“Karayuki-san” and “Japayuki-san”

by Tomotaka Isono

It goes without saying that we should learn about the history of Japanese emigration before thinking today’s international emigration. Once Japanese people also went to foreign countries like America, Brasil etc. to work there. So, have you ever heard of the ladies they called “Karayuki-san” (からゆきさん)?

Karayuki-san were Japanese women who travelled to East Asia and Southeast Asia in the second half of 19th century to work as prostitutes (sex workers). The Chinese character for Karayuki-san is written “唐行きさん”. And the word of Karayuki-san means “People who go to Overseas”. (唐 is foreign countries, 行き is going.) Many of woman who went to work in overseas brothels as Karayuki-san were the daughters of poor agricultural or fishing families. Because of poor, the parents sell them to the mediators, and they become prostitutes. Some went to by themselves. But many of parents and daughters were told only that “There are many good jobs in overseas. You can get to be rich enough to send  money your parents home and country!”, they didn’t know working as prostitutes. Moreover the mediators made them own debts of about 5 million yen as secret transportation to overseas from Japan. So they were forced to work in brothels in order to pay back their debts and send money to their families in Japan.

As well as Karayuki-san, there are the women ,called “Japayuki-san” (ジャパゆきさん) in Japan. The word Japayuki-san is created in 1970s by Tetsuo Yamatani (山谷哲夫) who is documentary movie director, but now everyone don’t call like that. Japayuki-san is women from the Philippines, Thailand and so on come to Japan to work as prostitutes.  Some of them are deceived by honeyed words “You can work as model in Japan!”. There are many damages for them such as unpaid wages, illegal overstay or something. However, because they are illegal immigration, they can not call the police. So they don’t have human rights in Japan.

At last, I consider about the common things between Karayuki-san and Japayuki-san. One of the common things is “Poverty and No Education”. Karayuki-san don’t know English, Malay, French, Indonesian. They know only a little sexual words. So they can not take other jobs. Japayuki-san also can’t speak Japanese fluently. Education of foreign languages is very important for people lives in another country. We should address fulfillment of language education in order not to force to work as sex workers.


1. Tsuneo Ayabe and Yoneo Ishi .1997. Motto shirttail Malaysia (want to know more about Malaysia). Kobundou.
2.  Japanese School of Kualumpur .2004. Shiryoushuu Malaysia (The Document Collection of Malaysia). Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur


2 thoughts on ““Karayuki-san” and “Japayuki-san”

  1. Pingback: Women as Commodity: Karayuki and Japayuki – Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

  2. Pingback: The context behind Alex Gonzaga’s much-bashed caption | Interaksyon

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