Creating the Nisei Market

Creating the Nisei Market: Race and Citizenship in Hawai`i's Japanese American Consumer Culture

Shiho Imai
Copyright Date: 2010
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    Creating the Nisei Market
    Book Description:

    In 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court declared Japanese immigrants ineligible for American citizenship because they were not "white," dismissing the plaintiff's appeal to skin tone. Unable to claim whiteness through naturalization laws, Japanese Americans in Hawai'i developed their own racial currency to secure a prominent place in the Island's postwar social hierarchy.Creating the Nisei Marketexplores how different groups within Japanese American society (in particular the press and merchants) staked a claim to whiteness on the basis of hue and culture. Using Japanese- and English-language sources from the interwar years, it demonstrates how the meaning of whiteness evolved from mere physical distinctions to cultural markers of difference, increasingly articulated in material terms.

    Nisei consumer culture demands examination because consumption was vital to the privilege-making process that spilled over into public life. Although economically motivated, Japanese American shopkeepers worked hard to support the next generation of merchants and secure the future of the Nisei consumer market. Far from its image as a static society, the Japanese American community was constantly reinventing itself to meet changing consumer demands and social expectations. The author builds on recent scholarship that considers ethnic communities within a trans-Pacific context, highlighting ethnic fluidity as a strategy for material and cultural success.

    Yet even as it assumed a position of conformity, the Japanese American consumer culture that took hold among Honolulu's middle class was distinct. It was at once modern and nostalgic, like thewayo secchuideal-a hybrid of Western and Japanese notions of beauty and femininity that linked the ethnic group to the homeland and mainstream U.S. culture. By focusing on the marketing of whiteness that connected the old world and new,Creating the Nisei Marketreveals the dynamic commercial and cultural environment that underwrote the rise of the Nisei in Hawai'i.

    15 illus., 9 tables

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6043-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1955, a short story by Sakae Takemune won third place in a literary contest for outstanding student writing at the University of Hawaii. The story described the dramatic improvement in the living standards of one Japanese American family in Honolulu. Only four years previous, Takemune’s family had occupied a “crude upper flat of a dilapidated two story building” on a small plantation. The house even had a hole in its roof. One day his mother announced that the family was leaving for the “mysterious metropolis of Honolulu.” As the narrator remembered, “Mother had plans—big plans” to send her...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Markers of Whiteness
    (pp. 11-34)

    After spending a few years in Honolulu, one Nisei boy from the Smith survey reported, the countryside looked “so dead and un-interesting.” He felt increasingly uneasy about returning to the plantation during the summer months, because everything back home seemed “awkward and behind date.” “‘Home Sweet Home’ used to beckon me when I was away,” he wrote, “but as soon as I set foot there I almost always yearned for the city.”¹ “Honolulu! Honolulu! How good it sounded to a person who had never seen it before!” described another Nisei as she reminisced about her voyage from a neighboring island...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Creating the Nisei Market
    (pp. 35-60)

    Do You Know the Story of the Oriental?” asked theHonolulu Advertiserin a special issue published in 1930 to promote Hawai‘i as the “Hub of Pacific Trade.” To counter the image of Hawai‘i as a “sleepy semi-tropical village,” the English language newspaper underscored Hawai‘i’s heretofore overlooked business and merchandising potential. It highlighted the purchasing power of “American Orientals” and noted that the Americanization of Hawaiian-born ethnic communities was “progressing in a surprising manner.” They were more American in habits, customs, and standard of living than many racial groups in the cities of mainland United States. In the Hawaiian market...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Nisei Womanhood and the Culture of Personality
    (pp. 61-87)

    During the interwar years, by tuning in to the local KGMB radio station or browsing through the latest issue ofMcCall’s, Honolulu’s young Nisei women were exposed to mainstream consumer culture in much the same way as their mainland counterparts.¹ Nisei girls embraced not only the newest consumer goods, but also the very media that reached out to them with messages that linked consumerism to positive personal transformation. The most obvious daily news source was the Japanese-language newspaper.Nippu JijiandHawaii Hochiboth featured advice columns, celebrity gossip, and serial stories in their English-language sections that appealed to the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Competing Visions of Nisei Consumer Culture
    (pp. 88-118)

    In 1930 when Honolulu’s McKinley High School paper, thePinion(renamed theDaily Pinionin 1935), conducted a survey on the money students spent each week on such “luxuries” as candy, ice cream, soft drinks, and movies, the figures surprised thePinionstaff. Students as a rule were not considered to have much spending power. Yet the 1,937 students who answered the questionnaires spent together a total of more than $74,000 a year. Add this to the expense of food, clothing, and necessities, the paper said, and the annual average would total more than $450 per person. Students spent most...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Two Faces of Ethnic Business
    (pp. 119-150)

    One of Hawai‘i’s most successful advertising campaigns during the interwar years was that of Musashiya, a once-obscure Japanese dry goods store located in the heart of downtown Honolulu. With the help of adman George Mellen, Koichiro Miyamoto, Musashiya’s proprietor, transformed himself into “Musa-shiya the Shirtmaker,” the friendly shopkeeper who spoke eloquently in broken English. One advertisement in theHonolulu Star-Bulletin, shows a kimono-clad Japanese man standing on a chair to measure his haole customer. The shopkeeper sports a childlike grin, in sharp contrast to the solemn well-built man standing beside him. The caption reads, “The quiet scene of the custimer...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 151-172)

    The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. entry into the Second World War temporarily made untenable the duality that had sustained Japanese American business through the hard days of the Depression. Although Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i avoided mass internment, the war and its considerable local side-effects threatened the ethnic community’s existence. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, rumors circulated that anything from Japan was incriminating. Most Japanese families launched a thorough housecleaning, and objects that had been kept for sentimental reasons were pulled out of trunks and destroyed. During the “Speak American” campaign that followed the Japanese attack on Pearl...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-200)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-212)
  13. Index
    (pp. 213-220)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)