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Imagined “Asian” Solidarities in a Global City-State: Asianism of Japanese Migrant Workers in Singapore
“Asian” is a versatile phrase for politicians, mass media, tourist industry, and self-identified Asian peoples themselves. It could evoke forged solidarity, commercialized nostalgia, self-affirmation or something else. The semantic layers of “being Asian” are notably thick in Singapore, i.e., a global city embracing multiethnic Asian (and non-Asian) workers and a state where Asianism is constantly used for governmental campaigns. Based on qualitative research on Japanese migrant workers in Singapore who once lived in the West in search of cosmopolitan self-image, this paper explores what “being Asian” newly delivers to their self-identification. The paper argues that Japanese migrant workers first equate Singapore with “Asia” in general in a touristic gaze, but later adopt “Asian” self-identification and solidarities with Singaporeans and other Asians, along with the therapeutic effects that cure traumatic memories of being discriminated in the West. The Japanese migrants’ joyous self-discovery as Asians makes a contrast to Singaporeans’ distanced perception that “being Asian” is void, that it is a mere governmental slogan or labelling on them by Westerners. However, by finding themselves as Asians, the Japanese migrants paradoxically retrieve their identification as cosmopolitans, most of whom finding Singapore or Asia not the place to settle down. As a whole, this paper elucidates illusionality and temporality of Asian solidarity, and its customized use by mobile individuals in the age of globalization.