Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

Islands Too Beautiful for their Names : Local Memories and Japanese Colonial Rule (1914-1944) in the Northern Mariana Islands


Although indigenous Northern Mariana Islanders used to be Japanese subjects, these experiences have been marginalized by mainstream postwar histories. This project takes an islander-centered approach by assessing islanders' memories of everyday life during conditions of colonialism and war towards productively challenging dominant nationalized discourses about Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) history. Using interviews with people who grew up during the Japanese era along with textual sources, I assess how colonial institutions managed islanders versus how they have remembered their own lives. Their memories of the Japanese period can be ambivalent and nostalgic, and they offer comparative and transnational interpretations of multiply colonized NMI history. Japanese colonialism tends to be interpreted through narratives that describe WWII as an American "liberation" of the islands and islanders from Japanese rule. These narratives conflate Japanese colonialism with war and ignore the historical and ongoing relevance of the interwar thirty years of colonial rule. The dominance of settlers in the NMI at a ratio of ten to one by 1937 was the greatest rate of displacement in the empire. Settlers transformed local economies along with islanders' daily lives, meanwhile settlers and islanders had opportunities to interact in the colonial towns which led to the emergence of some multiracial families (Chapter 3). Although islanders were informally called "third-class nationals" at the time and had limited opportunities, some people excelled in Japanese schools and got prestigious or high-paying jobs after graduation (Chapter 4). During the war, a few dozen NMI Chamorro men were sent to Guam with the 1941 invasion and these painful experiences came to dominate public memory, yet the majority of Northern Mariana Islanders experienced this conflict as civilians running from a war not of their own making (Chapter 5). Postwar U.S. repatriation policies removed Japanese and Okinawan residents and separated multiracial families while contributing to a postwar social climate in which it has been difficult or even risky to talk about the Japanese era or family relationships that are its most enduring outcome (Chapter 6). Local NMI communities would benefit from continuing to think beyond nationalized forms of knowledge for history and identity today

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View