Amid the lackluster halls of Cal State Long Beach’s faculty offices, one door stands out, marked with a paper printout of a celebratory tweet from President Jane Close Conoley. The tweet reads, “Great news: CSULB history professor, Dr. Michiko Takeuchi was awarded a prestigious NEH award. Our faculty rock.”
Michiko Takeuchi, associate professor of Japanese history since 2004, was recently awarded a $50,400 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The award will fund research for her book, “Early Coalitions Between Japanese and American Feminists, from World War I to the U.S. Occupation of Japan.”
Takeuchi’s research is largely focused on elements of feminism within interactions between Japanese and Americans pre-World War II. Her doctoral dissertation, “Pan-Pan Girls and GIs: The Japan-U.S. military prostitution system in occupied Japan (1945-1952),” delves into the little-known world of pan-pan girls, or “comfort women.”
Pan-pan girls were Japanese women who were hired to provide sexual services to U.S. Occupation Forces in Japan as a collaborative project between the Japanese and U.S. governments.
“I learned a lot on a personal level from interactions between American servicemen and women and the Japanese people that can’t be learned from textbooks,” Takeuchi said.
Through her research, she’s also discovered that much of the feminist movement was influenced by the ideas of both Japanese and American feminists.
“Japanese women took the lead in creating the idea of women’s liberation,” Takeuchi said. “It wasn’t something given by American occupation. It was actually [the] collaborative work of Japanese and American feminists. I really think that example shows that what people believe, principles, can cross borders and race and cultures and all kinds of barriers that we create.”
Takeuchi plans to spend the summer in Japan and Switzerland completing research, while writing book proposals, and shopping for potential publishers for her book. She shared her method to continually progressing her research, despite difficult time constraints.
“It’s a myth that we need to have a chunk of time to accomplish something,” Takeuchi said.
She explained that she follows a daily routine to stay active in her research.
“At least 15 minutes a day,” Takeuchi said. “I do my own work because anyone can make 15 minutes.”
Prior to becoming a lecturer at CSULB in 2004, Takeuchi was also a 49er. Takeuchi credits her predecessor and late Japanese history professor, Sharon Sievers, for inspiring her to pursue an academic career.
“I read this book [called] ‘Flowers in Salt’ and I thought, ‘This is a great book. Who wrote it?’” Takeuchi said.
After reading the book, Takeuchi realized that the author was Sievers. Takeuchi later asked Sievers to be her mentor.
“When I got into UCLA’s Ph.D. program, I told professor Sievers. She told everyone, ‘Michiko got into UCLA Ph.D.—she’s trying to replace me!’” said Takeuchi, giggling. “I said no, I’m not trying to replace you.”
Ultimately, Takeuchi did take over Sievers’ position as Japanese history professor.
David Shafer, history department chair, has watched Takeuchi’s evolution from student to professor and expressed his excitement for her recent accomplishment.
“Anytime a colleague is a recipient of a major award, it puts Cal State Long Beach on the map,” Shafer said. “In doing research, the faculty at Cal State Long Beach aren’t just doing this for their peers. They’re not just doing it to fulfill their own desires, their own passions, but actually the research makes them better instructors and we need to recognize that.”
Nathan Gonzalez, a senior majoring in history, is one of Takeuchi’s current students. He shared his thoughts on how Takeuchi challenges students in the classroom.
“We’ve talked a lot in class about culture and how it affects your mentality,” Gonzalez said. “Right now, we’re doing a compare and contrast of Americans views towards Japanese, and [vice versa]. You can see a really big difference.”
This article has been updated for clarification on May 8 at 8:46 p.m. Michiko Takeuchi is an associate professor of Japanese history.