New lives in the ancestral homeland: return migration from South America to mainland Japan and Okinawa

Horikawa, Naoko

Social sciences
January 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 Naoko Horikawa. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This work presents a study of identity formation in migrants of Japanese and Okinawan descent who relocate from countries of South America to mainland Japan and to the island prefecture of Okinawa, initially to seek economic advantage. The migrants, called Nikkeijin, are predominantly progeny of earlier migrants from Japan to South America. In a cross-generational sense, they are return migrants.

The ethnographic study, based on field research conducted in two sites on the mainland and in Okinawa, compares Nikkeijin experience and attitudes as they interact with native Japanese. Because of their Japanese background, Nikkeijin benefit from privileged visa status; nonetheless, in Japan they are treated as foreigners, and their identity diversifies. Nikkeijin are found to construct simultaneous social fields in both the country of departure and the new environment. This situation may be recognized through the concept of transnationalism.

I argue that Nikkeijin self-identity can be multiple and flexible, and does not necessarily coincide with social identity. An increasing and officially promoted diasporic consciousness among migrants of Okinawan descent would seem to produce a different ethnic response to any on the mainland and a greater potential for integration. My thesis should contribute to the understanding of identity in Nikkeijin return migration.

Department of Social Sciences, The University of Hull
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