31 May - Matthew M. Booker and Kjell Ericson on Labour and Power in Transpacific Tidelands, 1945-1970s

Sebestian Kroupa Discussion

Members of this list may be interested in the following event on Labour and Power in Transpacific Tidelands, 1945-1970s, organised by the Pacific Circle.


The Pacific Circle promotes research and exchanges in the history of science, medicine, and other practices of knowledge in the Asia-Pacific region, broadly construed. To join the Pacific Circle mailing list, register at http://jiscmail.ac.uk/PACIFIC-CIRCLE.



The Seed Oyster Inspectors: Labour and Power in Transpacific Tidelands, 1945–1970s

Matthew M. Booker (North Carolina State University) and Kjell Ericson (Kyoto University)


Online seminar (Zoom) – Registration

Wednesday, 31 May 2022 – 7am London time

Tuesday, 30 May 2022 – 8pm Honolulu time


Abstract: For most of the half-century between the 1920s and 1970s, young “seed” oysters collected in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture were exported in huge quantities each winter and spring. Their primary destination was North America’s Washington State, where the tiny shellfish were grown, canned, sold, and eaten across the United States. In Washington, white growers rebranded magaki as Pacific oysters. These largely overlooked transpacific movements of “Pacific” oysters had profound consequences in Miyagi, Washington, and beyond. Focusing on the Miyagi-Washington seed oyster trade, we argue, offers opportunities to examine ideas and practices of migration, transplantation, and exclusion across the Pacific.

We join other historians examining migration and environmental change from situated and transpacific perspectives. Our presentation addresses a specific puzzle of mobility, labor, and race along far-flung Pacific tidelands. After 1941, war and internment removed Japanese go-betweens from the existing transpacific seed oyster trade – and Japanese laborers from Washington State’s tidelands. But demand for seed oyster imports remained. What changed was that, after 1945, Washington State required inspection of oysters transplanted “within the state from without” for so-called Japanese oyster drills, shellfish-eating sea snails. Using the 1945 regulations as a pretext, from 1947 the Washington State Fisheries Department, in conjunction with major state oyster growers, sent state officials to Miyagi villages to inspect seed oysters for drills and other pests. Washington inspectors attempted to manage Miyagi tidelands in the name of protecting the state’s tidelands. In parallel, villagers and Tokyo officials pursued their own visions of export-based livelihoods and alternative modes of “Japanese” inspection. We explore the contexts behind, consequences of, and complex resistance to the Washington State inspections, which continued for thirty years into the 1970s.

Dr Matthew Morse Booker is Vice President for Scholarly Programs at the National Humanities Center and Professor of Environmental History at North Carolina State University. He publishes in agricultural, environmental and food history.

Dr Kjell Ericson is a Program-Specific Senior Lecturer at Kyoto University’s Center for the Promotion of Interdisciplinary Education and Research and teaches history in the Kyoto-Heidelberg Joint Degree in Transcultural Studies (JDTS) Program. His research interests are in histories of environment, technology, and law, in and around the Japanese archipelago. An in-progress monograph project examines Japan’s southern Mie Prefecture, a region that was once the global center of saltwater pearl cultivation.


With all best wishes,


Dr Sebestian Kroupa
Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow
Department of History and Philosophy of Science | Wolfson College
University of Cambridge