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

"Left-behind" Japanese and Japanese government policies since the 1990s

Kaneko's reportage added a new dimension to a larger postwar discourse on “left-behind” Japanese in China (Chūgoku zanryū hōjin), “left-behind women” (zanryū fujin) and “left-behind orphans” (zanryū koji) that has taken shape since the normalization of relations with the PRC. But this set of concerns is focused on Manchuria, and framed by the narrative of the collapse of the Japanese continental empire in the face of the Soviet onslaught and the abandonment of the Japanese civilian population by the Kwantung Army. The harrowing stories told of this moment focus on women who opted to marry local Chinese men as the most likely path to survival, or on families who in their desperation left their children to be raised by Chinese. These Japanese had been in northeastern China as part of the official imperialist project of settling Manchuria and incorporating it into the “total empire”; the women who married Chinese men had first gone to the continent under state auspices as farm village brides or as “war brides” for Imperial Army officers. The articulation of their condition as “left behind,” like that of children as “left-behind orphans,” implies a direct connection with the Japanese imperial state, and from the perspective of individuals and families, a direct claim on the postwar state to make them whole by acknowledging their full Japanese citizenship and facilitating their return and integration into Japanese society.

The Japanese government has adopted a piecemeal approach that has guaranteed neither the freedom to return to Japan nor unconditional citizenship to those who do so. With regard to “left-behind women,” who are defined as females above the age of thirteen in 1945, the state has sought to deflect claims of responsibility by defining the women as old enough to have made independent decisions to remain in China after the war. It was only in 1994 that the Diet passed a Law Promoting Smooth Repatriation for Japanese Remaining in China and the Assistance for Self-Sufficiency Following their Permanent Repatriation. Yet as Robert Efird notes, this law did not clarify the specific policy measures required for its implementation and has thus remained largely symbolic. In recent years, war orphans and their advocates have initiated lawsuits demanding financial compensation for their abandonment and present insecurity. They have achieved some partial legal victories, but limited practical success.

Japanese who remained in Fuqing were largely excluded from this set of developments. As we have seen, the conditions of their migration to China, while certainly informed by the dynamics of Japanese imperialism, were not part of the imperial project; and their stories do not fit into the narrative of flight and trauma (even though they may have experienced these) that frames the Manchuria-centered discourse. While a few have been able to benefit from the 1994 law's provisions, on the whole their lives have remained largely forgotten in postwar Japan: they are again out of place.

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