Participating Scholars
Harumi Befu

Project Description


Institutional Participants



Staff and Advisors

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Japanese American
National Museum

Harumi Befu is currently Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kyoto Bunkyo University and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Anthropology at Stanford Unversity. He has published widely on a variety of aspects regarding Japanese culture and is a leading scholar of Japanese studies, writing in prestigious Japanese and English-language professional journals.


Research Proposal Abstract
Nikkei in the Context of Globalizing Japan

"Nikkei," defined as those who moved away from Japan and resided or reside outside Japan and their descendants, used to be a fairly clear-cut concept designating the prewar-to-postwar (up to about 1960) immigrants to North and South America and their descendants. Now Nikkei as a category has become a rather complex concept with many divergent subcategories. Dr. Befu's research will examine all the different processes of Nikkei experiences known in the world. One of the new subcategories that he will research are those Japanese who moved to the New World and Europe in the last 20-30 years and their descendants. These Japanese manifest vastly different characteristics from the earlier immigrants. In general, they are better educated, fill different occupational niches, maintain closer ties with Japan, and many came with the intention of permanent settlement. A second subcategory includes unknown numbers of Nikkei who remained abroad either on their own volition or without choice in the aftermath of World War II. They include infants left in mainland China, off-springs of Japanese laborers on plantations in the Philippines, Japanese men taken to labor camps in Manchuria during the Soviet invasion, among others. Awareness and appreciation of the whole variety of Nikkei experiences in the global setting is the ultimate objective of Dr. Befu's research.

Since the 15th century Japanese have been expanding their horizons throughout the world. In the 15th-17th century, Japanese pirate and merchants roamed the coasts of China and Southeast Asia, and even established "Japan towns" abroad. This period of diaspora came to an end when the feudal government issued edicts closing Japan's ports.
The next period began in the middle of the 19th century, with Japanese emigrating in millions to Hawaii, North and South America, East and Southeast Asia, and Oceania. Nikkei communities were established all over. But this period of diaspora, too, had to come to a close in 1945 with the end of WWII.
The third period started soon after the end of the war, and continues to this day. Those who migrated out of Japan since 1868 may be classified into the following eight categories. More or less chronologically, they are the following.
(1) Pre-war emigrants to all parts of the world. They remain in largest numbers in the Western Hemisphere, but also remained in unknown numbers in Asia and Oceania.
(2) "War brides," most of whom left Japan for US, Australia and elsewhere in the 1950s, though, in the sense of marrying foreign service men, the phenomenon continues to this day, in as much as there still are foreign military bases with servicemen in Japan.
(3) Postwar emigrants, mostly to South but some to North America, most of whom left Japan on an inadequate government program, and suffered a great deal.
(4) Those of international marriage, not involving foreign servicemen, but still mostly of Japanese women to foreign men.
(5) Multinational business expatriates and their families, being probably the most numerous postwar group to leave Japan.
(6) Those providing service infrastructure for the business expert community, but constituting a somewhat different community
(7) Those who more or less abandoned Japan out of discontentment with their life situation in Japan, some joining (6), above, and finally
(8) Social dropouts, who left Japan out of boredom, or because they could not be employed or enter college, mostly supported by their parents in Japan.
These eight categories of Nikkei are found in most parts of the world, and maintain complex relationship with one another.