Rebellious Bodies, Unsettling Memories: Transpacific Cultural Research on Japanese Sex Workers in the Early 20th Century Canada

Abstract
This lecture is based on my ongoing research on cultural memories of ameyuki-san, Japanese women who engaged in sex work in North America at the turn of the 20th century. This project examines how memories of ameyuki-san are produced today through literary, cinematic and art forms, and different ways in which their experiences and stories are interpreted in Japan, Canada and the United States. It also attempts to disrupt and complicate how we remember their lives and experiences through critical archival research. My research is built on my joint project (2012-2016) with Julia Aoki, which involved translation of Shohei Osada’s column series entitled “Makutsu Tankenki” (Exploration of Devil Caves), published in early Japanese language newspaper Tairiku Nippo (The Continental News) from 1908 to 1912. The series presents details of the lives of Japanese men and women involved in the sex trade.
In this presentation, I will discuss part of the findings from my archival research, focusing on selected stories included in Exploration of Devil Caves; other sporadic stories on the topics related to prostitution, human trafficking and sexuality; and gossip contributed by readers. Having a strong conviction that their “immorality” exacerbates white racism against the Japanese in Canada, the newspaper generally condemns ameyuki-san. Here, the community publication becomes a site of disciplining and regulating women’s bodies by exposing and shaming their sexual conduct and ultimately ostracizing from the community those who were deemed immoral. However, I find these stories also ambivalent—they often reveal the agency of ameyuki-san who survived the underground world by highlighting their transgressive and tactical acts, almost with admiration.
This presentation brings to light stories of ameyuki-san’s rebellious acts that I encountered in Tairiku Nippo and present them as unsettling memories that refuse discursive containment and a closure.
About the Speaker
Ayaka Yoshimizu is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Asian Studies at University of British Columbia. She completed her PhD in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in 2016. Her areas of interest include cultural memory, transpacific culture, women’s transnational migration, postcolonialism, feminist methodologies, and sensory ethnography.
Her dissertation reflects on the 2005 raid and eviction of transnational migrant sex workers and subsequent redevelopment of a marginalized neighbourhood in Yokohama, Japan. Based on nine-month fieldwork, it explores the politics, poetics and ethics of remembering migrants’ lives in the transnational space of sexual services. She has published two book chapters and six articles in internationally respected journals, including Meridians, Cultural Studies and Gender, Place and Culture. In 2017-2018, she is teaching courses on Japanese literature and cinema at the Department of Asian Studies at UBC.

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