Yukiko Koga

Yukiko Koga

Research Interest

Political economy; historical anthropology; legal anthropology; law and human rights; urban space; post-colonial & post-imperial relations; history and memory; transnational East Asia (China and Japan)

Yukiko Koga is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Yale University. Koga’s research explores emerging moral and legal landscapes for post-imperial and post-colonial reckoning in East Asia today as contemporary generations wrestle with the history of settler colonialism, forced migration, and slavery, decades after the formal end of Japanese imperial violence.

Koga’s first book, Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption After Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2016), explores how China’s transition to a market-oriented economy opened new spaces for current generations of ordinary Chinese and Japanese to encounter each other and navigate colonial inheritances in the urban everyday of Northeast China, the former site of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo. Situated at the height of China’s socio-economic transformation in the 1990s and 2000s, this ethnography shows how the economic realm has become an unexpected site for the generational transmission of difficult pasts. While the concepts of memory and trauma are often used to show the lasting effects of original violence, Koga suggests that these concepts may have limited our political imagination about what is at stake for second and third generations in East Asia in coming to terms with contested pasts. This book uses the concept of “colonial inheritance” to make visible contemporary generational responses to the losses incurred through colonial modernity, as set in motion through China’s transition to a market-oriented society. As China’s economy grows, it channels contradictory impulses toward erasing, confronting, or capitalizing on the past into production, consumption, and accumulation, exposing and amplifying new forms of anxiety arising from inherited legacies of colonial modernity for both Chinese and Japanese. Beneath the rationalized rhetoric of economic prosperity and the pursuit of “modern life” lurks the tenacious question of reckoning with the past through quotidian encounters in the workplace, on the streets, and in residential complexes. She shows how the economic sphere became a key site for generational transmission of losses, linking the moral economy of seeking redemption for the unaccounted-for past to the formal economy of exports, consumption, and the citywide pursuit of middle-class dreams.

Her book-in-progress, Post-imperial Reckoning: Law, Redress, Reconciliation, and the Unmaking of Empire, ethnographically examines the emergence of a new moral landscape for reckoning with Japanese imperial violence. It charts a significant sea change being carried out in the legal sphere by ordinary citizens doing the hard work of reconciliation that the political sphere seems to proscribe. At its heart is a series of collective lawsuits filed within Japanese jurisdictions since the mid 1990s by Chinese victims of Japanese imperial violence seeking official apologies, monetary compensation, and acknowledgement of historical wrongs from the Japanese government and corporations. These lawsuits have produced a new moral landscape that is challenging the widely accepted model of redress, in which closure is sought through the former perpetrator acknowledging past wrongs and making amends. Instead, her book shows how the legal redress movement expands the scope of reckoning, exposing how contemporary societies are implicated in violence that only appears distant. Koga tells this story of transformation through the lens of debt, which articulates the entanglement of complicity and implication at the core of belated imperial reckoning. Through ethnographic explorations of lawsuits inside and outside the courtroom, transnational and intergenerational collaborations among Chinese slave labor survivors and bereaved families, Japanese lawyers representing them pro bono, and citizen activists in both countries, she enquire into what redress, repair, and reconciliation mean in practice, and what settlements settle and unsettle. The book thus explores the stakes for current generations in coming to terms with distant, yet still alive, pasts.

Koga received her PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University, MA in Political Science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and Bachelor of Laws from Keio University in Tokyo.



Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016)

  • 2017 Anthony Leeds Book Prize from the Society for Urban, National and Transnational Anthropology (SUNTA), American Anthropological Association.
  • 2017 Francis L. K. Hsu Book Prize from the Society for East Asian Anthropology (SEAA), American Anthropological Association.


「帝国の遺産:なぜ歴史責任をいまだに問うのか」『世界』No. 961(2022年9月号): 172-182

“Inverted Compensation: Wartime Forced Labor and Post-imperial Reckoning,” in Overcoming Empire in Post-Imperial East Asia: Repatriation, Redress and Rebuilding, edited by Barak Kushner and Sherzod Muminov (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 182-196

“Law’s Imperial Amnesia: Transnational Legal Redress in East Asia,” in Injury and Injustice: The Cultural Politics of Harm and Rederess, edited by Anne Bloom, David M. Engel, and Michael McCanne (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 317-350

“Between the Law: The Unmaking of Empire and Law’s Imperial Amnesia,” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 41, no. 2 (Spring 2016), pp. 402-434

“Accounting for Silence: Inheritance, Debt, and the Moral Economy of Legal Redress in China and Japan,” American Ethnologist, vol. 40, no. 3 (2013), pp. 494-507