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Good women for empire: educating overseas female emigrants in imperial Japan, 1900–45*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 October 2013

Sidney Xu Lu*
Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, USA E-mail:


This article examines two tutelage campaigns launched by Japanese social reformers targeting Japanese emigrant women in Manchuria and California in the first two decades of the twentieth century. It reveals how these two middle-class-based social campaigns jointly paved the way for the Japanese state's ‘continental bride’ policy in the late 1930s, which mobilized and exported women from across the nation to Manchuria on an unprecedented scale. Synthesizing the stories of Japan's colonialism in Manchuria and Japanese labour migration to the American Pacific coast, this study traces the convergence and flows between the women's education campaigns in Japanese communities on both sides of the Pacific. It moves the debate of Japanese imperialism beyond Asia and situates it in a transnational space encompassing the local, the national, and the global.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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I am deeply grateful to Frederick Dickinson, Eiichiro Azuma, Ayako Kano, Siyen Fei, Tak Fujitani for their insightful comments. I owe an intellectual debt to Rachel Throop, who has carefully read every word of the draft and offered invaluable challenges and discussions. I would also like to thank JGH editors and anonymous readers for their sage advice, which allowed me to substantially refine my arguments.


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77 See ‘Chihō no tokōsha no katagata e’, p. 36; ‘Tobeisha no shiori’, October 1917, p. 29.

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106 Ibid., pp. 280–3.

107 Ibid.

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112 While my discussion focuses on the discourse surrounding ‘good’ women, as we can see, ‘bad’ women such as prostitutes were equally, if not more, necessary for the empire, though the latter demand was carefully hidden by the emphasis on respectable females.

113 Takumushō Takubeikyoku (Department of Northern Development, Ministry of Colonization), Joshi takushokusha teiyō (A guide for female colonists), 1942, pp. 124–5.

114 Ibid., p. 124. Purity-centred racial ideology was just one discourse on race in the history of the Japanese empire. Recent scholars have shown that Japanese racism was much more complicated than a belief in the homogeneity of the Yamato race. In Race for empire: Korean as Japanese and Japanese as American, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011, Takashi Fujitani demonstrates a strong multi-ethnic racial discourse in Japan during the Asia-Pacific War. This discourse attempted to grant imperial citizenship to people in the colonies in order to mobilize all resources throughout the empire for the war.

115 Watt, Lori, When empire comes home: repatriation and reintegration in postwar Japan, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009, p. 111CrossRefGoogle Scholar

116 As demonstrated in an article in Asahi Shinbun on 24 April 1946, cited in ibid., pp. 111–12.

117 In two major repatriation centres in Hakata and Sasebo, the numbers of abortions conducted were 1,200–1,300 and 400–500 respectively (ibid., p. 120). Some of these women died in the abortion process (ibid., p. 115); others committed suicide owing to social pressure (ibid., p. 116).

118 Abortion was not legalized in Japan until 1948; the government-sponsored abortions among the female repatriates were conducted around 1945 and 1946. Ibid., p.119–20.

119 Ibid., p. 113. As Watt further observes (p. 125), this discourse also resulted in the collective silence of the repatriate women about the atrocities that they experienced in the post-war era. In contrast to some comfort women who eventually came forward to uncover the war crimes committed by the Japanese military, the assaulted repatriates had ‘nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by confirming suspicions of the violation’, since this would do nothing but further reinforce their otherness in Japanese society.