- Japanese War Brides in America: An Oral History
In the countries featured in Japanese War Brides in America: An Oral History, people conventionally celebrate marriage by donning ritual attire, preparing official documents, and performing religious rites and ceremonies. Despite such treasured traditions, however, the estimated fifty thousand Japanese women who married American GIs after World War II were rarely accorded such pleasures at home or in the U.S. On the contrary, many were met with distrust, hostility, and condescension. Yet, few regret their decisions.
Addressing these issues are three co-authors, Miki Ward Crawford, Katie Kaori Hayashi, and Shizuko Suenaga, who have contributed roughly six chapters each. (Their book thus divides into a three-part compendium of nineteen chapters, each comprising pithy life narratives of nineteen women). Suggesting their motivation for this work, Hayashi notes that “In the 20th century, researchers often ignored the history of the Japanese Americans except for Japanese American internment during World War II” (ix). Even more neglected, she adds, has been the history of “Japanese war brides,” who came to the U.S. from 1946 to 1965, some half century after the first wave of Issei (first-generation Japanese migrants) in the late nineteenth century (ix).
At the heart of this work is the theme of overcoming obstacles, especially in international marriage. As noted in the acknowledgments, the very expression “Japanese war bride” has had a negative connotation since its inception (xi). While the term has remained neutral in English, its Japanese translation “sensōhanayome” was stigmatized due to “the belief that most war brides were former prostitutes” (250). It was only in the late 1980s that the war brides “started speaking up for themselves” after setting up the Nikkei International Marriage Society, which, in turn, created a strong social network of women, some of whom were interviewed for this book (250). Despite its problematic nature, the authors retain the term “war brides,” since a “less offensive [term] that specifically identifies these women . . . has yet to be identified” (xi). [End Page 340]
The narratives of Japanese War Brides reveal that a majority of these women experienced rejection not only in Japan but also in the U.S., as well as in the cultural borderlands of overseas military and Japanese American communities. The brides were reproached by Japanese compatriots for marrying “the enemy,” pursuing “mixed marriages,” and thus sullying “pure bloodlines” that were especially valued before the war (88). Likewise, U.S. officials and military personnel demonstrated contempt for such unions by making the process of legitimizing the international marriages extremely difficult. As some couples recollect, the administrative red tape was so dense that it seemed “clear that the intention [of U.S. authorities] was to discourage these interracial couples from getting married” (32).
The wives continued to face challenges after moving to the U.S. While many remember the kind treatment of American in-laws, they also recollect experiences of cultural isolation, ostracism, and legal discrimination. Many moved to places where “most [Americans] . . . had never seen a Japanese person. . .[and] anti-Japanese sentiments were still common” (127). Making matters worse, the Japanese American community also shunned the young brides as uninvited outsiders. Arriving on the arms of American servicemen, the brides had never experienced the injustices of wartime internment. On the contrary, many were moving directly into white, middle-class neighborhoods and cooking American food for non-Japanese spouses and English-speaking children.
Given its focus on minority struggles, this book should draw its largest audience from scholars and students of Asian American and especially Japanese American studies. In addition, since it bridges the disciplines of history, women’s studies, and race and ethnicity, the book models the type of valuable research that is produced when given a robust interdisciplinary framework. Meanwhile, oral historians will gain critical insights pertaining to matters of data collection, transcription, and translation. Above all, the three-part/three-author format underscores some of the salient ways in which historians inevitably direct and shape the...