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  • Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era by Tessa Morris-Suzuki
  • Youngmi Lim (bio)
Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era, by Tessa Morris-Suzuki. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xi, 286 pages, illustrations, maps, references, index. $99.00 cloth, $36.99 paper.

The year 2012 witnessed increased tensions between South Korea and Japan over the disputed sovereignty of the islets of Dokdo/Takeshima. The generally amicable relationship between the two nations rests on unsettled debates, though. Japan's colonization, war responsibilities, and the territorial sovereignty of Dokdo/Takeshima are the major simmering issues. Regardless of how thoroughly the Japanese have embraced South Korean popular icons, these debates and tensions have had a cooling effect on South Korea-Japan relations. A movement of revisionist history around since the mid-1990s and xenophobic Internet-based activism in the 2000s have vehemently denied Japan's responsibility for war and colonization. Contemporary Japanese anti-Korean sentiments represent the die-hard legacy of colonial and postcolonial racial hierarchies and the bungled handling of postwar and postcolonization political affairs. The surfacing of dormant historical and territorial disputes with South Korea has triggered outbreaks of public displays of anti-Korean racism in Japan.

Tessa Morris-Suzuki's 2010 monograph, Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era, should interest those who study Korea-Japan relations, the Korean minority population in Japan, and the construction and contour of Japanese and Korean collective identities during a period of aging populations and projected labor shortages in Japan and in South Korea. Scholars concerned with the development of border controls and immigration policy in twenty-first century East Asia will also benefit from Morris-Suzuki's critical analysis of the formative period of Japan's contemporary immigration control. The author presents bottom-up narratives about the effects of Cold War politics on the origins of Japan's post-World War II border control system and individual lives stranded in legal limbo by revisiting the geopolitical conditions of the Korean peninsula and Japan following Japan's defeat and the Allied occupation of Japan and Korea. Placing individual narratives of detained Korean illegal migrants, border-control officers, and policy-makers in the context of broader political and ideological forces when the Iron Curtain was just about to be drawn tight, this volume provides readers with a critical guide to contemporary issues that complicate the relationship between Japan and both Koreas.

Based on exhaustive archival research in Japan, Korea, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and Switzerland, as well as in-depth [End Page 149] interviews with undocumented, "irregular," Korean migrants in Japan and secondary sources such as newspaper articles and personal memoirs, Morris-Suzuki elucidates how Japan's contemporary border-control system was established in response to the particular historical circumstances of Cold-War-ridden East Asian geopolitics. She reports on resistance in popular discourse and among policy makers to proposals to overcome Japan's economic malaise through increased immigration (chap. 9). This volume thus situates Japanese border policies in a broader context of the marginalization of ethnic minorities and immigrant laborers so ubiquitously observed during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

The immediate postwar period marks a critical juncture: Japan had lost her colonies, including Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin, as well as the puppet state of Manchukuo. Hastily redrawn national boundaries (pp. 28-32) decisively influenced displaced individuals' fates—especially those of Koreans. Japan's colonial rule had provoked large-scale Korean population movements across East Asia, mainly for survival or Japanese war mobilization, but with the drawing of new borders they often found themselves "stranded on the wrong side of the line" (p. 33). It was part of a vast imposition of impassable national borders drawn between Japan and Korea, Japan and Okinawa, and Japan and China, and between ideologically divided Koreas and Chinas. New borders made the movement across these boundaries impossible for ordinary people.

Morris-Suzuki challenges two commonly held assumptions: (1) Japanese exceptionalism among industrialized nations in receiving its immigrant labor force and (2) hierarchical categorizations reflecting contemporary national-border-crossing practices. It has often been assumed that...