Participating Scholars
Shigeru Sugiyama

Project Description


Institutional Participants



Staff and Advisors

English Scholars in Japanese
Scholars in Japanese Scholars in Portuguese

Japanese American
National Museum

Shigeru Sugiyama is currently an Associate Professor at Shizuoka University in the Department of Information Arts. He received his doctorate in history from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1996. His doctoral dissertation was titled "Reluctant Neighbors: U.S.-Mexican Relations and the Failure of Cardenista Reforms, 1934-1948."


Research Proposal Abstract
Trilateral Relations between Mexico, the United States, and Japan in the Late 1930s

This research puts the Nikkei in Mexico, particularly those involved in fisheries, into an international historical context between the United States, Japan, and Mexico in the late 1930s, and describes how they were conceived as a threat to U.S. national security. The Lázaro Cárdenas government of Mexico allowed the two Japanese large fisheries companies (Nissui and Hayashikane Shoten) to operate in the Gulf of California from 1935 to 1940, when the U.S.-Japanese diplomatic relations deteriorated because of the Japanese invasion into China.  The Japanese shrimp fishing fleets contained several state-of-the-art diesel-powered steel vessels of 900-ton class, geared with electric fathometer, strong short-wave radio system, and quick freezing facilities. In addition, the Mexican government invited two Japanese fisheries experts to establish modern fisheries facilities for marine and limnological education and research. The Japanese entry into shrimp fishing brought four groups of Japanese to the Gulf of California, a strategically critical spot to U.S. national defense in May 1940. They were Issei (Japanese citizens) and Nisei (U.S. citizens) engaged in tuna fisheries in Southern California, naturalized Japanese Mexicans in Baja California, and Japanese fishermen of the Japanese fishing companies.

This research reveals, first, that the Japanese fisheries companies were profit-oriented rather than spying, sometimes in defiance of the directions of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Imperial Navy.  Second, leading Japanese Mexicans in the west coast played an important role in this Japanese fishing operation as a liaison between the Japanese fishing companies, the Mexican government officials, and Mexican cooperative fishermen. Third, the Japanese fishing operations and the "genuine" assistance rendered by the Japanese fisheries experts prompted U.S. officials to replace the Japanese counterparts with U.S. experts by implementing the Public Law 63, which first allowed U.S. civilian officials to work for a foreign government while keeping their positions in the U.S. Federal Government.  Finally, arguments based on racialized military threat became so strong as to put the needs of U.S. technical assistance aside.  By the end of 1941, a U.S. agent recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the U.S. government bring pressure upon the Mexican government to bring about "a more rigid supervision of Axis nationals, whether they have become Mexican citizens or not."