Hawai‘i’s Japanese Immigrants and an Origin of Colonial Taiwan’s Pineapple Industry
This paper unveils intertwining strains of Japanese settler colonialism in Hawai‘i and Taiwan, which gave rise to the plantation-style production and industrial canning of pineapple in imperial Japan. The story forms a poignant example of inter-imperial exchange and learning between the colonial tropics of the American and Japanese empires. This paper uses pineapple as a way to illuminate complex entanglements of U.S. and Japanese tropical colonialisms with a focus on the agency of Hawai‘i’s Japanese immigrants (Issei) as indispensable brokers. After the mid-1920s, a handful of Issei intermediaries facilitated the transfer of knowledge and technique of modern pineapple farming and canning by re-migrating from America’s insular territory to Japan’s island colony. These resettlers were self-styled frontier farmers, who viewed the “conquest” of unexploited land—whether in the United States or in imperial Japan—as being connected to what they described as “overseas Japanese/racial development.” Having been inspired by U.S. discourse on frontier development, they had maintained psychic and material connections to settler colonialist endeavors of their homeland as much as they had been committed to the American frontier myth. And for that very reason, it was not a farfetched proposition for them to re-migrate from Hawai‘i to Taiwan when circumstances called for such a move. Following U.S. immigration exclusion of 1924, American racism and invitations by Japan’s colonial regime/capital served as catalysts to the return migration of these Issei pineapple “experts” to the home empire, as they came to feel white-dominated Hawai‘i no longer offered possibilities for their “racial development.”
Racial Science, Domestic Reform, and Japanese Immigration in Territorial-era Hawai‘i
In the early 20th century, Hawai‘i became a dynamic site of encounters between American settler colonizers and Japanese immigrant pioneers. With the rise of the plantation economy, the white plantation oligarchs deployed various means of discipline vis-à-vis Japanese immigrants, regulating (indeed policing) their health, nutrition, clothing, and sanitation. At the center of this new disciplinary endeavor was a group of white home economists recruited from the continental United States. Under the leadership of Carey Miller who joined the University of Hawai‘i in 1922, these female experts launched a domestic science movement across the islands, studying the immigrants’ bodily features, analyzing their dietary habits, probing into their health conditions, and disseminating new techniques and technologies of homemaking. As Japanese immigrants became the target of scientific inquiry as well as civilizing uplift, multitudes of dynamics – imperial expansion, transnational migration, female scientism, domestic reformism – converged, defining Japanese bodies as a central site of racial-national otherness as well as (potential) transformation.
This presentation examines how Japanese immigration to Hawai‘i occasioned a rise of racial science in the islands in which women and domesticity played a salient role. As Miller studied dental caries, basal metabolism, and physiological features of Japanese immigrants, her findings provided a significant addition to the expanding knowledge of race in the Pacific. The scientific data thus generated by Miller provided a justification for other white home economists to step into the domestic arena of Japanese immigrants, whose alien, inferior life styles called for interventions. Collaborating with plantation owners and managers, these female reformers propagated new methods of homemaking via home demonstration, a method of agricultural extension practiced across the United States whose application in Hawai‘i helped extend the empire’s reach to a new territory. Neither victims nor resisters, Japanese immigrants willingly participated in the emerging regime of bodily discipline and domestic orderliness, complicating the questions of gender, power, and empire in the Pacific.