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Faking LibertiesReligious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan$
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Jolyon Baraka Thomas

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226618791

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226618968.001.0001

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Domestic Problems, Diplomatic Solutions

Domestic Problems, Diplomatic Solutions

(p.75) 3 Domestic Problems, Diplomatic Solutions
Faking Liberties

Jolyon Baraka Thomas

University of Chicago Press

In the 1910s and 1920s, Japanese representatives had to prove time and again that their country had truly embraced religious freedom. One problem was that a journalistic trope of “Mikadoism” (emperor worship) dominated anglophone media just as racial tensions were rising around the massive emigrations of Japanese contract laborers to the American west coast and Hawai‘i. Another problem arose when world leaders responded to Japan's proposal to include a racial equality clause in the League of Nations charter by suggesting that the equality proposal was antithetical to religious freedom. Against this tense diplomatic backdrop, Japanese Buddhists in Hawai‘i confronted challenges related to rights and race, land and labor. Because Buddhists ran language schools for second-generation Japanese children and regularly supported Japanese laborers in conflicts with plantation bosses, members of Hawai‘i’s white landowning class called for the eradication of the language schools as hotbeds of seditious ideology. Buddhists defended themselves in print by appealing to the American ideal of religious freedom, and they even won a supreme court case on the language school issue in 1927 (Farrington v. Tokushige). Yet the decision made no mention of religion, revealing that Japanese Americans remained largely unable to benefit from America's religious freedom guarantee.

Keywords:   religious freedom, Buddhism, Imamura Yemyō, mikadoism, immigration, language schools, Japanese Americans, diplomacy

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