Japan’s Women vs. Children Left Behind in China

From Memory Maps: The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan, Mariko Asanoi Tamanoi (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 91-92 (Japanese kanji added):

Today the Japanese state and media woman call [women abandoned in Manchuria at war’s end] chūgoku zanryū fujin [中国残留婦人](Japanese women left behind in China) and distinguish them from chūgoku zanryū koji [中国残留孤児] (Japanese orphans left behind in China) in terms of age and gender. The latter were born of Japanese parents, mostly agrarian colonists, in either Japan or Manchuria, and were younger than thirteen at the time of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. In the wake of Japan’s capitulation, their parents entrusted them to Chinese families, either because they were too sick to take care of their children or because the latter had little hope of survival. Children who were orphaned or accidentally separated from their families were also adopted by Chinese families. Today, owing to the tender age of these children at the time they were separated from their relatives, they are unsure of their mimoto, their “roots” [身元]. Since the mid-1970s, such children have been urged by the Japanese state to prove their identities as Japanese in the system of nation-states. Only those who have successfully proved their Japanese nationality have been officially allowed to return to Japan permanently.

In contrast, chūgoku zanryū fujin is a gendered category, referring to women who were over the age of thirteen when separated from their families. By 1945, most Japanese men older than thirteen had already been mobilized into the Youth Brigade or military. Hence, whether they were married or not, the women in this category had been left to take care of themselves and all the children. In the turmoil after Japan’s capitulation, some of these women chose to marry Chinese citizens for their own survival, and they stayed in China. These women are different from the children who were left behind in one important way: because they were older, they firmly remember their roots as well as the Japanese language. Precisely for this reason, the Japanese state deemed these women old enough to make choices when they were left on their own. Thus until 1993, the state did not permit them to return permanently to Japan; they were regarded as belonging to China as the spouses of Chinese citizens.

The set of terminology is confusing largely because the difference between the women and the children was artificially created by the Japanese state and media. In addition, the categories excluded Japanese men older than thirteen who left in China as of 1945. In 1994, the Japanese state admitted this confusion. Through the Repatriation Support Law (Kikoku shienhō [帰国支援法]), the state eliminated the differences between the two categories and combined them under the umbrella term of chūgoku zanryū hōjin [中国残留邦人] (Japanese left behind in China). Nevertheless, this term too has generated confusion; as a result, the state and media continue to use the two earlier terms today.

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Filed under China, Japan, language, migration, nationalism

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