The Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, San Francisco, April 6-9, 2006
Since the late 19th century the issei, or first generation Japanese Americans, produced a variety of materials in Japanese including books, newspapers, and magazines while living in their American communities. Much of this literature is available for us to read today. Some people consider these writings the origins of Japanese American literature, while others consider these works part of modern Japanese literature. Still others might insist on calling these works American literature. In terms of nationality, the issei were Japanese, and yet they were also permanent residents of the United States. Looking at issei literature through the lens of the nation-state causes considerable confusion when trying to describe what issei literature is. To make the situation more complicated, the issei literary environment contained not only issei writings, but also various literature imported from Japan. Put simply, the migration of people and the traveling of books make it difficult to locate issei literature within a system or framework based on the nation-state. The purpose of this paper will be to try to re-locate issei literature within a broader cultural circulation and will focus on the socio-cultural background developed and maintained through the active migration of people and materials across the Pacific. Special attention will be paid to the role of bookstores in Japan towns as the “hubs” of issei literary activity.