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

Kaneko Takakazu's reportage and NGO activities in the 1990s

In 1994, freelance journalist Kaneko Takakazu, having heard stories about "left-behind Japanese," traveled to Fuqing to investigate. There, he encountered some 250 people who were either the Japanese wives or adopted children of Fuqing men or the children of Japanese-Fuqingese marriages. Many of these people told stories of discrimination and extreme hardship, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, when they were accused of being Japanese spies and “fake Chinese” and compelled to destroy any letters, clothes, or other objects that had served as affective connections to their birthplaces. Some elderly women told of their ardent desire to return to Japan. These people displayed a sense of identity caught in between (at least) two times and two places. Emotional attachments may be weaker among those with more limited memories of Japan, but affiliation with Japan remains part of their collective identity claims.

Local Chinese officials and overseas Chinese residing in Japan have been attempting to help these individuals and families return to Japan or move there for the first time, but their efforts were constrained by the Japanese government’s insistence that the individuals provide documentary proof of their Japanese nationality. Kaneko established a small NGO to assist the “Japanese” of Fuqing. Over the following four years, they helped ten people receive visas for short-term visits to Japan, and succeeded in helping five people obtain Japanese nationality, four of whom then qualified for state-supported repatriation under the 1994 law on returnees. In 1998, Kaneko’s group estimated that 100 Japanese in Fujian lacked household registers and were thus unable to return to Japan. This figure included people who would be defined as second- and third-generation Japanese. It did not include additional family members.

Kaneko is a freelance writer and travel guide, and thus hardly an analog to the prewar consular police officers who visited Fuqing. His reportage did not contain any of the rhetoric or narrative tropes of abduction and Chinese predation that had characterized the older genre. Moreover, he has told me that he started the NGO in part as a means of repaying the people of Fuqing for their kindness in having cared for the "forgotten Japanese." Still, the spatial stories presented here -- of a Japanese man traveling to a remote, underdeveloped Fuqing after having heard reports of women's migration and struggles; of the relaying of those mobile stories in engagement with the Japanese public and the Japanese state; of the effort to "rescue" or "recover" "Japanese" and help them return to their proper place; and of the fundamental distinction between "Japan" and "Fuqing" -- all rehearse core elements and spatial configurations of the prewar consular police reports and their media counterparts.

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