Many Ties of Intimacy: Gender and Social Relations of Japanese Women and Men in Hawaiʻi, 1885–1924

Principal Investigator: Yukari Takai

Research Assistants: Alexis Erickson (University of Windsor, completed) and Jillian Parker (University of Windsor, completed)

Project Timeline: 2016–2021


Project Summary

Japanese immigrant women have long been portrayed as a lynchpin for the building of the family-centred, community-oriented Japanese immigrant society. “Many Ties of Intimacy” proposes a new and refreshing way to understand the social and gendered world of Japanese immigrant women and men in Hawaiʻi from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The objectives of this project are:

  • To investigate how, in the dearth of issei (that is, Japanese-born, first generation immigrant) women in Hawaiʻi in the early years of Japanese community, immigrant women and men constructed gender and social relations in ways that may have deviated from the normalizing ideology of “good wives and wise mothers.” This is a powerful ideal of womanhood that assigned woman’s place in the home in support of husband, children and empire, an ideology that was promoted since the late Meiji-era.
  • To determine how immigrant community elites sought to control the sexual morality of Japanese immigrants in Hawaiʻi.
  • To ascertain how campaigns for sexual control and the social moralizing by issei community leaders and authorities in Hawaiʻi contrasted, converged or reinforced the sexual control and social moralizing pursued in white America.

The year 1885 marked the beginning of the Japanese government-sponsored immigration (kanʻyaku imin) to Hawai`i. Over 200,000 men and women from Japan arrived in Hawaiʻi by 1924 when the Unted States Congress banned Japanese immigration to the United States altogether. Hawaiʻi was the destination for the largest number of Japanese emigrants until 1912 and they formed the largest ethnic group on the islands. Hawaiʻi was also a critical transit point as many issei labourers moved on to North America at the very time when the United States and Canada built up exclusionary immigration regimes to which the Japanese government acquiesced.

My in-depth accounts of issei sugar plantation workers, wives, husbands, lovers, prostitutes and run-away couples are, I suggest, a fundamental part of a larger, transnational history of women and men originating from Japan. Many left only cursory and often scattered traces of their lives in official records, however. “Many Ties of Intimacy” therefore draws on a wide range of sources, including diplomatic records housed at the Japanese Diplomatic Archives, Japanese- and English-language local newspapers published in Hawaiʻi and Japan, and Japanese Hawaiian folk songs called holehole bushi, created and sung by women and men workers in the sugar cane fields. In exploring these and other sources, this project urges one to begin critically reflecting on how marriage and migration were constructed and sustained as a privileged site in which nation-states, American or Japanese, sought to contain and control the sexuality of racialized immigrants in class specific manners.

Outputs

Refereed Journal Article

“Recrafting Marriage in Japanese Hawai‘i, 1885-1913,” Gender & History 31, no. 3 (October 2019): 646-664.
*The article has won the Canadian Committee on Migration, Ethnicity and Transnationalism (CCMET) Article Prize at the Canadian Historical Association in 2020.

Papers and Lectures Presented at Conferences and Workshops

Yukari Takai, “Fragmentary Sources, Unstable Unions: Marriage and Divorce Practices in Japan and Meiji Hawai‘i (1885–1913).” Social Science History Association, Chicago, November 2019.

Yukari Takai, “Regulating Japanese Migration and Prostitution in Hawai‘i, North America and Northeast Asia.” The Canadian Historical Association, UBC, Vancouver, June 2019.

Yukari Takai, “Recrafting Marriage in Meiji Hawai‘i.” The Pacific History Association, London and Cambridge, U.K., December 2018.

Yukari Takai, “Regulating Japanese Migration and Prostitution in Hawai‘i, North America and Northeast Asia.” Migration and Gender: Relationships, Economic Resources and Institutions in Historical Perspective (15th-20th Centuries), Cambridge University, U.K., November 2018.

Yukari Takai, “The Sale, Purchase, and Brokerage of Issei Wives in Hawai‘i.” Joint Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich-University of Zurich Research Colloquium in Global and Extra-European History, May 2018.

Yukari Takai, “Temporary Marriage, Wife Sale and Wife Brokerage among Japanese in Hawai‘i.” Migration, Institution and Intimate Lives: New Agendas in the History of Migration and Gender Symposium, University of Bristol. U.K., April 2018.

Yukari Takai, “The Selling and Brokering Japanese Wives in Hawai‘i at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” The Japanese Diaspora Initiative Workshop, Hoover Institute Library and Archives, Stanford University, November 2017.

Yukari Takai, “New Gender Possibilities or Familiar Strategies? Prostitution and Divorce among Early Japanese Immigrants in Hawai‘i.” Presidential panel at the Social Science History Association, Montreal, November 2017.

Yukari Takai, “Many Ties of Intimacy: Japanese Sugarcane Workers in Hawai‘i, 1880–1910.” The European Social Science History Association, Valencia, Spain, April 2016.

Media

2020 Winner of the Canadian Historical Association CCMET Article Prize for scholarly articles and book chapters judged to have made an original, significant, and meritorious contribution to the historical study of migration and ethnicity.

History professor Dr. Yukari Takai pursues research on gender, migration and borders in Japanese Hawaii, University of Windsor, 4 September 2018

Related Projects

•  Yukari Takai, “Epidemics and Racism: Honolulu’s Bubonic Plague and the Big Fire, 1899–1900,” Active History, 12 June 2020.

•  Yukari Takai, “Via Hawai‘i: the Transmigration of Japanese.” In the UBC Meiji at 150 Digital Teaching Resource Visual Essays, 2019.

•  I conducted SSHRC project “Japanese Transmigration across the Pacific and the Canada-U.S. Border, 1882-1941” as principal investigator.

•  I collaborated on the SSHRC-funded Landscape of Injustice project at the University of Victoria, BC.

•  I participate in a SSHRC-funded project on Borders in Globalization at the University of Victoria and Carleton University.