By Maria Cynthia B. Barriga (Waseda University)
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming discussion paper, to be published in NVJS13, September 2021. The paper is written by a Philippine historian and makes the case for transnational engagement among area studies scholars, with a focus on the benefits that the fields of Japanese Studies and Philippine historiography can offer to each other. This is the first time for a Philippine perspective to be showcased in NVJS, and we are excited to be able to give this discussion a platform within the forthcoming special issue, and in our upcoming New Voices Scholar panel at #JSAA2021.
All references and footnotes have been removed.
“Japan is part of a global network of constantly moving people, correspondence, goods, ideas, policies, armed forces and so forth. Seen in this light, Japan scholars have much to offer to and learn from specialists of areas with which Japan has been historically connected.”
Japanese studies can be relevant beyond its own field. However, in order for this to happen, Japan scholars need to converse with other area studies specialists working in and on the Asia-Pacific region. As a Philippine historian researching [people of Japanese ancestry in] Davao and of Guam, I propose in this paper a means of expanding Japanese studies through such conversations. […] Japanese studies (and area studies in general) are not nationally bound fields that can be studied in isolation. Rather, Japan is part of a global network of constantly moving people, correspondence, goods, ideas, policies, armed forces and so forth. Seen in this light, Japan scholars have much to offer to and learn from specialists of areas with which Japan has been historically connected.
My research focuses on the Japanese locals of Davao (a Philippine province) and of Guam (an island in the Marianas) during the rapid imperial successions of the 1940s. [T]he Philippines and Guam were insular territories of the United States during the first half of the 20th century, and at the same time were part of the nan’yō [南洋 ; ‘South Seas’]—the area into which imperial Japan would soon expand. Japanese settlers began arriving in Davao in the early 1900s. […] By the 1930s, Davao was economically dominated by Japanese businesses, and varying levels of competition and partnerships emerged between Filipinos and Japanese labourers, landowners, entrepreneurs, public officials and professionals. The Japanese figured prominently in the island society of Guam too, [and] by the 1940 census, most Japanese of Guam were of mixed Japanese-CHamoru [indigenous people of Guam] parentage. These details raise many questions. How did these Japanese locals experience the Asia-Pacific War and its aftermath? […] How did their sense of belonging in the locality shift during the rapid imperial transitions of the 1940s? I have sought to answer these questions in my research to date.
“To write a history of Davao in the tumultuous 1940s, I necessarily had to liberate myself not only from empire-focused colonial history, but also from its monolithic counter-narrative of Filipino nationalist history.”
To write a history of Davao in the tumultuous 1940s, I necessarily had to liberate myself not only from empire-focused colonial history, but also from its monolithic counter-narrative of Filipino nationalist history. My brand of postcolonial historiography, thus, zooms in on Davao, taking into consideration the various ethnic, national and regional sentiments of belonging that converged within it. The Japanese and the Filipinos in my work may be nationals of Japan and of the Philippines, but they are first and foremost locals of Davao.
Expanding Philippine Historiography through Japanese Studies
[My work draws on] the concept of nan’yō, a term used by the Japanese empire from the late 19th century to encompass the region that spanned Southeast Asia and Micronesia. Combining a nan’yō perspective of the region with the US imperial history that is well-established in the Philippines, I came to view Davao as being ‘between two empires’ […]. Likewise, Guam was linked not only to the Marianas but also to Manila, continental US and (indirectly via Manila or Saipan) Japan. In this view, Davao, Guam, Japan and the US were all associated by various flows of people, ideas, money and goods crisscrossing the Asia-Pacific. In brief, the imperial history of Japan (and the US) provides a regional perspective that allows me to transcend the limits of both Philippine historiography and Asian studies.
“In brief, the imperial history of Japan (and the US) provides a regional perspective that allows me to transcend the limits of both Philippine historiography and Asian studies.”
[K]nowledge of the Japanese language and access to Japanese resources are [also] essential for my research. Many primary sources related to Philippine history are written in the Japanese language and housed in libraries and archives in Japan. […] To understand our neighbours, to know how to respond to them, and to place ourselves within the history of the Asia-Pacific region, Filipinos and CHamoru find value in the knowledge of the Japanese language and in Japanese source materials.
Approaching Japanese Studies from a Philippine Perspective
Philippine and Guam historians likewise have much to offer Japanese scholarship. Among the works on the history of the Japanese in Davao, there are common assertions which a Philippine perspective can reassess and nuance. The plethora of histories on the Japanese in Davao are undergirded by the presupposition that people of Japanese ancestry—be they issei, nisei, sansei or, generally, Nikkeijin—are Japanese or want to be recognised as Japanese. In his chapter on the Japanese residents of Davao during the Japanese military occupation of the Philippines, historian Shinzo Hayase asserted that Okinawans and Filipino-Japanese individuals […] served Japan with much enthusiasm to prove themselves at par with the Japanese from the mainland. Similarly, Shun Ohno asserted that the Nikkeijin who remained in post-war Philippines hid their Japanese identity in fear of Filipino anti-Japanese sentiment […].
“Among the works on the history of the Japanese in Davao, there are common assertions which a Philippine perspective can reassess and nuance.”
But, why would these Filipino-Japanese have served Japan in the ardent desire to prove themselves Japanese when they were born and raised in the Philippines by Filipino mothers and most likely had never seen Japan? If the Nikkeijin who remained in the Philippines were so persecuted by Filipinos after the war, how did they survive? If they survived by the aid of pro-Japanese indigenous Filipino communities, then why did they have to hide their Japanese-ness? Or, did they hide it only from certain people in certain contexts?
In my study, I found that, in contrast to Ohno’s contention in his Transforming Nikkeijin Identity (2015), Nikkeijin identity did not oscillate in a dualistic way between the absolutes of being Japanese and being not Japanese. Being Filipino and being Filipino-Japanese must also be considered. Here, identities are consistently shifting, contended and relational. To my question of what befell the Japanese of Davao during the successive imperial transitions surrounding the Asia-Pacific War, I found that their identity and sense of belonging shifted between being Japanese, Filipino and mestizo. During the most violent months of 1944 and 1945, these shifts were characterised by conflicted loyalties and senses of belonging. In this way, it is evident that a Philippine perspective—or more broadly, a view from the nan’yō—can expand Japanese studies’ approach to studying ‘Japanese identity’.
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