Yuji Ichioka

Ever wonder who coined the term Asian American? Here is a story about its maker Yuji Ichioka. His work led to previously uninvestigated sources of Japanese language to dramatically reshape the science of the prewar Japanese American experience.

Yuji Ichioka was born in San Francisco on June 23, 1936. Ichioka and his family were incarcerated in Tanforan Assembly Center and Topaz when he was a child. After the war, they returned to San Francisco and Ichioka graduated from Berkeley High school in 1954.

After High school he spent three years in the army after which he went to UCLA and graduated there as history major in 1962. Later he entered graduate school at Columbia University in Chinese history and subsequently worked with juvenile delinquent youth for a New York social service agency. He studied the Japanese language in preparation for the trip to Japan in 1966.

In 1967 he became a student of an M.A. program of East Asian Studies at Berkeley. In that time he was also a student activist and had formed the Asian American political Alliance. Regarding the term Asian American he is responsible for its use. He also taught the first Asian American classes at UCLA in 1969, where he was also an associate director of the Asian American Studies Center.

Image credits: text photo – Free Asian Image on Unsplash - Jason Leung

Because of his inspiration and affinity for Asian American History he was drawn to the Japanese American research project collection at UCLA. In 1974 they published the first bibliography called the Buried Past. Ichioka used that material to write a series of influential journal articles on previously unknown aspects of Japanese American experience which include essays on Issei leftists, prostitutes, the Japanese Associations, Issei reaction to alien land laws and exclusion, and many other topics. These essays were published after his death in 2006 under the title Before Internment: Essays in Prewar Japanese American History, edited by Gordon Chang and Eiichiro Azuma. From these essays came his war winning book The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924. He later studied the interwar generation and the taboo topics that were active in the period (Japanese nationalism amongst Japanese Americans and Japanese Americans in the Japanese empire).

Although most of his work focused on the prewar period, he also organized an academic conference in 1987 that re-examined the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study. The proceedings of the conference were published in 1989 under the title Views from Within: The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study.

Regarding his advancement at UCLA, he never completed a Ph.D and remained a research associate of Asian American Studies Center and an adjunct associate professor of history.

Besides his academic work he also gave frequent public lectures, taught community classes and remained active in the Asian American community.

Though he remained a research associate for the rest of his years at UCLA he definitely left a mark in terms of explaining Asian American history and with making the term Asian American.

He died from cancer on September 1, 2002. He had a wife Emma Gee, who outlived him.

Written by: Mislav Zlomislić


Yuji Ichioka | Densho Encyclopedia

Yuji Ichioka - Wikipedia

Mislav Zlomislić is a digital marketing intern of PS Media Enterprise. He is a former student of Zagreb school of economics and management, Zagreb, Croatia


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