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Reviewed by:
  • Lost Histories: Recovering the Lives of Japan’s Colonial Peoples by Kirsten L. Ziomek
  • Paul D. Barclay
Lost Histories: Recovering the Lives of Japan’s Colonial Peoples. By kirsten l. ziomek. Cambridge: Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2019. xix + 406 pp. ISBN 978-0-674-23728-5. $70.00 (hardcover); $35.00 (paper).

This engaging study of a little understood aspect of world history— the life-stories and aspirations of peoples and persons displayed at International Expositions and World’s Fairs—is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarship that reconstructs silenced histories, [End Page 647] often at the level of individual biographies, to debunk received wisdom about empire as a global formation. Lost Histories successfully challenges the notion that so-called “human zoos” at mega-events such as the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition primarily functioned to disseminate social Darwinist imaginaries for mass audiences. Rather, Ziomek argues, these human displays were interactive sites for multidirectional exchanges that often provided platforms for participants (ticket-buyers, exhibited peoples, journalists, and impresarios) to undermine scientific and popular forms of racism cum imperial triumphalism.

By reconstructing individual histories of the residents of such displays, and chronicling their day-to-day activities and material circumstances, Professor Ziomek demonstrates that exhibited peoples were much more than ethnic mascots. Some embraced stereotypes to advance personal or community interests; others foregrounded a penchant for assimilation, for the same reasons. Using the expositions as a springboard, Lost Histories brings individuals and peoples from disparate corners of Japan’s sprawling empire into the time-space of home-island shakers and movers. Based on wide-ranging archival research and fieldwork, plus the inventive use of ephemera collectors and collections, in Japan (from Okinawa to Hokkaidō), Taiwan, England, and the United States, Ziomek’s study turns erstwhile peripheries into generative sites of historical dynamism.

The first part of Lost Histories documents the aforementioned expositions. Taiwan Indigenous Peoples, Ainu, and Okinawans displayed at exhibitions in 1903, 1904, 1910, 1912, and 1913 are its main protagonists. Part Two picks up the thread by shifting focus to state-sponsored tours that brought Taiwan Indigenous Peoples and Micronesians to Japan’s metropolises from 1910 into the 1930s, ostensibly to be awed by the empire’s wealth, civilization, and might. As with the protagonists in Part One, the tourists, portrayed in Japanese imperial propaganda as one-dimensional “savages” in need of tutelage, turned out to be individuals who often wrote their own scripts. They not only defied imperialist stereotypes; many were locally powerful leaders whom the empire relied upon to extend its writ. These intriguing stories illustrate the precarity of Japanese political control in Micronesia and Taiwan, while providing a wealth of information on the individuals who either contested or enabled imperial rule as intermediaries. Ziomek’s accounts of their recruitment, experiences in metropolitan Japan, and subsequent careers back home adds much needed specificity to our understandings of state–society relations in Palau, Saipan, Indigenous Taiwan, and rural Hokkaidō under Japanese rule. [End Page 648]

Ziomek aptly describes her main actors as members of “hyperracialized” groups. Okinawans, Ainu, Taiwan Indigenous Peoples, Nivkh, Uilta, and Micronesians were represented as “natives,” “primitives,” and “Aborigines” in Japanese-language official documents, mass media, and scholarship. They were distinguished from other imperial subjects, and administratively sequestered, as denizens of developmentally arrested homelands. But as Ziomek demonstrates, the empire opened pathways of mobility for hyperracialized and putatively immobile “natives.” The journeys they undertook shaped the contours of life not only in their home communities, but also in the metropole itself. These stories also reveal that the category “race” in the Japanese empire was protean, contested, and opportunistically reconfigured by racializing and racialized peoples alike.

The hyperracialized groups brought together in Lost Histories constitute a new unit of analysis. The category includes indigenous peoples, but is more expansive; it refers to colonized populations, but not all of them. As Ziomek explains, Okinawans and Ainu were technically citizens of Japan. Nonetheless, they were marked as ethnically distinct and uncivilized, thus making them targets of assimilation drives. Certain markers of difference, such as facial tattoos or bear-sacrifice ceremonies, made hyperracialized groups objects of scientific, commercial, and humanitarian curiosity. For these reasons, Ainu...


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pp. 647-650
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