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date: 29 June 2017

The Reception of African American Literature in Prewar and Postwar Japan

Summary and Keywords

Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s gunboat diplomacy provided the Japanese with the first known opportunity to observe a major American performing art inspired by black culture: the minstrel show. The “Ethiopian entertainment,” held on the USS Powhatan, presented “Colored ‘Gemmen’ of the North” and “Plantation ‘Niggas’ of the South” to shogunate officials four times in 1854. While this performance initiated a binational cultural exchange, the 1878 tour of the Fisk Jubilee Singers was an epoch-making event; the group’s successful concerts, given in three cities, offered Japanese audiences their first opportunity to appreciate genuine African-American artistic pieces—spirituals, distinguished from blackface minstrelsy.

The Japanese attitude toward African Americans at this initial stage was a mixture of pity and wonder. A growing self-awareness of Japan’s inferior status vis‐à‐vis Western nations, however, gave rise to a strong interest in slavery and racial oppression. The popularity of studies focused on American race problems since 1905, including multiple versions of the biography of Booker T. Washington, attests to prewar intellectuals’ attempt to define the position of the Japanese people by both analogy and contrast with African Americans. In the meantime, a partial translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), serialized from 1897 to 1898 in a liberal paper, the Kokumin, and a translation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) in 1921 paved the way for Japan’s introduction to the New Negro literature, the first major body of black writings gaining in popularity in the American literary market in the 1920s. Successive publications of works by W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes in translation in the 1930s generated a distinctive artistic backdrop comparable to the American Jazz Age. Various authors of the era—from novelists to haiku poets—learned about literary motifs informed by blackness and began to elaborate their own racial representations to delineate the affectional substructure of modernity.

Even though World War II briefly disrupted the expansion of the Japanese literary imagination through the creative inspiration of African Americans, a translation of Richard Wright’s Native Son within the year of the original publication (1940) signifies the persistence of interest throughout the war period. Indeed, defeat in 1945, resentment over the subsequent U.S. occupation, coincident remorse for their country’s imperial aggression, and anger at its eventual rearmament following the Korean War, in conjunction, reoriented postwar authors toward the development of black characters in diverse works over the following four decades. In addition, the civil rights movement facilitated studies in African-American literature in universities from the 1960s onward. Today, African-American literature is one of the most popular areas in English departments in Japan; one can find virtually every subject from the slave narrative to rap music in undergraduate course syllabi.

Keywords: minstrel show, race, slavery, imperialism, Jazz Age, New Negro, World War II, Cold War, civil rights movement, black feminism

Early Encounters: Before the Birth of the African American

The first textual evidence documenting the presence of diasporic African persons in Japan goes back to the late 16th century. Ōta Gyūichi in Shincho kōki (The chronicle of Oda Nobunaga1) reports on an event that occurred in 1581: “On February 23, a Negro has visited from a Christian state. He seems to be 26 to 27 years old. His darkness all over the body is like a bull’s. The man is so healthy and good-looking. His power is superior to that of ten strong men put together.”2 The situation described in this narrative refers to the entry of Jesuit missionaries into Kyoto, then Japan’s capital. This African is today thought to have been a slave originally from Mozambique,3 yet Padre Lorenzo Mesia’s correspondence to his fellow priest likewise testifies to Oda’s appreciation of the African’s sturdiness and loyalty, which even caused a rumor that the lord would grant him a high rank in the Japanese feudal system.4 This enthusiasm for the “healthy and good-looking” humanity in a darker complexion is an early manifestation of the sense of wonder that doaminated Japanese reactions to African descendants in the premodern stage of their encounter.

The first African-American travelers were brought to a Japanese port in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868) had adopted a seclusion policy in 1639. Under this policy, the Dutch East India Company was the only Western agent authorized to access the country, and its authorization was exclusively for trade. The post-revolutionary turmoil and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, however, impeded voyages of Dutch merchant vessels. This necessitated the Dutch East India Company’s chartering of American ships for its Eastern trade. These ships, flying American flags in the Pacific but hoisting those of the Netherlands in their places on nearing Japan,5 regularly brought black crews to Dejima Trading Post in Nagasaki—that is, the only point on an artificial island open to foreign visitors, namely, visitors from China and the Netherlands.

In 1853, however, Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the U.S. Navy forced an end to the country’s isolation. His gunboat diplomacy provided the first known opportunity for the Japanese to observe a major American entertainment inspired by black culture: the minstrel show.6 The six-part program of the “Ethiopian Concert,” held on the USS Powhatan four times during its 1854 voyage to Japan, included blackface numbers such as “Colored ‘Gemmen’ of the North” and “Plantation ‘Niggas’ of the South” together with a popular melodrama, “The Lady of Lyons.”7 Perry’s narrative reports that “the gravity of” the sternest scholar-official Hayashi Daigaku, who represented Japan at their diplomatic negotiations, “was not proof against the grotesque exhibition and even he joined with the rest in the general hilarity provoked by the farcical antic and humorous performances of the mock negroes.”8 Hayashi, who enjoyed the concert twice, on March 24 and June 16, later recounted his diplomatic experiences in his six-volume memoir Bokui ōsetsu-roku (Narrative of the reception of the graphite barbarian), in which he designated the U.S. delegation as the “graphite barbarian.”9 This particular color—associated either with American steamers (in Japanese expression “black ships”) or black and darkly complected crews—coincidentally evokes the imaginational core of U.S.-Japan cultural exchange from the latter half of the 19th century onward. Thus Japanese impressions of America already highlighted race as a self-conscious concern, as well as quintessential elements of American artistic and cultural expression.

In 1878, Japanese people were provided the first chance to appreciate a genuine African-American performance, distinguished from blackface minstrelsy. The Fisk Jubilee Singers visited East Asian countries for the first time on their third and final world tour. Their multiple concerts, held in three harbor cities in Japan—Nagasaki, Kobe, and Yokohama—turned out to be fairly successful, and audiences were enthusiastic in listening to their spirituals and folk songs.10 The concert in Nagasaki was enabled by the singers’ effort to delay the departure of their steamer.11 During their one-week stay in Kobe, they visited Kobe College, one of the country’s oldest women’s colleges, to take advantage of a special opportunity to interact with its students, in addition to giving a packed concert every night.12 Likewise, their nightly performances in Yokohama drew full houses throughout another weeklong stay.13 J. B. T. Marsh’s biographical narrative, The Story of the Jubilee Singers, summarizes the people’s exceptional interest in African-American songs: “Our audiences here [consist], as in other Oriental cities, chiefly of Europeans; still, a much larger percentage of the Japanese attended our concerts than any of the other Oriental races.”14

Besides this episode of highly engaged audiences at the Fisk singers’ concerts, African-American contribution to Japanese cultural activities in the late 19th century extended to other areas of the arts and sciences. Several Japanese aiming to study in the United States were affiliated with black institutions of higher education. By 1890, at least four Japanese men and a woman were enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, and by 1893, four men were enrolled in Howard University in Washington, DC;15 Fisk in Tennessee and Tuskegee in Alabama also accepted Japanese students at the turn of the 20th century.16 Even though the specific reasons for the students’ decisions to study in these schools are not clear, their multiracial principle as well as emphasis on teaching practical skills and vocational subjects could have satisfied the interest of not a few students from the far eastern country, one that attempted to catch up with the West in its process of modernization.

Complex Identity and Racial Interest: Initiating Black Studies while Competing with the West

Japanese people’s primary attitude toward African Americans at the turn of the century consisted of a mixture of pity and sympathy. This tendency was informed by the nation’s general fear of a possible extension of European domination to their country. In other words, growing self-awareness of Japan’s own inferior status vis-à-vis Western nations inspired a strong interest in slavery and racial oppression. Against this backdrop, the first Japanese translation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), by Keiten Bokudo, was serialized in a liberal newspaper, Kokumin (The nation), from November 8, 1897, to January 24, 1898.17 Japan had, however, won the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and embarked on its full-scale imperial expansion into East Asia. Its sympathy with Africans, accordingly, developed no vision of racial justice or egalitarianism, but functioned as a self-protective justification of its own hegemony and interests. Japan’s struggle for international recognition as a civilized nation in the final two decades of the 19th century provoked Western antagonism toward the nation. The permeation of the idea of the “Yellow Peril,” a term originally coined by German Kaiser Wilhelm II on Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), caused the intensification of American anti-Japanese movements, too.18

Tomizu Hirondo, a professor of law at Tokyo Imperial University, warned in his political booklet Afurika no zento (A future of Africa) (1899): “Even though Africa will be widely recognized as a golden region by the first half of the coming century, those who enjoy the share of its resources are not the yellows but the whites. Now that the yellows’ vision has been extremely weak, they could, one day, become slaves of the whites, unless they now make an effort to compete with them.”19 The author’s theory, based on the sense of inferiority stemming from his awareness of belonging to the yellow race, explains the self-serving basis of the national promotion of academic research in race in consonance with its military activism in the early 20th century. His remark on the Western powers’ appetite for African resources echoes Japan’s own colonial intention to join the side of exploitation rather than to propose a positive design of racial alliance with Africans. Japan, then eagerly trying to buttress its modern national identity, developed a peculiar set of scholarly investigations of racial subjects appropriable for its intention to criticize the logic of white supremacy and justify its own cause of Westernization at the same time.

The topic that best satisfied this twofold intention was the life of Booker T. Washington. Ogouchi Midori first introduced Washington’s life and works in Ijin no seinenjidai (Youthful years of great people) (1908), where he was the only black among twenty historical figures from Europe, America, and Japan, including Samuel Johnson, William Gladstone, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Carnegie.20 Three years later, the fifth volume of Kinsei taisei eiketsuden (Chronicles of modern western heroes) (1911) likewise ended with Washington as the only black person included in the series.21 Subsequently, the first abridged translation of Up from Slavery, entitled “The Great Black Man,” was published in 1919. In his preface to the book, the translator Sasaki Hide’ichi emphasizes the superiority of Washington’s “spirit of self-sacrifice” and names him the best leadership model for Japanese due to his “altruistic service to the public.”22 Furthermore, Takiura Bun’ya, a theorist of education, published two versions of a critical biography of Washington in 1927,23 and a Kobe-based publisher, Kawase Nisshindō, adapted Up from Slavery for use as a high school English textbook.24 This popularity of life writings of and about Washington demonstrates that prewar intellectuals generally shared Sasaki’s commentary: that “his character is what the contemporary Japanese people need the most.”25 Washington’s well-known convictions of self-help and politics of accommodation to white domination were indeed quite convenient for a Japanese government that prioritized Westernization, on the one hand, and attempted to develop its own restricted version of democratic society, based on a class system and colonial order, on the other.

Washington was, in reality, certainly one of the many African-American leaders who vindicated Japan’s position after its defeat of Russia.26 In a talk to Tuskegee students, he asserted that “the Japanese race is a convincing example of the respect which the world gives to a race that can put brains and commercial activity into the development of the resources of the country.”27 In terms of ideological support for the Japanese challenge to white supremacy, however, W. E. B. Du Bois, who once declared that he was born in the year “the Meiji Emperors [sic] rose to power,” had a more powerful and longer-lasting voice.28 Nonetheless, neither scholarly nor journalistic attention to Du Bois’s works was paid until his visit to Japan in 1936. Even though Du Bois was enthusiastically welcomed as the “father of Negro” and undertook a vigorous lecture circuit during his two-week stay, the project to translate The Souls of Black Folk (1903), which Hikida Yasuichi, a Harlem-based Japanese NAACP activist, tried to coordinate, failed.29 This means that the Japanese—at least those who had an influence on official cultural politics—preferred Washington’s unequivocal success story to Du Bois’s highly poetic and philosophical speculations on the past and future of African Americans.

Japan’s first approach to African-American intellectual achievement was, in these ways, directed to make sense of the position of the Japanese in a global context by both analogy and contrast.30 The country also responded to the rejection of the racial equality clause it proposed at the Paris Peace Conference (1919) following the end of World War I. Mitsukawa Kametarō, for instance, begins his Kokujin mondai (Issues facing black people) (1925) with a frank condemnation of “white despotism” as exemplified by the rejection.31 By demonstrating “common exploitative conditions equating Africans, African Americans, and Japanese,” he attempts to raise Japanese awareness of racial injustice.32 His monograph is composed of an anthropological account of the categorization of Negro; a historical survey of American slavery, abolitionism, and the Civil War; and sociological analysis of racial injustice after Reconstruction, including lynching and segregation, through reference to various sources such as the Crisis. It became the first comprehensive Japanese study of American race matters. Mitsukawa also devotes pages to an extensive discussion on Jamaican Marcus Garvey. One of the core originators of Pan Asianism, he advocated the necessity to “restore deprived Asia” by obviously emulating Garvey’s Pan Africanist slogan.33 The book was indeed another typical example of prewar scholarly efforts to divert the reader’s sympathy for black people to a justification for Japan’s imperial expansion.

The Harlem Renaissance in Translation: The First Wave of Dissemination, the 1930s

Such an ideological encroachment is also found in the first translation of a representative American novel significant in many senses, including its representations of slavery and racism: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Sasaki Kuni, professor of English literature and humor writer, translated the work in 1921; however, he seriously distorted the original. Sasaki flattened Jim’s character, which Twain carefully constructed with humanistic profundity, into a stereotypically incompetent slave figure. He likewise reduced Huck to a merely mischievous boy, and recklessly omitted the original’s vernacular tones and ironies, as well as episodes that conflicted with his taste. Particularly by diminishing the ethically complicated details surrounding Huck’s resolution to “go to hell,” or “steal Jim out of slavery,” he “lost one of the best chances to show that slavery was founded upon the hypocrisy of respected social institutions.”34 This sort of unfaithful translation is a problem interlocking with Japan’s imperialist mindset, one that has diverted the purpose of its early Afro-American studies to the authentication of its right to colonize China. Insofar as Japan conceived itself as a rising power rivaling the West, writers could self-contradictorily internalize racial stereotypes forged by the dominant racist ideology. Even so, ardent translation projects of, as well as demands for, novels about race by both black and white authors prevailed in Japanese print culture in the 1930s. Huck and Jim, in this sense, certainly paved the way for the introduction of the New Negro literature, the first major body of black writings gaining popularity in the American literary market in the 1920s.

Modernist thinker and critic Nii Itaru played a principal role in introducing this genre to Japanese audiences. He translated “Fern” from Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923) and an excerpt from Walter White’s The Fire in the Flint (1924). A popular collection, Amerika sentan bungaku sōsho (American avant-garde literature series) (1930), compiled both pieces together with Yamamuro Shizuka’s abridged translation of Du Bois’s Dark Princess (1928).35 Anthology of American Negro Literature (1929), edited by V. F. Calverton, enabled the publisher of the project to swiftly access those works that best represented the intellectual currents of the Harlem Renaissance. The editor, Hayasaka Jiro, wrote in the preface to the collection: “In a survey of contemporary American literature, it would be absolutely impermissible to neglect black American authors. The black population has now reached twelve million, and they have completely been Americanized. Nonetheless, they were in the past exposed to incessant danger of lynching and social maltreatment, and in the present world dominated by capitalism, they still experience work oppression as severe as under slavery.”36

The leading translator Nii contracted to translate Nigger Heaven (1926), by Carl Van Vechten, the most influential white supporter of Harlem Renaissance authors, but the translation was never published. In addition, on the occasion of Du Bois’s 1936 visit to Japan, Nii contributed a detailed biographical essay on Du Bois to a major paper, the Yomiuri. In his article, serialized in two installments on December 11 and 12, 1936, Nii provided a broader reading public with commentaries on Du Bois’s various works from Darkwater (1920) to Black Reconstruction (1935), as well as a discussion on his leadership at the Pan African Congress. Even though the introduction to Du Bois had been rather delayed in comparison with other contemporary key figures, such as Washington, with his visit came wider recognition.

At the same time, Tsukiji sho-gekijyo (Tsukiji Small Theater), Japan’s first permanent theater for modern dramas and the most influential avant-garde center, took a disparate path in promoting Japanese awareness of race as a literary motif. In the late 1920s, the group of playwrights who administered the theater produced only international works in translation as part of their revolt against the nation’s literary establishment. In this context, they staged both Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones (1920) and Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s Porgy (1927) before 1930. Due to the theater’s international reputation for integrity in dealing with the “Negro problem,” Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes visited when he stopped in Tokyo in 1933 on his way back from a trip to Soviet Russia.

During his stay, officers from Tokyo Metropolitan Police detained him and interrogated him about his reason for coming to Japan. Owing to its radical production policy as well as its connection with internationally active leftist artists, the Tsukiji Small Theater was a primary target of law enforcement. Hughes was, as he himself clarifies in his autobiography/travelogue I Wonder as I Wander (1956), suspected as a communist spy especially because of his itinerary. When he participated in the first Workers’ Theaters International Olympiad in Moscow, he met Sano Seki, a socialist playwright and Japanese delegate to that event. He motivated Hughes to visit the Tsukiji Small Theater.37 Owing to the detention of Hughes, furthermore, Nii and several other Japanese writers who attempted to host a luncheon for him during his stay in Tokyo were respectively summoned to their local police headquarters to give accounts of their relationships with the American persona non grata.38 Despite such an unfavorable incident, however, Hughes granted permission to translate twenty-three of his poems to a group of young scholars who were aiming to open a new direction for research in English. Ten of the poems were published in two issues of these scholars’ journal, Shin-eibei bungaku (New British and American literature), in September and October 1933, and two more pieces appeared in the mainstream leftist journal Kaizō (Reconstruction) in September 1933; in addition, another leftist literary journal, Shiseishin (The spirit of poesy), published five different pieces in the issue dated January 1935.39

Leftist as well as Marxist intellectuals published African-American works in Japanese in support of their political convictions. They understood that racial liberation from white oppression was equivalent to proletarian liberation from capitalism.40 Katayama Sen, a Japanese socialist educated at several American institutions, including Yale Divinity School, and a core member of the American Communist Party in the 1920s, was recognized as a powerful advocate for African-American rights. Jamaican-born New Negro poet Claude McKay testified to Katayama’s effort “unceasingly and unselfishly to promote the cause of the exploited American Negro” at the fourth congress of the Communist International held in Moscow.41 Under these circumstances, anarchist poet Ono Tōzaburō translated McKay’s “If We Must Die” (1919) in Amerika puroretariya shishu (A collection of American proletarian poems) (1931).42 Meanwhile, Hikida, who also made an effort to coordinate Du Bois’s trip to Japan, published, under the pseudonym Hirayama Yonezō, the complete translation of Walter White’s The Fire in the Flint in 1935.43 Hayasaka, the editor of the above-mentioned anthology of American avant-garde literature, argues in its preface that the flowering of African-American literature foreshowed the future rise of colonial literature in Japan by its subject nations, including Korea and Taiwan.44

Echoes of the Jazz Age: Responses from Japanese Authors through the Advent of World War II

The collective arrival of contemporary African-American literary works, as well as the multilayered accumulation of discourses on and representations of race in the Japanese public sphere, produced a parallel influence on Japanese authors’ literary imagination. New literary motifs, such as Africa and the Negro, informed a cultural milieu comparable to the American Jazz Age. Indeed, jazz supplied Japanese authors with a new aesthetic—even an ethical inspiration, in the sense that it came to represent social problems by simulating a stranger’s subjectivity. Japanese popular cultural criticism in the 1930s suggests that listeners in the period were trying to distinguish black jazz music from white big band jazz. Western cultural connoisseur Matsui Suisei wrote that “even though Negro jazz does not have the same splendor as the music of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, the ‘king of jazz,’ it has something melancholic that incites our affect to world weariness … Jazz music is a manifestation of the Negro’s original creativity, to which contemporary American culture owes much.”45

Alongside the proliferation of knowledge of this black musical genre, literary journalists of the period invented an unstable category known as “jazz literature,” which included a series entitled Sekai daitokai sentan jazu bungaku (The world metropolitan avant-garde jazz literature) (1930),46 as well as Asakusa kurenai-dan (The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa) by Kawabata Yasunari (1930).47 Most volumes of the jazz literature series had no direct connection with jazz music, as the Jazz Age encompassed a wide range of popular cultural phenomena in addition to music. The basic quality of the new genre was comparable with that of primitivism in Western art, which tried to renovate representational conventions by borrowing materials from African and Oceanian folk cultures. For instance, The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa contains expressionist portraits of jazz performers at a revue troupe with no specific exploration of the artistic essence of the music. In other words, it was a local manifestation of the transnational situation, as Malcolm Cowley critically outlined in 1934: “It was in New York and other large cities that this escape into primitivism was carried farthest and assumed a dozen different forms. It was expressed, for example, in the enthusiasm of tired intellectuals for Negro dances and music, the spirituals, the blues, Black Bottom and Emperor Jones.”48

Even though Cowley might not have included Tokyo in his selection of “large cities,” the Japanese version of jazz literature shared one of primitivism’s controversial aspects. Insofar as primitivism tends to entail misrepresentation and caricature, its depiction of black people was inattentively translated as representative of gurotesuku, or the grotesque, a term that entered the Japanese mass cultural lexicon in 1928. Departing from its original meaning, indicating a variety of extravagant artistic styles from ancient Roman to the 19th-century Gothicism, gurotesuku came to be used solely to designate racial strangeness. An illustrated almanac, Gendai ryoki sentan zukan (Contemporary guidebook to bizarreness and the avant-garde) (1931), testifies that the category of gurotesuku particularly refers to Africanness, as its advertisement portrays the black dancer Josephine Baker in a stage costume.49

The term gurotesuku was popularized in the early 1930s because it was frequently used to publicize the works produced by a group known as Shinko geijyutsu-ha (the New Art school), a group of young authors that often presented new cultural scenes in which characters’ racial background and consciousness engender spectacular dramas. The entry of the New Art school in an encyclopedia of modern Japanese literature critically summarizes its characteristics: “The rise of print culture led to writers misreading its creative potential by going into a jazz frenzy and investing their interest in an ephemeral aestheticist modernism. This group’s most powerful representative, the New Art school, produced works that focused on modern urban life that were saturated with the erotic, the grotesque, and nonsense.”50 The triad of erotic, grotesque, and nonsense, or ero, guro, nansensu, has become a popular phrase to indicate what the general public excitedly consumed in the publications of the New Art school. Yet, at the same time, this signature triad enabled authors of this school to express both pleasure and pain at their own expanding society in an age of cultural and demographic mobility.

Members of this movement were loosely connected by their anxiety about the artistic quality of the proletarian novel, which was then thriving in the Japanese literary scene. Whereas the leftist literati, including, Sano, Ono, and Hikida, attempted to introduce African-American literature to Japanese readers for political reasons, this group aspired to invent a new literary expression by adopting such elements as lesser-known ethnic information, pathos-provoking capacity, and novel artistic and folk-cultural amusement, which go beyond rigid proletarian propaganda. Their critical stance vis-à-vis proletarian literature was professed initially in the small magazine Kindai seikatsu (Modern life). Murao Nakamura, a powerful critic, popular novelist, and editor of the mainstream cultural magazine Shincho (New wave) supported the establishment of this monthly magazine in 1929 and, in so doing, eventually encouraged the formation of the new circle. Nakamura and the contributors to Kindai seikatsu organized Jyusan-nin kurabu (The Club of Thirteen) as the body of their movement.

On April 13, 1930, the first conference of Shinko geijyutsu-ha kurabu (the New Art club), an extended circle based on the Club of Thirteen, was held after an appeal by a twenty-nine-year-old physician/novelist, Ryutanji Yu, who subsequently became one of its core members. It was marvelously successful; most of the prominent young writers of the day, including Kawabata Yasunari (who later became the first Japanese winner of the Nobel prize in literature), Abe Tomoji (who shortly became the principal Japanese scholar of Melville studies and published the first Japanese translation of Moby-Dick), and Kobayashi Hideo (who later came to be recognized as the nation’s representative literary thinker for his innovation of modern critical discourse) participated in the conference. Regarding the authorial pursuit of the racial subject, Abe—a novelist, poet, translator, and professor of English literature—stood out among other New Art writers. In his short stories, successively published in the 1930s, he repeatedly represented the consciousness of minorities, not only African Americans but also Koreans in Japan and various racially hybrid subjects.51 Such an experiment in new art, moreover, inspired similar modernist movements in various literary fields. A group of young haiku poets, for instance, started Shinko haiku undō (the new haiku movement) around 1931. A representative poet, Saito Sanki, who also practiced medicine and dentistry in Japan and Singapore, often composed haiku about a black laborer.

Despite such an eventful formation, however, the New Art Club faded away in three years, even before their second conference, due to its slide into commercialism and its members not sharing any specific vision regarding the development of “new art.” Their avowed intention to seek alternative principles of expression to overcome proletarian politics, however, linked their social criticism to the literary motifs inspired by Africa, the Negro, and jazz in a way that was less ideological than the Marxist manner. Nonetheless, Japanese society was rapidly heading toward totalitarianism, which categorically rejected the decadent connotation of the label subsuming the erotic, the grotesque, and nonsense. Even if the New Art movement had a strong affinity with commercialism, what was problematic was not commercialism itself, but the idea of freedom it might have entailed. Their celebration of unfamiliar sensations stemming from foreign objects and people might eventually undermine not only aesthetic norms but also the so-called public order.

Even though the New Art movement was too vulnerable to survive the military escalation antecedent to World War II, professional interest in African-American works never withered in wartime Japan. In 1940, the full translations of two important works were successively published: Langston Hughes’s first novel, Not Without Laughter (1930), and Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940).52 The translator of the former, Nokemura Yae, poet and scholar of Russian literature, indicates in her preface the significance of the author’s focus on competing visions for the future in a rural black community.53 Anarchist activist Emori Moriya published his translation of the latter, which was the first African-American novel selected by the Book of the Month Club in the United States, only nine months after its original publication. In addition, Du Bois’s historical study of African-American roots, The Negro (1915), was translated in 1944 by Inoue Eizō, a professor of French literature. This first translation of the book came out in an edition of three thousand copies, despite the wartime shortage of materials. In the translator’s afterword, Inoue designates the book as epic poetry due to the author’s romantic narrative tone and historical sense.54 Seeds of Japanese literary criticism of African-American texts thus kept growing even a year before the country’s unconditional defeat. Because African-American works were essentially critical of white supremacy in mainstream U.S. society, no censorship by Japanese military government intervened.55

Defeat and Sympathy: The Black Figure as a Form of Self-Reconstruction, 1945–1975

Through various postwar experiences, several Japanese authors were motivated to depict African-American characters in their realist novels representing the tumultuous state of life under U.S. rule, and some such works became representative postwar novels. The U.S. occupation lasted until April 28, 1952, and made African-American citizens visible in disparate everyday situations. In general, the Japanese could no longer envision black people as their fellow victims and potential comrades in the fight against white supremacy, nor as convenient symbols of human suffering, resilience, and entertainment. African-American GIs were seen as nothing but members of the occupation forces, and their collective figure gave some Japanese a more striking embodiment of U.S. domination. Their image made an impact similar to the one M. C. Perry had in mind when he presented himself to feudal Japan accompanied by a pair of black stewards nearly a century before. While the army was stationed, however, even the general public gradually came to comprehend the segregated status of black soldiers. Accordingly, their position ignited the imaginations of postwar Japanese novelists. Mindful authors reimagined the conventional sympathy for African Americans into a sense of responsibility to recognize the Japanese in terms of their uncanny affinities with them. In so doing, they tried to handle their resentment over the occupation and coincident remorse, as well as shame for their failure to act to prevent their nation’s imperial war.

1994 Nobel prize laureate in literature Ōe Kenzaburō, as a college student in 1957, appeared on the national literary scene with a prize-winning novella, “Shiiku” (“Prize Stock”).56 The story is based on his feelings of “fear, hatred, and awe,” when, in his childhood, he watched African-American GIs enter his hometown.57 The story—centered on unusual interactions between Japanese boys and a black soldier, whose military plane has crashed into a rural village just after the nation’s surrender in the summer of 1945—foregrounds the essential commonality of both parties. A group of village boys, themselves stigmatized on the basis of underclass status and birth defects, undertakes a sort of forbidden game of “rearing” the captive soldier. The author depicts an ethically ambiguous situation in which abjection and violence encompass the act of caring. In their relationship, dehumanization and contradictory family-like intimacy interlock. Hence, when the father of the protagonist eventually murders the soldier with his ax, he cannot do so without chopping the palm and fingers of the boy, who is firmly embraced by the soldier. Ōe, who frequently mentions his indebtedness to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, at the same time remarks on the inspiration he has drawn from African-American authors’ representations of struggles for racial liberation, including those of Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison (who won her Nobel Prize a year prior to his).58 “Prize Stock” is the earliest manifestation of Ōe’s contention that Japan must acknowledge racial prejudice as its own problem.59

Early in his career, Matsumoto Seichō, the most distinguished crime fiction and nonfiction writer in contemporary Japan, also presented a story of an encounter between Japanese and black men in a gloomy and cruel postwar setting. The novella Kuroji no e (Pictures with a black background) (1958) was inspired by a real incident that occurred in Matsumoto’s hometown, Kokura, on July 11, 1950.60 On that day, soon after the outbreak of the Korean War (1950–1953), about 250 black soldiers escaped from Jōno Base, near Kokura, to evade a scheduled mobilization to the front. Many of them are reported to have broken into local households and some committed serious offenses, including burglary, looting, and rape, but the U.S. Army settled the case secretly.61 Based on this incident, Matsumoto created the protagonist Maeno Tomekichi, a coalmine administrative clerk whose wife is gang-raped by six soldiers in his presence. During the assault, he can do nothing but stare at one of the predator’s tattoos moving along with his body’s motion. A few months later, divorced, Tomekichi deliberately gets a new job at a facility adjacent to the base where the corpses of soldiers sent back from the Korean Peninsula are treated. One day, on finding a black body carrying a pair of tattoos (an eagle and a female genital organ) familiar to him, he violently disfigures the corpse with a scalpel he has stolen from the facility. Besides this vengeance plot, Matsumoto intersperses episodes ascribing black soldiers’ fear and despair at being sent onto the battlefield at a disproportionate rate as the fundamental cause of the mass desertion. At the embalmings, indeed, Tomekichi sympathetically notices that black victims of the war far outnumber white casualties.

This situation demonstrates the author’s imaginative focus on the structural causes of an outburst of violence among oppressed peoples. In the late 1970s, he proposed an adaptation of the story into a movie by an African-American screenwriter, but the plan never came to fruition.62 Despite the historical facts of the story, as well as the author’s sensibility in his presentation of the drama critiquing the cumulative effect of racial discrimination, it risked reproducing racial stereotypes by ascribing sexual aggression to African-American characters. Nonetheless, Matsumoto, who pursued social injustice throughout his career, kept investigating the background of the frequent desertions by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. For him, this problem logically intersected with political issues surrounding the rearmament of Japan. The 1951 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty permits the United States to continue to station in Japan even after its restoration of sovereignty on condition that the United States maintains peace in East Asia. However, the outbreak of the Korean War and increase in military threats by the Soviet Union altered both nations’ perceptions of Japan’s role in regional security. The treaty was amended in 1960 to articulate mutual defense obligations in the midst of massive national protests. Thus, Matsumoto’s awareness, based on a dual conviction of American racism and Japan’s hypocritical attempt to flourish by taking advantage of the Cold War, became common among Japanese activists of the age.

Oda Makoto, known as a co-founder of Beheiren (Citizens’ League for Peace in Vietnam), is representative of intellectuals sharing this awareness. The League, active from 1965 to 1974, primarily protested the Japanese government’s support for the Vietnam War. It also functioned as a sort of Underground Railroad used by American deserters (both black and white), who eventually escaped to Sweden. Tsurumi Shunsuke, an acclaimed postwar philosopher and historian and a core member of the Citizens’ League, later compiled, in translation, the oral history of Terry Whitmore, an African-American ex-GI, who escaped to Sweden with the League’s support.63 The League, moreover, made an effort to officially protest racism at U.S. bases in Japan in cooperation with Japanese Committee to Support the Black Panther Party. Oda, who became radicalized while studying at Harvard as a Fulbright scholar in the late 1950s, also wrote a novel, Amerika (America), in 1961.64 The story, based on his experience, portrays the formation of the Japanese male protagonist’s racial identity through his participation in anti-segregation sit-ins in the South, presumably Louisiana. In addition, Oda literarily summarized his lifelong endeavor by publishing a novella about the Pacific War, Gyokusai (The Breaking Jewel) in 1998. The story centralizes racism in the battlefield by focusing on the complex inner life of a Korean-Japanese soldier, who dares to volunteer for a suicide mission to avoid the contempt of the Japanese, and on African-American soldiers, whom the Japanese corps always found first on the battlefront, as if they were being utilized as human shields.65

There are still more significant literary phenomena that reflect Japanese authors’ sense of proximity with African Americans. Various postwar activists struggled for the liberation of minorities in Japan, including buraku-min (an outcast group formed under the feudal social order), zainichi (Japanese citizens of Korean decent), and citizens of Okinawa (a prefecture, originally an independent kingdom, to this day kept under the domination of the U.S. Army).66 Numerous activists have avowed the tremendous influences of African-American intellectuals on the formulation of their own political principles and self-images. Literary scholars connected to this activism particularly demonstrated their homage to African-American authors. Kijima Hajime, a poet and professor of English literature, serialized his essay on Du Bois in four volumes of the 1952 issue of Buraku (Outcast communities);67 authors with Korean heritage, including Kim Tarusu, Kim Sok-pom, and Lee Hoesung, have frequently recounted their experiences of reading African-American literature, including Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952);68 and Arakawa Akira, an Okinawan thinker and writer, founded Ryudai bungaku (Literature of the University of the Ryukyus), a literary journal linked to local student radicals. To the journal, he contributed a series of poems depicting a melancholic but inspiring feeling of fraternity between “black” soldiers and “yellow” natives.69 Ariyoshi Sawako, furthermore, presented a female version of this experience, elaborating on a story about a Japanese woman who suffers from racial prejudice both in Tokyo and in New York after her marriage to an African-American GI. The novel Hishoku (Not Because of Color) (1964) is the product of the author’s meticulous research into Japanese war brides’ experiences, as well as contemporary racial relationships in the United States.70

Unceasing Renewals of Interest: The Second Wave of Dissemination, 1950–1990 and Beyond

As the situation in the 1930s illustrates, translations of African-American literature and the surfacing of racial consciousness among Japanese authors reciprocally promoted the recognition of this body of literature. Despite its own historical context structured by the experience of defeat, a similar set of circumstances encouraged the second wave of dissemination of African-American works, as well as critical discourses on them, between 1950 and 1990.71 While postwar authors were unleashing their literary imaginations in their society, revitalized under the military occupation by reading the works of their contemporaries, including Du Bois, Hughes, Wright, Ellison, and James Baldwin, a number of specialists had brought African-American literary scholarship to maturity by the late 1950s. Even though the popularization of African-American texts began two decades earlier, it was not until 1951 that serious academic research in this area took shape on a professional level. This beginning was not terribly outdistanced by the recognition of the field in U.S. academia, insofar as “the first comprehensive [and] serious critical work devoted exclusively to Afro-American literature” was assumed to be To Make a Poet Black (1939) by J. Saunders Redding.72

Kijima, the principal postwar translator and critic of Hughes, published the first Japanese essay devoted to African-American poets in 1951.73 His study, tracing African-American poetic traditions from Hughes, McKay, Countee Cullen, and James Weldon Johnson to Paul Laurence Dunbar, George Moses Horton, and Phillis Wheatley, suggests that an attempt to grasp the historical development of African-American literature appeared in the decade. Similarly, Nakao Kiyoaki, a professor of English, investigated modes of social criticism of various authors, including the then lesser-known Jupiter Hammon, William Wells Brown, Martin Delany, Rudolph Fisher, and Charles Chesnutt, in his 1954 article, published in a university journal.74 The 1950s was primarily marked by the successive translations of Richard Wright’s books—Black Boy (1945) in 1952, Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), and The Outsider (1953) in 1955—and the subsequent promotion of research into his texts.75 Yet, the formation of Kokujin-kenkyu no kai (the Association of Negro Studies in Japan, or the Black Studies Association in Japan from 1983 onward) enabled active scholarly networking and exchange on an interdisciplinary level and, eventually, systematic explorations of the diverse literary conditions articulated by individual authors.76

Publication of Kokujin bungaku zenshū (The complete collection of black literature) in thirteen volumes between 1961 and 1963 was a manifestation of this development.77 The collection, edited by leading scholar-professors Hashimoto Fukuo, Hamamoto Takeo, Minagawa Sōichi, and Kijima, canonized African-American literature for Japanese specialists. This was the canon, from the beginning: expected to be reworked by future scholars, but indispensable for editors in persuading contemporary readers to view African-American literature as far more than a sheer instrument of protest, an aspect of the genre that many still believed to be its central virtue.78 In the meantime, a nationwide interest in the civil rights movement enhanced the quality of both research in and teaching about African America at universities. Literary scholars more consciously attempted to grasp historical traditions of protest against racial discrimination and became more interested in both the origins and diversity of political thought that sustained their contemporary movement. As a “complete” collection embodying both the politics and aesthetics of its authors, the set starts with the already seminal Native Son and includes Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Toomer’s Cane (1923), Hughes’s Not Without Laughter (1930), Owen Dodson’s Boy at the Window (1951), William Demby’s Beetlecreek (1950), and Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952). It also compiles fourteen short stories, including Zora Neale Hurston’s “Spunk” (1925), Arna Bontemps’s “A Summer Tragedy” (1933), and Chester Himes’s “The Night’s for Crying” (1937), as well as essays by Frederick Douglass, Alain Locke, Du Bois, and others. In addition, one volume is devoted to spirituals and other folk songs, as well as folk tales.

Besides this groundbreaking collection, the 1960s saw the release of translations of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and The Souls of Black Folk (1903), alongside the translation of contemporary bestsellers such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).79 The recovery of classics and prompt introduction of recent works rapidly solidified African-American literature’s standing as a newly institutionalized humanistic discipline. Growing interest in the crystallization of civil rights politics into a new black aesthetics, furthermore, facilitated the translation of a variety of works—drama, criticism, fiction, and poetry—by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).80

Translations of contemporary pieces accelerated in the 1970s. Chester Himes and William Melvin Kelley especially provided major publishing houses with promising projects for a larger reading public seeking entertainment. The Hayakawa mystery series and Kadokawa bestseller series, respectively, featured translations of Himes’s work.81 Shueisha acquired Kelley’s works to be translated by Hamamoto.82 Likewise, Sanrio, an entertainment company famous for the character Hello Kitty, published translations of Samuel R. Delany’s Driftglass (1971) in 1977 and Empire Star (1966) in 1980. These instances suggest that the extension of the reception of African-American literature in the 1970s satisfied middlebrow demands. This means that, rather than solely favoring middlebrow writing, Japanese readers sensibly perceived the multifaceted pleasures inherent in African-American literary works. Speedy publication of the translation of Alex Haley’s bestseller Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) in 1977 also testifies to publishers’ expectations of wide readership for black writing.83 The ABC miniseries based on the story was also released in October 1977; it became an instant hit and generated the term “Roots phenomenon.”84

The decade was also distinguished by the publication of additional collections of Hughes’s poems and prose in translation by Kijima and by two acclaimed scholar-professors, Saito Tadatoshi and Furukawa Hiromi.85 Hughes is a relevant example of an author whose works can provide the reader with a versatile source of enjoyment. This is also true of some works newly available to the Japanese reader: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) by Ernest J. Gaines, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) by Maya Angelou, and Sula (1973) by Toni Morrison.86 Animated descriptions of folkways, including black music, in addition to representations of violence, hardship, and sorrow, encouraged Japanese readers to appreciate each author’s style and individual sense of self, as well as the distinctive characteristics of her or his own culture and community. Quite symbolically, partly as the memory of defeat was fading from the collective Japanese consciousness, by the early 1980s Japanese authors also gradually quit portraying abject racial experiences. Instead, more novelists, including Ochiai Keiko and Tsutsui Yasutaka, began to entrust their impressions of self as well as society to the symbolic effects of jazz. The musical genre supplied inspiration, respectively, to the style of Ochiai’s collection of stories, composed as a collage of people getting together at a jazz club, and of Tsutsui’s comical but speculative historical imagination as presented in his novella about a quartet of black peasants deceitfully sent to Japan by ship around the Meiji Restoration.87

In contrast to the democratization of the matrix of African-American texts in the 1970s literary market, late 20th-century scholarship was characterized by the evolution and diversification of methods of academic research and criticism. In Japan, while the idea of deconstruction has widely stimulated even the general public’s intellectual curiosity, African-American authors’ representations of power, ideology, memory, and corporeality held all the more attraction for the critic. In particular, successive discoveries of works by women authors, as represented by Hurston, Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Ntozake Shange, and Octavia Butler, facilitated more translations and corresponding investigations in terms of those conceptual frameworks.88 Several critical works won a wide readership in this regard. Barbara Johnson’s analysis of Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in A World of Difference (1987), Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey (1988), Hazel Carby’s Reconstructing Womanhood (1987), and Morrison’s Playing in the Dark (1992) created a strong momentum for theorizing individual texts in reference to generic developments in African-American verbal expression, as well as intertextual relationship with white literary works and racial discourses. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982), together with its film adaptation and the author’s concept of womanism, helped popularize the idea of black feminism.89

In the 21st century, African-American literature is one of the most popular areas in English departments in Japan. One can find virtually every subject from the slave narrative to rap music in undergraduate course syllabi. Although fewer recent texts have come to the market, in comparison with those translated throughout the 1970s and 1980s, critical methods and subject matter are ever in the process of renewal. Interconnections between African-American literature and popular and folk cultural productions inspire disparate interdisciplinary approaches, while leitmotifs laden with political consciousness and ethical interrogation invite critics to engage in more conceptual interpretations. At the same time, the historical mobility of this body of literature demands from critics a challenging recontextualization of texts, as demonstrated by the trans-Pacific or Afro-Asian approach that has developed in the United States. Whereas the primary concern of African Americanists in the past was a reconstruction of literary canons, more and more specialists in Japan—lagging behind those in the United States by about ten years—are interested in tracing how texts circulate out into other geographical settings and produce specific consequences in new contexts.90 Along with the permeation of the paradigm of “world literature,” this question will inform the next level of Japanese studies of African-American literature.

Ōta Gyuichi, Shincho koki (The chronicle of Oda Nobunaga) (Japanese). The first textual evidence documenting the presence of an African person in Japan.

Ethiopian concert” in John W. Dower, Black Ships & Samurai. MIT Visualizing Cultures. An extensive account of Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan from 1853 to 1854, with a plenty of visual resources, including a program of the Ethiopian concert.

J. B. T. Marsh, The Story of the Jubilee Singers: Including Their Songs. A full text of J. B. T. Marsh’s biography of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which includes episodes from the group’s time in Japan.

Tomizu Hirondo, Afurika no zento (A future of Africa) (Japanese). A full text of the booklet, which exemplifies a tone typical of the earliest stage of African studies in Japan.

Dainihon bunmei-kyōkai, Nichibei kosho gojyunen-shi (Fifty-year history of Japan-U.S. exchanges) (Japanese). A full text of the historical analysis of U.S.-Japan diplomatic history from 1853 to 1908, which mentions hate crimes against Japanese Americans.

Ogouchi Midori, Ijin no seinenjidai (Youthful years of great people) (Japanese). A full text of the chronicle of international heroes, which includes Booker T. Washington as the only African-American figure.

Dainihon bunmei-kyōkai, Kinsei taisei eiketsuden (Chronicles of modern western heroes) (Japanese). A full text of the chronicle of western heroes, which includes Booker T. Washington as the only African-American figure.

Booker T. Washington, Putting the Most into Life. An e-book version of the collection of Washington’s Sunday evening talks to Tuskegee students, in which he gives a favorable opinion of Japan.

The Crisis. The archive sampling some earlier issues (vol. 1 to 25) of the Crisis magazine, the publication of the NAACP that Mitsukawa Kametaro cited in his study of American racial issues in 1925.

Beheiren activist group first demonstration,” Nippon News. A news photograph of the first demonstration of Beheiren (Citizens’ League for Peace in Vietnam).

U.S. and Japanese Military Bases in Okinawa” (Japanese). Official statistical facts about the U.S. and Japanese military bases in Okinawa, published by the government of Okinawa.

Further Reading

Bridges, William H., IV, and Nina Cornyetz, eds. Traveling Texts and the Work of Afro-Japanese Cultural Production: Two Haiku and a Microphone. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2015.Find this resource:

Furukawa, Hiromi, and Furukawa Tetsushi. Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin: Nichibei kankeishi ni okeru sono shosou [Japanese and African American: multiple aspects in a history of Japan-U.S. relationship]. Tokyo: Akashishoten, 2004.Find this resource:

Hakutani, Yoshinobu. Cross-Cultural Visions in African American Literature: West Meets East. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.Find this resource:

Kearney, Reginald. African American Views of the Japanese: Solidarity or Sedition? Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Kiuchi, Toru, Robert J. Butler, and Yoshinobu Hakutani, eds. The Critical Response in Japan to African American Writers. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.Find this resource:

Molasky, Michael S.The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature of Memory. New York: Routledge, 1999.Find this resource:

Nitta, Keiko. “Black Bottom of Modernity: The Racial Imagination of Japanese Modernism in the 1930s.” The Japanese Journal of American Studies 27 (July 2016): 97–121.Find this resource:

Onishi, Yuichiro. Transpacific Antiracism: Afro-Asian Solidarity in 20th-Century Black America, Japan, and Okinawa. New York: New York University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Radcliffe, Kendahl, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds. Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015.Find this resource:

Sato, Hiroko. “Nihon-jin no jinshu-kan to kokujin monadi: Taishō-ki wo chūshin to shite” [Japanese views on the racial problems in the United States: Focusing on the Taishō period]. Tokyo joshidaigaku-fuzoku hikaku-bunka kenkyujyo kiyou [Studies of the Institute for Comparative Studies of Culture at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University] 34 (March 1973): 23–36.Find this resource:

Silverberg, Miriam. Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Taketani, Etsuko. The Black Pacific Narrative: Geographic Imaginings of Race and Empire between the World Wars. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Weiner, Michael, ed. Race, Ethnicity and Migration in Modern Japan.Vol. 3, Race, Ethnicity and Culture in Modern Japan. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.Find this resource:


(1.) Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582) was a dominant feudal lord (daimyō) who attempted to unify Japan with a radical blueprint of national order until his murder in a coup d’état plotted by his close vassal in 1582. His policy was known for its facilitation of international trade and free market system. Due to his hostility against the Buddhist establishment, he patronized Roman Catholic missionary activities in Japan.

(2.) Ōta Gyūichi, Shincho kōki [The chronicle of Oda Nobunaga], ed. Kuwata Tadachika (Tokyo: Jinbutsuōraisha, 1965), 313. The original text in sixteen volumes was compiled by the early 17th century.

(3.) Fujita Midori, Afurika “hakken”: Nihon ni okeru afurika-zo no hensen [“Discovering” Africa: The shift in representations of Africa in Japan] (Tokyo: Iwanami, 2005), 111.

(4.) The letter to Padre da Fonseca dated October 8, 1581. Yanagiya Takeo, ed., Iezusukai nihon nempō, jyō [The annals of the Jesuits in Japan, Vol. 1], trans. Murakami Naojirō (Tokyo: Yūshōdo, 2002), 163–164. Oda at least gave the African a Japanese name, “Yasuke,” if not a feudal rank.

(5.) For the detailed circumstances of American participation in international trade with Japan, see Michael R. Austin, Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 30–31.

(6.) Prior to the minstrel performance, Perry, at his first landing at Uraga on July 15, 1853, deliberately selected several African-American crew members for his squadron, including two spectacular bodyguards, to impress as well as astound the Japanese. See M. C. Perry, Narrative of the Expedition to the China Seas and Japan, 1852–1854 (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2000), 255.

(7.) The same performance was held on March 27 in Yokohama, May 29 in Hakodate, June 16 in Shimoda, and July 14 in Naha. See Kasahara Kiyoshi, Kurofune raikō to ongaku [Arrival of the black ship and music] (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbundō, 2001), 114.

(8.) M. C. Perry, Narrative of the Expedition, 376.

(9.) The Japanese of this time used four Chinese characters to spell out “America” in translation: 亜墨利加‎. The character “墨‎,” meaning “graphite,” was used merely to make the syllable “me,” the second of “A-me-ri-ca.” In this sense, bokui, that is, a compound word consisting of boku (the other way to pronounce 墨‎) and “i” (夷‎) may simply denote “American.” However, insofar as “i” for bokui literally means “barbarian,” the word functions as an ideogram translatable as “graphite barbarian.” See also the introduction to William H. Bridges IV and Nina Cornyetz, Traveling Texts and the Work of Afro-Japanese Cultural Production: Two Haiku and a Microphone (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2015), 1–28, for a related interpretation of the presence of black mates on the black ship.

(10.) Annual Report of the Work of the American Board of Commission for Foreign Missions in Japan Ending April 30, 1890 (Tokyo: Seishibunsha), 6.

(11.) Furukawa Hiromi and Furukawa Tetsushi, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin: Nichibei kankeishi ni okeru sono shosou [Japanese and African American: Multiple aspects in a history of Japan-U.S. relationship] (Tokyo: Akashishoten, 2004), 62.

(12.) J. B. T. Marsh, The Story of the Jubilee Singers: Including Their Songs (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1892), 150–151.

(13.) Ibid., 151.

(14.) Ibid., 150.

(15.) Furukawa and Furukawa, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin, 63–64, 69.

(16.) Koshiro Yukiko, “Beyond an Alliance of Color: The African American Impact on Modern Japan,” in Race, Ethnicity and Migration in Modern Japan: Imagined and Imaginary Minority, ed. Michael Weiner (New York: Rutledge, 2004), 327.

(17.) This translation is terribly incomplete, and the article in four installments covers barely the first two-thirds of the first chapter of the novel. There are two more chapter-long abridged translations, released in 1907 and 1923 respectively. In 1927, Imai Yoshio completed the first translation of the entire book in two volumes.

(18.) In one symbolic instance, the Board of Education in San Francisco decreed on October 11, 1906, that children of Japanese immigrants must attend racially segregated schools. Japanese reactions to this decision included embarrassment at the prospect of America’s treating Japanese immigrants the same as Chinese immigrants. Such a response, signifying a racial prejudice against other Asian peoples, could undermine an ethical basis of Japanese sympathy with African Americans. See Dainihon bunmei-kyōkai [The great Japan civilization association], ed., Nichibei kōshō gojyūnen-shi [Fifty-year history of Japan-U.S. exchanges] (Tokyo: Dainihon bunmei-kyōkai, 1909), 434.

(19.) Tomizu Hirondo, Afurika no zento [A future of Africa] (Tokyo: Yūhikaku, 1899), 21.

(20.) Ogouchi Midori, Ijin no seinenjidai [Youthful years of great people] (Tokyo: Ariakekan, 1908), 113–122.

(21.) Dainihon bunmei-kyōkai [The great Japan civilization association], ed., Kinsei taisei eiketsuden [Chronicles of modern western heroes], vol. 5 (Tokyo: Dainihon bunmei-kyōkai, 1911), 614–621. Washington was counted as a great liberationist together with William Lloyd Garrison.

(22.) Sasaki Hide’ichi, Kokuijin: Būka Wasinton den [The great black man: A biography of Booker Washington] (Tokyo: Meguroshoten, 1919), 6, 2. In 1939, Sasaki published the revised version, with a new translation of the complete text, under the slightly different title, Kokuijin: Būka Wasinton [The great black man: Booker Washington] (Tokyo: Koyamashoten, 1939).

(23.) Takiura Bun’ya, Būka Wasinton: Dorei-agari no ijin, shin-bunmei no kensetsu-sha [Booker Washington: A great man coming up from slavery and builder of a new civilization] (Kyoto: Tanjyun seikatsusha, 1927). The following book, issued by the same publisher in the same year, is its concise version: Wasinton no seinen-jidai: Ai to rodo no ikokujin [Youthful years of Washington: A great black man of love and labor] (Kyoto: Tanjyun seikatsusha, 1927).

(24.) Furukawa and Furukawa, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin, 130.

(25.) Sasaki, Kokuijin: Būka Wasinton den, 2.

(26.) Mary Church Terrell, Archibald Grimke, C. J. Walker, Ida B. Wells, Monroe Trotter, and W. E. B. Du Bois are counted as such supporters. See Reginald Kearney, African American Views of the Japanese: Solidarity or Sedition? (Albany: State Univesity of New York Press, 1998), 20–21, 54–55.

(27.) Booker T. Washington, Putting the Most into Life (New York: Crowell, 1906), 33.

(28.) W. E. B. DuBois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of Race Concept (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 4.

(29.) Furukawa and Furukawa, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin, 502n21.

(30.) As the earliest study that investigates the formation of Japanese racial ideology in terms of comparison with African Americans, see Sato Hiroko, “Nihon-jin no jinshu-kan to kokujin monadi: Taishō-ki wo chūshin to shite” [Japanese views on the racial problems in the United States: Focusing on the Taishō period], Tokyo joshidaigaku-fuzoku hikaku-bunka kenkyujyo kiyou [Studies of the Institute for Comparative Studies of Culture at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University] 34 (March 1973), 23–36.

(31.) Mitsukawa Kametarō, Kokujin mondai [Issues facing black people] (Tokyo: Nitori meicho-kankōkai, 1925), 1.

(32.) Ibid., 2.

(33.) Ibid., 3.

(34.) Ishihara Tsuyoshi, Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 29. For a detailed analysis of Sasaki’s distortions and omissions, see chapter 1, “What Happened to Huck?: Kuni Sasaki’s Translation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” 10–35.

(35.) Hayasaka Jirō, ed., “Kokujin bungaku-shū” [Collected stories by black writers], in Sentan tanpen-shū [Avant-garde collection of short fiction], vol. 3, Amerika sentan bungaku sōsho [American avant-garde literature series] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1931).

(36.) Hayasaka, “Henjya no kotoba,” preface to Sentan tanpen-shū [avant-garde collection of short fictions], ibid., 8.

(37.) Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander, The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, vol. 14, ed. Joseph McLaren (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003). Here Hughes describes the outline of the police interrogation: “The whole procedure was most politely done with no one raising his voice, and no show of anger or impatience when my answers led nowhere. … [W]hy were the Japanese police interested to find out what American writers I might know at home? They even asked me about Floyd Dell. At that time I had not met any of the really famous American leftist writers. Carl Van Vechten, Julia Peterkin, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Green and Marc Connelly hardly fell into that category. John Dos Passos was just a name to me” (268). Hughes was also a constant target of the CIA and FBI for the same suspicion.

(38.) Furukawa and Furukawa, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin, 123–124.

(39.) Saito Tadatoshi, Shuryū ni sakaratte [Contending the force] (Tokyo: Kindaibungeisha, 1993), 72; Furukawa and Furukawa, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin, 125.

(40.) For more on the Japanese proletariat, see Heather Bown-Struyk, “Japanese Proletarian Literature during the Red Decade, 1925-1935.”

(41.) Claude McKay, “Soviet Russia and the Negro,” Crisis (December 1923), 64.

(42.) Ono Tōzaburō, Hagiwara Kyōjirō, and Kusano Shinpei, eds., Amerika puroretaria shishū [A collection of American proletarian poems] (Tokyo: Dandōsha, 1931).

(43.) Hirayama Yonezō, Hiuchi-ishi no hi (Tokyo: Bonjinsha, 1935). He republished the translation from a more prestigious publisher, Chūōkōronsha, under a different title, Rinchi [Lynching], in 1937.

(44.) Hayasaka, “Henjya no kotoba,” preface to Sentan tanpen-shu [Avant-garde collection of short fictions], 8.

(45.) Matsui Suisei, “Jazu to revū-kai” [Jazz and the world of the revue], in Gendai ryōki sentan zukan [Contemporary guidebook to bizarreness and the avant garde], ed. Satō Giryō (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1931), 37.

(46.) Shun’yōdō in Tokyo serially published the fifteen volumes of Sekai daitokai sentan jazu bungaku [International metropolitan avant-garde jazz literature] in 1930. Each volume recognized its own translator, but the general editor of the series is unknown. It described itself as a collection of contemporary international stories in translation, although it is difficult to locate all of the originals today. Ben Hecht’s collection of his Chicago Daily News columns from the early 1920s is included in the collection. See the following reprinted edition: Ben Hecht, 1001 Afternoons in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

(47.) Kawabata Yasunari, The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa, trans. Alisa Freedman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

(48.) Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s (New York: Viking, 1976), 237.

(49.) Sato Giryō, ed., Gendai ryōki sentan zukan [Contemporary guidebook to bizarreness and the avant garde] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1931).

(50.) Hisamatsu Sen’ichi, Kimata Osamu, Naruse Masakatsu, eds., “Shinko geijyutsu-ha,” in Gendai nihon bungaku dai-jiten [Encyclopedia of modern Japanese literature] (Tokyo: Meijishoin, 1972), 566.

(51.) For a detailed investigation of the social and literary conditions that supported the rise of the New Art school, see Keiko Nitta, “Black Bottom of Modernity: The Racial Imagination of Japanese Modernism in the 1930s,” The Japanese Journal of American Studies 27 (July 2016): 97–121. The article also focuses on Abe’s career and offers interpretations of his stories. In the field of modern Japanese literature, the New Art school has been a relatively marginal research topic. Yet, scholars in the Geijyutsu-shijyōshugi bungaku-kai (Association for Aestheticist Literature) have produced works that focus on the school. See particularly their periodical Geijyutsu-shijyoshugi bungaku [Aestheticist literature] 7, with the project title “Shinko geijyutsu-ha no saikentou” [Reconsidering the New Art school] (1980).

(52.) Nokemura Yae, trans. Warawanu demo-nashi [Not Without Laughter] (Tokyo: Hakusuisha, 1940); Emori Moriya, trans. Kokujin no musuko [Native Son] (Tokyo: Hibonkaku, 1940).

(53.) Nokemura, 9.

(54.) Inoue Eizō, trans., Kokujin-ron [The Negro] (Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1944), 283.

(55.) The Japanese military government during World War II even undertook the so-called “Negro Propaganda Operations” as its intelligence strategy for portraying its war as a resistance to the racial injustice rampant in Europe and America. See Roy Ottley, “New World A-Coming”: Inside Black America (New York: Literary Classics, 1943), 341–342; John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1986), 175.

(56.) Ōe Kenzaburō, “Prize Stock,” in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels by Kenzaburō Ōe, trans. John Nathan (New York: Grove, 1994). 111–170.

(57.) Ōe Kenzaburō, Ōe Kenzaburō dōjidai-ronshū [Ōe Kenzaburō: Collection of contemporary criticisms], vol. 1 (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1980), 16.

(58.) See, for instance, Ōe, Ōe Kenzaburō dōjidai-ronshū, vol. 1, 223–235; vol. 3, 226–229; vol. 5, 180–201; 268–275; vol. 7, 40–63.

(59.) Ōe, Ōe Kenzaburō dōjidai-ronshū, vol. 1, 18–19.

(60.) Matsumoto Seichō, Kuroji no e [Pictures with a black background] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1965).

(61.) Yanagimoto Ken’ichi, Gekidou nijyū-nen: Fukuoka-ken no sengoshi [The twenty turbulent years: A postwar history of Fukuoka prefecture] (Kitakyūshū: Mainichi-shinbun seibuhonsha, 1965), 165.

(62.) Matsumoto Seichō, “‘Kiri-puro’ shimatsu-ki” [An apologia for Kiri Production], Shūkan Asahi [Asahi Weekly magazine], October 26, 1984, 44–45.

(63.) Tsurumi Shunsuke, Yoshioka Shinobu, and Yoshioka Yūichi, eds., Kaettekita dassō-hei [Deserters’ return] (Tokyo: Daisanshokan, 1994), 11. Whitmore, prior to the oral history, published his autobiography in the United States: Terry Whitmore, Memphis, Nam, Sweden: The Story of a Black deserter, comp. Richard Weber (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1971).

(64.) Oda Makoto, Amerika [America] (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2010).

(65.) Oda Makoto, Gyokusai (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1998), trans., Donald Keene as The Breaking Jewel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

(66.) The U.S. domination of Okinawa continued after the end of the Allied occupation in 1952 and, further, after its official reversion to Japan in 1972. American control persists, insofar as the permanent U.S. bases hold about 10 percent of the land of the prefecture. See the statistics published by the government of Okinawa.

(67.) See Buraku 29 (January 1952): 38–34, 2–10; 30 (February 1952): 32–26; 32 (April 1952): 48–51; and 33 (May 1952): 37–41. Kijima also contributed his review of Hughes with the translations of several poems and essays in Buraku 22 (June 1951): 36–41. This was later developed into Aru kin’yōbi no asa: Hyūzu sakuhinshū [One Friday morning: Collected works of Hughes] (Tokyo: Iizukashoten, 1959).

(68.) Introduction to The Critical Response in Japan to African American Writers, ed. Kiuchi Toru, Robert J. Butler, and Hakutani Yoshinobu (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), xvi.

(69.) Arakawa Akira, “‘Yūshoku-jinshu’ shō, sono 1” [A sketch of people of color, part 1], Ryudai bungaku, 2.1 (March 1956): 42–43. Michael S. Molasky in The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature of Memory (New York: Routledge, 1999) and William H. Bridges IV, “In the Beginning: Blackness and the 1960s: Creative Nonfiction of Ōe Kenzaburō,” in Traveling Texts and the Work of Afro-Japanese Cultural Production (2015), respectively offer in-depth analyses of the authors discussed in this section. Both are on the further reading list.

(70.) Ariyoshi Sawako, Hishoku [Not Because of Color] (Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1964).

(71.) My understanding of postwar publications is indebted to the timeline as well as arguments provided in Furukawa and Furukawa, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin.

(72.) The statement of Pancho Savery, quoted in Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s introduction to the work, “‘… and bid him sing’: J. Saunders Redding and the Criticism of American Negro Literature,” in To Make a Poet Black, by J. Sounders Redding (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), viii.

(73.) Kijima Hajime, “Amerika kokujin-shi to sono haikei” [African American poetry and its background], in Hikari wo hakobu mono: Henkaku-ki no shijin-tachi [The one who brings light: Poets in the periods of change] (Tokyo: Getsuyōshobō, 1951), 155–182.

(74.) Nakao Kiyoaki, “Kokujin-bungaku no hattatsu to sono shakai-teki haikei” [The development of black literature and its social backgrounds], Gakuen [Showa Women’s College instruction] 158 (January 1954): 20–28; 160 (March 1954): 39–47.

(75.) Takahashi Masao, trans., Brakku bōi [Black Boy] (Tokyo: Getsuyōshobō); Minagawa Sōichi, trans., Ankuru Tomu no kodomo-tachi [Uncle Tom’s Children] (Tokyo: Shinchosha); and Hashimoto Fukuo, trans., Shitsuraku no kodoku, 2 vols. [The Outsider] (Tokyo: Shinchosha).

(76.) For a detailed record of the circumstances of the formation of the group, members’ interests and scholarship, and the impact of their works for the promotion of Afro-American studies in Japan, see Onishi Yuichiro, Transpacific Antiracism: Afro-Asian Solidarity in 20th-Century Black America, Japan, and Okinawa (New York: New York University Press, 2013).

(77.) Hashimoto Fukuo, Hamamoto Takeo, Minagawa Sōichi, and Kijima Hajime, eds., Kokujin bungaku zenshū [The complete collection of black literature], 13 vols. (Tokyo: Hayakawa, 1961–1963). The translation was undertaken by the editors as well as Yamamuro Shizuka, Samejima Shigetoshi, Saito Kazue, Okamura Fumio, Ōnishi Yōzō, and Sekiguchi Isao.

(78.) Hashimoto, “Atogaki,” afterword to Kokujin bungaku zenshū bekkan [Supplement to the complete collection of black literature], vol. 13, 387–388.

(79.) Karita Motoji, trans., Furederikku Dagurasu jijyoden, Amerika no dorei [Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass], in Sekai nonfikushon zenshū [The complete collection of world nonfictions], vol. 39, ed. Nakano Yoshio, Kuwabara Takeo, and Yoshikawa Kōjirō (Tokyo: Chikuma, 1963), 3–114; Kijima Hajime, Samejima Shigetoshi, and Kō Inshū, trans., Kokujin no tamashii [The Souls of Black Folk] (Tokyo: Miraisha, 1965). Hamamoto Takeo in 1968 undertook an abridged translation of The Autobiography of Malcolm X under the title Marukamu X jiden (Tokyo: Kawadeshobo). He later published the complete translation under the title Marukomu X jiden (Tokyo: Uplink, 1993).

(80.) Kanbayashi Sumio, trans., Burūsu no tamashii [Blues People] (Tokyo: Ongaku no tomosha, 1966); Kijima Hajime and Kō Inshū, trans., Konkyochi [Home: Social Essays] (Tokyo: Serica shobo, 1968); Kunitaka Chūji, trans., Datchiman, Dorei [Dutchman and The Slave] (Tokyo: Shōbunsha, 1969); Kijima Hajime and Inoue Kenji, trans., Burakku mūzikku [Black Music] (Tokyo: Shōbunsha, 1969); Takahashi Kenji, trans., Dante no jigoku-soshiki [The System of Dante’s Hell] (Tokyo: Serica shobo, 1969). There is no book-length translation collecting Baraka’s poems, even though several academic and commercial journals have included some pieces.

(81.) Hayakawa series includes The Crazy Kill (original 1959, translation 1971), The Big Gold Dream (original 1960, translation 1971), The Real Cool Killers (original 1959, translation 1971), and All Shot Up (original 1960, translation 1973). Kadokawa series includes Cotton Comes to Harlem (original 1965, translation 1971), Blind Man with Pistol (original 1969, translation 1975), and The Heat’s On (original 1966, translation 1975).

(82.) dem (original 1967, translation 1971), Dancers on the Shore (original 1964, translation 1973). In addition, the publisher coordinated its own short story collection in 1977 under the title Bokuno tame ni nake. This is the translation of the title “Cry for Me,” a story originally compiled in Dancers on the Shore. Also in 1969, Kō Inshū translated Kelley’s A Drop of Patience (1965) under the title Jazu sutorito [Jazz street] (Tokyo: Shōbunsha, 1969).

(83.) Yasuoka Shōtaro and Matsuda Sen, trans., Rūtsu [Roots], 2 vols. (Tokyo: Shakai shisōsha, 1977).

(84.) TV Asahi presented the series from October 2 to 8, 1977. Due to its popularity, it was rebroadcast half a year later, from April 9 to 16, 1978.

(85.) Kijima published a collection of thirteen of Hughes’s works of short fiction with Shōbunsha in 1971, in addition to the three-volume set of the author’s autobiographies The Big Sea (1940) and I Wonder As I Wonder (Tokyo: Kawadeshobo-shinsha, 1972–1973). Furukawa published the collection of poems One-Way Ticket (1949) in translation from Kokubunsha in 1975, while Saito published another collection of poems, Fields of Wonder (1947), in translation, also from Kokubunsha in 1977.

(86.) Ōta Daihachi, trans., Misu Jēn Pittoman [The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman] (Tokyo: Fukuinkan, 1977); Yajima Midori, trans., Utae, tobenai tori-tachi yo: Maya Angerou jiden 1 [I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings] (Tokyo: Jinbunshoin, 1979); Okoso Yoshiko, trans., Sūra [Sula] (Tokyo: Hayakawa, 1979).

(87.) Ochiai Keiko, A-ressha de ikou [Take the A train] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1985); Tsutsui Yasutaka, Jazu daimyō [Jazz daimyō] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1981).

(88.) Hurston, Mules and Men (original 1935, translation 1997), Their Eyes Were Watching God (original 1937, translation 1995), Tell My Horse (original 1938, translation 1999), Dust Tracks on a Road (original 1942, translation 1996); Bambara, The Salt Eaters (original 1980, translation 1982); Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (original 1975, translation 1982); Butler, Kindred (original 1979, translation 1992). For Morrison, the translations of all major works to date have been published by Hayakawa under the series “Toni morisun korekushon” [Toni Morrison collection].

(89.) Yanagisawa Yumiko, trans., Karā pāpuru [The Color Purple] (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1986).

(90.) Further readings include transnational and comparative approaches: The earliest study of Afro-Japanese interactions by a Japanese scholar is Sato Hiroko’s oft-cited study, “Nihon-jin no jinshu-kan to kokujin monadi: Taishō-ki wo chūshin to shite” [Japanese views on the racial problems in the United States: Focusing on the Taishō period]. The most extensive and widely mentioned work is Furukawa Hiromi and Furukawa Tetsushi, Nihonjin to Afurika-kei Amerika-jin: Nichibei kankeishi ni okeru sono shosou [Japanese and African American: Multiple aspects in a history of Japan-U.S. relationship].