The year was 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Allied troops poured into war-torn Japan and spread throughout the country. The effect of this influx on the local population did not lessen in the years following the war's end. In fact, the presence of foreign servicemen also heightened the visibility of certain others, particularly panpan--streetwalkers--who were objects of their desire.
Occupying Power shows how intimate histories and international relations are interconnected in ways scholars have only begun to explore. Sex workers who catered to servicemen were integral to the postwar economic recovery, yet they were nonetheless blamed for increases in venereal disease and charged with diluting the Japanese race by producing mixed-race offspring. In 1956, Japan passed its first national law against prostitution, which produced an unanticipated effect. By ending a centuries-old tradition of sex work regulation, it made sex workers less visible and more vulnerable. This probing history reveals an important but underexplored aspect of the Japanese occupation and its effect on gender and society. It shifts the terms of debate on a number of controversies, including Japan's history of forced sexual slavery, rape accusations against U.S. servicemen, opposition to U.S. overseas bases, and sexual trafficking.
"It is well-researched, thoughtful and courageous, and provides much material for scholarly and social debate. Occupying Power nicely complicates our understanding of the power dynamics of occupation, and of the place of sexual interactions within those dynamics . . . I hope that Kovner's research inspires further interrogations of sexual relations under military occupation."—Christine de Matos, Japanese Studies
"[Kovner] reaches for and firmly grasps interconnections, whether across national boundaries or periods of time, and frequently with an eloquence that requires rereading and sharing. . . . The rave reviews coming in from leading scholars suggest that Kovner already has vaulted into the front ranks of Japanese scholarship. Summing Up: Essential."—R. B. Lyman Jr., CHOICE
"Although there have been many books published in recent years dealing either with the post-WW II period of Japanese history or with modern Japanese gender history (whether the focus is on geisha, comfort women, or occupation-era sex workers), this new book by a young historian manages rather brilliantly to advance the discussion of all these interrelated issues. In presentation, the author's prose is entirely free of obfuscation and jargon. Kovner lays out her evidence so logically and clearly that a neophyte undergraduate could follow the interconnected strands of evidence and argument and the many ways even familiar categories such as geisha have sometimes been misconstrued. The author's fluency in Japanese opens up reams of evidence at a level not always seen in books about Japan. She reaches for and firmly grasps interconnections, whether across national boundaries or periods of time, and frequently with an eloquence that requires rereading and sharing . . . The rave reviews coming in from leading scholars suggest that Kovner already has vaulted into the front ranks of Japanese scholarship. Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries."—R. B. Lyman Jr.
"Sarah Kovner has written a path-breaking work of Japanese history using a broad range of sources from Japanese, American, and British Commonwealth archives. This book will serve as the base line for studies in the history of sex work in postwar Japan for many years to come. Beyond that, it is an important study of women's history, sexuality, and military occupation in the twentieth century, and should be of interest to scholars in these fields worldwide."—William Johnston, Wesleyan University
"Rich, theoretically-informed, and based on extensive archival research in several countries, Sarah Kovner's study sheds new light on a hitherto unexplored aspect of the Allied occupation of Japan—its sexual politics."—Vera Mackie, University of Wollongong, and author of Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality