Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Center for the Promotion of Interdisciplinary Education and Research, Kyoto University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Area and Cultural Studies, Princeton University
Inventing the Japanese Pearl: Imperial Coastlines, Global Trade, and the Legal Limits of Nature, 1880-1950

My project follows the history of a certain type of object, the cultured pearl, as it circulated between imperial Japanese coastlines and Western markets from the late 19th through the middle of the 20th century. I first examine the production of pearls through patented pearl aquaculture methods in the Japanese empire. Through the analysis and contextualization of an early 1900s pearl patent trial in the Japanese court system and a 1920s pearl fishing rights dispute between Mikimoto and a Mie prefecture village, I investigate how frameworks of patents and property opened up opportunities to test the limits of exclusive production rights. I then look at these pearls as potential objects of trade among producers in the Japanese empire, merchant go-betweens, and consumers in Europe and the United States. Cultured pearls provide a way to examine how commodities, particularly commodities with national or imperial modifiers like the “Japanese” pearl, have been contested and authenticated in localized settings and across borders.