Daily Archives: 10 January 2009

Japan’s Genre of Uprooted Colonist Memoirs

From Memory Maps: The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan, Mariko Asanoi Tamanoi (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 53, 59-60 (inline reference citations omitted):

In Japanese, the verb “to repatriate” (hikiage-ru) has multiple meanings; among these are to pull up, raise, refloat, pullout (of a place), and (close a business and) return home. [‘Pull up stakes’ seems the best English equivalent to me—J.] As a noun, “repatriate/s” (hikiage-sha) becomes not only historically but also morally charged in postwar Japan. Repatriates are those who emigrated to Japan’s overseas territories in the age of empire but were forced to (close their businesses and) return home after Japan’s capitulation in the Asia-Pacific War. Once in Japan, however, they were often seen as social misfits, largely because the dominant perception of them dramatically changed over the divide of August 15, 1945. Before then, they were imin (emigrants) who were hailed as the vanguards of imperialism in official discourses. After Japan’s defeat, they were hikiage-sha, who were greeted with pity, suspicion, and callousness by their compatriots who had never left Japan proper. Here, the oral narrative of Aki … is helpful: “When we returned home [to Fujimi in 1946], our neighbors were very cold to us Manchurian daughters. I truly worried that I might become an old mistress.” An arranged marriage for Aki would fail largely because she was “a returnee from Manchuria” who might carry “foreign sexual diseases.” In the end, she married a “Manchurian boy” whom I could not meet since he died a few years before the beginning of my fieldwork. After all, kaitaku imin (agrarian emigrants) were not supposed to return, for they had left Japan to rehabilitate the rural economy at home. With Japan’s capitulation, they lost land and houses in Manchuria that the state had taken away from Chinese farmers. Hence they had no recourse but to return to Japan, the only country on earth that was obliged to take them. Yet in the immediate postwar period, when resources were so meager, the people of their mother villages, who had sent them off enthusiastically, were reluctant to welcome the repatriates back to their home….

Although the first memoir written by a returnee from Manchuria appeared as early as 1949 (and was reprinted in 1976), the upsurge in this genre came decades later, from the late 1960s to the 1990s, with several published in the early years of the twenty-first century. This means that the majority of authors waited for more than two decades before publishing their memoirs—in order, possibly, to keep a certain distance from the past. What characterizes the memoirs is that most authors rely only on their personal memories, as well as the memories of their fellow settlers that they (over)heard while fleeing from Manchuria. In addition, they cite each other’s memoirs, rather than primary or secondary sources on Japanese imperial history. After all, hikiage-mono are the authors’ eyewitness reports and they force the reader to believe in the authenticity of their personal memories.

For all these reasons, the genre is called hikiage-mono rather than hikiage-bungaku, “repatriate literature.” Though a generic term for “genre,” mono is primarily used for classifying popular cultural productions such as movies, comedy shows, and songs. In other words, the term indicates the genre’s lower position in the hierarchy of cultural production: it is neither “literature” (bungaku) nor “history.” Indeed, most repatriate memoirs have small readerships, as the authors, being amateurs, submitted their works to small, local publishing houses. Many of the works are not even for sale. Others are not books at all but short essays printed in magazines published by organizations of former colonists and soldiers, as well as alumni organizations of the Japanese schools built in Manchuria. In fact, I bought most of the works that I examined in secondhand bookstores in Japan since the collections at university libraries are rather limited. It is for this reason, I believe, that Japanese as well as Anglophone scholars have hardly paid attention to them.

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