Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Edwin Moise

Committee Member

Dr. William Terry

Committee Member

Dr. Michael Silvestri


This thesis concerns the modern history of Japan’s ethnic minorities. These are the Zainichi Koreans, the Okinawans or Ryukyuan People, and the Ainu. Analyzing the feelings expressed in their literature, the constitution of and shifting nature of each group’s identity is tracked. The central argument of this thesis is that there is something innate to the human adherence towards group identity. It is the goal of this work to prove this claim through Japan’s three ethnic minorities which demonstrated this shared tendency and desire for a solid group identity around which individuals clustered under dire circumstances. These circumstances originated with each group’s conquest, subjugation, and oppression by the modern Japanese state.

From 1868 onwards, the modern Japanese state’s nationalism and imperialist policies threatened the existence of the Ainu and Okinawan peoples. Under policies of forced assimilation, the Ainu and Okinawan peoples experienced the drastic loss of their cultures and languages. Despite these policies, they remained on the periphery of the Japanese nation, never truly considered Japanese. The Zainichi share a similar experience starting in the postwar era. Considered as unwanted non-citizens by Japan, Koreans who stayed in Japan after 1945 struggled for decades to receive recognition as citizens and as people who belonged in Japan.

Each group’s identity shifted over time depending on the context of different periods. However, what they each shared was a desire to adhere to a group identity for self-preservation. As the ascendant form of group identity in the modern era, national identity was and remains the main mode by which individuals of these groups identify with one another. The context of a highly nationalistic Japan and its minorities demonstrates how group identity is socially constructed but also rooted in innate human behaviors. It is the author’s hope that groups of people can bond over this shared human trait and learn to coexist peacefully because of our similarities rather than compete because of our differences.

Included in

Asian History Commons



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