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Pacific Pioneers: Japanese Journeys to America and Hawaii, 1850-80 (Asian American Experience) Hardcover – April 19, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"This excellent study of the first Japanese sojourners to America and Hawaii places them within the context of national developments on both sides of the Pacific... Van Sant wonderfully narrates and analyzes their engaging stories, those of ship-wrecked sailors, college students, workers, and even some utopians." -- Choice "Van Sant has the language skills to do archival work, coupled with a solid grasp of Japanese history. He has produced a small but important work." -- Paul Spickard, American Historical Review "A solid, well-written study. Featuring splendid biographical profiles, it provides excellent insight into Japan's modernization and the origins of Japanese immigration to the United States." -- Robert D. Parmet, International Migration Review ADVANCE PRAISE "This well-written and skillful blend of Japanese and Japanese American history fills a gap in our understanding of the formation of the Nikkei community in the United States. It provides us with a new appreciation of these early pioneers and their impact on both Japan and the United States." -- Wayne Patterson, Harvard University

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Product Details

  • Series: Asian American Experience
  • Hardcover: 194 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (April 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252025601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252025600
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John E. Van Sant is a history professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham where he teaches world history, East Asian history, and is especially interested interested in Japanese history and Japan's relations with the West.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert H. Sayers on July 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a truly absorbing read. Author John Van Sant casts light on a little-explored corner of American history about which, I'm willing to bet, few readers have any knowledge at all. Some may be vaguely aware that a handful of shipwrecked Japanese sailors fetched up on American shores in the first half of the nineteenth century or that large Japanese embassies toured this country in 1860 and 1871-72. But how many know that scores of Japanese students were living in such an unlikely place as New Brunswick, New Jersey in the late 1860s and 1870s, studying about American institutions as well as "big guns" and "big ships." Or that several young Japanese aristocrats--including a later titan of Meiji Japan--were holed up in a utopian commune, under the watchful eye of an eccentric guru, doing housework and tending grapevines? Or that other countrymen and women of less elevated status, fleeing worsening economic conditions back home, were scraping out a bare living in Hawaii and northern California?
In clear economic prose, thankfully free of academic jargon, Van Sant explores each of these expatriate communities in some depth. (Oddly enough, the author makes no mention whatsoever of the troupes of Japanese entertainers criss-crossing the country during this same period. Even Mark Twain complained bitterly in 1867 about having to compete with a company of Japanese acrobats for an audience.) He also does the historical record a considerable service by freeing some of these pioneers--the "mysterious" Wakamatsu Colony of Gold Hill, California being a prime example--from an encrustation of myth. If I have any quibble at all with Pacific Pioneers, it is that it is too short. Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robrt McBarton on December 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I think that Dr Van Sant tells a compelling tale of the first wave of Japanese settlers who came to the United States and Hawaii. This book is for anybody who is interested in Asian American History. It should be the first book cracked open for any student who signs up to take any Asian studies class, either in the undergraduate or post-graduate world. I loved it.
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Format: Hardcover
Between 1853, when the United States began pressuring Japan to open itself to outside commerce, and the late 19th century, when Japanese laborers began moving to Hawaii and America on a large scale, a tiny band of Japanese acted - consciously or not - as the first reporters of fact and opinion about America to Japan.
John Van Sant, professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi at the time this book was written, estimates the total of Japanese sojourners between 1850 and 1880 at no more than 900. They were divided about equally between students come to learn western ways, diplomats and merchants on business trips.
One of the very first, however, was a teen-age fisherman, whose boat was blown into the Pacific, where the crew was rescued by an American ship.
The boy, who eventually became an American citizen and used the name Joseph Heco, was adopted by kindly Americans in San Francisco, who saw to his education in the older states. (Missionaries had a large part as intermediaries in the first contacts between Americans and Japanese, and the missionaries also had connections with Rutgers, which explains why that New Jersey school attracted so many early Japanese students.)
Heco, an attractive personality and evidently a bright boy, eventually returned to Japan. It was still against the law to be a Christian, so he kept his conversion quiet.
Van Sant, using letters and Heco's two memoirs, shows how the boy adopted a wide range of American ideas and habits, from business practices to the racial opinions of his age.
While many Japanese sojourners either felt an obligation to help introduce the two cultures to each other, or saw personal advantages in doing so, Heco seems to have been more or less indifferent to the big picture.
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Format: Hardcover
John Van Sant, a professor of Japanese History at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has written an approachable and engaging look back at some of the very first Japanese travelers to the United States in the mid to late 1800s.
For the student of Asian-American History or Early Modern Asian Japanese History, Pacific Pioneers, is an invaluable reference that bridges the gap between the broad view of early Japan-U.S. interaction and the Japanese political reaction to it. Many of the popular books that deal with this area of history are concerned with its larger events such as the Perry and Iwakura Missions.
Van Sant's book is about individuals who came to a foreign land, and were instrumental in defining how the Western world viewed a recently opened island nation. Van Sant's scholarship is through and compiles a great deal of information that is often lost in the larger events of the period. Even those who aren't interested in Asian or Asian-American History can appreciate the people Van Sant has researched for their sense of wonder and discovery as some of the first to leave their homeland, which was closed off to nearly all foreign intercourse for over 200 years.
I find the book especially engaging because it examines how Americans reacted to their foreign visitors during a time when man of today's stereotypes about the Japanese culture had not been developed. Also, by examining the way in which the New World was viewed by the Japanese visitors, the reader can see how foreigners reacted to the Western world and found their culture to be exotic, captivating, and at times, frightening. The book is a revealing and honest look at how different cultures are viewed by people that were truly foreign to them.
A book I recommend for anyone who is interested in history on a very personal and revealing level.
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