Lullaby of Karayuki-san: Tracing the Neglected Histories of Japanese Overseas Prostitutes by Dr Masaya Shishikura
Date : 21 Mar 2017
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Dr Bernardo Brown, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore


In this seminar presentation, I explore the neglected histories of Japanese overseas prostitutes who are called Karayuki-san. Karayuki-san is a generic term for Japanese overseas prostitutes who often came from the Shimabara/Amakusa region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In many cases, they were the daughters of poor families sold into the prostitution industry by deceit, and migrated overseas to Siberia, Manchuria, and Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Singapore. Many Karayuki-san sleep in Japanese cemeteries located in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Singapore. Today, the stories of Karayuki-san are often considered shameful and untold in mainstream history of Japan. However, during my fieldwork, I detected assorted voices of Karayuki-san that are concealed in local sites, trails, and folk songs. Here, I recognise the virtue of music that embraces hidden stories, sentiments and memories. A good example is the song “Lullaby of Shimabara [Shimabara no Komoriuta]” written by Miyazaki Kohei (1917-1980), which I will examine in detail. Although written in an anonymous form, the lyrics of the lullaby refer to subtle experiences and sentiments of Karayuki-san who were deceived and sold overseas. In former days in Japan, girls from poor families often sang a lullaby after being trafficked and put to serve as babysitters. Correspondingly, lullabies of Shimabara/Amakusa region include expressions of distress, loneliness and nostalgia for home that extend narratives of Karayuki-san and explicate untold stories of the trafficked girls. Music often embraces neglected narratives in the politics of memory and gives a voice to the voiceless.


Masaya Shishikura is an ethnomusicologist, and a lecturer of international studies at Tokyo University of Social Welfare. He is currently conducting research entitled “Music, Travel and Translation towards Trans-border Humanity”. Through several stories of travelling songs, this research explores the chains of humanity that transcend the boundaries of the nation, ethnicity, and religion. For this research, Shishikura has been awarded visiting fellowships from the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden (2014), and the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study, New Delhi (2015), where he also gave several lectures. Shishikura received an MA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (2007) and a PhD from the Australian National University (2014).


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