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BLACK TRANSNATIONALISM
& JAPAN
CONFERENCE

OCTOBER 29, 2021
15:00 - 20:00 BST
ZOOM WEBINAR

CLICK TO REGISTER

OCTOBER 29, 2021
15.00 - 20.00 BST
ZOOM WEBINAR


 

Welcome to the Black Transnationalism and Japan Conference, an international, digital conference examining the history of transnational exchange between Black and Japanese people around the world.

This conference is hosted by the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford.

ABOUT

“Black transnationalism” here refers to the flow of ideas and people across state borders, propelled by the cultural, social, and political activity and intellectual movements created, shaped, and led by Japanese and Black people across the globe. As a nation, Japan has been historically both a symbol of and a transgressor against the pursuit of racial equality. Japanese-Black transnational encounters reveal a variety of solidarities, discourses, and cultural exchanges that often countered the state and that were invisible from a solely state-centric lens. The rich and intertwined transnational history between Black and Japanese people reshapes our understanding of Japanese history, of Black history, and of the global circulation of discourses of civilization, race, and personhood.

This conference will explore how the meaning of “Black” and “Blackness” are concepts and categories in perpetual motion, particularly within and vis à vis Japan. While some Pan-Asianisms and Pan-Africanisms were urges to unite colonized spaces against the colonizer, the papers in this conference introduce various transnational phenomena that transcend such dichotomies. Black American-Japanese transnational encounters occurred on the non-state level from within the two new competing empires of the United States and Japan. These transnational encounters attempted to overcome their empires’ politics of inclusion and exclusion, bifurcated concepts of “civilized and uncivilized,” and other dichotomies that centered around the West. Actors in the Black-Japanese nexus of cultural transnationalism often challenged state-centric “cultural internationalism” and its ideas of peace and world order, and did so from within and beneath the very empires in which they were situated. This conference attempts to explore the depth and creativity of their co-production of various discourses on knowledge.  

Much historiography has paid scant attention to Black transnational currents in Asia at large. This conference will shed new light on black transnationalism by means of a more focused look at the Black-Japanese nexus. This conference will raise questions such as the following: How did the distinctive context of empire generate different forms of knowledge and expressions? What methods and concepts do we apply and use to make sense of these expressions?  How did a non-white, transnationally-generated discourse on knowledge unsettle the settler colonial knowledge/sciences in which race was an integral part? How did Black-Japanese transnational encounters reinforce or defy existing categories of race, gender, and civilization at large? This conference attempts to understand better these distinctive and nuanced transnational phenomena in the context of modern global history.

In the contemporary context, what new meanings of “diversity” can Black Japanese transnationalisms offer us?  They certainly depart from the “diversity” crafted from within the intellectual universes of both state-centric majoritarian democracy and Soviet-style ethnonationalities. This departure is particularly pertinent in the face of climate change and environmental crisis when new notions and practices of diversity are urgently needed.  Critical of and defiant of authority and its institutionalized knowledge and practice, these Black-Japanese transnationalists may well suggest new form of symbiotic diversity.    

While the Oxford Japanese History Workshop and Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies have organized seminars and workshops on African-Japanese transnational intellectual life in the past, in this conference, we will focus specifically on Black American, Black British, and Caribbean transnational encounters with Japan. This digital conference will consist of two panels, bringing together scholars from different disciplines and time periods to examine the engagement and mutual influence of Black transnationalism and Japan. The first panel will examine Black transnationalism from the nineteenth century to the post-war period, covering topics such as the antebellum African American engagement with samurai, the history of Black studies in Japan, and the subversive power of wartime Afro-Asian female friendships. The second panel will explore Black transnational cultural exchange from the post-war period to present-day Japan, in such diverse fields as postwar Japanese literature, counter-culture Afro-Japanese musical production and cyborgs, and Black-Japanese mixed-race experiences in contemporary Japan.

Registration is free and all are welcome.

We hope this conference will encourage interdisciplinary discussion on an important topic in global and transnational history.

-- co-convenors Professor Sho Konishi & Dr. Natalia Doan
 

SCHEDULE

3 pm - 3:15 pm

Opening Remarks

3:15 pm - 5:20 pm

Black Transnationalism & Japanese History Panel

5:20 pm - 6:00 pm

Break

6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Afro-Japanese Cultural Encounters Panel

SPEAKERS

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Dr. Lewis Bremner

Research and Teaching Associate in History, Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford

Lewis Bremner joins the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies in October as 2021-22 Research and Teaching Associate in History. He was previously Visiting Lecturer in History at the University of California, Berkeley and, prior to that, Postdoctoral Fellow in History at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University. He received his doctorate in history from the University of Oxford, and is currently undertaking several projects on the history of Japan, technology, and transnationalism. These include a book manuscript on the magic lantern in Japan, and an interdisciplinary edited volume on the meaning and legacy of the ‘Opening of Japan.’ His article, ‘The Magic Lantern as a Lens for Observing the Eye in Tokugawa Japan,’ was recently published in Modern Asian Studies.

Dr. Will Bridges

Associate Professor of Japanese, University of Rochester

Will Bridges is Associate Professor of Japanese at the University of Rochester. His scholarship has been recognized by the Fulbright Program, the Japan Foundation, the Association for Asian Studies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His first monograph, Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature, was published in 2020 by the University of Michigan Press. He is currently working on two manuscripts. The first is The Futurist Turn: The Aesthetics of the Possible and Re-Imagining Intergenerational Justice at the End of Heisei. The second is The Black Pacific: A Poetic History. He is also an author of creative nonfiction.

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Dr. Natalia Doan

Okinaga Junior Research Fellow in Japanese Studies at Wadham College, University of Oxford and Co-Convenor

Dr. Natalia Doan is the Okinaga Junior Research Fellow in Japanese Studies at Wadham College, Her work explores the transnational influence of samurai on African American intellectual history and the pursuit of racial equality during the antebellum period. Her research interests include nineteenth-century Japanese history and the transnational production of resistance, culture, and solidarity. As a biracial (Black/white) scholar of Japanese intellectual and cultural history, she is especially interested in interracial unities and connections in the pursuit of positive change. She teaches a graduate class on gender and sexuality in Japanese popular culture at Oxford, and has written for The Historical Journal , The Journal of Social History, Oxford University Press’ African American Studies Center, and has written a forthcoming piece on the history of African American and Japanese relations for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History.

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Dr. Sonia Gomez

Assistant Professor of History

Santa Clara University

I am a historian of the 20th-century United States with research and teaching interests in comparative race relations; gender, sexuality, and intimacy; and migration. My first book project, A Gendered Diaspora: Intimacy and Empire in the Making of Japanese America, 1908-1952, is a history of Japanese immigration to the United States that centers on the experiences of women and unmarried men. Specifically, I explore the ways in which marriage created pockets of legal and social inclusion for Japanese immigrant women, on one hand, and exclusion for immigrant men who did not marry, on the other. Throughout the book, I pay careful attention to the ways that gender, sexuality, and intimacy intersect with race, ethnicity, and nationality to produce categories of inclusion/exclusion.

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Professor Sho Konishi

Director of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford and Co-Convenor

Sho Konishi is a historian specializing in transnational discourses on knowledge from 1600 to the present in the History Faculty and Oxford School of Global and Area Studies at Oxford University. He is the author of Anarchist Modernity (Harvard UP). His works on transnational history of humanitarianism, agriculture, entomology, translingualism, natural sciences and revolution have appeared in The American Historical Review, The Journal of Asian Studies, and Modern Asian Studies, among other journals. His most recent work this year includes an edited volume with Olga Solovieva, Japan’s Russia (2021), ‘“Japan’s Russia” as History and Method’, and an introductory essay, ‘Symbiogenesis: The Art of Bayanihan Architecture,’ which he wrote for the Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. He serves on various advisory boards and as an external faculty member, including for the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago, the Anarchist Studies Series for the University of Manchester Press, and the Esperantic Studies Foundation.

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Dr. Mateja Kovacic

Assistant Professor, Animation and Media Arts Programme, Academy of Film School of Communication and Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

Mateja is teaching and researching transdisciplinary and transcultural theory of popular culture, science, and technology. Her research and publications cover a wide range of themes from anarchist history of humanoid robots and artificial intelligence in Japan; humanitarian medical drones in Tanzania and Rwanda; to neo-ethnic fashion movement among the young indigenous people in Brazil. Mateja’s most recent project is RGC-funded “Transnational anarchist digital networks: Japanese animation and civic imagination in political and cultural movements in Hong Kong” and the most recent publication Transcultural Perspective: Anthropological Investigations of Popular Idolatry, co-edited with Hiroshi Aoyagi and Patrick W. Galbraith, including a chapter “Cyborg in Idology Studies: Symbiosis of Animating Humans and Machines.”

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Professor Yuichiro Onishi

Chair of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Yuichiro Onishi teaches in the Department of African American & African Studies and Program in Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Currently he serves as the chair of African American & African Studies. He is the author of Transpacific Antiracism (NYU Press 2013) and co-editor of Transpacific Correspondence (Palgrave 2019).

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Warren A. Stanislaus

DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford

Warren A. Stanislaus is a PhD Candidate in modern Japanese history at the University of Oxford’s Faculty of History. Originally from South East London, after graduating high-school he moved to Japan to complete his first degree at International Christian University. He has since spent over 12 years in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese and advanced Mandarin Chinese. Previously, he worked as a foreign policy researcher at Asia Pacific Initiative, a Tokyo-based think tank. He teaches courses on Afro-Japanese encounters and the intellectual history of Japan as an Associate Lecturer at Rikkyo University. In 2019, he was named No.3 in the Rare Rising Stars Awards for the UK’s top 10 Black students. Get in touch via Twitter @warren_desu or https://www.warrenstanislaus.com/.

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Warren A. Stanislaus

DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford

Warren A. Stanislaus is a PhD Candidate in modern Japanese history at the University of Oxford’s Faculty of History. Originally from South East London, after graduating high-school he moved to Japan to complete his first degree at International Christian University. He has since spent over 12 years in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese and advanced Mandarin Chinese. Previously, he worked as a foreign policy researcher at Asia Pacific Initiative, a Tokyo-based think tank. He teaches courses on Afro-Japanese encounters and the intellectual history of Japan as an Associate Lecturer at Rikkyo University. In 2019, he was named No.3 in the Rare Rising Stars Awards for the UK’s top 10 Black students. Get in touch via Twitter @warren_desu or https://www.warrenstanislaus.com/.

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Professor Marvin D. Sterling

Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington

Marvin D. Sterling is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. His interests center on cultural transnationalism, performance theory, race and global blackness, Afro-Asia, and human rights. He is author of Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan (2010, Duke University Press). His current book project ethnographically explores the experiences of mixed-race Japanese individuals who are partly of African descent.

 
 

PANEL
ABSTRACTS

(in order of appearance)

Black Transnationalism & Japanese History Panel

The Antebellum African American Press and Solidarity with Japan

Dr. Natalia Doan

The 1860 Japanese Embassy was the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States and arrived at a time rife with racial tensions. Within the African American press, stories of the Japanese embassy inspired hope for the future and a sense of brotherhood with the samurai visitors. Amidst the confusion and racial controversy sparked by the embassy’s visit, African American and abolitionist newspapers embraced the 1860 embassy as “Negroes from Japan” and used race to create an imagined solidarity that subverted state hierarchies of “civilization” and race. Publications such as Douglass’ Monthly and the Weekly Anglo-African reframed the state reception and public treatment of the Japanese to assert African American membership to the worlds of civility and civilization and prove further the equality of all men. This presentation will explore the transnational African American presence in early US–Japan diplomacy and the influence of Japan on antebellum African American intellectual history and the pursuit of racial equality.

What "Japan's Black Studies" Teaches Us about Race and Solidarity 

Professor Yuichiro Onishi

The concept of "Japan's Black Studies" is not at all an oddity. Much like various Black intellectual and disciplinary formations forged in the struggle for liberation across the African diaspora, Black studies in Japan possesses a dynamism of its own. My presentation will introduce this curious history, including seemingly idiosyncratic ways in which Japanese scholars of Black studies and ordinary people connected to the Black intellectual tradition contributed to critical knowledge and engaged in the practice of transpacific antiracism throughout the Civil Rights and Black Power eras. This history of Afro-Asian solidarity is instructive, insofar as it illuminates how we might fashion an ethics of racial justice in contemporary times.

Intimacy as Methodology: Black and Japanese Relations in Postwar America

Dr. Sonia Gomez

The field of Afro-Asian studies have traditionally been dominated by discussions of straight men. Recently, scholars have called into question the tendency to see such cross-racial alliances through a lens that privileges men. From this questioning, a burgeoning body of work drawing from queer and feminist of color frameworks has emerged to challenge the male-centric narratives of Afro-Asian history in the United States. In this talk, I explore the politics of Afro-Asian female friendship in the United States during World War II. By centering on young women’s friendship during the turbulent war years, this talk will unpack what it meant to maintain friendships through correspondence across racial lines and barbed wire, including why such friendships should be read as a subversive act that challenged both racial and gendered hierarchies.

Afro-Japanese Cultural Encounters Panel

Epistemology of the Violets: Heuristics toward a Sensorium of Afro-Japanese Co-creativity

Dr. Will Bridges

In Development Drowned and Reborn, Clyde Woods proposes that we envision new worlds—worlds “more egalitarian and democratic,” and more committed to “sustainability” and “social, cultural, and economic justice”—by way of an epistemology of the blues. The blues are that musical form born in the freedom found in the wake of American slavery. They are characterized by the expressive deviations of the blue note and the transformation of memories of the sounds of the plantation (field hollers, wailings, and so on) into something more mellifluous. Woods contends that, with a bit of synesthesia, the modes of listening and sounding out afforded by the blues might help us make better sense of the world and give us a sense of how a better world might be.

This talk is interested in the formation of what we might call an epistemology of the violets, or that way of seeing and being in the world at the intersection of the blues and the reds, with “red” here serving as a chromatic stand in for the epistemological and sensorial insights embedded in Japanese creative works. To date, Afro-Japanese scholarship has been framed primarily by concepts such as representation and reception. While informative in their own way, such frameworks prime us to think about transferences from one culture (“blues”) to another (“reds”). The aim of this talk is to provide general heuristics for those interested in the study of the epistemological possibilities of purple, or a way of seeing and creating possible worlds that is neither red nor blue—neither African American nor Japanese—but both red and blue, the emergence upon their coalescence. This talk is a “between the books talk:” it synthesizes lessons learned in the writing of Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature with ideas from the upcoming The Black Pacific: A Poetic History.

Cold Japan: Grime Cyborgs in Black London

Warren A. Stanislaus

This presentation will examine the overlooked phenomenon of how young black British rappers and producers of grime music intentionally remix Japanese pop cultural artifacts to carve out a cultural space that gives voice to their urban realities and articulates counterhegemonic black subjectivities. From the early 2000s, at the same time discourses of ‘Cool Japan’ were emerging to explain the global rise of Japanese pop culture, grime artists were sampling sounds and themes from video games and anime to create a ‘cold’ aesthetic, which reflects their sense of alienation. I introduce ‘Cold Japan’ as the other Cool Japan, and a way of understanding this underground layer of Afro-Japanese hybridity that fuses Japanese pop cultural content with black urban life on the margins of British society. Further, I use the figure of the cyborg to disclose how grime artists transform Cold Japan into a site of countercultural resistance to subvert their oppression by self-generating transgressive posthuman identities. Examining how Japanese pop culture is selectively consumed by urban black audiences in Britain who have traditionally been excluded from scholarly discussions of Anglo-Japanese encounters, this presentation identifies strategies of hybridity and cultural resistance rooted in broader histories and imaginations of Afro-Asian connectivity.

Afro-Asia as Neoliberal Intimacy: Black-Japanese Mixed-Race Experiences in Contemporary Japan

Professor Marvin H. Sterling

In this presentation I use the case of mixed-race peoples of black and Japanese descent in contemporary Japan to interrogate the existing literature on Afro-Asia. Much of the scholarship examining the intersections between the African and Asian diasporas has done so vis-à-vis these diasporic communities’ shared experiences of and ongoing efforts to contend with the legacies of Western colonial domination. However, the case of black-Japanese and similar Afro-Asian encounters throughout China, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, including as result of Japan’s and China’s economic ascent, offer a critical opportunity to situate and explore these complex and intimate encounters.  I argue for the value of a “multipolar” global approach to reflect the more fully international dimensions and dynamics of the Afro-Asian encounter in Japan today, and for the particular value of ethnographic work in exploring their lived resonances and effects.