleans until the Pacific War.

Presented By
Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

U.S. Agricultural Discourses and Spatial Imagination: Connecting Japanese Settler Colonialism in Hokkaido and U.S.-occupied Okinawa

Hokkaido Yamaguchi is a minor character with an unusual first name in 'The Teahouse of the August Moon,' a 1951 novel about the U.S. occupation of Okinawa by Vern Sneider. There is no explicit mention in the novel of Hokkaido Yamaguchi’s connection to the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago with the same name, or any indication of whether he is Japanese, Ainu (the indigenous people of Hokkaido), or Okinawan. The historical and regional setting of the story, U.S.-occupied Okinawa (1945–1972), further adds to the mystery of this unusual name—why should a character be named after the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago in a story set in its southernmost, subtropical region? Yet, as this paper argues, Hokkaido and Okinawa are actually linked by U.S. agricultural discourses and a common spatial imagination, in which American academics and intellectuals projected Hokkaido as a model case of U.S. agricultural adoption onto their next occupation subject, post-1945 Cold War Okinawa. In that sense, the choice of name for Hokkaido Yamaguchi may not be so puzzling after all. This paper suggests not only the previously rarely discussed continuity from American involvement in Japanese settler colonialism in Hokkaido in the late-nineteenth century to the U.S. occupation of Okinawa following World War II, but also addresses the function of U.S. agricultural discourses and spatial imagination to reinforce U.S. identity and provide the United States with a rationale to occupy Okinawa during the Cold War era.

Presented By
Marie Nitta, Musashi University

How the American Missionaries Saw Okinawa: Continuities between U.S. Colonialism and Imperialism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

When American Protestant missionaries arrived in Okinawa at the turn of the twentieth century, they were surprised by the extreme “foreignness” of the island, especially compared to Japan. By exploring how these American missionaries described the island, this paper reveals continuities between the U.S colonial expansion and its imperialistic impulses. One hundred years earlier, the Ryūkyū kingdom (today’s Okinawa) had been the site of frequent foreign encounters, but after 1859, when Japan opened its ports and allowed Westerners to settle in some port cities, Ryūkyū became a backwater for Westerners seeking influence in the East. It was only after Japan annexed Ryūkyū as Okinawa by force in 1879 that American missionaries based in Japan attempted to extend their reach to Okinawa, collaborating with Japanese Christians, whose number had grown rapidly since 1859. To these American missionaries, Okinawa’s unique features— ranging from its climate (“very humid and enervating”), to its living standards to its gender norms— seemed exotic and often “uncivilized,” compared to Japan. This paper situates the missionaries’ depictions of Okinawa in the context of the contemporary American discourses of domesticity and hygiene that, as other historians have shown, were commonly used by agents of U.S. colonial expansions. Thus, it reveals cultural continuities in how the US justified its colonial expansion in the North American Continent and its imperial impulses in East Asia.

Presented By
Minami Nishioka, University of Tennessee Knoxville

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Yoko Tsukuda, Seijo University

Presenter: Minami Nishioka, University of Tennessee Knoxville

Presenter: Marie Nitta, Musashi University

Presenter: Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal