Fall Update (see you soon, Tokyo)

I’ve always heard that fall is the season for New England and, so far, I haven’t been disappointed. My stint at Connecticut College has given me the opportunity to take full advantage of this beautiful southeastern corner of the state. For this west coast transplant, I’m partly relishing the crisp days and partly feeling guilty as California blisters from historic heat and deadly wildfires.

A late October storm sweeps in from the Long Island Sound and looms over New London.

The shorter days and cooler nights have helped me feel a bit more academically productive (props to Japanese Breakfast’s dreamy new album, which has helped to breathe life into otherwise quiet nights of writing and course prep).

I have an article on the Sunagawa Struggle in the forthcoming special edition of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture. Friend and fellow modern Japan historian, Chelsea Szendi Schieder of Meiji University, pulled together this special issue, which focuses on collaborative social movements between Japan and the U.S. (“other transpacific alliances”). Here’s the abstract to my piece:

The Sunagawa Struggle, a massive anti-US base protest in the suburbs of western Tokyo, had lasting impacts not only on the US–Japan security alliance, but also on the people who participated on both sides of the protest lines. This article traces the lives of two people who were profoundly changed by their experiences of the anti-base movement in Japan: Dennis Banks, a young airman who was tasked with guarding the base and would later help found the American Indian Movement; and Sunagawa protestor Shimada Seisaku, who spent a career as a Tachikawa city councilperson and remained committed to anti-base activism.

If you’d like to read it but don’t have institutional access, shoot me a note and I can share the article with you.

I’m also excited to be heading to the Association for Asian Studies annual conference in Washington DC next March, where I’ll be participating in a neat digital humanities-driven panel entitled, “Bodies and Structures: Deep-Mapping the Spaces of Japanese History”.

Finally, I’ll be in Tokyo for a few weeks over December and January, making use of the National Diet Library and (let’s be honest) eating more than I probably should. When I was in Japan last winter, I brought along an old Olympus 35ED film camera, pulled from the depths of the storage chest in which it was abandoned during the violence of the digital revolution. I bought it in 2003 at a small photography store in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, where I was teaching English after college. Even then, the 1970s camera felt like a relic (check out this link to read from someone who actually knows about the camera itself), but it proved to be surprisingly durable. It was completely waterlogged after a rainy backpacking trip across the nearby Yatsugatake mountain range (八ヶ岳連峰). I was certain it’d given up the ghost; the lens was fogged and rainwater pooled in the film compartment. Through no effort of my own but the installation of a new battery, it came to life, rust-free and unperturbed by my poor stewardship (the camera’s proof of life are the photos below).

See you this winter, Tokyo. I’ll try to remember the camera again.

The entrance to Meiji Shrine (明治神宮).

Empty handles in empty trains.

Rikkyō University (立教大学), home of the wonderful Rikkyō University Research Center for Cooperative Civil Studies, where I did much of my dissertation research.

A strolling couple admires a street performer in Yokohama’s Minato Mirai.



As I write this, members of the Gail Project are wrapping up a two-week trip to Okinawa. I, however, am in New London, where I’ve just taken up a post as Visiting Assistant Professor in Japanese History at Connecticut College. While this means that I’m lucky to join a vibrant academic community and meet a whole new crew of eager students, it also means that my new schedule didn’t allow me to go to Okinawa with the Gail Project. I’ll admit that it’s been bittersweet to keep up with their travels from afar, but they’ve been doing a great job documenting their trip for those of us left behind. Alan Christy and the other directors of the project have mapped out what looks like a busy (ok, exhausting) schedule. I invite you to check out some of the Gail Project’s social media accounts to see just they’ve been doing. And don’t forget the all new Gail website!

Gail on Twitter

Gail on Tumblr

Gail on Facebook

Gail on Instagram

Giving Day for The Gail Project

UCSC’s Giving Day is here again. The support we receive today is so important in helping our students to engage with Okinawan history and develop skills that they can take with them beyond the archives. We remain grateful those who have supported our students as they coordinate our photo exhibit, digitize our archive of U.S. military documents, and finalize our new website. As we continue these projects, our ability to fund our student-researchers remains central to The Gail Project‘s mission of helping students with a keen interest in Okinawa to “get their hands dirty” with the real work of historical preservation and presentation.

This is a busy year for us. We are organizing the opening exhibition of the Gail photos, which will take place at UCSC’s Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery this fall, along with an intense study-research trip this summer in Okinawa, where our students will finally get to experience the place they have spent so much time researching. Finally, our interactive website goes live and soon people from around the world will be able to share their own experiences of Okinawa through their interactions with the photos.

I think Ira Glass could do it better, but I’ll say that we remain very grateful to our supporters! Today, March 8, please take a moment to donate to The Gail Project. A generous donor has agreed to match our donations 1:1 up to $2,500. And check out the promo video our students made!

Upcoming Workshop @ UC Berkeley: “New Topics, Technologies and New Times: Japan Ahead”

I was very recently invited to participate in an upcoming workshop organized by UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies. Entitled “New Topics, Technologies and New Times: Japan Ahead,” the workshop is sponsored by both CJS and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. By working through the example of the comfort women issue (慰安婦問題, ianfu mondai), I’ll be speaking on a language-themed panel about how historians grapple with controversial historical-political debates in the classroom. This interdisciplinary workshop takes place February 24-25 and is free and open to the public!

Teaching “Food Empires of Asia and the Pacific”

This winter quarter, one of the classes I am teaching is an upper-division history course called “Food Empires of Asia and the Pacific.” I designed the course to draw from a wide temporality, covering everything from the Spice Route, to the coming of tobacco and chillies to China, to the spread of canned Spam across the Pacific, to the sushi boom in the U.S., to the invention of “ethnic” cuisine. In some ways, the course can feel like other world history courses that build their historical frameworks (colonialism, migration, capitalism, etc) around commodities like sugar, salt, cotton, etc. With our particular attention on overlapping empires as a means to understanding Pacific history, however, the course feels refreshingly new. While I was aided by colleagues near and far in thinking about the course design, it became clear to me that food history is often taught as a corollary to the European colonization of the New World. When it comes to Asia and the Pacific, much of the important work on food seems to have thus far been accomplished by scholars and non-scholars outside of the field of history (for which I’m grateful and much of this material made its way into my course reader).

Because food is inherently social (whether in its production or consumption), I decided to construct the course assignments into interactive projects rather than research papers. The final project asks students to use ArcGIS Story Map to present the trans-Pacific history of a commodity, a dish, or a restaurant. This platform allows for the presentation of narrative, multi-layered mapping, as well as audio and visual files. Students can, for example, visit a local restaurant, interview the owner/cook, and create a project that puts their material into historical perspective. Though students are responsible for a significant amount of reading (accompanied by weekly reading responses and one-time presentation of a reading in class), the bulk of course evaluation comes from the implementation of their project.

“Food Empires” is a reflection of two of my recent interests and projects. First, this class is an addendum to a senior capstone I designed and taught last year, “U.S. Bases and Social Movements in Asia,” which drew from interdisciplinary material to illustrate the environmental, social, and political histories of communities that host U.S. bases in the region. The other force behind the food class is what I hope will be my book second project, the history of Spam (the canned meat) around the Pacific.

Though I put together a fairly beefy (pardon the pun) course reader, I also assigned the entirety of George Solt’s excellent and accessible The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze (UC Press, 2014). On top of the digital projects, we are also compiling a digital bibliography of food history sources and a collaborate recipe book of dishes that we discover through our research. As much as possible, I hope to make the products of our research available to anyone who may interested.

In the hopes of fostering collaboration, I’m sharing the syllabi for both of these courses and would be very interested to hear how other educators have approached food and empire in their own classrooms. I’ll have a lot more to say about the class and hope to share some of the student projects once we finish in late-March (gulp)!

Dustin Wright_Syllabus_HIS 106C Food Empires of Asia and the Pacific

Dustin Wright; Syllabus; US Military Bases and Social Movements in Asia


Assigned readings included George Solt’s work on ramen and a comprehensive course reader.

Digital Exhibit Building Symposium at UCSC

Next Wednesday, the Digital Commons at UCSC’s McHenry Library will be hosting the Digital Exhibit Building Symposium, which is shaping up to be a very engaging day of folks sharing their own visions of the digital humanities and the latest tools of the field. I’m a participant on the panel “Why Build Digital Exhibits,” in which I’ll be discussing The Gail Project, the digital project and exhibition that I co-direct. If you have the opportunity to attend, it’s recommended that you sign-up on the waiting list. Be sure to check out the great workshops on Scalar, Omeka, and the lifecycle of a digital project!

My Take on Obama’s Trip to Hiroshima

President Obama’s trip to Hiroshima today has immense historical significance for both Japan and the US. I have a piece in Thursday’s The Japan Times explaining why I think this could be an important opportunity for historians to open up new debates on the atomic attacks. Check it out!

As a follow-up to my article, I was thrilled to be interviewed yesterday by the excellent Sonali Kolhatkar on her show, Rising Up With Sonali. It was such an honor to appear on her show, which doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. The show aired this morning and can now be streamed online (or below).

Giving Day for The Gail Project

While teaching at UCSC, I am also the co-advisor for The Gail Project, a collaborative public and digital history project that focuses on postwar Okinawa and is specifically centered on the beautiful photographs taken by an American serviceman in the early years of the U.S. occupation. The project is a lot of things: a space for students to collaborate with faculty and conduct hands-on research; the opportunity to gain project development experience; a history-based project that takes students from the classroom at UCSC to the archives and communities of Okinawa.

May 11th is Giving Day at UCSC and The Gail Project was among the projects selected by the university to compete for donor funding. We are reaching out to all of our supporters, asking for any amount they can contribute: $1? $10? $1000? A generous individual has agreed to contribute $5000 in matching funds, so any contribution you make will go even further. As part of Giving Day, the project that receives the most donors (not dollars) will receive an additional $10,000, which means that even the smallest contribution from our supporters can help us win. Please go this website to help us meet this goal and thank you very much for your support! 

Check out the video below for an introduction to the exciting work that we are doing:


Gearing up for the Association for Asian Studies 2016 Conference

I’m excited for the upcoming Association for Asian Studies conference that will be held in Seattle later this month. Outside of the oysters I plan on eating (I’m coming for you, Taylor), I’ll also be presenting on an interdisciplinary panel entitled “Contentious Legal Boundaries: East and Southeast Asian Sovereignty.” Special thanks to Victoria Reyes at Bryn Mawr for organizing the panel!

Here’s my paper’s abstract:

Activism in the Courts: Popular Challenges to the Legality of Military Bases in Japan

Anti-military base protests rocked Japan throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This paper interrogates two important legal cases regarding local opposition to military bases and militarism: the Sunagawa Incident of 1959 and the Eniwa Incident of 1967. The Sunagawa Incident was a legal case brought against anti-U.S. military base protesters who were accused of trespassing onto a base, while the Eniwa Incident referred to the prosecution of a family accused of vandalizing the property of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Both cases became cause célèbre for leftists and peace groups throughout Japan, which forced the presiding judges to look beyond the initial scope of the actual crimes in question and instead address broader legal critiques on the presence of military bases in Japan, a country where militarism is usually understood to be illegal under Article Nine of the constitution. By examining the laws concerning the physical presence of military bases throughout Japan’s topography, along with the judges’ ruling opinions, I draw attention to the legal roots of citizen-led anti-base activism in postwar Japan. Finally, this paper addresses the relationship of these two court cases to anti-base movements in Japan today.

Schedule: April 1, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Washington State Convention Center, 2nd Floor, Room 214

This is my third AAS conference in as many years, and I constantly find the panels to be exciting and enlightening. Hope to see you there!