Bodies and Structures

"My wife is an illegal immigrant"

The new migration since the 1980s has engendered new forms of intimacy, real and pretended. Whereas in the prewar era, male migrants from Fuqing entered into relationships with Japanese women — often dual marriages, as many women discovered when they in turn migrated to the mainland — in recent years women from Fuqing (like their compatriots from other parts of China) have entered into marital arrangements with Japanese men.   A significant number of these appear to be paper marriages, and the women often maintain marriages and families in their native place (sometimes going through fake divorces to facilitate their mobility).  In December 2001, the Ministry of Justice reported that it had stripped the residence qualifications of 400 Fujianese discovered to have been involved in paper marriages; these people had received their authorizations within the previous three months.  The ministry took this action after observing a several-hundred-percent increase in the number of Fujianese applicants for entry as dependents/spouses (haigūsha) of Japanese nationals. The following May, Tokyo immigration officials reported that of 100 Fujianese women who had been investigated upon applying for renewal of their spousal residence permits during the first four months of that year, 50 could not be located and were thus believed to be involved in paper marriages. Just as many prewar peddlers saw marriage to a Japanese woman as a means of gaining local knowledge and building customer relations, migrant women have seen paper marriages to Japanese men as a means of pursuing their own socioeconomic objectives — the ability to work legally and to earn the kind of money that would not be available to them back home.    

According to Moroboshi Kōji, Japanese men who agree to participate in these marriages are often socially marginal and economically precarious, vulnerable to pressures from underworld money lenders to whom they are indebted, and willing to provide access to their household registers for a fee. These men may have become visible to their partners or intermediaries by patronizing saunas, aesthetic (esute) salons, bars (sunakku), and other venues employing Chinese women as affective laborers.  By providing access to their household registers, the men have acted as border agents, opening up part of the territorial boundary and enabling the subsequent lifting of other documentary and physical barriers. The procedures into which they then enter are quite cumbersome, requiring multiple visits to different public offices in Japan and in China, proof of employment and income, the staging of photographs of the married couple in Chinese public space, and the performance of their roles as Japanese husbands in dealings with Japanese border control agents and other immigration officials. Throughout the process, they are burdened by the risk of detection, prosecution, and punishment (imprisonment and/or hefty fines) for violation of immigration laws.  And once the marriage has been recognized and entry permitted, the couples are still required to perform their relationships in order to obtain visa renewals and other documents enabling ongoing legal residence in Japan. Although the maze of regulations and requirements is much more intricate than in the prewar era, it again demonstrates how borders are constructed across diverse locations besides the physical lines of entry and departure, and how mobile bodies produce the need for mobile bordering practices. 

Various brokers (snakeheads) in China and Japan arrange these movements and transactions, including bribes to Chinese officials, doctors for the required medical examinations, and others. Though popular and official narratives of illegal migration in Japan and elsewhere often depict large criminal organizations as the perpetrators, many brokers are individuals or families who have themselves successful navigated the process and now seek to capitalize on their experiences and local connections. By and large, they and their clients see clandestine migration and paper marriages as legitimate (licit) means to the reputable end of making and remitting a lot of money to one’s family and native place. In Fuqing, meanwhile, a sense of connection to Japan, forged in part through the prewar migrations discussed in this module, may constitute one aspect of vernacular identity. In the late 1990s, a public security officer in Fuqing is reported to have told a Japanese visitor, “If you look into the roots of anyone here in Fuqing City, you’ll find they have Japanese relatives. I have Japanese relatives. But the relationship is so distant that I can’t get a visa.”​  

While reports on paper marriages largely present Sino/Japanese intimacy as a fiction, women involved in these transactions may choose, or find themselves compelled, to create domestic spaces and engage in sexual relations with their husbands. Even if they don’t, many are producing other forms of intimacy through their affective labor in places such as esute salons, where they provide massages, food and drink, and conversation to Japanese men. Though some of these establishments provide sexual services, many do not. Moroboshi describes episodes in which elderly Japanese men, eager for some form of physical contact with another person, pay for sessions in which they can simply sleep for a few hours with a young Chinese woman beside them. (The women get up and go about their own business once the men have fallen asleep, and return to their sides when they appear about to wake up.)   

Globalization and demographic change have created new channels and demand for mobile affective labor. The transregional and global migration of domestic and elderly care workers from Southeast Asia or nurses from the Philippines is one example of this pattern. Marriage migration involving women from less economically advanced parts of Asia moving to Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea is another, as is the continuing movement of Vietnamese women into South Chinese households (a trend accelerated by the stark gender imbalances provoked by the PRC’s one-child policy). In Japan (as in South Korea), women often marry into farming families that cannot attract local brides due to rapid urbanization and changing gender expectations among younger generations of women.  Filipina and Korean women have constituted the majority of such farm brides, but Chinese women have also entered into such marriages, on occasion experiencing hardships not unlike those reported in accounts of women who migrated to Fuqing in the imperial era. Demand is not limited to rural society, however, as Japanese women have increasingly chosen to delay or opt out of marriage. While transnational marriages often entail distinctive challenges, those involving Chinese women have taken place amid a popular discourse colored by fears of Chinese illegality. Reports of fraudulent behavior by Sino-Japanese marriage brokers circulate widely, while commentators and internet activists have played up the most egregious cases in which Japanese husbands or families have found their bank accounts drained and property sold off, or in which the pursuit of such ends has entailed violent crimes including murder. As this module has shown, these border anxieties are grounded in older imaginings of Chinese illegality and of a powerful, expansive, and absorbent Sinosphere.

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