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[Apr 24] SMLC Research Seminar Series: Sunazawa Kura’s Memoirs as De-Colonial Text

Date: April 24, 2024 (Wednesday)

Time: 5:30-6:30 pm

Venue: CRT-5.41, 5/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Speaker: Prof. Michael Roellinghoff (Assistant Professor, Japanese Studies Programme, HKU)




In this talk I analyze the experiences of the Indigenous Ainu people during the late 19th and early 20th century amidst Japanese colonial expansion in Hokkaido. In particular, I focus on Ku sukup orusipe: Watashi no ichidai no hanashi (Stories of My Lifetime), the remarkable memoirs of Sunazawa Kura (1897-1990): an Ainu woman from the Asahikawa region. Providing a close reading of Sunazawa’s text alongside archival materials, I analyze the tumultuous years leading up to and immediately following the passing of the 1899 Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act. While Sunazawa emphasized the deleterious effects of colonial policy on her family and community, including famine, disease, and (suspected) murder, her memoirs also urge readers to understand more subtle (and far less studied) aspects of colonization. Nevertheless, based on a lifetime of Ainu language diary entries, this text -- a veritable archive of personal experiences -- points to the resilience and resistance of her community as well. Highlighting her and others’ mixed Ainu-Russian or Ainu-Japanese roots as well as the participation of Japanese settlers in Ainu land defence activities, Sunazawa allows us to see the ambiguities of individuals caught within pervasive colonial structures. In doing so, this text challenges widespread historiographical understandings of essentialized, deeply passive Ainu as having been unilaterally subsumed by (and thereafter disappearing into) the Japanese nation-state.


Speaker’s Bio:


Michael Roellinghoff is an Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at HKU. He is a historian of modern Japan with a focus on the 19th century colonization of Hokkaido and the impact of this colonization on the Indigenous Ainu people. His current research examines related topics such as the role of memorial sites in maintaining colonial power relations, colonialism as a social determinant of health, and personal memoirs as historical texts.

Previous to his arrival at the University of Hong Kong, he was an Associate Researcher at the University of Alberta and a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Tokyo.


All are welcome. No registration is required.

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