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The Karayuki-san of Asia, 1868-1938: The role of prostitutes overseas in Japanese economic and social development

Sone, Sachiko (1990) The Karayuki-san of Asia, 1868-1938: The role of prostitutes overseas in Japanese economic and social development. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is a social and economic history of the Karayuki-san - that is Japanese prostitutes who went overseas, especially in Asia, in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the fact that the karayuki-san contributed a great deal financially to their traditional village and family economies, they had been almost completely ignored in the history of modern Japan up until the early 1970’s, when two female historians began to trace the significance of their lives and work overseas. Their story is in part the history of Japanese women being victimised by men and their nation in the early modern era. The lives and fate of these women also signify an important phase in the recent history of labour and migration in Japan, and the emergence of Japan as a world leader in the Asian-Pacific region in this century.

The thesis examines the lives and circumstance of the karayuki-san from a broad historical perspective. It re-evaluates their important role in Western colonisation and development, and the advent of Japanese Imperialism in Asia. In a very real sense as migrants, they were early pioneers in the history of Japanese economic expansion in Asia between 1868 and 1938, just prior to the outbreak of World War II.

The history of these women and their contribution to the development of modern Japan is explored in six chapters. The introduction provides a historical overview of the history of Japanese prostitution, and then explains the emergence of the phenomenon of the karayuki-san in the second half of the 19th century. The first chapter links Japanese economic development and its impact on traditional society with prostitution in the modern era. The second chapter describes the geographical range of the "flesh trade" and Japanese brothel prostitution in Asia - from the wastelands of Siberia to the northern fringe of Australia, the eastern periphery of Southeast Asia. The third chapter reveals the organisation and extent of the network of traffic in women and children and brothel prostitution in Asia. The profits to be made by both traffickers and Japanese settlers as a consequence of the "flesh trade" through the presence of these women is highlighted. The fourth chapter explores the karayuki-san's inside experience and local environment in all its diversity, focussing primarily on the large ports in the Asian region such as Vladivostok in Siberia, Dairen in Manchuria, Hongkong in China, Singapore in the Malay Peninsula, Medan in Sumatra and Manila in the Philippines. The fifth chapter explains changes in the attitude of Japanese officialdom toward the karayuki-san after 1920. It focuses on the Government's desire to gain international political recognition and status, the increasing pressure emanating from a world wide campaign for suppression of traffic in women and children, and the upsurge in the Japanese economy. The final chapter traces the karayukisan' s repatriation from Asia between 1918 and 1921 and their adjustment to Japanese rural society. This chapter also considers the significance of the "lanfu" - a new type of Japanese prostitute sacrificed for the sake of Japan's Military expansion in Asia after 1937. The conclusion summarises the narrative and links the karayuki-san's life and work to Japan's uneven economic development, and her inevitable expansion into Asia in the late 19th and 20th centuries. A historical investigation of the karayuki-phenomenon reveals that prostitution and out-migration are very important indicators of the social and economic well being of a nation, which ironically, helps to explain the "Japayuki-san" phenomenon - Asian women, especially Filipina, Thai, Korean and Taiwanese, going to a modern wealthy Japan to work as prostitutes over the last two decades, hoping to seek their fortunes.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Warren, James
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