When I was preparing for my oral exams last semester, the professors who do not work on East Asia (I had a European historian and a Latin American historian in my committee) were always fascinated by the nature of “inter-racial marriage” in the Japanese empire. Both in the history of childhood and youth and the history of modern empire, the most complex and flexible interpretations of “race” happened on the ground where colonial societies had no choice but face the existence of inter-racial sexuality and mixed children. In the Japanese empire, inter-racial marriage was not problematized in the same way as it was in European empires. For example, in two articles of roundtable discussion on marriage (結婚改善座談会) published in Korean Social Work (朝鮮社会事業 – yes I still love this journal) in May and June 1935, the participants, mostly Japanese bureaucrats and educators in Seoul, never discuss problems of inter-marriage. The central problem was rather an increasing number of old single women in Korea. Their presentation of statistics of the marriage success rate among graduates of the elementary school bears much resemblance to today’s discussion of unemployment rates. They agree this is a problem that “kyoka dantai (moral suasion groups)” should become involved in. Another major issue brought up during this roundtable is, of course, the ways in which people conduct wedding ceremonies. For the participants, excessively luxurious wedding ceremonies often exhaust village economies. The venue of wedding ceremonies was also discussed — e.g. whether it was appropriate to imitate Taisho Emperor and to use the Chōsen Shrine for ordinary people’s wedding.
The lack of discussion on inter-racial marriage by contemporary experts is not the only interesting feature to note. “It is an open secret among Korean scholars,” one professor of modern Korean history said to me the other day, “that there were a significant number of married couples between Korean men and Japanese women but there is so little study on it.” This is another surprise to non-East Asian historians. In other places it is men from the colonizing countries and women from colonized societies that married, and this feminization of colonies is often regarded as an aspect of Orientalism. There were, of course, married couples between Korean women and Japanese men, but as Oguma Eiji has already pointed out, the Government-General in Korea encouraged Japanese women to marry Korean men because, they thought, Japanese mothers were supposed to build the foundations of Japanese culture in the home.
How do you define “coloniality” in this relationship represented by couples of Korean men and Japanese women? To offer my half-baked thought first, we really need to re-think how the ‘Japanese woman’ was interpreted in relation to modernity. I cannot easily connect this to the discussion of coloniality — or assure that it is a useful concept here.
One chapter in Nam Pujin (南富鎭)’s book 文学の植民地主義 (Colonialism in Literature) deals with the issue of colonialism in love and marriage affairs. He introduces a number of Korean writers who wrote stories in which a Korean man dreamed of marrying a Japanese woman, a Korean couple who pretended as if they had been a Korean-Japanese couple, a Japanese woman who marries a Korean man, and mixed children who grew up hating their Korean origins owing to the social discriminations they received, and so on. Nam recognizes some “coloniality” in that it is usually Koreans who have to “confess” their origin, and will come to be “understood” by their Japanese partners even in recent love stories. His discussion of the novels from the 20s and 30s is more thought-provoking. Nam points out that “Naisen kekkon (Korean-Japanese marriage) was consistently the most trendy topic for literature, and despite its political nature, it was the most popular fantasy and hope to overcome obstacles that the state and ethnicity impose on one’s love and marriage” (27). We cannot say that Naisen kekkon was as prevalent among Korean masses as Korean writers and intellectuals experienced, but it seems to me that discussion of such marriages could appear fresh and even rebellious in a way that was not necessarily directed against the Japanese colonial government, but against older generations or elite Korean families.
Nam Pujin also presents a convincing argument that Japanese women represented ‘modernity’ in the eyes of Korean masses. This itself is an interesting and anomalous case from a comparative perspective. But at the same time, the story is not simply a reverse sexual representation of imperial modernity. Japanese women represented much more than that. What caught my attention was Nam’s description of a novel called 処女の倫理 (Ethics of the Virgin) written by a well-known Korean writer Chang Hyakchu 張 赫宙 in 1939. In this novel, an independent-minded Japanese woman fell in love with and married a Korean man, but was betrayed by him because he had an official Korean wife, and was discriminated against within Korean society. According to Nam, “double marriage” was quite common since many Korean intellectuals either abandoned or ignored their official wives whom they were forced to marry at younger age, and had love affairs with Japanese women. However strongly Korean men desired a Japanese woman as if it would symbolize an achievement of modernity, this particular novel depicted very unstable power relationships that could be caused as a consequence of such a phenomenon.
There is another piece of evidence on the complexity of the issue that I found in the roundtable article mentioned above. Mōri (a commissioner to the Government-General in Korea) says, “Ladies who were raised in Korea face difficulty in finding a marriage partner.” It soon becomes clear that he is referring to Japanese women who grew up in Korea. The first reason he gives is “women who grew up in Korea are too used to luxury and cannot even sew a Kimono. Those who grew up in Japanese (naichi) rural areas are pretty good at this.” According to Mōri, Japanese men preferred naichi women who were not as “modernized” as those who grew up in Korea. It makes sense that Japanese officials and business people who were dispatched to Korea received extra salaries and benefits, and their children regarded themselves as upper-class in comparison to both the average Japanese and Korean families. Does this mean what “the real Japanese woman” represented differed significantly for Korean writers and for Japanese men?
Given the resulting mess, I cannot pin down who colonized whom or even how we could know of it in this issue of Korean-Japanese marriage.