Why do people decide to fight for their nations and people? What turns people into supporters of an ideology? I have been intrigued by these questions for two decades now, which drove me to study the intersection between the nation, the military, and society in East Asia. I found my academic home in the field of history, but am eager to learn other theories and methods that help me better investigate these issues.
I teach histories of modern East Asian societies, ideology and emotions, and the Japanese colonial empire as an assistant professor in the department of history, National University of Singapore. I have two beautiful children and two bunnies.
"Revisiting Korean Slums in Postwar Japan:
Tongne and Hakkyo in the Zainichi Memoryscape"
Korean shantytowns existed in every large Japanese city from the postwar years through the late 1960s. Japanese people recall them as secluded, dirty, impoverished, and dangerous. To many scholars, their existence confirms the transwar continuity of Japanese oppression of underclass ethnic minorities. But zainichi Koreans who grew up in such slums, which they called tongne, offer inspirational stories and fond memories of living there. This article sheds light on Koreans’ postwar experiences by discussing the important sociopolitical functions of the tongne and their continuing symbolism among the zainichi population. Viewing the tongne as zainichi's postliberation place of origin and paying attention to the reproduction of its meanings in hakkyo (schools) helps us understand the uneven terrain of power relationships in zainichi society, including why the Chongryun exercised great cultural power at least until the 1970s.
"Becoming Korean: Japanese Wives in the Boundary Formation of a Leftist Zainichi Community"
Critical Asian Studies (Online Nov 2021)
Korean–Japanese marriages were common during and after Japan’s imperial rule of Korea. Following the Japanese Empire’s demise, however, Japanese wives in Korean families faced new political dynamics and their ethnic belonging became an issue. This article introduces the experiences of some Japanese women who married leftist zainichi Korean men in the 1950s and 1960s, obtained through interviews and published memoirs. Their self- identification exclusively as members of the zainichi Korean community – or their experiences of “becoming Korean,” despite facing oppression in both the Korean community and Japanese society reflect the specific historical moment of Korean decolonization in post-imperial Japan. Their stories attest that Koreans’ efforts toward decolonization led to the establishment of an autonomous ethnic sphere and a new center of moral authority among zainichi Koreans. These women stood at the boundary between Korean and Japanese social spheres, which developed based on the malleability in women’s senses of ethnic and national belonging. Recovering their experiences can help us integrate post-imperial tensions and decolonization into the history of postwar Japanese society.
Current Editing Project
Grassroots Operations of the Japanese Empire
I am developing a new website to solve my own teaching problem: we don't have many translated primary sources that we can use in class!
In addition to choosing from the sources I have, I am asking a number of historians to contribute theirs to enrich our teaching material options. Each excerpt will accompany a short introduction about the piece, data of the original source, and the English translation. I have hired competent student/postgraduate translators for this project, and I have uploaded a number of fascinating sources that I received already: https://www.japaneseempire.info/
If you are interested in contributing a source along with an introduction (and if you can, the translation as well), please contact me.
Education Against Historical Denialism
In early 2021, I got involved in fact-checking of an academic article that viewed "(Japanese and Korean) comfort women" as voluntarily contracted prostitutes. Four other concerned historians and I found the evidence cited mostly distorted and nearly fabricated, and co-wrote this letter, requesting the journal to conduct the investigation.
With this experience, we expanded our knowledge of the common tactics, ideological goals, and major outlets of historical denialism on the atrocities the Japanese military committed during World War II. We also learned that "comfort women" has been the most popular topic for these deniers. As we turned vocal against their baseless claims, we started getting harassed by anonymous accounts and scholars of bad faith on Twitter.
Moving on from fact checking and protecting the professional standard of academic integrity, we think it is important to arm students and scholars with the contents and contexts of relevant sources to confront historical denialism. A number of scholars and institutions are fighting on this front. We would like to add our contribution to this collective endeavor.
Thus my Grassroots Operations of the Japanese Empire now hosts a translation of the deniers' most favorite Home Ministry document, "Concerning the Management of Women Traveling to China" (Feb 23, 1937). Prof. Amy Stanley kindly offered the translation and put together an introduction of the context. We designed it for classroom use, but it is a concise read for anyone interested in why many deniers want to refer to this particular document.
Cornell University Press
Nation-Empire: ideology and rural youth mobilization in Japan and its colonies.
I examine the questions of ideological belief, identity, and imperialism through the history of youth mobilization by the Japanese empire. In addition to an analysis of the rise of youth discourse and agrarianism, it presents ethnographical research of villages in northern Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, and Korea, and fleshes out a grassroots mechanism of ideological indoctrination. I believe this book is in conversation with many subfields, such as histories of youth, fascism, everyday, and emotions.
Current Research Project
Chongryon in Postimperial Japan
I am currently working with KumHee Cho on the history of Chongryon (the community around the pro-North Korean organization run by zainichi Koreans) in postwar Japan. I am writing two books. The first book, tentatively titled Project Korea: Chongryon in Postimperial Japan, focuses on their community building and network. Drawing on our interviews with hundreds of zainichi Korean people inside and outside of Chongryon, we aim to tell their own nation building as a diasporic group in the midst of complex global and local politics of decolonization, neoimperialism, the Cold War, gender politics, regional Communist ties, and shifting Japan-North Korean relationship. The second book (being coauthored with KumHee Cho), tentatively titled After Exodus: Chongryon and North Korea in Flux, highlights interactions between Chongryon people and North Korean society. Once their family members moved to North Korea starting in December 1959, Chongryon members' interactions with North Korean society expanded and became important conduits between Japan and North Korea. Chongryon people’s visits to North Korea, trade and investment experiences, cultural exchanges show that the Chongryon community gave significant impact on North Korean society, not just vice versa.