Talk discusses Japanese views of whites
By Sarita Olson
Published: Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Before World War II, the Japanese people viewed Americans as elitist and isolationist, a view that is starting to change today, Colgate University professor Yukiko Koshiro told about 15 students and faculty during a lecture at the Boston University African-American Studies Center Tuesday.

Koshiro said Japanese ideas about white people varied, depending on the their specific nationalities.

“Japanese images of white people differ from one nationality to another,” Koshiro said. “American whiteness was different from German whiteness and ... Russian whiteness — [there were] distinctly different living and occupation patterns between Russians and Americans in Japan.”

Because Russians went to Japan primarily for trade, more of them learned the Japanese language than Americans in Japan. Since Russians made more of an effort to integrate themselves into Japanese culture and society, they gained more acceptance, Koshiro said.

“If we look at how Americans lived in Japan before World War II ... we get a very distinctive pattern,” she said referring to Americans’ sense of “elitism, exclusivity and isolationism.”

Americans tended to take on more leadership roles, with their main occupations being missionaries and teachers. Koshiro said they separated themselves from the rest of Japan and had the lowest rate of interracial marriage of the country’s foreign occupants, even as Russians and Japanese people often married.

Koshiro also said Russians generally used different methods in their missionary work; missionaries from the Russian Orthodox Church made an effort to go into villages and talk with peasants while American missionaries did not.

She said Americans viewed themselves as “God’s chosen people” and created a resort called Karuizawa, where many wealthy Americans built second homes and owned more than 50 percent of houses.

“Karuizawa became a symbol of Japanese imperialism,” Koshiro said.

College of Arts and Sciences freshman Aya Rothwell said she enjoyed Koshiro’s lecture, especially “the contrast between Russians and Americans — how they lived and how they were seen.”

“She started off a little slow, but it was very interesting,” Rothwell said. “I like how she pointed to a bunch of different things as cause and effect.”

Koshiro has published several articles and books focusing on Japanese history, including “Trans-Pacific Racisms and the U.S. Occupation of Japan,” winner of the 2001 Masayoshi Ohiro Memorial Award.

She received a bachelor’s degree from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, a master’s from the University of Tokyo and a doctorate from Columbia University. Koshiro is currently a visiting associate history professor at Colgate University.

The lecture, “Rethinking Whiteness: Images and Status of Russian and American Residents in Pre-1945 Japan,” is part of the African-American Studies Center’s weekly lecture series.

The Daily Free Press, Boston University