Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Marginal Lives, Representative Patterns

The Foreign Ministry archives, along with other sources, reveal not only the difficulties encountered by consular authorities and police agents in reaching or extricating Japanese women, but also—especially—the complexities of the lives in which they sought to intervene. The women who appear in the Foreign Ministry archives came from all over Japan, and from urban as well as rural areas. Many came from families that had already been on the move—for example, to the northern frontier of Hokkaidō and Karafuto. Some of the women were reported simply to have been working at home after completing elementary schooling when they became involved with a Chinese peddler. Others had been indentured to textile factories, or placed as housemaids or waitresses away from their families; a few had also moved around as more privileged students; and some had run away from home to Tokyo, Osaka, or other places. Some, like Ogura Nobu, had already been in and out of common-law or legal marriages with Japanese men (having run away or been abandoned or become widows) and had given birth to children. A number of them had led desperate lives before encountering their Chinese partners, and may have married these men out of a desire to find a way out of those hardships; others had relationships with more than one Chinese partner. These women thus often occupied marginal positions within Japanese territorial and social space. Yet on the other hand, they were representative of a large swathe of Japanese womanhood, whose experiences of mobility and intimate personal struggles are only partly captured in existing studies of factories, education, or domesticity and consumerism.

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