Dr Darren Aoki

Dr Darren Aoki

Lecturer in World History

School of Humanities and Performing Arts (Faculty of Arts and Humanities)


Lecturer in World History

Dr. Aoki specialisms are in the social and cultural history of modern Japan with a focus on gender and sexuality as it intersects with race and ethnicity.  His PhD explored masculinity and same-sex desire in the postwar period in Japan.

More recently, he has turned his attention to issues of identity in the trans-Pacific diaspora of Japanese. Through his research on Nikkei (people of Japanese descent), he has developed methodological and theoretical expertise, including in research,teaching, and community outreach, in oral history.



PhD 2005 University of Cambridge, Oriental Studies; Peterhouse (UK)

  • Dissertation: ‘Sexual Solidarity and the Ethics and Aesthetics of Manliness in Early 1970s Japan’


MA 1997 School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (UK)

  • Dissertation:   ‘By Women, For Women:   Women’s Employment in the Occupation Era’***
  • ***Awarded Distinction
  • Awarded Ivan Morris Prize for best dissertation in Japanese Studies in the UK, 1998)


BA History 1990  University of Lethbridge (Canada)

  • Major:   Early Modern Western Europe
  • Minor:   Modern Western Europe, Modern East Asia

Postgraduate Certificate in Education – Higher Education (Birkbeck,University of London, 2010)

Professional membership

Professional memberships include:

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA)
  • Fellow of Cambridge Commonwealth Society


  • British Association of Japanese Studies
  • Oral History Society, UK
  • Oral History Association, USA
  • British Association of Canadian Studies

Teaching interests

As Lecturer in World History, Dr. Aoki’s resume of modules which he leads or on which he teaches include:


First Year:

  • HIST401: What is History
  • HIST403PP: Re-making History (Plymouth Plus)



Second Year:

  • HIST505: Middle Kingdoms: Themes in the Early Modern History of Japan, China, and/or Korea
  • HIST522: Hearing History, Seeing History:  Oral History and Visual Sources***



Third Year:

  • HIST607:  Japanese History:  from Tokugawa to Hirohito
  • HIST608:  PostwarJapan


***Transnational Oral History Masterclass - digital / webex mini-symposium with Centre for Oral History and Tradition (University of Lethbridge).  October 2016, November 2017, May 2018



  • MAHI722:  Key Themes in Modern Japanese History
  • MAHI708:  Key Themes in the Postwar History of Japan


In approaching World History, a key emphasis of Dr. Aoki’s is connection:  trans-national and global contact and connects through human movement. Far away cultures ‘over there’ are never just that: they are here.


Areas of expertise for post-graduate supervision:

  • Modern Japan and East Asia
  • Oral History
  • Diaspora, contact zones, and postcolonial history
  • Histories of the ‘Everyday’
  • Gender and sexuality – especially Trans-Pacific same-sex/queer
  • Race and ethnicity
  • cultural history, visual culture

Research interests

History of Identities and Ideas in Modern Transnational Encounter

  • Race/Ethnicity and Japanese Trans-Pacific Diaspora
  • Gender and Sexualities – Masculinities, Homosexuality, Popular Culture
  • Social,Cultural, & Oral History, including Digital Storytelling


Dr. Aoki’s current area of research focuses on questions of identity and inheritance in the trans-Pacific diaspora of Japanese, through the use of ‘talking history’ methodologies: oral history (life-story, collaborative narration, story-telling circles); digital story-telling; memory soundscapes.

*****Nikkei Memory Capture Project (NMCP)*****

The Nikkei Memory Capture Project (NMCP) is a long-term initiative to incite memory and record stories narrating the local, national, and trans-national Nikkei (‘people of Japanese descent’) experience.  This is a trans-national collaboration bringing together the University of Plymouth -History and the University of Lethbridge, Centre for Oral History and Tradition.  It is co-lead by Dr. Carly Adams (Associate Professor in Sports and Kinesiology). The Project includes a team of post-graduate and undergraduate student researchers. 


The focus of the NMCP is distinctive because it seeks to hear the little understood story of what happened in the latter half of the twentieth century in southern Alberta. It one of the few of North America’s significant populations of Japanese descent uninterrupted across the entirety of the twentieth century. Its incorporation of numerous waves of migration and the ‘contact zones’ these waves created with other ethnic, religious, and cultural groups has created a unique identity that – in important ways – invites us to interrogate dominant national and transnational narratives of Nikkei in unique ways.


The NMCP emerges from a pilot project of interviews with fifty individuals focusing on the memories of nisei (2nd generation) and how they shaped the communities from the 1950s to the present.  Other topics which the NMCP has begun to explore include:

  • Special oral history focus on sansei (third generation)
  • Exploration of inter-racial intimacies and mixed-race identities
  • Interrogating what constitutes ‘Nikkei’ and ‘Japanese’
  • Sport, recreation and leisure
  • Food and culture

The NMCP has been made possible thanks to the generous support of:

  • Community of Research Excellence Development Opportunities Research Funding
  • Plymouth University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities Research Impact Seed Funding
  • Centre for Oral History and Tradition Award
  • Nikkei Cultural Society of Lethbridge and Area Grant

The NMCP is a co-creative community partnership including the following local Stakeholders:

  • Nikkei Cultural Society of Lethbridge and Area
  • Nikka Yuko Japanese Canadian Centennial Garden
  • Galt Museum and Archives


Other research

*****PTSD/dstp [Post-traumaticStress Disorder digital story-telling project*****


This pilot research is a collaborative initiative co-led by Dr. Aoki (University of Plymouth – History), and Dr. Jane Harrold and Dr. Richard Porter at the Britannia Royal Naval College.


The PTSD/dstp aims in the first instance to explore the role that the use of new communication technologies plays in personal narration (Digital Storytelling - DST) by active service personnel especially on operations and those closest to them.  It includes a research team of students to help develop a digital storytelling database led by Mr. Ciaran Bishop (BA Hons History, University of Plymouth), and which has included volunteer research by Lucy DeGroot, Thomas E Davies, and Elliot Clark.

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

Doctoral Supervision

Dr. Lyle DeSouza

Birkbeck, University of London
Thesis: 'Cultural Identity in Contemporary Canadian Nikkei Cultural Productions'
First Supervisor: Dr. Darren J. Aoki

PhD Examination

Dr. Zhen Liu
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Thesis: 'A Liberating Inheritance: Japanese Canadian Literature and Chinese Canadian Literature, 1970-2000'
External Examiner: Dr. Darren J. Aoki

International MA Supervision

Ms. Darcy Tamayose
University of Lethbridge
Masters of Arts
Proposed Topic: 'Redefining Okinawan Diaspora in Southern Alberta: Coal mines, Railroads, Farms, and the Battle of Okinawa'
MA Supervisory Team including Dr. Darren J. Aoki


Grants & contracts

CURRENT: Nikkei Memory Capture Project

Nikkei Cultural Society of Lethbridge and Area Grant
Title: Nisei: Memories of Striving and Legacies of Resilience
Dr. Carly Adams, Dr. Darren J. Aoki

Centre for Oral History and Tradition Research Award
Title:  Narrating Japanese Canadian Inter-racial relationships in Southern Alberta during the postwar (NMCP)
Dr. Carly Adams, Dr. Darren J. Aoki

Community of Research Excellence Development Opportunities Grant 
Title:  Nikkei Memory Capture Project
Dr. Carly Adams, Dr. Darren J. Aoki


School of Languages, Linguistics and Culture Research Grant, Birkbeck College, 2009

Japan Foundation Endowment Committee General Research Grant, 2002
Yasuda Trust and Banking Scholarship, 2000-2004

Overseas Research Studentship, 2000-2004

Commonwealth Overseas Trust, 2000-2004

Peterhouse Grant, 2000

Fellow, Cambridge Commonwealth Society, 2001-present

Ivan Morris Memorial Prize, First Prize (Best Dissertation in UK in Japanese Studies for 1998), 1999

School of Oriental and African Studies Postgraduate Bursary, 1997-1998

Other academic activities

JAPAN400 PLYMOUTH (www.plymouth.ac.uk/jp400)

Festival Leader:  Darren J. Aoki*


This international festival celebrated the 400 years of Anglo-Japanese Relations.  It involved the co-ordination of nearly 500 participants. 


Core Events


26-30 Sept, 2014


  • Doing Business with Japan (Inward Investment Event)
  • Kawasaki Precision Machinery Ltd. 20th Anniversary Reception
  • Japan Fair on Sutton Harbour incl. international performances, stalls
  • ‘Homecoming of the Clove’ International Dignitaries Ceremony as part of re-enactment of the return of The Clove to Plymouth/Sutton Harbour in 1614 following successful mission to meet Japanese Shogun
  • Global Japan Culture Showcase (Plymouth Guildhall)
  • Konnichiwa Kernow – outdoor performance organised by Play It Again Theatre Group for disadvantaged youth in Devon, Cornwall
  • Plymouth University & Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation International Maritime Synergies Symposium
  • Japan400 Keynote Lecture – Prof. T. Screen, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Outreach Events

Jan-Oct, 2014

In collaboration with project partners, Japan400 Plymouth included activities and events promoting academic research and community engagement, for example:

  • Hafu – The Mixed Race Experience: documentary screening and Director’s Q&A on discrimination suffered by people of mixed parentage in Japan
  • Youth outreach events – Exeter School A Level Business Game, Devon and Cornwall Scouts, Play it Again Theatre Group


Key features include:

·       Sponsorship and partnerships with a range of key sector organisations and leaders:  Plymouth University, Plymouth Marine Institute, Peninsula Arts, Plymouth City Council, Plymouth Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Heart of the Southwest LEP, Sutton Harbour Holdings PLC, Embassy of Japan in the UK, Embassy of UK in Japan, Japan Society London, Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, Japanese Ministry of Forestry Fisheries and Agriculture, Sake Samurai, Kawasaki Precision Machinery Ltd., Peter Gorton’s JT Academy (British Masterchef Peter Gorton), First Great Western, De Vere Hotels and Resorts, Umu London (Michelin-Star Chef Ishii Yoshinori)

·        Engagement with community organisations, internationally-acclaimed artists and performers, and local business, for example:  Devon and Cornwall Scouts, Play it Again Theatre Group, Ronin-kai Kendo Club, British Shintaidō, Bengala Hand-Dye Craft (Totnes), Totnes Harp Centre, Devon Twinning Society, JTJ Academy, Wagamama, Goto Sushi Plymouth, Square Sails, Silicon Sensing Ltd., Pure Mediate Ltd., Hibiki Ichikawa and Akari Mochizuki, Kagemusha Taiko, Yukki Yaura

·        Media coverage of event and Plymouth University, included: BBC (TV – BBC One Spotlight and Radio), ITV, Western Morning News, Plymouth Herald, Sound-Art Radio, social media and internet

·         Consultations: Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, TV France 3