Written by Aya Fujiwara
On 22 September 2014, the Prince Takamado Japan Centre hosted Professor Masako Iino, a past president and Professor emeritus of the Tsuda Collage in Tokyo, Japan, as the first speaker of the Japan Foundation and Japan Studies Association of Canada Lecture series. Her lecture was entitled “The Nikkei and the LARA (Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia) Postwar Relief Efforts to Japan.” Her talk looked at the contributions and donations that the Nikkei (people of Japanese origin) in the United States, Canada and Brazil made to the LARA, established by approximately 13 major associations in the United States in 1946 in support of war-torn Asia. Showing a number of rare photos on the LARA activities taken mainly by the GHQ, Professor Iino revealed that many Nikkei played an instrumental role in this campaign. She argued, “Many Nikkei were concerned about their fellow Japanese and contributed to the LARA.” These findings, for Professor Iino, contradict the conventional historic storyline that the Nikkei alienated themselves from Japan due to “a sense of inferiority” triggered by long-term discrimination and internment. The photographs, which she collected from the Japanese Archives, revealed an intriguing movement of hope in postwar Japan – children drinking milk, women preparing packages, and people gathering cheerfully in front of the sign “LARA.”
Her research highlights her long-term contributions in this field. She is one of the founding scholars and the leading authority in the field of Japanese immigration history in the United States and Canada. Her academic career began in the late-1960s when she studied at Syracuse University, New York, as a Fulbright Scholar. After obtaining tenure at Tsuda College in 1978, she expanded her international academic activities, teaching at Acadia University, McGill University, Ferris Women’s University, University of California at Berkeley, and Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. Her first co-authored book, Mutual Hostages: Canadians and Japanese during the Second World War, published by the University of Toronto Press in 1990, has become a classic study in this field, widely read by Japanese and Canadian students. It was one of the first books in both Canada and Japan, which placed the official policies that the Canadian government took during World War II under scrutiny. In addition to several co-edited books, she has written Another History of US-Japan Relations: Japanese Americans Swayed by the Cooperation and the Disputes between the Two Nations (Tokyo: Yuhikaku, 2000) and A History of Japanese Canadians: Swayed by Canada-Japan Relations (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1997), which won the Prime Minister’s Award for Publications. These books are written in the period during which Canadian ethnic and immigration history flourished, promoted by state-supported Multiculturalism. Thus she joined a new generation of distinguished ethnic historians in Canada, including Franca Iacovetta (Italians), France Swyripa (Ukrainians), Royden Loewen (Mennonites), and Patricia Roy (Asians). In 2001, she received the Governor-General’s International Award for Canadian Studies.
Her great recognition and fame notwithstanding, Professor Masako’s road as a Japanese historian and an outsider to the Nikkei communities in North America was not always easy. She recalled how difficult it was initially to conduct research among Japanese communities. Yet such a barrier motivated her to explore, in her words, “how the preexisting society accepted newcomers.” Ethnic histories in North America, often written by Canadians or Americans of ethnic origin, reflected their identity and personal roots. Consequently, at the early stages, ethnic histories tended to lack openness to others and outside factors, conceptualizing their group histories in isolation. But it was her passion for history, acute observation, friendly personality and high communication skills that helped her overcome the barriers gradually. Her 1997 and 2000 books both situated Japan in a transnational context, analyzing how external policies affected Japanese Americans or Canadians.
After the talk, she and her husband attended a casual group discussion over coffee at the Department of History and Classics. Despite the tight schedule, they never showed any fatigue and were eloquent and cheerful, frequently showing their sense of humour. People who gathered there for them, mainly historians, enjoyed an animated conversation with laughter, talking about Canadian history and Japanese culture. “It was my goal,” Professor Iino said to me, “to expand scholars’ networks in North America like this.”
Her search for history, of course, never ends. After her retirement, she seems even busier than before, giving a number of lectures, conducting research trips, and serving on academic boards. The Prince Takamado Japan Centre was very lucky to have her here at the University of Alberta.