Sakura Christmas

Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies

On leave for 2018-19 academic year

Sakura Christmas is a historian of modern Japan. Her research concerns the history of borderlands, environment, and imperialism in the twentieth century. She has spent over a decade total living, studying, and working in Japan, China, and Mongolia. This includes a year each as a Princeton-in-Asia fellow in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and a Fulbright researcher in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. She received her A.B. and Ph.D. in History from Harvard University, and a Japanese Studies certificate from Kyoto University. She joined the faculty at Bowdoin in 2015.


  • A.B., History, Harvard College, 2008
  • Ph.D., History, Harvard University, 2016


Sakura Christmas is currently revising her first book, Nomadic Borderlands: Imperial Japan and the Origins of Ethnic Autonomy in China, which examines how Japanese-led ethnic cleansing and environmental planning demarcated the territory of Inner Mongolia in the 1930s. This study offers an alternate understanding to the beginnings of the multiethnic framework of the People’s Republic of China. Instead of only seeing the foundations of Communist rule as forged in the fires of war against imperialism, this project points to the significance of Japanese imperialism in shaping the ethnic and ecological bounds of modern China.  

Much more tentatively, her next project, “Rare Earth: Bodies and Ecologies in a Technologic Age,” links Japan’s rise as a postwar electronics giant to intensive mining practices around the globe, from "cancer villages" in northern China to decimated gorilla habitats in the Congo. “Rare Earth” will look at how new kinds of environmental and economic frontiers have opened up as a result of abstracting nature into digital and virtual forms. It aims to blend economic, environmental, and material history, by making experimental forays into the digital humanities: she looks forward to learning how to interpret the “natural” worlds created in videogames—Zelda’s primeval forests or Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom—as they come to stand in for our physical surroundings. 

Her research has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, State Department, Social Science Research Council, and Japan Foundation.


Book Reviews:

Review of Kate Merkel-Hess, The Rural Modern: Reconstructing the Self and State in Republican China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016) for Twentieth-Century China 43, no. 2 (May 2018), forthcoming.

Review of Emer O’Dwyer, Significant Soil: Settler Colonialism and Japan’s Urban Empire in Manchuria (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015) for Japanese Studies 37, no. 3 (December 2017), 399-401. 

Invited Lectures:

  • "Imperial Japan and the Nature of Borders in Occupied Inner Mongolia"
    Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, February 2018
  • "Ethnic and Environmental Engineering in the Japanese Empire"
    Amherst College, September 2017
  • “Hybrid Sheep in the Alfalfa Empire: Rationalizing the Steppe in Occupied Inner Mongolia”
    Mongolian and Inner Asian Studies Unit, Cambridge University, November 2015
  • "Empire on Edge: Japanese Imperialism and the Ecological Nomad"
    University of Massachusetts at Amherst, January 2015
    Bowdoin College, January 2015
    Columbia University, December 2014
    University of California at Irvine, November 2014
  • "Elemental Imperialism: Ecologies of Decline in a Chinese Borderland"
    McGill University, January 2015
    Drexel University, December 2014
    Yale University, November 2014

Conference Presentations:

Professor Christmas regularly presents her research at the Association for Asian Studies and American Society for Environmental History, among other meetings. Please see her curriculum vitæ for details of conference presentations and workshop papers.

Fellowships and Awards

  • National Endowment for the Humanities Advanced Social Science Research on Japan, 2018–2019
  • Gibbons Summer Research Grant with Stephanie Sun '18, Bowdoin College, Summer 2017
  • Mellon Interdisciplinary Dissertation Completion Fellowship, Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University, 2014–2015
  • Fulbright Grant to the People's Republic of China, United States Department of State, 2012–2013
  • International Dissertation Research Fellowship, Social Sciences Research Council, 2012–2013
  • Japanese Studies Fellowship for Doctoral Research, The Japan Foundation, 2012–2013
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies Program, United States Department of Education, 2011
  • Akiyama Award, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, Harvard University, 2011
  • Reischauer Institute Graduate Student Summer Research Grant, Harvard University, 2011
  • Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, Harvard University, 2008
  • Japanese Ministry of Education Fellowship, Kyoto University, 2005–2006


Professor Christmas teaches introductory lecture courses on the history of Japan (from Jōmon to Pokémon) with attention to regional and global contexts. Her upper-division seminars delve into histories of the environment, science, borderlands, and colonialism within East Asia more broadly. She welcomes students from all backgrounds with no previous language experience in Japanese. 

  • ASNS2252/HIST2420: Culture and Conquest in Japan: An Introductory History to 1800 (Spring 2018)
  • ASNS2311/HIST2421: Modernity and Identity in Japan, 1800–2000 (Fall 2017)
  • ASNS2310/HIST2890: The Japanese Empire and World War II (Fall 2017)
  • ASNS2890/HIST2891/ENVS2491: Asia in the Anthropocene (Spring 2018)
  • ASNS2892/HIST2892: Maps, Territory, Power (Fall 2016)
  • ASNS3820/HIST3420: Law and Justice in East Asia (Spring 2017)

She also advises students in independent studies and honors projects. She encourages students with advanced reading skills in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to incorporate sources in the original language into their work. Some of the research papers that she has supervised include:

  • Indigenous Labor and the Construction of the Burma Road
  • The "New Woman" in Colonial Korea
  • The Environmental History of Tuna in Japan's Transwar
  • Environmental Ethics and Lake Dianchi in the People's Republic of China
  • Horror Films and Social Anxieties in Japan's Postwar
  • Urban Planning in Meiji Sapporo
  • Nomadic Migrations of Huuchin Barga Mongols in the Japanese Occupation (article)

Recommendation Letters

Professor Christmas advocates strongly for her students who want to travel, research, or work in Asia or who want to pursue postgraduate degrees in Asian Studies. She welcomes requests for letters of recommendation IF and ONLY IF students follow these guidelines:

  1. Strong letters of recommendation take an inordinate amount of time to craft. Please contact her by email or meet with her in person one month in advance of any deadline.
  2. She writes letters ONLY for graduate schools, academic awards and fellowships, study abroad programs, academic internships, and post-graduate jobs. Check with her first before writing down her name and contact information as a reference.
  3. Send her your resume, unofficial transcript, and grant proposal or statement of purpose as soon as possible so that the contents of her letter aligns with application materials. Explain the purpose of the letter (internship, scholarship, job application, etc.) and what she should emphasize in writing.
  4. Also provide a self-addressed stamped envelope if she needs to send a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
  5. If you need future letters, provide two weeks of advance warning so that I can revise your letter on file.
  6. Regardless of the outcome, let her know what happened. If you are traveling out-of-state or abroad, send her a postcard!