Daily Archives: 23 March 2006

Nature of Japanese Settlers in Korea

Andrei Lankov in The Korea Times profiles the early Japanese settlers in Korea.

Japanese newspapers and booklets made it clear that a move to Korea would be different from, say, migration to the United States (a very popular option in the Japan of the early 1900s). Those Japanese who moved to the United States could expect to find only low-level manual jobs. Those who chose Korea were to form the privileged colonial elite. As a book for prospective migrants frankly said: “In Korea one can carry on an independent enterprise with oneself as master, freely able to employ Koreans at low wages and tell them what to do”. A colonizer’s dream, indeed….

A majority of the Japanese migrants did not come from the privileged classes. For many a misfit adventures in a new colony looked like an attractive proposition. However, not all the newcomers were losers. In the 1900s and 1910s, Korea also was an attractive market for Japanese skilled labour. The Koreans provided cheap unskilled labour for a number of projects undertaken by the colonial administration, but they worked under supervision of the Japanese clerks and foremen. The number of Koreans who had modern technical skills was minimal, and the Japanese artisans and craftsmen enjoyed good wages. Around 1909, a shoemaker would earn on average 0.75 yen daily in Japan, but in Korea his average wage would be twice as high (about 1.4 yen) while the costs of living would be much less.

Most of those men were bachelors or moved to Korea without their families, so the country attracted a number of Japanese full and part-time prostitutes. In 1907 there were 4,253 women whose official occupation was politely described as ‘geishas’ or ‘waitresses’. Their arrival marked the introduction of the mass-oriented sex industry in Korea (for earlier Korean courtesans, known as kisaeng, did not perceive the sex-for-cash component as major part of their vocation ㅡ and their services, sexual or otherwise, were too expensive for the average commoner).

via The Marmot

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Japanese Habits Strange to Burmese, 1942

Face slapping became a major issue. In the following year, the Japanese command, rather than prohibiting it altogether, forbade anyone below the rank of lieutenant-colonel to behave in this way.

Japanese troops indulged in other offensive activities: they bathed naked by water hydrants on the streets, to the horror of Burmese women. In some cases they were surprisingly cavalier with Buddhist shrines, stripping them of wood for cooking fires and otherwise violating them. As he escaped overland to India, Thein Pe viewed the eating and living habits of the Japanese soldiers with disgust: ‘we cannot say whether or not they knew what a bed pan was. They were seen eating rice from one’, he reported. A later British compilation of anecdotes noted ponderously, ‘The Japanese gastronomic habits had served them ill: that they ate dogs was observed to their discredit.’ But Japanese soldiers were extremely popular with the Burmese young. The troops were genuinely fond of children. The ‘had made much of Burman boys and girls, given them sweet meats, taught them baseball, played football with them and taught them Japanese songs.’ It was to be a ‘golden age for children’. Parents worried that their offspring were being alienated from them and that the Japanese were using their children to spy on them.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), p. 234

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