Research associate earns appointment in Japan as visiting research scholar

A street in Japan

A research associate with York University’s Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) is one of 15 scholars globally to be appointed as a visiting research scholar at the International Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) this year.

Yukari Takai

Yukari Takai, who has taught in the Department of History and the School of Women, Gender and Sexuality at both the Glendon and Keele campuses, arrived in Japan earlier this year. Her position there extends until March 2022.

“I am thrilled by the gift of time to research and to write on my project,” said Takai.

During her appointment at Nichibunken, she aims to complete a manuscript on the marriage, migration and modernity of Japanese women and men in Japan, Hawaii and the North American West from the 1880s to the 1930s. She is also engaged in a new project exploring the gendered social world of Japanese colonos, independent farmers, husbands, wives and adopted children in coffee plantations in Brazil in the early 20th century. In doing so, she seeks to bring into dialogue the transnational history of Japanese abroad and the history of marriage, divorce and gender relations in Japan in the emerging field of global Japanese studies.

“Dr. Takai’s research on the family histories of Japanese migration is a logical and innovative extension of her well-recognized expertise on French-Canadian migrants to the United States in the early 20th century,” said Colin Coates, Glendon’s associate principal of research and graduate studies.

Takai’s earlier research on Japanese in Hawaii produced an award-winning article on Japanese during the Meiji period in Gender & History. While in Japan, she is continuing her research on how marriage, divorce and gender practices among Japanese in Hawaii, Brazil and Japan reveal a great deal about the agency of ordinary women and men, the plural meanings of what was then considered modern, and the extent of civil and state control, all which go beyond simple narratives about Japanese in Hawaii and Brazil.

“I explore these themes through a critical examination of the ideology of ‘good wife, wise mother’ and a close analysis of previously under-examined practices, such as the taking of a temporary spouse, the selling of wives, the brokering of marriage, and the obtaining of divorce among Japanese in the Pacific world and beyond during the period of early Japanese community formation,” said Takai.

Nichibunken is an international research centre of excellence in Japanese studies, where scholars in the field of Japanese studies in Japan and from around the world meet, discuss and engage in productive and exciting exchanges. Its mission is to promote international and interdisciplinary research on Japanese culture and to foster co-operation among researchers in Japanese studies worldwide. 

“Having Dr. Takai with us at Nichibunken enriches our research activities in new, valuable ways,” said Yasui Manami, a professor in the Research Division and executive officer and senior research co-ordinator of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. “I look forward to learning about the state of the field of Japanese migration in three languages that Takai masters – Japanese, English and French – and the insights from her own research that she shares through lectures and publications with researchers here and elsewhere, and with the broader educated public.”

Araki Hiroshi, a professor at the International Research Center and the Chair of the Committee for the Inter-university Consortium for Global Japanese Studies, said, “Dr. Takai contributes to our initiative to build an emerging field of global Japanese studies.”

Takai said the benefits of being in Kyoto to conduct her research at Nichibunken are immense.

“Being here affords me precious time and resources to research and to write,” she said. “Nichibunken has impressive collections of primary and secondary sources on the subject of my research. Its location means a close proximity to southwestern Japan, from where a large number of Japanese left for Hawaii and Brazil.”

Travel to local and national archives has been limited under COVID-19 restrictions, but Takai looks forward to greater access to numerous archives in the near future.

“Nichibunken is an intellectually thriving international research centre located at the edge of the city of Kyoto,” she said. “Birds, bamboo forests and mountains greet you only a step outside the door. Being here is offering me moments of serendipity, which is something that I missed the most in the past year.”