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  • Subverting Exclusion: Transpacific Encounters with Race, Caste, and Borders, 1885–1928 by Andrea Geiger
  • Yukari Takai
Geiger, Andrea – Subverting Exclusion: Transpacific Encounters with Race, Caste, and Borders, 1885–1928. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, Pp. 304.

Subverting Exclusion examines how caste, race and international borders shaped the attitudes of Japanese immigrants, diplomats and intellectuals on both sides of the Pacific. Men and women who left the island nation for the North American West in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century included people with ties to historical outcaste communities, formerly called eta and hinin, and more recently, burakumin. Geiger sheds light on this oft-neglected aspect of Japanese immigration. The central argument of the book is that the concept of outcaste continued to influence perceptions of what the author calls “Meiji(-era) Japanese immigrants”, a problematic label which neglects a substantial number of immigrants who left Japan after the end of the Meiji period in July 1912. The negative images attached to the concepts of eta and hinin shaped the ways in which immigrants dealt with a range of daily concerns such as occupational choices and marriage practices, as well as larger issues of exclusion and citizenship rights. This is despite both the Japanese Imperial Edict of Emancipation of Burakumin of 1871 that officially banned mibunsei or the class and status system and that affirmed the equal rights of former outcastes and despite their relocation across the Pacific.

The book is comprised of nine chapters. The first four chapters review the history of the Japanese class/status system of shi no ko sho (samurai, peasants, artisans and merchants) during the Edo period, the emigration policies of the Meiji Government, and a range of strategies that Japanese diplomats and immigrants used in an effort to counter adverse perceptions of Japanese migrants among North Americans. The next three chapters probe the racial politics that shaped the legal rights of immigrants: chapters five and six focus on the transit privilege across the Canadian and the Mexican borders; while chapter seven examines two well-known legal challenges brought against the restriction of citizenship rights in Canada (Cunningham v. Homma) and the United States (Ozawa v. United States). The final two chapters discuss the policing of marriages and the rhetoric of homogeneity. The book also contains a number of intriguing photographs and maps. Unfortunately, these sometimes lack any explanation, as is the case for example for the posing of the coal miners with their lunch pails (p.67) or the circumstances under which one so-called picture bride who landed in San Francisco in the early Taisho era (following the Meiji period) had her photo taken with the young daughter she was obliged to leave behind (p.170).

Nevertheless, Subverting Exclusion makes several important contributions, one of which is its treatment of the subject of outcastes among the immigrating population. In addressing the lingering silence that negates the presence of burakumin among Japanese immigrants as well as the absence of sources on basic facts, including the exact number of outcastes among immigrant populations and their geographic origin at the local and municipal levels, Geiger’s study offers a creative attempt at investigating the meanings and consequences of social distinctions. Further, the book sheds light on the agency of Issei and Nisei individuals in their fight against white racism. Chapter seven in particular offers a strong reminder of the extent to which Japanese exclusion and racism defined and distorted the judicial process and shaped the outcomes of court challenges in Canada and the United States. [End Page 237]

Despite these strengths, Subverting Exclusion also has a number of weaknesses. First, there is a need for greater clarity on the history of outcastes in Japan. Although opinions diverge on the origin of eta, the scholarly consensus is that the creation of the category of outcastes predates by far the Edo period. As Takahashi Sadaki states, the derogatory designation of eta came into use as early as the Heian period (9th–12th centuries) and the outcaste category of eta solidified during the feudal period of Muromachi (14th–16th centuries). Further, while the four-tier status/caste system of shi no ko sho...


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