Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Marginalia: Langston Hughes in Japan

     In my previous post I described how African American social activists and artists visited Japan during the interwar period. During this interval, contacts between these two ethnic groups were at an all-time high and benefitted extensive cultural exchange. Among those who visited was Langston Hughes (1902-1967), an eminent Harlem Renaissance leader and campaigner for political and social change. In the article I covered for my essay, Prof. Yukiko Koshiro describes the importance of Hughes' visit in the following way:
Langston Hughes, though never a member of the Communist Party, was one of the African Americans who cultivated close ties with Japanese leftists. In 1933, during a tour of Moscow, Hughes met Sano Seki, a communist exile from Japan, a renowned theatrical producer, and also a friend of Ishigaki Eitarō. Sano arranged Hughes' visit to Japan on his way from Moscow to Beijing. Once in Japan, Hughes was overwhelmed by the welcome given by Sano's former colleagues at the Tsukiji Mini Theater, then a center for leftist avant-garde performances, and also by Japan's leftist intellectual artists, writers, and journalists. To his surprise, Hughes found his portrait featured on the cover of the September 1932 issue of shin-ei-bungaku [the newer spirit in british and american literature] (the original title featured all lowercase letters), the Japanese proletarian literary journal, which had placed such literary laureates as James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, and Sinclair Lewis on its cover.
Unlike [W.E.B.] Du Bois, Hughes flatly rejected Japan's Pan-Asianism. Hughes was disturbed that Japanese media reports on crimes committed by Koreans placed an unnecessary emphasis on their racial character, just like the American media's treatment of African Americans. He recognized Japanese racism against other Asians as a fueling force for their aggression. Due to his insights into the nature of Japan's Pan-Asianism, Hughes did not receive the Japanese government's welcome extended to Du Bois. On the contrary, on his second visit to Japan after a several-week sojourn in China, Hughes was detained by the Japanese police and questioned about the purpose of his visits to China and Japan and also his relationship with Japanese leftists. Until his departure from Japan two days later, two plainclothes police officers followed him everywhere. One Japanese was also arrested for his contact with Hughes during his first stay in Japan. 
     I decided to look into Hughes' own account of these events and so, in my research, I stumbled upon his autobiography, I Wander as I Wonder. I'm rendering below an excerpt related directly to his troubles experienced in Japan. I decided to ignore his pleasant accomplishments as a tourist (concisely and eloquently described in the sixth chapter entitled Color around the Globe) and to focus more on the negative aspects of the visit, including Hughes' criticism leveled at the racism behind Japan's imperialistic exploits, already summarized by Prof. Koshiro.

Works cited:

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