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Interview with Jonathan Bull, Research Award Recipient

Each year, the recipients of the 20th Century Japan Research Awards visit the University of Maryland to use the materials in the Gordon W. Prange Collection.  They often spend a week or more on campus.  They are interviewed at the end of their stay about their research experience.

Dr. Jonathan Bull in the Maryland Room.

One of the two recipients of the award for 2016-2017, Dr. Jonathan Bull, is Assistant Professor in the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center at Hokkaido University in Japan.  He is currently revising his dissertation into a book manuscript provisionally titled “Settling the Unsettled: History and Memory in the Construction of the Karafuto Repatriate.” The book will review the place of population displacement from Karafuto (present-day Sakhalin) in Japan’s post-imperial migrations and examine the ways people used their ‘postcolonial bonus’ to reintegrate into post-war society.

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How did you learn about the research award, and why did you apply for it?

I first learnt about the award when I was checking the Prange Collection website. Two colleagues also suggested that it would be a good award for me to apply for so I decided to put in a proposal. I had wanted to use the Prange Collection at the University of Maryland after reading the excellent research on Japan’s post-imperial migration done by Lori Watt. She made good use of repatriate newsletters in her monograph ‘When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan’ (Harvard, 2009). I felt that these newsletters were such a rich source, more research could be done.

What motivated you to focus on this research topic?

When forced migration occurs and governments respond, the individual histories of those who are forced to move almost inevitably become flattened into a single image of ‘the refugee’ or ‘the repatriate’. My research into Japanese who repatriated from Karafuto (present-day southern Sakhalin) after the Asia-Pacific War attempts to deconstruct the government-supported image that emerged in the late-1940s. Much of my motivation comes from my earliest experiences of living in Japan as an Assistant English Teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program). I lived in a small fishing town on the Okhotsk Sea coastline of northern Hokkaido. I met several elderly residents of the town who told me their stories of having escaped from Karafuto on small fishing boats in the last days of the Soviet-Japanese War. These stories really captured my imagination and made me want to find out more.

Which material in the Prange Collection left the biggest impression on you?

The galley proofs of newspaper articles were particularly interesting. They indicate that Japanese journalists and repatriates often talked at train stations and hospitals – away from the control of American and Japanese officials. Previous research has argued that during the Occupation period, repatriates were unable to criticize the USSR in the press because of censorship. Many of the galley proofs suggest that Japanese journalists tried to include a fair amount of criticism in their articles. Examining what was published in the newspapers following the galley proof stage might reveal that repatriates had quite a lot of leeway to criticise the USSR and, in doing so, shape early narratives about repatriation.

The press agency photographs were also fascinating. The number of photos of repatriates indicates that the ‘repatriation problem’ was one of the most important issues during the Occupation. One photo was particularly interesting – it suggested that the American view of repatriates as a communist threat sent by Stalin was exactly that – an American view and perhaps not shared to the same degree by the Japanese press. If this reading is accurate, we may need to reconsider the processes by which media images of repatriates were disseminated in Postwar Japan.

How would you describe the research experience at the University of Maryland Libraries? Do you have any suggestions for fellow researchers using the collection?

All of the library staff who I met were friendly and helpful. I am particularly grateful to Amy Wasserstrom, Yukako Tatsumi and Kana Jenkins who answered all my questions and remained cheerful as I sent yet another request to see a long list of documents from the collection.

I would urge anyone using the collection to make use of the excellent inventories that are available as part of the ‘Guide to how to use the collection’ section of the website. These are easy to search and I was able to find many documents that I had not known existed.

I would also emphasise how useful I found the opportunity to give a talk on my research whilst I was at the University of Maryland. The audience had many good questions and helpful suggestions for leads to follow up.

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