First published in 1898 and long out of print, A Japanese Robinson Crusoe by Jenichiro Oyabe (1867–1941) is a pioneering work of Asian American literature. It recounts Oyabe’s early life in Japan, his journey west, and his education at two historically Black colleges, detailing in the process his gradual transformation from Meiji gentleman to self-proclaimed "Japanese Yankee." Like a Victorian novelist, Oyabe spins a tale that mixes faith and exoticism, social analysis and humor. His story fuses classic American narratives of self-creation and the self-made man (and, in some cases, the tall tale) with themes of immigrant belonging and "whiteness." Although he compares himself with the castaway Robinson Crusoe, Oyabe might best be described as a combination of Crusoe and his faithful servant Friday, the Christianized man of color who hungers to be enlightened by Western ways. A Japanese Robinson Crusoe is flavored with insights on important questions for contemporary Americans: How does one "become" American? How is Asian American identity formed in response to the conditions of other racial groups? When and how did the Asian American "model minority" myth emerge? A new introduction provides a provocative analysis of Oyabe’s story and discusses his years abroad in the context of his later career, placing the text within both American and modern Japanese history.
Subjects: History, Sociology
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