American Soldiers, Panpan girls, and Sexual Danger in US-Occupied Japan, 1945-1952
American Soldiers, Panpan girls, and Sexual Danger
The Swiss Institute of Technology
Sex sold well in U.S. occupied Japan. In Tokyo alone about fifty-to-seventy thousand sex workers catered to American servicemen during the occupation period (1945-1952). Young women contemporarily known as “panpan girls,” “women of the night” (yoru no onna), or “streetwalkers” became—both in numbers and visibility—the most prominent agents of sex work in postwar Japan. American occupiers heatedly debated efforts to control those young women, who were perceived as the main source of venereal disease and would thus pose a threat to the health and morale of the occupation troops. Japanese administrators and feminist anti-prostitution activists likewise uttered their concern about Japan’s public morals and social stability. Japanese journalists, academics, writers, and photographers also showed much interest in the “panpan girl,” who became a protagonist in novels and short stories, and photographic images of her circulated in Japanese newspapers and journals. Although some
saw liberating potential in the streetwalking prostitute—socially, morally, and sexually—, in general, the panpan became object of a spectatorship of “sexual danger” (J. Walkowitz) that oscillated between interest and anxiety, fascination and repulsion, desire and stigma. Within this discourse, the figure of the panpan was nevertheless a constitutive signifier of loss and decay to imagine a better Japan for those desperate to overcome Japan’s post-surrender despair.