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Gerald Iguchi

Specialty area(s)

Japanese History, Asian History, and World History; Cultural Studies; Buddhism and other Religions

Brief biography

I was born in San Diego, and grew up near the Mexican border. My dad farmed a piece of land for years that was literally on the fence separating the two countries. We later moved north, to Chula Vista, between south San Diego and downtown San Diego. I believe I have unique perspectives on a wide variety of things because of my particular background: I was adopted at birth by my parents, Yoshiko and Kenji, who were second-generation (San Diego-born) Americans of wholly Japanese ancestry.

I am myself of 3/4 Scandinavian ancestry and 1/4 Japanese ancestry, but what we used to call "blood" means little to me. From earliest infancy, all I ever knew was a Japanese American social and cultural milieu within the larger context of multi-ethnic, multicultural southern California, and (with a 25% caveat invisible to most) I am the product of interracial adoption. My story makes no sense to many (some do not even believe it), and I often seem to not fit into others' preconceived categories or to cohere with what may be their unconscious assumptions regarding what is right or what makes sense.

For one thing, I believe my origins and personal history transgress the hierarchical binary of what I call and what remains in the twenty-first century United States an imperialist, Orientalist, or racial common sense stipulating that people of apparent European ancestry should be in parental roles and people of color should be in the role of children. All of this contributes to making me an involuntarily heterodox or unorthodox person and thinker. For example, I tend to perceive heterogeneity where others see homogeneity, creation of truths when others perceive the discovery of truth. What seems natural to others is often clearly historically constructed and neither natural nor inevitable to me.

I did very badly in high school, but after transferring to the University of California at Santa Barbara from a community college in Chula Vista, I earned a B.A. in Religious Studies. I focused especially on Asian religions, and in particular Japanese religions because I kept taking the courses of an interesting professor of French nationality whose area of concern was the religions of Japan. He also encouraged me to begin reading thinkers such as Nietzsche, Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault. I have to admit that one reason why I chose to go to school in Santa Barbara was because somebody jokingly mentioned to me that UCSB stood for University of California, Surf Board (and at the time I went surfing - usually at Imperial Beach, near Mexico - nearly every day), but I grew intellectually at UCSB in ways I could not have previously imagined.

After graduating from UCSB and briefly returning to the San Diego area where I worked as a busboy at a restaurant, I spent four years teaching English at offices, factories, research facilities, and a government ministry in the greater Tokyo (Kantō) region. I learned a great deal about Japan, the United States, and the rest of the world during my time working in the Kantō region and living in a working-class Tokyo neighborhood. Afterwards, I returned to California, and after taking a six-month trip to Thailand, Nepal, India, Greece, Spain and France, I earned an M.A. at UCSB in East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies. My thesis was on a 1924 modernist novel by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, and it dealt with the political significance of intersections of religious symbolism, literary masochism, and representations of Asian and Western civilization in the context of modern Japan.

I followed obtaining my Master's Degree with earning a Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego in History, where my dissertation focused on Nichirenism or Nichirenshugi (日蓮主義), a nationalist and pro-imperialism, modern Buddhist movement in Japan from the late-nineteenth century to the period immediately following World War II. In the course of my research I developed expertise in centuries of Buddhist thought and practice in Japan and the rest of Asia. Besides Tanaka Chigaku, the leader of the movement, my work focused on children's writer and poet Miyazawa Kenji, seminal military officer Ishiwara Kanji, and Buddhist Socialist Senoo Girō. I spent two years doing archival research and preliminary writing at the University of Tokyo, and I completed minor fields of study in comparative fascism, and globalization/imperialism at UCSD.

My scholarly interests include:

- Modernity
- Capitalism
- Imperialism
- Nationalism
- Culture
- Literature, Art, and Film
- Orientalism and Pan-Asianism
- Asian Religions and Religions in General
- Reification and Commodity Fetishism
- Affect
- Abjection
- Ethics and Ethology
- Nietzsche
- Walter Benjamin
- Deleuze & Guattari
- Radical and Reactionary Social Movements
- Culinary Culture and History

Current courses at UWL

- HIS 382: Imperialism in Asia and the Pacific
- HIS 394: Modern Japanese History
- HIS 395: Postwar Japanese History
- HIS 300: Japanese Food History
- HIS 413: Topics In Cultural History: Intro to Cultural Studies
- HIS 250: Asian History Survey
- HIS 200: Historiography
- HIS 102: Cultural Materialism and World History

Special note on my version of HIS 102:

The UW-L History Department asks faculty teaching HIS 102 to teach a world history course with a given theme. I call my theme "cultural materialism and world history" (officially: "material culture"). In reality what I call the course is a misnomer because what I do or have is more of a method than a theme. I teach about seven periods: ancient, medieval, early modern, nineteenth century, twentieth century, and twenty-first century/contemporary. In each period there is one item, a material embodiment of culture one might say, upon which lectures, discussions, readings, and assignments focus. The Focuses are: Spartacus the man, Yersinia pestis (the pathogen that caused the Black Plague), the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Lin Zexu's letter to Queen Victoria asking her to halt British opium pushing in China, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and a t-shirt with Che Guevara's image that was made in China for US consumers.

In each module or segment of this world history course, the material object of focus is only a starting point, which I use to begin conversations about historical texts and contexts surrounding that starting point in ways involving the entire planet. These discussions furthermore move backwards and forwards in time. The periodizations and focuses I maintain give the course a structure and narrative, but within that framework I am able to address what I strive to make a relational global history that is both cohesive and inclusive, which tells a story that is coherent, but which also incorporates irony and a sensitivity to contradiction in historical actuality.


Ph.D. History, University of California at San Diego, 2006
M.A. East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1997
B.A. Religious Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1990

Teaching history

I have taught courses on Asian and Japanese religions, Japanese popular culture, Anime (Japanese animated films and television) and History, and at UC Irvine, Literature and History, and an Introduction to Asia-Focused Cultural Studies. My courses continue to involve the matters I addressed in such courses.

I am deeply involved in the development of UW-L History's new emphasis in Cultural and Social History, and I may develop courses that help this emphasis evolve in the near and distant future.

Two-thirds of my higher education was technically outside of the History discipline, and that background continues to influence how I approach various matters. For better or worse, I am an intellectual nomad. Nonetheless, I believe that my understandings of whatever phenomena I address are exceedingly historical in nature and consciousness: I understand all things as in-flux, which is to say in a state of change, albeit at differing speeds (cheese, for example, changes more quickly than plastic). I further understand everything as always already hybrid. In my conceptual universe, there is no permanence and no purity. My teaching and teaching history reflect this.