Between the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the Japanese Empire experienced outflows of its people to both its own colonies and foreign countries that were mainly located in the Asia-Pacific region. In their destinations, a majority of these migrants were engaged in physical labor in agricultural, construction, and lumbering industries. Coffee production also became a significant economic activity for many Japanese migrants in Brazil as well as some in Hawai‘i (the US territory, 1898–1959), Taiwan (the Japanese colony, 1895–1945), and Saipan (part of Nan’yō, the Japanese mandate, 1920–1945). Previously, historical studies of the Japanese migration have been focused on one-directional and one-site migrations, that is, migrations from Japan to a single destination. This is partly due to a lack of comprehensive statistical data that could enable researches to trace individual multiple-directional trajectories, and partly due to the scholastic divide of studying Japanese migrations according to destinations—whether they moved to the Japanese territories as colonial settlers or non-territories as immigrants. This article utilizes coffee, which has a long history of being connected to global-scale movements, as an analytical lens to highlight more dynamic and multi-directional migrations of Japanese people, including those who moved from Japan, to Hawai‘i, to Saipan, and to Taiwan by being involved in coffee farming or businesses. Furthermore, this article argues that coffee functioned as an agency to connect the metropole of the Japanese Empire, which consumed coffee, and the newly established coffee farms and plantations in Japan’s Taiwan and Saipan. While the project of sending Japanese immigrants to Brazil contributed to the popularization of coffee-drinking culture in urban areas of Japan, Japanese coffee farmers in Hawai‘i played a key role in establishing coffee farms and plantations in Taiwan and Saipan from the 1920s to the 1930s. In this way, part of coffee’s trans-pacific movement was supported by the Japanese diasporic network that linked coffee-producing areas in the Asia-Pacific, where, at the same time, included the areas that absorbed a significant number of Japanese people migrants. These dynamic and trans-pacific interactions between coffee and Japanese diasporic communities indicate that migrations of Japanese people can be considered in the context of the global history of coffee and possibly, other crops and materials.
Insecurity and inequality (both real and perceived) have defined the Japanese Empire as an entity of trade. If one the primary goals of Japan’s leaders during the Meiji period (1868–1912) was to revise the so-called unequal treaties, then having an empire was seen as a necessary means towards achieving this end. From the very beginning, strategic concerns proved inseperable from economic considerations. Imperial expansion into neighboring territories occurred simutaneously and worked hand in hand with forging an industrial nation-state. The empire began with the so-called internal colonization of Hokkaidō and then the Ryūkyū Islands (Okinawa), followed by Taiwan and Korea, spoils of victory after the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, respectively. Taiwan and Korea represented Japan’s formal empire, and Japan developed these territories primarily as agricultural appendages—unequal and exclusive trading partners to provide foodstuffs for a growing, industrializing population in the home islands. As Japan developed its formal colonies toward a goal of agricultural self-sufficiency, it also pursued informal empire in China, which took shape as a competitive yet cooperative effort with other Western imperial powers under the treaty port system. World War I represented a turning point for imperial trade: At this time, Japan took advantage of a Europe preoccupied with internecine battles to ramp up the scope and scale of industrial production, which made Japan increasingly reliant on China—and particularly Manchuria—for raw materials necessary for heavy industry such as coal and iron. Japanese efforts to tighten its grip on China brought it into conflict with the Western imperialist powers and with a strengthening Chinese nation. Another major turning point was Japan’s 1931 takeover of Manchuria and the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo; these actions ended the treaty port system and sparked conflicts between China and Japan that broke out into full-out war by 1937. Although Japan was largely able to achieve agricultural self-sufficiency by the 1930s, it was unable to be fully self-reliant in essential resources for industry (and war) such as oil, tin, and iron. Resource self-sufficiency was a major goal for the construction of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the early 1940s. The Japanese Empire officially ended with defeat in 1945.