Natives Have an Ally in Japan

Yoshitaka Iwasaki, a doctoral student at Osaka University, strives to teach true Native American history and current tribal culture in Japan.

He’s been fascinated with Native American culture since he was young and that love has grown into a lifelong education for Yoshitaka “Yoshi” Iwasaki, a doctoral student at Osaka University.

Iwasaki is working on his Ph.D. in American Indian history with a concentration on Chickasaw history and lectures extensively in Japan about American and Native American history.

Westerns like “Stagecoach” and “Broken Arrow” aroused his interest in Native Americans, but it was Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown that really motivated him, says a press release from the Chickasaw Nation.

Iwasaki’s goal in his lectures is to break the pervasive stereotypes that exist in Japan about American Indians.

"We know the poverty and the bad stuff about the Native Americans from the newspapers, documents, things like that, but nobody in Japan understands the prosperous side of these people," he told The Daily Ardmoreite. "The Chickasaw tribe, even though it is one of the smallest tribes (in population), it is probably the most prosperous in my opinion."

He visits the tribe often and was in Oklahoma on January 22 to give a lecture at the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. He was also at the University of Oklahoma from 2003-2004 as a Fulbright scholar. During his recent lecture, he spoke about seeing Native American history through the eyes of a foreigner. His lectures in Japan use American movies to show the differences between stereotypical portrayals of Natives versus the reality of tribal culture. He wants people to know that while many maintain their tribal culture, they are also citizens of the modern world who don’t live in teepees anymore.

"When my students leave my class enlightened, it is a glorious feeling to know they understand that it isn't like that," he told The Daily Ardmoreite.

When Iwasaki travels to Oklahoma he travels back with information since it is scarce in Japan.

"I like to find manuscripts, books, things written by my Native American friends that we can use to study with in Japan," he told The Daily Ardmoreite. "As you can imagine, we don't have good archives of Native American material to study, so when I come, I mail back new things to have."