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"Left-behind" Japanese and Japanese government policies since the 1990s
Discourse and laws relating to the repatriation of Japanese who spent the postwar decades as wives or children of Chinese families, especially in Northeastern China..
David R. Ambaras
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.
Kaneko Takakazu's reportage and NGO activities in the 1990s
Japanese rediscovery of the presence of Japanese and their descendants in Fuqing.
David R. Ambaras
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.