electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Book Review 5 in 2007
First Published in ejcjs on 9 October 2007

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Lovers and Losers of Different Colours


Wendy Ella Wright

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Molasky, Michael S. (2001) The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory, London: Routledge, Paperback, ISBN: 0415260442, 256 pages.

The inclusion of commentary on various fictional and non-fictional literature, and the distinction between these two categories, is what makes this work so real and valuable. Michael S. Molasky's book, The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory, is brilliantly realistic from a diverse range of historical, sociological and literary perspectives.

As the following quote demonstrates, the book has great worth as a study in the intersecting realms of literature and fact:

Several of the literary works discussed in this book have long been forgotten and a few were scarcely even read while still in print. In particular many of the works by women and Okinawan writers will be unfamiliar to all but the most voracious readers of Japan's post-war literature. Yet when considered together these narratives of life under American occupation alert us to the diversity of experiences, perspectives, and memories about an era that helped shape Japan as we know it today. At the same time these stories recreate unsettling scenes that many Japanese have chosen to forget. And as Ernst Renan remarked over a century ago, what a nation forgets is every bit as important to its collective identity – its sense of nationhood and history – as are those events it chooses to remember. (page 24)

Molasky uses many works by Japanese male authors cashing in on writing works denigrating Japanese women who have slept with G.I. men, but also mentions one of my favourite female authors – Yamada Eimi, who was first recognized in Japan as a pornography star:

The name George is the key which opens my body. I whisper that name, and my legs open of themselves; I place my hand there, inside, churning what is about to ooze out. I blend this self, a self excited by a finger. And so in a delicious state a delicious concoction is served up; how wasteful that George is not here. I close my eyes in distress. (Yamada 1991, 50)

He also contrasts Yamada's writing and experience with the writing of early post-war stories. "Clearly the novels of Yamada Eimi must be distinguished from stories published during the 1950s about Japanese women under American occupation. Whereas these earlier stories tend to focus on women compelled by economic desperation to consort with occupation soldiers, Yamada writes about assertive female consumers exploring the sexual marketplace with a degree of social and economic freedom almost unimaginable during the early post-war years" (page 73).

Yamada has been a focus for controversy in Japan. Her marriage to an African American and experience with black lovers have been "seized upon by the Japanese media" (page 73). But her response to this treatment has been ambivalent. At times, she has stoked the media fires, but she has also been known to "bristle at the salacious questions posed by interviewers" (page 73).

Molasky argues that, whatever her literary merit, her readers value her writing for its documentary and fictional elements. This "situates it [her writing] squarely within Japan's 1980s discourse on blackness" (page 73).

Yamada, like the magazine exposes and television "infotainment" programs so central to this discourse, has assumed the role of interpreter and tour guide, leading her uninitiated readers through the exotic, erotic, and threatening world of black male sexuality while ensuring them the safe distance necessary for all voyeuristic activity. (page 73)

The American Occupation also wisely quotes well-known Japanese authors whose political, or apolitical sentiments seem very different to those of Yamada:

The Yellow Race (Part ll)
Within the Yellow Race
Are various types of people.
There are those
Who guard the purity of our blood,
Who believe in the purity of our blood,
Who stand by one another, unfailingly,
and march forth in unison.
And there are those who
Betray our blood,
Who sell our blood,
Who hide their ugly simian face
Behind a clever mask.
Opportunists, shameless sycophants
(page 99)

Molasky comprehensively and bravely covers the diverse range of literary genres published since the end of World War II. He refers to the Japanese and American legal paradigms reflecting the internal conditions during the occupation as "catalytic forces", and includes the sociological emotional dimensions to this chapter of history.

The dynamics are of the power structures of man/woman, race, the victors and the losers of both love and war (where some believe that all is fair and others do not).

Let me explain.

American, English, Australian, and also men of various other colours/nationalities have asked the gaijin-girl, me, in the group scenario, and one-on-one, "Why hang around with the Japanese guys, aren't we good enough for you?" But I didn't ask them, "Why hang around with, marry and have children with Japanese girls who you say need you, more than you need them? Aren't I good enough for you?"

During a trip to Okinawa when I was a university student in Tokyo, I recalled some experiences which, in retrospect, were significant when I read the book. "Children of Mixed Blood and the Remaking of Koza" (chapter 2), "A Base town in the literary imagination" brought back the trip to Okinawa vividly.

The trip from Tokyo to Okinawa's capital included myself, a Caucasian boyfriend and a man whose parents were native Okinawans. This man's parents were unusually wealthy even by mainland Japan standards, lived in a cosmopolitan area of Tokyo, and had educated their son at an American university. They seemed to have risen above the adversity of prejudice towards Okinawans existing on the mainland, as their son constantly reminded us. To this end, he said, they had given their son international advantages. This same son showed that either all of his parent's advantages were superficial, or that they were genuine but had all gone way over his head. After a night on the town in Naha, he deliberately drove his father's Cadillac through a well-known red-light area of town and began his own derisive commentary on the women in that area. His line of verbal information was that these women slept with men from the American base for only 5000 yen a time and were doing it just because they were too lazy to do anything else. This was during the early 1980s, almost 35 years after the (mainland) Occupation ended.

As a woman myself, I felt that the women in the area were being unfairly insulted, by a stranger to them, with ulterior motives. Was he ashamed that a red-light district existed in his home-town? Then why drive us through there? His laughter and commentary was non-stop throughout the slow drive through narrow streets. A few toughs approached and thumped on the car. Cursing at them from inside the Cadillac with automatic windows he shot the car forward recklessly and left the area. It had all been a joy-ride for him, with some added excitement of danger justifying him saying, violently, "they are so jealous of us." The next day we went on an outing where a beautiful half-Japanese girl was waiting for us to arrive. She was his date for the day, he informed us. When she was out of earshot, he told me and my male companion that she was the "illegitimate" child of an American soldier and that he (our companion) had paid her to accompany him for the day. This didn't ring true to me. As we were going home without her, he added that he had only spoken in Japanese to her because she "couldn't even speak English."

She (who looked like a catwalk model) was unusually silent during the whole day. But I don't think it was from reticence on a first date: she had probably realized what a loser he was – as a person and as a man. He took photos of us non-stop: photos of us in our bikinis, photos of us eating, next to the car, in the car. If he thought his date for the day was just a woman who was there because she was paid for it, why visually record everything for posterity? Why introduce his "friends" to her? I could only assume that this was all a status symbol for him. Whether or not he had paid for his time for the day, far from being ashamed of it, he was bragging about this purchase. This "international" son, who was in my eyes a squat ugly little man, had paid for this beautiful leggy, green-eyed half-Japanese girl to spend the whole day pretending to be his date. And she was OK with that? Oh, OK.

Racial identity can be decided by society's perceptions of a person's physical features, body language and speech – quite apart from the historical reality of the person being perceived. In my own case, I am a mixture of Caucasian and Latin blood. But I have experienced Japanese people accusing me of "pretending to be Japanese" or trying to hide the fact that my "mother is Japanese". From friends whose fathers are still anonymous, or whose identities are kept a secret, I have learnt that many half-Japanese children claim to be Japanese to escape prejudice. Even despite having physical features associated with "Caucasian", these people and their mothers claim for their whole lives that they are full-blooded Japanese. The expression "pure Japanese", to me, has taken on the nuance of someone who is not sullied with foreign blood, when I think of half-Japanese being forced by society to make untrue claims.

I have one friend who tells me over and over that his sister's lover was not just an enlisted man, but very, very high-ranking within the army. To him, this seems to mitigate and explain the fact that they never married despite having a child. His wife, back on the ranch of vast rolling plains he describes to me with misplaced pride, just wouldn't have understood. It is my understanding that, unsurprisingly, such wives rarely have ever known about their half-Japanese relatives. Long years in Japan as well as training in classical Japanese dance for performance studies have given me some of the body language interpreted as "Japanese" from both outside and inside Japan. But I hasten to say, "some of" – because this is a matter of stereotyping as well as interpretation. These once automatic gestures, ways of sitting, walking, talking and even ways of laughing, were so pronounced that it was immediately remarked upon whenever I went to western countries from Japan. The tone of these remarks on the ambiguity of my appearance ranged from sincere admiration, to the transparent jealousy engendered by those who are intimidated by biculturalism. I was constantly asked if my mother was Japanese and, when I said "no", was told that I was lying. I also found it significant that no one until very recently has ever asked me if my father is Japanese. When people insisted that I was half-Japanese and desperately hiding it, I felt the manifestly unjust alienation that bi-racial people can feel when attacked by those whose worlds are less multi-faceted.

I once went to a bar with a man whose father is an American banker and whose mother is Japanese. The next time I went there, the bar management told me that he was just "trash from the American base" and thought himself smart for being bilingual. But I had thought until then that these were really "nice" Japanese people. The shock was painful and socially traumatic when they were obviously displeased at my disagreement with their comments. When I protested, "But his father works for Mitsui Bank, and besides, I have friends on the 'base'," I had gone outside the boundaries of those they could be friends with. Could it be that they realized that my attitude, if genuine, would place me far above them? But I had only wanted more than anything else, to feel as if I belonged in the neighbourhood through the passport of goodwill.

That horrible day in Okinawa was in the 1980s. I have been accused of being in Japan for the purpose of "hooking Japanese men for money" so many times. One of the times I can remember being attacked this way, I happened to be in Japan on a scholarship to study Japanese literature. This insulting and defamatory statement was not made in a bar and it was not a man who had said this. The venue was an antique shop near the university library. But, I admit, many Japanese women, at their own peril, have verbally sprung to my defence in such situations, in bars or wherever. Perceived race, sexuality and class seem to govern misconceptions of the individual's real life, identity and the worth of their integrity in too many places, too often. I just wonder how far, in 2007, Japan and its annexed Okinawa, and the other people in this ever so slightly changing equation of things, have come.


Yamada, Eimi (1991) "X-Rated Blanket", in Helen Mitsios (ed.) New Japanese Voices: The Best Contemporary Fiction from Japan, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, pp. 50–54.

About the Author

Wendy Ella Wright has a BA from Sophia University and a PhD from the School of Creative Writing in the Department of English at the University of Adelaide. In 2005 she became a Fellow of Writing at the Iowa International Writer's Program. She has lived in intermittently in Japan for a total of 16 years and attended Osaka Girl's School as a first year high school student. In 2001 she gained entrance to Waseda University's Literature 1 Department for the purposes of translating poetry, as a Japanese speaking student, attending lectures in Japanese. She is the author of The Air of Tokyo, published by Indra Publications in 2002. Tokyo Journal was the first to publish her poetry. Her work "Japanese Women Poets" has been broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and she has been interviewed by SBS Japanese radio.

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Copyright: Wendy Ella Wright
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