Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West, 1887-1920

Kazuhiro Oharazeki

  • Published: 2016. Paperback March 2018
  • Subject Listing: Asian American Studies; History / American History; Asian Studies / Japan
  • Bibliographic information: 312 pp., 11 illus., 5 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

This compelling study of a previously overlooked vice industry explores the larger structural forces that led to the growth of prostitution in Japan, the Pacific region, and the North American West at the turn of the twentieth century. Combining very personal accounts with never before examined Japanese sources, historian Kazuhiro Oharazeki traces these women's transnational journeys from their origins in Japan to their arrival in Pacific Coast cities. He analyzes their responses to the oppression they faced from pimps and customers, as well as the opposition they faced from American social reformers and Japanese American community leaders. Despite their difficult circumstances, Oharazeki finds, some women were able to parlay their experience into better jobs and lives in America. Though that wasn't always the case, their mere presence here nonetheless paved the way for other Japanese women to come to America and enter the workforce in more acceptable ways.

By focusing on this "invisible" underground economy, Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West sheds new light on Japanese American immigration and labor histories and opens a fascinating window into the development of the American West.
Kazuhiro Oharazeki is instructor of foreign studies at Setsunan University in Japan.

"A valuable addition-and intervention-to the existing scholarship on early Japanese American history and Asian American women's history. Provides a rare glimpse into the demographic characteristics of Japanese prostitutes, as well as the socioeconomic context in which they were compelled to leave home."
-Eiichiro Azuma, author of Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America

"Oharazeki offers innovative and original discussions about Japanese prostitution on global and comparative scales."
-Shelley Lee, author of Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America

Note on Individual Names


1. Across the Pacific Rim: Global Dimensions of Japanese Prostitution in the North American West 16
2. Hardships at Home: Micro-level Analysis of the Social Origins of Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West
3. Recruitment and Passage: Transpacific Migration of Japanese Prostitutes to the North American West
4. Racialized, Exploited, and Excluded: The Lives of Japanese Prostitutes and Barmaids in the North American West
5. Breaking the Shackles of Oppression: Japanese Prostitutes' and Barmaids' Response to Sexual and Economic Exploitation
6. The Emergence of Anti-Japanese Prostitution Reforms in the North American West from a Transpacific and Comparative Perspective

List of Abbreviations

"The author's sober, scholarly approach and style combine to require that the book be taken seriously and that the long, sometimes troubled, history between the US and Japan be broadened to include this sad aspect of early contacts between the two nations. Highly recommended."

"Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West, 1887-1920 tells their story in unprecedented detail. . . . A comprehensive study of these forgotten women who crossed the Pacific to live in a foreign country where they did not know the language."
-Japan Times (2016 Top 10 Best Books about Japan)

"Japanese Prostitutes in the North American West, 1887-1920 is an informative trans-national study on the evolution of Japanese communities in the Pacific Northwest. Clearly written and well organized, the book will appeal to students and scholars interested in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Japanese American history and Asian American women's history. . . . Oharazeki's dedication and adroitness in the archives will be a hard act to follow."
-Bill Mihalopoulos, Monumenta Nipponica

"An impressive volume. . . . Oharazeki has given us a valuable piece of transnational social history."
-Jeff Nichols, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"The arresting opening sentence of this informative monograph . . . grabs the attention of readers familiar with early twentieth-century Japanese history. . . . A thoughtful exploration of how the interaction of gender, race, and power shaped the relationship between those invisible women and men, traffickers and customers, in the North American West."
-Joan Ericson, Western Historical Quarterly