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T. Scott Miyakawa–Part 2: Nisei Academic and Activist

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If the professional vicissitudes that T. Scott Miyakawa encountered in his earlier years can be said to represent the trials of the Nisei generation, his later career encapsulates the rise of elite Nisei in the postwar period. During these years, Miyakawa became a respected and much-travelled scholar. Like his exact contemporary, S.I. Hayakawa, he refused to be pigeonholed simply as a specialist on Asian Americans, and he threw himself into studying a variety of topics. However, unlike Hayakawa, who maintained his distance from Japanese communities and opposed ethnic organizations, Miyakawa retained a community focus, and devoted himself to working with the Japanese American Citizens League and other organizations to document the group’s history.

In summer 1946, Scotty Miyakawa was offered a position as instructor in Sociology at Boston University. Miyakawa was nearing his 40th birthday and was frustrated by his inability to secure stable employment, so the job at BU was a godsend for him. He moved to Boston in September 1946, and took up the task of teaching Methods of Sociological research and social theory in the Sociology Department. He undertook a certain number of outside activities. For example, he helped organize a Boston JACL chapter, and in 1948 he lectured at a New England High School Institute of International Relations organized at Harvard University by the American Friends Service Committee.

However, Miyakawa devoted the largest share of his time to researching and writing his long-delayed doctoral dissertation, “American Frontier and Protestantism”, at Columbia University. It was completed in 1951. He would much later adapt his thesis into a book, Protestants and Pioneers: Individualism and Conformity on the American Frontier (University of Chicago Press, 1964).

The work (Miyakawa’s sole completed monograph) examined the relationship between community organization and frontier life in the Ohio Valley in the early nineteenth century through the study of Protestant religious denominations. Taking aim at Frederick Jackson Turner’s classic thesis about the “frontier” as a founding institution of American life and a builder of individual character and self-reliance, Miyakawa made the point that the frontier was not always marked by the "lone" individualism of popular culture. Rather, the lives of American frontiersmen were constrained and regimented through the impact of Protestant churches, which acted as places of integration and brought conformity to newly settled Western areas.

While the book was widely reviewed and has been frequently cited since by historians of the frontier, Miyakawa seems not to have revisited the topic in later years.

After submitting his thesis and obtaining his Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia, Miyakawa embarked on a series of international residencies. First, he received a Ford Foundation fellowship which allowed him to travel to Europe in 1951-52. He had applied for the fellowship principally to study labor and management relations in Scandinavia. He may have been inspired to turn his attention there by his sister Kikuko Miyakawa, who received a fellowship to study silver jewelry-making in Denmark sometime in the postwar years, and ended up marrying a Dane, Mogens Packness, and settling in Copenhagen. In the end, however, Scotty spent most of the year studying conditions in Great Britain and Italy.

Soon after his return from his European study trip, Miyakawa turned to work on Asia. In 1953-54, he occupied a position as a Fulbright professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. He returned to Asia as visiting faculty member at the Center for Advanced Study and Training in Ceylon during 1957-58. (Scotty Miyakawa’s connections with Asia were paralleled by those of his brother Tatsuo Arthur Miyakawa. After serving in China with the Office of War Information during World War II, Tatsuo worked for U.S. occupation authorities in Japan, and became the Japan representative of the American Petroleum Export Co. the following year. In 1963 Tatsuo was hired by the U.S. Commerce Department, and he spent the next two decades as director of the Japan desk and chief of the trade regulations section in the Far East division of the Office of International Regional Economics.) Curiously, while Scotty Miyakawa produced reviews of books on European industry (notably Sheila Patterson’s Immigrants in Industry) and in Asian Studies, he did not produce any real body of articles or reports out of his researches during his residencies.

Instead, at the dawn of the 1960s, Miyakawa became involved in efforts to collect documentary materials related to the history of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigration. During this time, the JACL, under the lead of National President Frank Chuman, expressed interest in producing a definitive historical study of Japanese Americans.

While there were several existing histories by non-Japanese, such as Bradford Smith’s 1948 work Americans from Japan, they did not make use of Japanese-language sources and oral histories. With the Issei generation already aging and primary source materials in danger of disappearing, JACL leaders felt that immediate action was necessary.

In 1960, the National JACL approved the formation of a committee under the direction of Shigeo Wakamatsu, to raise money for the preparation of a history of the Issei. The committee turned to the Japanese American community for financial support. The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of Nisei contributed sums, often in memory of their immigrant parents.

In the end, the JACL raised some $200,000—an enormous sum in 1960 dollars—for the plan. Chuman contacted UCLA, his alma mater, and negotiated with Chancellor Franklin Murphy over housing the project there. In August 1962, the Regents of the University of California approved the creation of the Japanese American Research Project (JARP) at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the JACL turned to Miyakawa to direct the JARP. It was a natural choice. First, Miyakawa had long been connected to the JACL. Furthermore, at least since his time working for the South Manchurian Railway, he had been Interested in the history of Japanese Americans and in U.S.–Japan trade, and he had already began collecting historical material on these topics in the 1950s.

In fall 1961 he produced a preliminary draft, “A proposal for a definitive history of the Japanese in the United States, 1860-1960,” for review by the JACL committee and for individual chapters. His outline for the project contained a list of study objectives that included sociological surveys, production of a "definitive, scholarly volume" on the history of Japanese Americans, and assembling a documentary collection of oral histories and memorabilia. Originally Miyakawa,s focus was on the Issei, but on the suggestion of Harvard professor Edwin O. Reischauer, he added the history of Nisei to the project.

After being named as JARP director, Miyakawa took a leave of absence from Boston University and moved to UCLA, where he was named Visiting Associate professor of Sociology. In September 1963, he began preparatory work, with a staff of two research assistants.

In 1964, the Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded the project a further $100,000 grant. Miyakawa expressed the intention to produce a historical study in several volumes, plus a trio of sociological monographs on the adjustment of immigrant Japanese, the postwar acceptance and integration of Japanese Americans, and the group’s contributions to American culture. He meanwhile undertook the creation of the archive with primary sources.

Miyakawa remained with JARP until 1965, when he returned to Boston University. Robert A. Wilson, a UCLA professor of Japanese history, succeeded as director. In the end, the JARP was a mixed success in terms of results. A large archive of information was collected, including oral histories and numerous Japanese-language diaries, letters and other primary sources (Yuji Ichioka would supervise the addition of further material during the 1970s). The ambitious multivolume history was never produced, though Bill Hosokawa’s 1969 popular book Nisei: The Quiet Americans and Frank Chuman’s 1976 legal history The Bamboo People, as well as some smaller studies, spun off the project. Hosokawa later edited Wilson’s manuscript to produce the monograph East to America (1980).

Miyakawa seems to have largely withdrawn from involvement with JARP project after leaving UCLA. Instead, he formed a separate study of East Coast history, located at Boston University and supported by the JACL. Miyakawa called for large-scale research regarding Japanese Americans on the East Coast. Despite their small numbers, he asserted, they had been able to live free of the harsh anti-Japanese prejudice prevailing on the West Coast, and they had laid the foundation for the substantial trade between Japan and the United States.

In 1970 Miyakawa produced a 70 page preliminary report on Issei on the East Coast and Japan/US trade in the late 19th century, entitled, “Early New York Issei Founders of Japanese-American Trade.” Meanwhile he teamed up with historian Hilary Conroy of University of Pennsylvania to co-edit a pioneering anthology, East Across the Pacific: Historical and Sociological Studies of Japanese Immigration and Assimilation, which was published in 1972. Miyakawa included in the volume a scaled-down version of his manuscript on early New York Issei traders. He identified the rise of these traders, which he associated with Japanese values. Parallel to the Protestant ethic (most famously described by Max Weber) that drove Western capitalists, he suggested, these values promoted expansion of Japan’s commerce on an international level. His work was later carried on by his assistant Yasuo Sakata.

In 1972, at age 65, Miyakawa retired from Boston University, and started work as a visiting professor of Sociology at the fledgling satellite campus University of Massachusetts-Boston. After three years as a temporary professor, in 1975 he was named a full-time professor, and appointed chair of the department. During his time at U Mass-Boston, he helped found an Asian Studies program.

In 1976, Miyakawa left U Mass and was named emeritus professor at Boston University. Sometime after, he grew ill. He was guarded about his condition (variously identified as cancer or leukemia) and his passing in August 1981 came as a surprise to many friends and colleagues. Following Miyakawa’s death, his papers were donated to the Young Research Library at UCLA. The Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston created in his honor a T. Scott Miyakawa Memorial Prize in Sociology for graduating majors.

T. Scott Miyakawa’s career and legacy are touched with irony. In spite of his elite education as an engineer, he was forced by anti-Nisei discrimination to enter the fields of U.S.-Japan trade and statistics. Once U.S.-Japan trade was eclipsed by World War II, Miyakawa faced unemployment because of his past involvement with Japanese companies and his defense of Tokyo’s international policy. He then turned to studying the sociology of religion, which eventually became the theme of his doctoral thesis. However, by the time he issued his major publication in the area, he was nearing 60 years old and had already returned to the study of U.S.-Japan trade. He spent three years organizing a major scholarly research initiative in Japanese-American history, but his own interest in the study of New York’s Japanese communities set him apart from the mass of West Coast-centric scholars.


© 2018 Greg Robinson

activist historian jacl japanese american JARP nisei sociologist T. Scott Miyakawa