February 13, 2023/ 4:00 PM

Bunche Hall 10383

Empire Through the Prism of Phosphate

This talk, which is drawn from chapter six of my new monograph, Waiting for the Cool Moon: Anti-Imperialist Struggles in the Heart of Japan’s Empire, considers the recruitment of Okinawan workers into the phosphate industry in Banaba (Ocean Island) prior to the Japanese state’s colonization of the northern Mariana, Marshall, and Caroline islands. By starting with the over 300 workers from Okinawa who were transported to Banaba between 1908 and 1910 to toil as semi-skilled workers for the Pacific Phosphate Company (PPC), it rejects prevailing understandings of mainland Japanese and Okinawan workers as merely differentially privileged agents of settler colonialism in the Pacific and traces the way that dispossessed Indigenous people were made complicit in the dispossession of Indigenous people in another locale through settlement. It highlights the latter’s historical role as a disposable, colonial workforce and therefore reads the extension of the Farm Household Survey project to Okinawa in 1930 as a counter-revolutionary instrument of colonial rule rather than national consolidation.

Wendy Matsumura is Associate Professor of modern Japanese history at UC San Diego. Her first book, The Limits of Okinawa, traced the formation of the idea of Okinawa in relation to class antagonisms that developed after the Ryukyu kingdom’s annexation by Japan in the 1870s. Her second monograph, Waiting for the Cool Moon (forthcoming), traces the transformation of the Japanese small farm household into the material and discursive foundation of the national community and its members into conquistador humanists following the post-World War One agrarian crisis.

Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies