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Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008

LETTERS FROM KOBE

Fraternization — and consequences

Young, reckless, open-eyed GIs broke social taboos, found war brides, racist laws, VD


Staff writer

Third in a series

One highlight of the letters sent home by Elizabeth Ryan when she was a provost court reporter for the Inspector General at the Occupation force in Kobe is her descriptions of the sexual relations between U.S. soldiers and Japanese women.

News photo
Fall in: U.S. soldiers line up holding an American flag in this undated photo taken in Japan by Elizabeth Ryan, who stayed in Kobe from February 1947 to July 1948. COURTESY OF KEN ALLEY

"When I first came and they put an honor roll in the daily bulletin showing the unit that had gone so many weeks without a case of VD (venereal diseases). I thought what kind of a place is this?" Ryan wrote.

"A lot of the weeding out process is done through the Inspector General — so I know a lot of the Kobe Base dirt," she wrote in another letter dated July 7, 1947.

She observed how the Occupation forces were mainly composed of young men, because most of the Pacific battle veterans were rotated home.

"The Army is suffering now from the influx of those 'juvenile delinquents' we heard so much about at home during the war. They've been caught up by draft or enlistment campaigns," she wrote.

"There are many overseas here who can't adjust to this life — but frankly, a kid away from home for the first time in his life — at 18 or 19 years of age — and in this strange land — really has a dog's life," she said.

Ryan left valuable records about the spread of venereal disease among U.S. soldiers who had sexual contact with Japanese women, many of them prostitutes, struggling to survive their postwar poverty.

Ryan also knew of many young Americans who married Japanese women despite racially discriminatory laws prohibiting the men from bringing their wives home, including a soldier who gave up his U.S. citizenship to marry a Japanese woman.

"Interracial marriage was prohibited by law in 28 states as of 1943, and in 15 states by 1948," said professor Shigeyoshi Yasutomi at Kaetsu University in Tokyo, a leading expert on issues related to Japanese war brides.

News photo
Occupation GI blues: This undated photo taken by Elizabeth Ryan between 1947 to 1948 shows the Metropolitan Provost Marshal's headquarters in Kobe. COURTESY OF KEN ALLEY

"Given such an intolerant environment, Japanese brides, even if brought to the U.S., could have been taken into custody in some states. So some couples got married in Japan as (the groom) intentionally renounced his American citizenship," he said.

"They had expected to suffer discrimination and prejudice (in the U.S.)," Yasutomi said.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Act of 1924 prohibited Asians from settling in the U.S.

Americans soldiers could not bring home their Japanese war brides until July 22, 1947, when President Harry Truman signed the so-called Japanese Brides Act.

The temporary act allowed only Japanese spouses who married Americans by Aug. 21, 1947, to enter the U.S.

Thus the brief window prompted 831 mixed couples to rush to register their marriage, as mentioned in Ryan's letter of Aug. 19, 1947.

According to Yasutomi, Japanese-Americans in the U.S., of whom more than 120,000 had been placed in internment camps during the war, had long campaigned for the Japanese bride law to combat racism and improve their social status.

As laws were further relaxed, 45,853 Japanese women emigrated to the U.S. between 1947 and 1964, Yasutomi said.

Following are excerpts from Ryan's letters describing American soldiers and their relations with Japanese women:

June 2 , 1947

Morals here are enough to make you lose your eyebrows. (You couldn't just raise your eyebrows, cuz you'd be worn out raising them so much of the time). . . .

The social problem of VD — one that is hush-hush at home and in polite civilized circles, is common talk here. A unit is given a commendation when it goes for several weeks without any new cases of VD.

When officers encourage boys to fraternize — when all the dance halls have is Japanese hostesses — they (the Army) deserve the black record of VD that it has.

In fact to my thinking, it is legalized prostitution. Can you imagine the Army requiring dance hall hostesses be examined at the dispensary twice a week — to be sure they are not infecting the boys?

Then, too, the boys may request that girls whom they know be brought in for examination! Wow!! What is this world coming to?

July 21, 1947

Here the Jap gals are anxious to please, but in most cases they are being "led on" by the smooth American tongue of the American male — and will just be "poor butterflies" when this is over.

As yet intermarriage is forbidden between the white & yellow races. I saw one boy last week — he came in from Kyoto — a witness on a case — who married a Japanese girl & consequently lost his citizenship. Wonder how he'll like living here forever.

Giving up U.S. citizenship is much too high a price to pay, by golly!

But they've got it coming!!

Aug. 19, 1947

Since president Truman signed that bill making marriages between American and Japanese legal if performed before Aug. 20th — the whole Base has been in a titter.

Loads of applications came thru but the only ones the General approved favorably were between Nisei (Japanese ancestry and the first generation to be born abroad) and Japanese.

Brad Morgan, who is the State Dept. representative here says he feels like "Marryin' Sam." He had 40 yesterday. It consists of merely signing a certificate — paying $2.00 for the State Dept. — one yen (2 cents) for the Japanese government — stamp the thing "paid" and call "next!"

We had a shock yesterday when we heard of a nice looking young blonde kid — a civilian who came in dragging a Japanese woman 11 years older than himself whom he presented as his wife.

15 minutes after they were married they were right there for "the rations."

Mary issues the ration cards.

It's a funny deal tho! The men have to live in authorized billets — cannot live in Jap homes and the curfew that applies to all occupation personnel also applies to them — no staying in a Japanese home after 11 P.M.

The government will not issue housing for them since there is not that much available. The girls may eat with the men in the dining halls of their billet.

I wonder how the other occupants will take that. Quite a few Negro soldiers made application for permission to marry but when they heard they couldn't "sleep wif" the gals they weren't too interested.

The gals, too, when they found they couldn't buy in the grocery section of the PX weren't interested. However, they will get a tobacco, soap & candy ration.

The Japan Times is running the Letters from Kobe series featuring letters Elizabeth Ryan wrote in Occupied Japan from 1947 to 1948 that were recently discovered by Ken Alley, who runs a secondhand bookstore in Nebraska. The next part will appear in Wednesday's edition (Thursday's in some areas).


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