Newspapers

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Kinmon Nippō, January 17, 1894, San Francisco

In the past several years, numerous Japanese-language newspapers have been made available online. Japanese scholars of immigration and a handful of American scholars have had to power through ancient microfilm in university libraries. When I started my dissertation research in 2013, few newspapers had been digitized. Those that were, like the English-language Pacific Citizen, appeared for a time and then disappeared once again. Anyone interested in researching Japanese-language newspapers had to travel to university libraries primarily on the west coast: UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Utah, and University of Washington. When they arrived, they also needed significant time to find the material they were looking for because none of these microfilms have been indexed as of yet. Of course, reproductions of microfilm were both low-quality and extremely costly in most cases.

The inaccessibility of these most fundamental sources is the major reason that the history of Japanese in America was excised from Japanese historiography. The modernization school and subsequent area-studies scholars of Japan generally limited their scope of inquiry to the four home islands until the late 1990s in an effort to build conclusions about a geographically discreet unit understood as the Japanese nation. But several scholars in the mid-twentieth century wrote about transpacific migration as part of Japan’s modern history: Hilary Conroy, Sakata Yasuo, Akira Iriye, and John J. Stephan. Their efforts to build Japanese immigration as a major subfield were stymied first and foremost by the lack of sources.

When the Asian American movement demanded a place in US universities, they also staked a claim to the Japanese American experience. Their work placed Japanese immigrants firmly and exclusively in the American context to show their struggles as an American minority to gain full status as American citizens. Asian American history was also an explicitly progressive project. The Asian American Movement was adamantly opposed to the Vietnam War out of solidarity with the oppressed and brutalized Vietnamese people. The mostly conservative, white area studies cohort of the 1970s and a rising group of anti-war scholars called the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars then ceded the academic territory of migration to a new generation of scholars who were largely Asian Americans themselves. Instead, area studies scholars redoubled their efforts to study the history Asian nations on their own terms; they sought to frame histories of Japan in which western contact was not the primary vector of modernity.

Several large-scale digitization projects have made an enormous amount of print sources available online for the first time.  The Seattle-based organization Densho and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University have the largest digital collections, thanks to some very generous donors. In addition to their immense value for Japanese American studies, their availability has the potential to revolutionize study of the Japanese empire, the history of US-Japan relations, and to revitalize the somewhat moribund study of Japan in the world. While imperfect in execution, these newspapers have been OCR processed. Now scholars can text search them in both Japanese and English (likely also in Spanish and Portuguese, though I have yet to test that out). The nascent OCR technology does not produce high enough accuracy for any conclusive data mining, but makes research on previously unknown figures, movements, and significant events in Japanese America possible for the first time.

Below I will provide an overview of all the digital collections I have been able to locate thus far. The majority are in Japanese and were originally published between the 1880s and 1945, though a few collections cover up to the 1960s.

Online Newspapers