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), Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era (University of Illinois Press, 2012), and The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (University Press of Colorado, 2016), as well as 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 coedited volume John Okada - The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press, 2018).

Updated June 2018

war en

George Yamaoka for the Defense: The story of a Transnational Nisei Lawyer and Businessman

The life of George Yamaoka, a Japanese American lawyer who was appointed by the Allies to defend accused Japanese war criminals after World War II, represents an interesting variation on the Nisei experience.

Yamaoka was born in Seattle on January 26, 1903. His father, Otohiko Yamaoka, was a Japan-born lawyer and community leader. As a youth, the senior Yamaoka had become one of the youngest men ever elected to the Diet. After being imprisoned for treason for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate officials in Shizuoka, he spent ten years in prison before being released through the intervention of ...

Read more

war en

Erna P. Harris: An African-American Champion of Equality

One part of the history of Japanese Americans that has been curiously neglected is the disproportionate support offered them by Black Americans at the time of their mass wartime confinement. Victims of racial injustice themselves, African Americans demonstrated different forms of solidarity to their Nikkei counterparts during those years. In particular, there are numerous examples of African American writers and journalists who spoke out in support of the rights of Japanese Americans in the wake of Executive Order 9066. The celebrated poet Langston Hughes devoted several of his columns in the Chicago Defender to opposing the government’s policy as ...

Read more

war en

Japanese Americans and the legacy of Hugh Macbeth

The passing of Hugh Macbeth, Jr., who died in September 2019 at the age of 100, offers us an opportunity to reflect once more on the story of the remarkable Macbeth family and especially Hugh Macbeth, Sr and Jr, the father-son team of African American lawyers who provided outstanding support to Japanese Americans in the World War II era. One of the most gratifying and inspiring experiences of my life was uncovering their story and bringing it to public attention. In the process, I was privileged to get to know Hugh Macbeth Jr. and learn about his life.

I first ...

Read more

culture en

The French (Nikkei) Connection: Japanese Americans in Midcentury Paris

My recent article on the French-born mixed-race Japanese writer Kikou Yamata, whose works were published in translation in the United States and discussed in Nisei literary reviews, has inspired me to delve more into the fascinating and varied history of the connections that Japanese Americans forged with France during the period before and after World War II, and the nature of their cultural exchange.

This is an enormous subject, which encompasses such diverse elements as the experience of the Nisei visitors, students and creative artists who went to Paris and outside, including their interactions with Nikkei from around the world ...

Read more

culture en

Kikou Yamata: Rediscovering the First Nisei Writer

Throughout the 20th century, Nikkei writers have dreamed of writing “the Great Nisei novel,” a work of literature that would express the Japanese/American experience and show off the writing talents of the second generation. Critics have meanwhile drawn attention to existing works as the “greatest”. Frank Abe, my friend and collaborator on the new anthology John Okada, claims the prize for Okada’s novel, No-No Boy (1957). I have several favorite candidates, including Gene Oishi’s remarkable work, Fox Drum Bebop (2014). Others have lauded Japanese Canadian author Joy Kogawa’s haunting novel, Obasan (1976).

These debates tend to ...

Read more