Pan-pan Girls: Humiliating Liberation in Postwar Japanese Literature

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Rumi Sakamoto


This paper looks at some literary representations of the ‘pan-pan girls’ in postwar Japan. ‘Pan-pan’ is a derogatory term for street prostitutes who (mostly) served the soldiers of the occupying forces. Immediately after World War II, the Japanese government established the RAA (Recreation Amusement Association) and employed several thousand women to provide sexual services for foreign soldiers, ostensibly to protect Japanese women of middle and upper classes from rape and other violence. When the RAA was closed down in 1946 due to the US concern over widespread VD, many of the women who lost their jobs went out on the street and became private and illegal prostitutes – the pan-pan girls. With their red lipstick, cigarettes, nylon stockings and high-heel shoes, often holding onto the arms of tall, uniformed American GIs, the ‘pan-pan girls’ became a symbol of the occupation, and have been textually reproduced throughout the postwar period. This paper analyses the images and representations of the ‘pan-pan girls’ in postwar Japanese literature, to consider how the ‘pan-pan girls’ have functioned as a metaphor for the occupation and contributed to the public memory construction of the occupation. I identify some major codes of representations (victimisation, humiliation, and national trauma; eroticism and decadence; sexual freedom and materialism) and argue that the highly gendered and sexualised bodies of the ‘pan-pan girls’ have continued to allow simplistic and selective remembering of the occupation at the expense of recalling the pivotal role of Japanese patriarchy in the postwar period.

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General Articles (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Rumi Sakamoto, University of Auckland

Rumi Sakamoto is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Asian Studies, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.