News | 5 April 2013

Living in Research: History Ph.D candidate Dustin Wright in Japan on Fulbright-Hays doctoral fellowship


Nearly 5,500 miles away, a Japanese Cold War protester serves History Ph.D. candidate Dustin Wright a steaming cup of green tea as a kerosene heater rattles in the corner. A Fulbright-Hays doctoral fellowship recipient, Wright is spending 2013 in Japan, working on his dissertation that explores the histories of communities around U.S. military bases in Japan, which includes protest movements in Tokyo, Okinawa, and Iwakuni.

The Fulbright-Hays grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to support research and training efforts overseas and to focus on non-Western studies.

Wright is affiliated with Waseda University in Tokyo, where he takes advantage of the libraries and archives, but his research will also take him to Iwakuni near Hiroshima.

Wright is intrigued by the military bases throughout Japan that he has already explored in previous trips to the country.

Dustin-Wright“I noticed that walking along the barbed-wire fence around an American military base in Tokyo feels almost like walking along some sort of space-time-warp,” said Wright. “The U.S. side looks like a Cold War theme park. But on the Japanese side, you see what is often regarded as one of the most advanced and wealthiest nations on earth. The striking disparities between these two spaces are very interesting to me.”

Although Wright has been traveling to or living in Japan for various amounts of time over the past 10 years, he remains humbled by memories of culture shock, something he does not experience as much this time around.

“I’ve always had a habit, even when I could barely muster a word of Japanese, of finding the smallest, most intimate eatery possible. Usually such places only seat about a dozen patrons, and from the outside don’t seem like much; a light or two, maybe a beer sign, but not really much to indicate what the inside is like. I would always find the eatery with the sound of laughter spilling out of the door. I would enter and inevitably the jovial feasting in the place would go quiet for a moment. Then the owner, who was usually the guy behind the grill, would happily direct me to the one open seat, crammed in between two people who had previously been engaged in deep conversation.”

Wright earned his B.A. at Northern Arizona University, where he studied International Relations. During that time, he began learning Japanese and eventually studied abroad, going on to teach English in Japan after graduating. He also completed an M.A. in Asian Studies at San Diego State University.

Now in his fourth year of the Ph.D program in History at UCSC, he plans to become a professor of Japanese or East Asian history.

“I love teaching and being challenged by students’ questions,” said Wright. “In fact, my dissertation project has in many ways been influenced by conversations with my students.”

Wright will be blogging about his time in Japan through the Japan Policy Research Institute (

His website: