Greg Robinson

Greg Robinson, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at l'Université du Québec À Montréal, a French-language institution in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of the books By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001), A Tragedy of Democracy; Japanese Confinement in North America (Columbia University Press, 2009), After Camp: Portraits in Postwar Japanese Life and Politics (University of California Press, 2012), and Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era (University of Illinois Press, 2012) and coeditor of the anthology Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road (University of Washington Press, 2008). His historical column “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great,” is a well-known feature of the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper. Robinson's latest book is The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (University Press of Colorado, 2016).

Updated June 2017

politics en

K.K. Kawakami, Cosmopolitan Issei Writer

One intriguing aspect of Japanese immigrant experience before World War II was the diverse intellectual life of community members. Although most early Issei were farmers or laborers, a significant group of writers and thinkers emerged among them. These people found work as Buddhist priests, school teachers, or newspaper editors within Japanese communities.

As Eiichiro Azuma shows, they wrote primarily in Japanese, identified with the old country, and were heavily invested in building a “shin nippon,” a new Japan in the New World. Yet overlapping with them was a selection of students, artists, and professionals who might be termed “cosmopolitan Issei ...

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politics en

The Unsung History of the Japanese American Committee for Democracy

The Japanese American Committee for Democracy (JACD), a New York-based social and political group of the 1940s, has been effectively ignored in the history of Japanese Americans. The JACD held rallies to support the American war effort in World War II, helped Japanese Americans in New York to find jobs and housing, and provided a forum for like-minded Issei and Nisei to meet up and socialize. Their monthly publication, the JACD Newsletter, offers historians a vital resource on what was going on in Nikkei circles in New York—especially during the early months of 1942, when the city was home ...

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identity en

Toru Matsumoto: The New York Years

My recent Discover Nikkei article on Tsuyoshi Matsumoto has prompted interest from readers in other members of the Matsumoto family, such as Tsuyoshi’s sister Takako Shibusawa, a leader in social welfare work in postwar Japan, and most especially Tsuyoshi’s younger brother Toru. Toru Matsumoto (1913-1979) was actually the more-renowned brother during his lifetime: in the United States during the 1940s he was known as the author of multiple books, including the notable 1946 memoir A Brother is a Stranger. Following his return to Japan, he became celebrated as a popular media star and teacher of English. Oddly enough ...

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business en

The Eyes Have It: Nisei Contact Lens Pioneer Dr. Newton Wesley

One fun area of work in history is discovering the connections between everyday products and their unheralded inventors. There is the street light, developed by African-American inventor and engineer Lewis H. Latimer. Or take the Bing cherry, developed by Ah Bing, a Chinese immigrant horticulturist in Oregon. Or there is the case of Frank Zamboni, the son of Italian immigrants in Idaho who developed the ice-resurfacing machine that bears his name. One particularly intriguing figure in this respect is Dr. Newton K. Wesley, the Nisei inventor and optometrist who played a leading role in the development of the contact lens ...

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war en

Tsuyoshi Matsumoto—A Different Wartime Story

The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 had immediate repercussions for Japanese Americans living throughout the nation—not least the Issei and Nisei civilians in Hawaii living near the naval base who were wounded by falling bombs. Amid the nationwide confusion and anger that resulted from the attack, people with Japanese faces were targeted for hostility, harassment, and insults, as well as official discrimination. 

Particularly targeted were the Issei. Barred by law from naturalization, however long they had resided in the United States, they had none of the legal protections of citizenship. Even before Congress voted a Declaration ...

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