Research Spotlight - Dr Chinami Oka

Chinami has been engaged in multiple research projects, serving as the Principal Investigator (PI) as well as collaborating with others. Imagine a world where God is no longer confined to the traditional image of the male Father, but instead embodies a multi-gendered and ‘bi-sexual’ identity. How did this revolutionary view of the Christian God take hold in Japan, particularly through the efforts of defeated samurai of Japan’s civil war and their international allies? These questions form the core of her ongoing book project, which has received support from the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund. This project examines the radical reconfiguration of God and its profound social, cultural, and intellectual implications that followed between the 1860s and 1920s. Despite being largely overlooked in scholarship, this worldview developed as an anti-imperialist mantra during a time of heightened imperialism in Japanese history. Its influence extended significantly across various spheres including Christian thought, environmental activism, and the education of women and sign language users.

Some of her findings from this project have been published in The Historical Journal (Cambridge University Press, 2023). This work contributes both empirically, by uncovering a previously overlooked Japanese and Euro-American religious counterculture, and methodologically, by demonstrating the effective use of a non-state transnational approach in revealing competing ideas of race and gender. She has also published a book chapter in the edited volume Reopening the Opening of Japan (Leiden: Brill, 2024). It demonstrates how the lens of the civil war’s losing side offers a differing interpretation of the Meiji Restoration as opposed to conventional perspectives from the winning Meiji government.

chinami oka

At Pembroke College, Oxford

Chinami has organised various international conferences and symposia, including the 5th Tanaka Symposium in Japanese Studies, titled ‘Reconfiguring the Concept of Religion in Modern Japan’, held at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, in 2023. This event explored how creative religious knowledge and practices had changed and challenged the concept of religion in Japan between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, going beyond the established discourses of Westernisation and nativist countermovement. This symposium resulted in her new joint research project with historian Stephen Tuck, examining the much-understudied history of Black-Japanese transnational interactions in the 1930s, shedding light on the intersection of race, religion, and economy.

chinami oka

The 5th Tanaka Symposium in Japanese Studies ‘Reconfiguring the Concept of Religion in Modern Japan’ (Pembroke College, Oxford, 2023)

Furthermore, Chinami has authored widely read publications on contemporary Japanese education in collaboration with anthropologist Roger Goodman (see here and here). These publications represent the first comprehensive analysis of the development of the hensachi concept, which significantly influences the life decisions of Japanese students but has been overlooked in academic research.