Through a series of provocative case studies on mobility, transgression, and intimacy, David Ambaras
’s Japan’s Imperial Underworlds: Intimate Encounters at the Borders of Empire
(Cambridge University Press, 2018) interrogates the spatial and ideological formations of modern Japan in its first seven decades or so as a nation-state and empire, especially vis-à-vis China. The slippage between the individual and collective/national (geo)body is a critical theme as Ambaras highlights the roles of both media and government narratives in defining a shared national vision of Japan, and the powerful alchemy of pride and anxieties around the transgression of its borders. With case studies on human trafficking, international marriage, middlebrow literature, and a pirate queen (!), this study of marginalized people on the margins throws new light on Japan and maritime East Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.