4.06.2011

Part X: The Occupation, Post-War Period and the Japanese Construction of Blackness

The series continues with the effect the Occupation and the post-war period had on the Japanese construction of Blackness. Links to earlier posts and references/suggested reading can be found at the end of this document.

The following excerpts were reproduced from Japan’s Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity (Second edition 2009) edited by Michael Weiner/ chapter 5: “The other other – The Black presence in the Japanese experience” by John. G. Russell (pp. 103-108). Russell is a professor in the Faculty of Regional studies at Gifu University.

THE OCCUPATION AND POST-WAR PERIOD

With the end of World War Two came the greatest influx of blacks into Japan since the sixteenth century. To the panoply of images of black alterity introduced during earlier stages of their encounter - the slave, the savage, the buffoon - was added another: the black GI. As they did their white counterparts, Japanese viewed their black alien conquerors with a mixture of awe, envy, resentment, and hatred. In general, however, Japanese popular culture depicted the face of Occupation generosity as white. As Michael Molasky points out, 'While it seems likely that nisei [second generation Japanese Americans] and black GIs also availed themselves of the local PX (military base store) and tossed out their share of chocolate and chewing gum to eager Japanese children, non-white members of the occupation forces seldom appear in these canonical scenes of postwar life' (1999: 71). Indeed, the black GI would occupy a different role in the Japanese imagination, as predator and bestial curiosity on the one hand, and pure-hearted man-child and sympathetic victim of racial oppression on the other, and black GIs would come to embody a peculiar amalgam of white American power and black impotence (Russell 1991:8).


Democracy was not the only thing the Occupation imported to Japan. Ironically, the freedom that African American visitors to Japan experienced prior to the war soon vanished under the American Occupation. For the first time since Deshima, ordinary Japanese were once again directly exposed to large numbers of blacks. As before, there was little doubt as to their position vis-a-vis whites. While Occupation policy busied itself dismantling Japan's totalitarian apparatus, it exported its own system of social control, one aimed primarily at its own citizens. Despite the Occupation's progressive New Deal for Japan, GHQ continued to deal to blacks from a stacked deck. Social inequality remained a fact of life in America, and it was exported to Japan, where black GIs faced discrimination not only from whites but also from newly 'democratized' Japanese. Just how dearly white America clung to the ideology of racial inequality is suggested by the War Department, which justified segregation in the armed forces on the grounds that it 'cannot ignore the social relations between Negroes and whites which have been established by the American people through custom and habit' (cited in Polenberg 1980: 76).

Such customs and habits were exported wholesale to post-war Japan and were apparent to any Japanese who had to accommodate the racial peccadilloes of their conquerors. African American military personnel stationed in Japan bore the brunt of both American and Japanese racism. Segregation provided ample opportunity for white GIs to spread pernicious rumors about blacks. In the red-light districts, Japanese prostitutes were told to avoid black GIs because they were abusive, carried sexually transmitted diseases, were sexually insatiable, and had enormous penises. A common rumor was that blacks had tails. Japanese prostitutes had their own reasons for avoiding blacks: servicing them made them tainted goods who would not be able to attract white clientele (Inoe 1995: 75-6). While white GIs no longer regarded Japanese males as the sexual threat sometimes portrayed in American war propaganda, they cast themselves in the new role of valiant defenders of Japanese womanhood. Martin Bronfenbrenner, Kenan Professor of Economics at Duke University, describes such an encounter based on his experiences in Kyushu during the Occupation:

A burly quartet of colored troops reeled by with a scared Japanese girl half their average height and a bottle of the local sweet potato brandy. Fusako stared after them; such creatures she had never seen before. In school she had read of American Indians; were these, then, she asked Joe, the Indians she had read about? Joe translated the question.

Sarge saw his chance for sociological experimentation. 'Tell her no. Tell her they're Niggers, dirty Niggers. They was born white, tell her, only they got syph and turned black. Tell her to keep away from them. Lay it on good.' Joe gulped slightly, but thought of C.I.C. and translating, laying it on - moderately good. Bob said nothing. Although no southern rebel, he agreed that the end justified the means. Nice girls like this Fu-something had to be protected from those black apes. Fusako's face registered disgust as her eyes followed the retreating stragglers, and Sarge was satisfied. 'These Jap babes, they all fall for that one. Air Force guy down from Tokyo was tellin' me ..."
(Bronfenbrenner 1975: 30)


Post-war Japan served as a laboratory in which whites could not only test democratic ideals but also conduct experiments in racial demonology. Such 'sociological experimentation' did not end with the Occupation. African Americans who had been stationed in Japan during the Korean and Vietnam Wars relate identical stories of their encounters with white-spread racial slanders. An African American informant who had been stationed briefly in Japan during the Vietnam War had been unable to fathom why an elderly Japanese man had reacted so bitterly toward him, until he learned that the man had been told by whites that blacks had piloted the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The dehumanization of blacks was also cultivated through the infusion of American popular culture, which included not only a new generation of Tarzan films but also films, cartoons, novels, and other artifacts that reintroduced American stereotypes of blacks as savages and buffoons, objects of derision toward whom even Japanese in their long hour of national humiliation could feel superior. The production and reproduction of anti-black stereotypes in Japan were sanctioned by no less an authority than GHQ itself: There is no small irony in the fact that Japan's post-war economic recovery was in part financed by the manufacture and sale of stereotypical black figurines bearing 'Made in Occupied Japan' labels for overseas export.

The social division of races was particularly evident to shopkeepers and merchants whose livelihood depended on maintaining good and profitable relationships with their white clientele. Such considerations extended to brothel owners operating under Occupation supervision. Fearing that their American occupiers would go on a raping spree, the Japanese set up iyanfujo ('comfort stations,' a euphemism for military brothels) to service them, where the color line between black and white was preserved. The arrangement introduced new words into the Japanese lexicon. Japanese women who serviced American GIs were called pan-pan or pan-suke, of which two types were distinguished: shiro-pan, who serviced white GIs, and kuro-pan, who serviced blacks (Inoe 1995: 67, 85). Children born of interracial unions, called konketsuji, or 'mixed-bloods', were often abandoned. While some white-Japanese konketsuji were envied for their Caucasian features and went on to become models, actresses and singers, black-Japanese generally fared much worse.

Note: See Wagatsuma 1978; Burkhardt 1978; and Thompson 1867.

De facto social segregation of blacks stationed at home and abroad continued well into the 1970s. In Japan, separate white and black communities sprung up near military bases in Yokosuka, Yokota, and Okinawa. Tensions between the two communities were high, frequently igniting into violence that entangled local residents. As late as the 1970s, local residents in Okinawa found themselves caught precariously between these two polarized camps, merchants and shopkeepers often siding with whites, lest black patronage threaten to drive away better-paid white servicemen. Black GIs vented their frustration and anger on the Okinawans, which only exacerbated hostilities between the two communities.

Note: See Ikemiyagi 1971:4; and Takamine 1984: 214-16.

Given their presence, it is not surprising that the post-war period saw a proliferation of books featuring African American GIs, including be Kenzaburo's Shiiku (The Catch, 1958) Matsumoto Seicho's Kuro-ji no e (1965), Ariyoshi Sawako's Hishoku (1964), Morimura Sei'ichi's Ningen no Shomei (Proof of the Man, 1977), and Murakami Ryu's Kagirinaku Tomei ni Chikai Buru (Almost Transparent Blue, 1976).

The post-war period also saw a number of leftist Japanese intellectuals, scholars, and journalists visit the United States, where they described first¬hand their encounters with American racial consciousness. In navigating the minefield of the color line, many of these observers were struck by their own liminal status, which situated them between two polarized worlds. Their narratives provide insights into the impact of power relations on not only the construction of blackness but also on the construction of Japaneseness, as the American color line, previously an abstraction encountered only in textbooks and newspaper articles, assumed tangible reality, prompting them to critically re-examine their identity as Japanese and to reassess their status as a 'white-skinned race' that, while enjoying some of the privileges of American whites, was not quite 'white' enough. Their narratives also reveal an emergent awareness of their identity as 'Japanese,' 'Asians,' and 'people of color,' as well as of Japanese racial prejudice toward blacks and other non-whites both abroad and at home.

In Nan demo mira yaro (Let's See Everything, 1961), Oda Makoto, a founder of Beiheiren (Citizen's Committee for Peace in Vietnam), lays out the practical and psychological benefits of racism for those positioned ambiguously between black and white worlds. As a Japanese visitor in the Jim Crow South, Oda is permitted the same privileges as whites: He is able to ride freely among them on buses, eat in their restaurants, and stay in their hotels. Like many of his compatriots, he initially believes that Japanese are somehow above American racism as third party neutrals whose intermediate position between black and white allows them to view the phenomenon dispassionately. In time, however, Oda abandons this view, expressing only disillusionment with white America but also with Japanese racial alliances.

Imagine a situation where there are three people: a Japanese, and two Americans, one white and the other black. Suppose there is a dispute – not a particularly serious one - which splits them into two camps. There are three possible combinations that might result: the two Americans allied against the Japanese; an alliance between the Japanese and the white against the black (excluding disputes of a political nature, such an alliance is probably more likely than the former); and finally, an alliance between the Japanese and the black against the white, which is probably the least likely of all. The black and the white form an alliance because they are both Americans; the Japanese and the white form one because of their mutual contempt for 'niggers' (kurombo). But while an alliance between the black and the Japanese based on their awareness of being 'people of color' or to 'fight racism' sounds good, it is hardly likely. That is, in America, Japanese have unaccountably assumed the status of whites.
(1961: 129)

Despite ambivalence about their status, many Japanese travelers, while critical of Jim Crow, nonetheless complaisantly toed the color line, obtaining a sense of psychological satisfaction at their elevation above blacks. In Amerika Kanjo Ryoko (Sentimental Journey in America, 1962), novelist Yasuoka Shotaro, who visited America in 1960, writes that he had initially viewed the 'Negro' problem as 'a white problem... from which Japanese, as neither black nor white were excluded,' but which itself prompts 'feelings of inferiority we have toward Negroes' (87). Noting that Japanese visiting the South often boasted of using the Negro toilets, Yasuoka suggests that Japanese attempts to ally themselves with blacks as fellow people of color 'work to overturn these feelings of inferiority with feelings of superiority.' Such actions, he writes, are 'meaningless as they constituted neither a threat to whites nor a meaningful display of sympathy toward blacks. Rather they merely reflect the fleeting sense of superiority and self-satisfaction [these Japanese] experienced when they have relieved themselves in toilets reserved for Negroes' (87). In America, race and place are inseparably intertwined, one's sense of self defined by where one sits - and shits - in the racial pecking order. Evoking the feelings of superiority experienced by Japanese men in the company of foreign prostitutes, Yasuoka observes a similar psychology at work in their associations with blacks, noting that while Japanese may find comfort among blacks, the encounters serve to ease their feelings of inferiority toward whites by indulging their feeling of relative superiority toward blacks (84-5).

The notion that Japanese occupy a liminal position between black and white fails, however, to recognize the three-dimensionality of American race relations. That is, Japanese are positioned not only between black and white, but also below whites and above blacks in the racial hierarchy. They may not be white, but at least they are not black. Wagatsuma and Yoneyama recount the recollections of a famous Japanese sociologist who, describing his travels through the American South, boasted he had entered a racially segregated restaurant and, defying the contemptuous gaze white patrons directed toward him, sat amongst them, an act the authors believed required little courage on the part of Japanese, but which left them wondering if the sociologist had ever considered the possibility of sitting with blacks (1980: 109).

Not all Japanese writers who visited America during this time saw anti¬-black racism as an essentially American phenomenon or devoted their narratives to their subjective experience of racial dislocation. Far more ambitious are a series of essays by Asahi Shimbun journalist Honda Katsu'ichi, who first visited America for a six-month period from 1969 to 1970. Published in book form as Amerika Gasshukoku (The United States of America, 1981), the essays attempt to see America though the eyes of blacks.

Note: Honda’s essays were serialized under the title ‘Kuroi Sekai (Black World) in the Asahi Shimbun from August 1969 to February 1970.

Like others before him, Honda is appalled by American racism, but his critique does not end on American shores. Honda is one of the few Japanese writers who has critically probed Japanese racial attitudes, writing extensively on such controversial issues as the Rape of Nanking, school textbook censorship, and the treatment of Japan's Korean, Ainu and burakumin minorities. In Korosareru Gawa no Ronri (The Logic of Those Who Are Killed, 1971), another collection of his Asahi Shimbun essays, he returned to the theme of racial discrimination, focusing this time on Japan's treatment of blacks through interviews with black residents.

(In Part XI, this series ends with the Present and the author’s conclusion).

Suggested Reading/References
Bronfenbrenner, M. (1975) Tomioka Stories of the Occupation, Hicksville, New York: Exposition Press.

Burkhardt, W.R. (1978) 'Institutional Barriers, Marginality, and the Adaption Among the American-Japanese Mixed Bloods in Japan," Journal of American Studies 42(3):519-44.

Ikemiyagi, S. (1971) Okinawa no Amerikajin (Americans in Okinawa), Tokyo: Simul.

Inoe, S. (1995) Senryo-gun Iyanfujo: Kokka ni yoru baishun shisetsu (Comfort Stations for Occupation Troops: State-managed brothels), Tokyo: Shinhyoron.

Molasky, M. (1999) The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and memory, London and New York: Routledge.

Oda, M (1979[1961]) Nan demo mite yaro (Let’s See Everything), Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten.

Russell, J. (1991) ‘Race and Reflexivity: The black other in contemporary Japanese mass culture,’ Cultural Anthropology 6(1), February, 3-25.

Takamine, T. (1984) Shiarezaru Okinawa no Bei-hei (The Unknown American GIs of Okinawa), Tokyo: Kobunken.

Thompson, E. B. (1967) ‘Japanese Rejected,’ Ebony 22, September.

Wagatsuma, H. and Yoneyama, T. (1980) Henken no Kozo (The Anatomy of Prejudice), Tokyo; NHK Books.

Yasuoka, S. (1962) Amerika Kanjo Ryoko Sentimental Journey in America), Tokyo: Iwanami Bunko.

Part I: Uchi (us) vs. Soto (Them)
Part II: Color Symbolism
Part III: Imaging Blacks in Advertising
Part IV: Early Japanese Construction of Blackness (First Contact)
Part V: Early Japanese Construction of Blackness (Rangaku ? Dutch Learning)
Part VI: A possible Chinese influence on the Japanese construction of Blackness
Part VII: The Effect of anti-Black Stereotypes and Western Privileging on the Japanese construction of Blackness
Part VIII: Darwinist Thought and the Japanese Construction of Blackness
Part IX: The Pre-War period and the Japanese Construction of Blackness

13 comments:

  1. and black GIs would come to embody a peculiar amalgam of white American power and black impotence

    The very same can be said today. Ugh.

    In school she had read of American Indians; were these, then, she asked Joe, the Indians she had read about?

    There's so much FAIL in this, I don't even know where to began. It's sickening that a majority of mixed-blooded Japanese are carrying the DNA of ignorant, wife-beating rednecks. *shiver*

    In the red-light districts, Japanese prostitutes were told to avoid black GIs because xxxx and had enormous penises.

    Taken alone, this is not a turn off. Racism = physical envy, in this case, GIRTH envy.

    Fearing that their American occupiers would go on a raping spree, the Japanese set up iyanfujo ('comfort stations,' a euphemism for military brothels) to service them, where the color line between black and white was preserved.

    Two things. One, the Japanese military sure as hell knew all about raping sprees and two, the author doesn't even address which Japanese women were assigned to service the Black G.Is. Were they Okinawans, Koreans, Chinese????

    the encounters serve to ease their feelings of inferiority toward whites by indulging their feeling of relative superiority toward blacks

    This doesn't work on dignified Black people with self-respect. If you present yourself as a worthwhile human being, you will be treated accordingly.

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  2. An African American informant who had been stationed briefly in Japan during the Vietnam War had been unable to fathom why an elderly Japanese man had reacted so bitterly toward him, until he learned that the roan had been told by whites that blacks had piloted the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

    WHAT..the..FUCK??????

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  3. @Ankhesen Mie
    Double wtf?!!!! Smh so they do the bombing and blame it on the black man? Seems like good ole whites and America never change.

    Thank you Hateya for your series it always teaches me something new.

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  4. This is really helping me understand a lot more than I thought I would. I knew the basics but you really go in depth with it and you make sure not to be biased by only showing the racism/non-racism in this situations.

    This was another great one, Hateya.

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  5. Re the part that made Ankh's blood pressure boil:

    Now that's some flaming audacious bullshyt! I mean...wow. Just when I think I can't be shocked anymore, something jumps up to knock me flat on my tush.

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  6. I've been following these essays and as always, they are very good and informational.

    The more I read about stories like this, the more the historic dynamics of the world makes sense to me.My generation and more than likely, generation after me will never be able to read history like this as were being denied of the truth. I remembered struggling to understand why as A would never connect to C. The more I read essays like those that are posted on here,the more my questions are being answered.

    It's amazing,but also tragic how the power of"White Privilege" and manipulation has negatively hypnotized the world against Black people.As I've mentioned before "White Privilege" it is a deceptive set up. It gives you the illusion that you're actually being accepted as White,but as mentioned on here, it's a form of "toleration".Toleration doesn't equate to equality.For example, Arabs were/are accepted as White, yet when 9/11 took place, a great deal of them ,some South Asians, Muslims and Arab Christians were and continue to be reminded that they aren't of their race.Even before the incident took place, some of them still were being disrespected. That right there would have made me think twice about embracing in it( White privilege).

    I think about how Asians are dubbed "The Model Minority". Though I'm not Asian, I did get why many of them were offended by this connotation.It's still saying that you're almost like us, yet you're the underdog. It's not about White racist society wanting to make friends with others and for people keep their culture/heritage. It will always be about making people lose themselves, their culture and for people to be used by them to be empowered.-M

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  7. I love how white people who claim not to be racist will unquestioningly support their own over a POC. It kills me.

    If only POC had that kind of solidarity.

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  8. @ Student of the World

    Major Cosign.


    Its a shame. It seems every place whiteness steps foot it must take it upon itself to curse blackness.

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  9. When I say WP don't belong in intra-POC discussions, much of my reasoning derives from history like this. After centuries of sowing discord amongst POC to serve their own interests, they shouldn't get to waltz in on modern discussions.

    POC need to talk to POC and work things out amongst ourselves first.

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  10. @Ankhesen and Amanda O,

    WTF, indeed. I've always found it interesting how "whites" try to convince me that Japanese are racists. One guy in particular tried to convince me that the Japanese deliberately targeted Black men at Pearl Harbor. Fail. My maternal grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and he presented me with a different version of the event.

    @AikoVenus
    I can't take credit for any information presented here. Russell did the research. I'm only the messenger. Our history isn't lost anymore and more clarity is forthcoming with the series featuring Kearney. Events may well overlap and be interpreted differently.

    @LeoPrincess
    Just when I think I can't be shocked anymore, something jumps up to knock me flat on my tush.

    We've always been targeted. We just haven't known in detail HOW.

    @M
    It will always be about making people lose themselves, their culture and for people to be used by them to be empowered.-M

    You're beating the hell out of that nail with your entire response. The "white" man's goal is simple. Either assimilate an entire people by depriving them of their land, language, culture, and traditions or literally exterminate them.

    @Ankhesen
    POC need to talk to POC and work things out amongst ourselves first.

    And this is what brought me to Asia the first time. I can't say I was initially a welcome sight all those years ago, but understanding took me and others a long way.

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  11. "One guy in particular tried to convince me that the Japanese deliberately targeted Black men at Pearl Harbor."

    Because the Navy was chuck full of black folk in the 1940s, right? Funny how Michael Bay missed that historical bit in his film.

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  12. It reminds me of this quote about how dehumanizing someone through abuse makes YOU less humane not the target of your abuse.

    The interpreter in that story disgusts me: "I'm not some southern bigot but let me perpetuate a racist stereotype anyway just to keep the status quo."

    Really dude? Really?

    You could have said anything, the colonel didn't understand Japanese, and you chose to say that?

    Really, dude? Really?


    I've been face to face with people like this and appealing to their sense of morality/empathy is utterly useless, since they don't have one. They may have been born with one but it's been bred out of them. There's a gaping chasm where their humanity should be.

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  13. I always come away from Hateya's essays feeling like I've been hit over the head with a brick. An educational brick to be sure, but a brick nonetheless.

    Marvelous work; very enlightening.

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