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“Not like a Congo Line”: Studying Abroad, Striking Abroad in Tokyo 1969

Sun, June 26, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 108


This paper explores a small strike organized by University of California (UC) exchange students studying abroad at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo in 1969. Only briefly addressed in some news outlets, this minor event quickly became eclipsed by more spectacular demonstrations and protests. And yet, the participants’ motivations and interpretations of their activism forged several links between activist cultures and experiences in the United States and Japan. It is a site from which to examine how more sweeping historical narratives play in the lives of individuals. In exploring how the small group of UC students interacted with their study abroad administration, with the ICU administration, with ICU student activists, with the Tokyo-based “gaikokujin Beheiren” (Foreigner Peace for Vietnam! Committee), and with each other, this paper draws attention to the fine-grained textures that can constitute transnational alliances. However, as cautioned by one of my participant interviewees: “A snake dance demonstration is not like a congo line.” It is not so simple to link up with a protest in a foreign context, no matter how sympathetic one is. This paper explores not only alliances and shared understandings, but also missed connections and misunderstandings. Drawing extensively on oral history interviews, this paper will also discuss the troubles and meanings created through oral history research, and address how “living history” often exists in the spaces between personal and public histories.