Regina Lark on Japanese Brides

Regina Lark on Japanese Brides
Interviewed by Miae Kim
Date: 12/8/04
1 Disc, 63:47, 2 Tracks

TRACK 1 – 55:52

MIAE: Introduce yourself.

REGINA LARK: I am Regina Lark. I am assistant director for the center for the study of women here at UCLA and I wrote a doctoral dissertation titled “They Challenged Two Nations: Japanese Women…”

MIAE: Do it again.

REGINA LARK: My name is…I am Regina Lark. I am the assistant director for the center for the study of women here at UCLA. I am being interviewed because I wrote a doctoral dissertation, “They Challenged Two Nations: Japanese women married to American men, 1945 to the present.”

MIAE: When did you write it?

REGINA LARK: I completed it in August of 1999.

MIAE: Why did you choose it?

REGINA LARK: I chose it because I had a wonderful professor who gave me a book by a war bride and her conclusion to the book was these women were miserable, they were married to men who were isolated and had no community. her study was based on interviews with 12 war brides who had lived in the US for 30 years and the 12 women were domestics for certain households in San Francisco. So the study was limited, but important because no one had discussed the war bride experience, which is a misnomer for the women in the study. When we study Japanese war brides versus European war brides. European war brides were married through WWII. From 1939 through the end in 1945. British soldiers, Australian, who were involved. They’re marrying during wartime. When Japanese women are getting married to WWII soldiers, it happens after the war is finished. It’s within the first year after 1945 this takes place. So they’re military brides. Many marry while the US is engaged in a police action with Korea, with North Korea. However, since that was never officially declared a war, I don’t know if they’re war brides. But the common term for post-WWII era women marrying officers is war brides. Anyway, Dr. Glen’s study on war brides concluded these women had miserable lives and their husbands were jerks. And I was stunned she could draw such conclusions from a study of 12 people. And that set me off on a course of study. I was a graduate student at Cal State Northridge at the time. I talked to a part-time faculty there, I said I would love to hear another story of war brides and I’m going to look for Japanese women who married American men and he said I did. And he introduced me to his wife, Oaka Cleve ,and I interviewed her for two days and her story was as antithetical as could be. She supported her husband through his PhD, she was making six figures, she was the epitome of the US success story and undermined everything I had just read. And when I went to graduate school at USC I launched upon a more formal study.

MIAE: How many did you interview?

REGINA LARK: 35. and I don’t have the figures in front of me. It would be approximately 25 “brides,” their spouses, and outside of the number 35 I also did two group taped interviews with their adult children, the products of these interracial relationships.

MIAE: What is your conclusion?

REGINA LARK: My conclusion is not very exciting. I concluded that some of the marriages were happy, some weren’t, some were normalized by American standards in terms of a very strong adherence to gender roles. The marriages, some had problems in terms of adultery, alcoholism, and others are wildly successful and going on 55 years. So in my study there was no way to make a determination of good or bad. They seemed typical of marriage everywhere. They had issues early on with language and cultural issues and a fear Japan wouldn’t go anywhere. A lot of women went very far to “become American.” They believed they needed to fit in. so the first ten, fifteen years of their relations had components not found in American same-race relationships. But as they got older and the children grew up they really moved over to embracing that which they saw made them Japanese versus American. And the term American is being used here in traditional ways. I don’t know what it means to be American. If anything, I t means to be a diverse society. However, when these women first come to the US, the cult of domesticity drops into their laps, to present a good home, to present a good front, and a lot of them worked hard to do that, taking on English language skills, driver’s licenses, voting, becoming naturalized. But their relationships on the whole over time resembles any other relationship I’ve seen. They communicate or don’t. some went on to get college degrees, some didn’t. to a person, those with children take great pride in their offspring’s accomplishments. Some husbands learned Japanese, some fluently, some to the degree to say “I love you,” hello, goodbye, and to have limited conversations with families. Some were disowned when they left Japan, some never did. Some were re-embraced by their family when they saw she stood by her decision. Some said terrible things to their daughter and took it all back.

MIAE: How did Japanese women start marrying soldiers?

REGINA LARK: It’s an interesting story because the US military presence anywhere in the world always meant that soldiers and local women would get together. When the occupation started in Japan McArthur laid down an anti-fraternization moratorium. It was an impossible order to uphold. Not only was the US military providing a million jobs on basses, as servants, in bars, brothels, laundries, gardeners. The occupation forces were one of the major employers in Japan. Everywhere the occupation was they employed local folks. So anti-fraternization orders could not be upheld. I’m going to back up a second. The occupation started at the end of August 1945. the war ended, I believe on August 21st. the occupation started a week later. All through the US war with Japan the US military and Washington and the media had to put an awful spin on the Japanese people. There is a writer, Dower, who wrote a book called a War with out Mercy. And the racially inscribed messages about who the Japanese people were created a situation where Americans, primarily Caucasian Americans, primarily whites in the US grew to despise the Japanese because of their racial differences. And in the US we’ve always had strong anti-Asian sentiment. So they make the Japanese to look as vile, and as beast-like as we could. So the war ends and we’re going to convince the American people we’re going to spend millions of dollars in a place that was called our sworn enemy. So how do we convince people that their sons, daughters, are going to be in a place like this for an indeterminate time. So how do we convince them they’re going to be safe, that these are not beasts. So McArthur said we have to show a new face of the Japanese. It is children, docile, people willing to learn. And who is going to do this but our soldiers. These young men who had grown up during the Great Depression and had morals and so what McArthur does is lets the media come into occupied Japan and take photographs of docile, childlike Japanese women. Japanese women are going to be seen as most receptive to democratic, “democratic,” the US has a strange way of displaying democracy, but that’s another discussion, but Japanese women are going to be seen as most receptive to democratic ideals. In fact, when the Japanese constitution is written, the family hierarchy is abolished. Women are encouraged to make love marriages rather than family marriages. Women are allowed to vote in 1947. 39 women are elected to the Japanese diet. It was a way to encourage women to adopt this idea of democracy. And they’re used to promote this along with McArthur’s sterling upright soldiers. So in the initial months of the occupation there was an immense fear. The Japanese were told throughout the war that the Americans were these evil, war-mongering, racist society and the Americans were taught the Japanese were the same. Japanese women were instructed before the occupation to go to the hills, stay with your families. The major urban areas in Japan had been decimated during the war. The homelessness, the poverty, there were tremendous problems. The women were told to head for the hills, we know what they do to women and children. If you can’t leave, shave your head, put on baggy clothing, and look unassuming because these guys are going to snatch you off the street and it’s going to be hell. So there was a tremendous amount of fear. And much to the credit of cooler heads, was it McArthur? I don’t know. But in a short period of time these two groups, the Japanese women, and these were women who had lived through a terrible war, there was an entire generation of men missing. They stopped going to school after a while because they were being used for munitions factories, and I can just imagine what those early days were like. Women are always pawns in war. Shortly after the occupation started it was as if trust emerged….and again the occupation forces are hiring Japanese citizens in droves. Women who had education were hired as translators, those who didn’t were hired as domestic workers. Those with high school education were hired as secretaries, diplomats, hired to take officer’s wives on tours. Attending base churches, if they work on base they attend church. There are a lot of women who at different points in Japanese history there was a lot of missionary work going on. There were women who had adopted Christian faith. And the occupation forces funded heavily bars and brothels for their soldiers, so women were getting jobs there as well. So these are the spaces they’re meeting in. some have no moral value and some seen as proper places for women.

MIAE: But they weren’t allowed to marry.

REGINA LARK: they weren’t allowed to marry. The party line was we’re not going to let you marry because you’ll never be able to take your wife to the US because the US has these perscripted immigration laws that does not allow anyone to immigrate from Asia from an 1924 law. The Japanese-American citizen league began working hard on the behalf of Nisei soldiers who wanted to marry Japanese women. In 1947 congress passed the first of three what I would call Japanese war bride acts to allow these couple sot marry. The first act in 1947 had a thirty-day window where they could marry. Congress passed a fiancé-act where a serviceman could bring his fiancé to the US. but again we’re dealing with the US which had racially-inscribed marriage laws. Very racist society the US is, as much as we pride ourselves on our democracy. So these fiancé acts did not yield a lot of women coming to the US. in 1947 they’ve got a Japanese war bride immigration act and women had to hustle to get their marriages approved. They had to undergo psychological tests, gynecological tests, their teachers are being asked for affidavits on their characters, tuberculosis, not insane, and rigorous highly intimate and embarrassing hoops. Some of the women said we can’t take this anymore. Some of their families disagreed to such a degree that their anger…here are women about to marry one of Japan’s most recent enemy. They lost over a million people in this war, they can’t figure their daughters out. Because of how much they had to do, and they had to meet with the military base chaplain. It was the base chaplain’s report that could make or break the relationship. Approximately, under 25 marriages made it through and maybe 19 immigrated as a result of that. And boom, 30 days is over. Mike Masomota, head of the JACO at the time, went to congress and said Japanese women can immigrate for 30 days and that’s it? You’ve got to extend this law. And so the JACO kept lobbying. In the meantime, two things are happening. It’s not just Nisei who are falling in love, it’s Caucasian men, it’s African-American men, it’s Mexican American men, the phenomenon is growing. And it’s a phenomenon because these are the first and biggest group of interracial marriages that occur after two important laws. The first was the 1690 Misogynation act which was not repealed until 1967. so from 1690 to 1967 we have a law that says whites and non-whites are not allowed to marry. California Washington and Oregon are going to be the first states in the US to overturn these laws. And this happens 1947, ’48. and the other event is that these marriages are going to take place well before these women are allowed to immigrate before another major piece of immigration, the McCaren, Walker act, allows interracial immigration. So these women are pioneers, hardy souls. Some military men’s parents wrote to congress saying he’s in love, she’s a wonderful girl. So sometimes I came on a private bill in congress saying that soldier can bring that woman to the US. they could bring them to the US after the passage of other Japanese war bride acts that’s going to happen in ’50 and ’51 that lifts that racial barrier for a year of time each time . so every now and then you see private bills to allow immigration of a single Japanese woman but it’s not until ’52 this bill passes that can allow immigration of these women. The US is in Japan not as an occupation force but as an allied force, so a great marriages happen in 1952. there are several hundred each time you have an act pass in congress. They still have to undergo physical, psychological testing, they still need affidavits, they still meet with a base chaplain. These notes by these chaplains, many of whom saw a mixed-race sitting before them and were old-fashioned and thought it wouldn’t work out. Some saw a Japanese or Nisei soldier and assumed the marriages would work out because they’re of the same race, ethnicity. Now, a Nisei or a Sensei is no more Japanese. They were born and raised in Long Beach. So nonetheless, they saw them as similar, so you’re similar, you can get married. But what the women described to me was very difficult. And they’re looked upon as prostitutes no matter what their occupation. The women who were singing in the church choir and fell in love with the African-American solider in the pew, when they’re seen hand in hand they’re going to be thought of as a prostitute or gold digger. Not everybody made it through the process. And you’re going to have a handful of women who are doing it to get out of a situation and there are men who aren’t good to women. But most couples were on the up and up. They were married, they wanted a good life, and they had to go through a lot to have a good life.

MIAE: They weren’t allowed to enter.

REGINA LARK: No, the first war bride act they could immigrate but they only had 30 days.

MIAE: Just the war bride act for everybody?

REGINA LARK: What’s interesting is the US treatment of European war brides was so much more welcoming than the Japanese. The Red Cross had a big role in bringing European brides to the US. they commandeered brides ships where the women, French, British, German, and war brides, Germany was our enemy in WWII and we got over that quickly for some reason. But bride ships brought women over to the US and these were like ocean liners. There were nurses on board to help with babies who might be born during the war. Once they got to the US the American Red Cross would help them locate the family members. It was different. When Japanese women were marrying GIs there were no bride ships. They actually got married on base before they were sent to the US. either in advance of their husband’s tour of duty ending or when the tour of duty ended and they would go. The American Red Cross sponsored ‘bride schools’ where they learned the domestic arts of American housewifery. And it was as pedantic as how to use a hairbrush. The lectures were the most ridiculous thing. I came across a run of Red Cross bride handbooks. How to tell if you’re pregnant, brushing your hair, what to wear while you’re doing housework, American food, nothing about race relations. Assumptions their husbands were Christian. It was mainly officer’s wives teaching these classes. The wives came from a different class structure and for Japanese women no matter what class they were born into, the war changed that. And Japan became a classless society for a time while they’re picking up the pieces. And I saw photos of women so excited to see a vacuum cleaner or a knife sharpener. They were taught to serve salad, to bring a kimono or laquerware out on special occasions. Back up. My research, there’s a component of my research that talks about containing Japanese identity, and Elaine Tyler May wrote a book called Homeward Bound and life in the US after WWII and she talks about a containment of female independence. Women were very independent during the war and when the war ends it’s contain the family in the homes on the cul-de-sacs, around the television. And I took that a step further into how Japanese women were proscribed. Contain your culture, contain your Japanese accouterments. Contain this idea of self. And this is how the women are coming to the US, with this idea of compartmentalizing this idea of being Japanese. This is not something you bring forward. Sure, if we look at you we can tell you’re Japanese but if you do these things, if you learn how to serve salad, cook a pot-roast, make a bed, then no one will know you’re an other. They were shown videos of America the Beautiful and Johnny’s Day and shown the inside of a grocery store and they were not told about race relations and they’re going to visit areas where people have never seen a Japanese woman before. They’re going to live on the West or on military bases, which a lot did because of the benefits, because of the housing shortage. So if the husband reenlists the women would live on bases with other mixed-race couples. But they’re going to visit their husband’s families, many were from the south. They’re going to find themselves in South Carolina, not knowing what to do with the colored or white water fountain. They’ll sit on buses, their families are describing them in racially described terms. One couple showed me the wedding announcement and she was referred to as the “little Japanese butterfly” in one article and “doll bride” in the photograph. A lot of folks here in the US see what they want to see, a solicitor would knock on the door and look at the Japanese woman and say is your mommy home? So these women were faced with issues they had not been prepared for in the bride schools. They jumped through those hoops with determination and courage.

MIAE: The term “war bride.”

REGINA LARK: A lot of women believe that the term still connotates something negative, primarily that these women were gold-diggers, users, or prostitutes. I became involved with the Nikkei International Marriage Society and it’s an international Japanese war bride club. But because a lot of the women still associated the term ‘war bride’ with something negative, Kazuko Stout is proud she’s a war bride, but she was sensitive to the title and made sure the title did not indicate these women had married during a war occupation. I think ‘military bride’ would be more acceptable. I know women in this organization would think ‘war bride’ was negative. I went to a convention with them in Tokyo and was astounded by the fact that they didn’t think of their mothers as ‘war brides’ or ‘brides,’ just mom. And they were taken b the fact their mom was worth an intensive study. However, when these adult children accompanied their moms to a war bride convention in their homeland. And I heard stories about the women finally opening up and talking about the circumstances around their childhood, their young adulthood, what they had to go through in their marriages, and these children came away from this with a different view of their moms, and saw them worth of study.

MIAE: How many have married?

REGINA LARK: I don’t have those statistics at hand. I know the US is still occupying bases in Japan and South Korea. As long as that occurs there will be these types of marriages. I say tens of thousands of these marriages are in the US. or are abroad and haven’t finished duty. When I was in Japan at this particular convention, I did meet a handful of Caucasian of retired military who never returned to the US. they loved Japan and stayed and lived there. So it’s hard to tell the numbers that took place. Immigration statistics can tell us how many right now.

MIAE: So far…

REGINA LARK: I came up with a figure of probably 60,000. 40 – 60,000. I know others put the number much higher and I look at immigration statistics more than anything. Are those the most accurate? I think so. But if you’re not coming from Japan and you’re coming from someplace else and you’re Japanese and you married an American, that could be much higher. My interviews ended, I didn’t interview anybody who married after 1949, because I didn’t want to get into the Vietnam era. I would have never ended my study if I hadn’t stopped somewhere. When my study begins in ’45 and ends in ’49, I put the number at approximately 40,000 in that period of time.

MIAE: Okinawa?

REGINA LARK: Okinawa, Osaka, Tokyo. There is a strong military presence in the heart of Tokyo.

MIAE: Japanese women having difficulties in America and their achievement.

REGINA LARK: The difficulties surrounded a couple of things. Language was very big. Culture was very big. The inability to communicate verbally with their American-born husbands must have been tremendous. Families, extended families in my study, and again I only interviewed, out of the tens of thousands that are here I didn’t interview a thousand even, but in my study the husband’s families were welcoming after a short period of time. And try hard to help their daughters-in-law to adapt to American ways. It was never what can we learn from her, it was what can w e teach her? The initial reaction of the communities they moved around in. one woman told me she was in a store with her daughter and said something to her and another woman thought she had said something rude. Being mistaken for a child when you’re an adult woman. This US conception of race and living in a very racist society. In Japan it’s a very homogenous landscape and the US is a grand experiment in diversity. Those kinds of experience. Women reported their neighbors warmed to them quickly. T he kids had trouble because they were mixed-race. Later on the parents wished they had taught their kids more about being Japanese. Language, culture, food, a lot of them were lonely because they don’t have a lot of people around to talk with. Unless their husbands tried very hard to learn form the women a lot of them were lonely at the beginning of their time here. But I heard over and over again this was the bed they had made, they’re going to lie in it. If the husbands were abusers or alcoholics, some of the women stayed in those relationships as long as women in the US. it depended on the resources they had to leave this marriage.


TRACK 2 – 7:54

REGINA LARK: …look good in the eyes of their children. They were frustrated by the fact they couldn’t explain the school lessons. One told me her daughter was in tears because her daughter wanted a ruler for school and she didn’t know what a ruler was. the frustration of communication and the loneliness she must have felt. I imagine it was difficult for all of them. It’s not until later in life they find community and eventually they find each other. There’s a huge cultural change in the ‘60s and ‘70s. there is a sense of safety in expressing what it means to be Japanese. They start to branch out, joining community organizations, asked to speak at JACO meetings, getting college degrees, traveling, working hard to move their children forward. A lot of them will tell you one of their biggest achievements is the success of their children. They also are community organizers, spreading Japanese culture in their hometown. These homespun events, they are participating with their own idea of what it means to be American, and to them it means to be expressive of their Japanese ness. They hold tea ceremonies, do flower arranging, they use these domestic arts they were taught as young girls and teach young women these arts. Around military bases, they are involved in the lives of newly married Japanese women and military. Their names are in personnel offices of the bases. If a new military bride is coming to live in Seattle, Tacoma, the women are brought in, they say I know I was there. Sometimes they suggest the men are big liars and say leave, go home. They try to help ease the transition of these newly-married Japanese women living in Tacoma or the US for the first time.

MIAE: The image of them as prostitutes.

REGINA LARK: Mrs. Stout, the president of the Nikkei Society told me who could judge? If they did work as a prostitute, who could judge? They had families to support, you could earn more money in a brothel than in a factory. Who are we to judge where they come from? I think any woman could, we have this dichotomy where it comes to being female anywhere. You’re a good girl or a bad girl. US women are confronted with this too. If you have multiple sex partners, you’re a whore, if you don’t you’re frigid. Why are we looking at Japanese women who marry Americans as any different than other American women? It hurts me that American women see that stigma in some way. But I believe these women are nothing short of courageous and remarkable and brave. They enter into a US society that saw them as the enemy, a racist society, and those who stuck it out and adopted the US as their homeland I see as quite remarkable, so my job is to tell the story. I asked her one day why don’t people talk to the war brides? She said no one wants to hear the good story. That we are here, successful, that we love our husbands, and we’re women in our twilight years who have lived our lives as best we could.