- Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era, and: Immigration and Citizenship in Japan
Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era and Erin Aeran Chung’s Immigration and Citizenship in Japan offer innovative approaches and new insights into questions of migration and citizenship in Japan. Both books situate Japan’s immigration and citizenship policies and politics in an international context, and they both demonstrate the essential role that resident Koreans play in Japan’s immigration and citizenship politics and policies. Rooting analyses in the local while situating Japan in an international context is a strength for each of these authors.
Morris-Suzuki’s Borderline Japan fills a longstanding gap in the scholarship on Japan’s immigration history and thus challenges the conventional wisdom that there was little or no migration to Japan in the 1950s and 1960s—and that what there was did not matter much. In doing so, the author traces how the experience of Koreans in Japan shaped the country’s immigration policies. She begins from the position that, as in other states, Japan’s immigration policies are not created by the state alone but are significantly impacted by the international context and Japan’s relations with other states. In the case of Japan, Morris-Suzuki argues, the policies created [End Page 171] during the U.S. occupation were a collaboration between the occupation authorities and the Japanese state. These policies quickly became driven by cold war concerns that affected Japan’s relations with all of its Northeast Asian neighbors—especially North and South Korea—as well as the United States. By excavating the origins of policies such as alien registration, Morris-Suzuki demonstrates how Japan’s migration control policies, created originally to deal with former colonial subjects who remained in Japan after the end of World War II—a majority of whom were Korean—shape contemporary exclusionary immigration policies and continue to impact the lives of migrants to Japan today. Morris-Suzuki further argues that these policies also shaped Japanese society; these exclusionary policies reinforced the myth of a homogeneous Japan and helped isolate Japan from its neighbors, a situation that manifests itself today in difficult relations between Japan and its Asian neighbors.
The author takes a bottom-up approach that she describes as migration focused rather than immigration focused. This approach recognizes that immigration policies are tools of the state that aim but often fail to control immigration. Rather than focusing on laws and official discourse, the author’s migration-centered approach seeks to understand how states, borders, and border controls impact migrants’ lives. In other words, she is interested in what happens on the ground at frontiers and frontier spaces where migrants encounter the state and how has this helped constitute Japan’s immigration policy. Morris-Suzuki uses specific places to explore the nature of cross-border movement. According to the author, these places—“borderlines” and what the author refers to as an archipelago of spaces inhabited by uncounted foreigners—served to obscure the existence of foreigners in Japan and made it impossible for the Japanese government to know the exact size of the foreign population within its borders even as its immigration policies and border controls were becoming more restrictive. These frontier spaces coupled with increasingly restrictive border controls obscured movement across Japan’s borders then and now. Analyzing these spaces, Morris-Suzuki uncovers the many border crossings into and out of Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, a time often seen as a blank space in Japan’s migration history.
Morris-Suzuki’s argument subtly knits together individual experiences, frontiers, and frontier spaces to paint a vivid picture with powerful images of how international relations between states had devastating effects on the lives of individuals. The borderlines drawn between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, the Japanese mainland and Okinawa...