The 2019 Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature, Thought, and Society

See below for information about the prize.


Victims of Colonialism? Japanese Agrarian Settlers in Manchukuo and Their Repatriation

January 29, 2009
Volume 7 | Issue 6 | Number 1

Victims of Colonialism? Japanese Agrarian Settlers in Manchukuo and Their Repatriation

Mariko Asano TAMANOI

Manchukuo is the state that Japan created in Northeast China (Manchuria) in 1932 to serve its interests.  To populate this vast overseas empire with Japanese, the government sent approximately 380,000 farmers and their families as “agrarian immigrants (nogyo imin).”  Many of them were victims of the depression at home. By participating in the construction of Manchukuo, they joined the circle of “colonizers”: they received large tracts of land which the Japanese military had confiscated from Chinese farmers.   Their life as settlers, however, was by no means easy.  Many did not know what to plant or how to till the land.  When they hired Chinese agricultural laborers,” many tensions arose.  The settlers’ relations with more than six hundred thousand Korean rice-cultivating farmers, who also settled in Manchuria in the 1930s, were also fraught.   

Poster of Manchukuo created by the Manchukuo Government for the Western audience, featuring a couple of Japanese agrarian immigrants.

After the onset of the Japan-China War (1937-1945) and the Pacific War (1941-1945), male agrarian settlers were inducted into the military and sent to fight further south in China or Southeast Asia, leaving behind  women, children, and the elderly in northern Manchuria near the Soviet border. 

Postcard published by the South Manchurian Railway Company, featuring a Japanese agrarian immigrant.

When the Soviets invaded Manchuria on August 9, 1945, these unprotected civilians were abandoned by fleeing Japanese forces and became easy targets for attack.  Many of those who eluded the fighting died of disease, malnutrition, and “compulsory group suicides”  while seeking to return to Japan. In order to save the lives of their children as well as their own lives, thousands of mothers faced the agonizing decision, in their words, to “leave,” “give up,” “abandon,” “sell,” or “entrust” their loved ones to Chinese families. 

Immigrant children at play.

These children were raised by Chinese adoptive parents, married Chinese citizens, and raised their own families in China.  These Japanese-born children grew up as Chinese. They did not, or could not, return to Japan until the mid-1970s for a variety of reasons, including not only the absence of normal diplomatic relations between Japan and the People’s Republic of China prior to 1972, but also the loss of all contact with their natal families. The number of these children is said to be about 30,000.   

            Memory Maps: The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan is based on fieldwork conducted by the author in Nagano in central Japan, which sent some 38,000 agrarian immigrants to Manchuria, and in Tokyo where many returnees presently reside.  The book presents the memories of the following groups of Japanese, Japanese-Chinese and Chinese people who participated in the Japan’s imperial project in Manchuria, and examines how those memories crisscrossed in the postwar era from 1945 to 2006:

1)      Japanese men and women who immigrated to Manchuria as agrarian settlers and returned to Nagano prefecture after Japan’s defeat between 1946 and 1949 (memory map 1).

2)      The children of agrarian settlers who were left behind in China after 1945.  Most of them were raised by Chinese adoptive parents, married Chinese citizens, and raised families in China. Significant numbers began returning to Japan permanently in the mid-1970s.  While they were expected to return to the homes of their biological parents in rural Nagano, most ended up residing in large cities as Tokyo where jobs were available (memory map 2).

3)      The (Japanese-Chinese) children of the offspring of Japanese settlers in Manchuria who joined their parents in Japan in the 1980s and 90s (memory map 3).

4)      Chinese who adopted children of Japanese agrarian settlers in Manchuria soon after the war’s end (memory map 4).

Maps in this book thus serve to organize, in terms of time and space, the memories of all these people. Memory map 1 is presented here.  These agrarian settlers-turned-repatriates to postwar Japan were both accomplices in and victims of Japanese colonialism in Manchuria. 

Receiving center for repatriates from Manchuria and other parts of the Empire.  The poster on the right side reads: "Thank you very much for your hardship." 


Their narratives illuminate the complex and painful history of Japanese in Manchuria, illustrating the fact that no black and white picture can capture the full dimensions of the colonial experience. 


Mariko Asano Tamanoi is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles and a Japan Focus associate.  She is the author of Under the Shadow of Nationalism: Politics and Poetics of Rural Japanese Women (1998) and Memory Maps: The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan (2008) as well as editor of Crossed Histories: Manchuria in the Age of Empire.  She wrote this introduction for The Asia-Pacific Journal.

Posted on February 2, 2009.

Recommended citation: Mariko Asano Tamanoi, “Victims of Colonialism? Japanese Agrarian Settlers and Their Repatriation to Japan”  The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 6-1-09, February 2, 2009.


See the article here. [PDF here]

The 2019 Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature, Thought, and Society

The Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University is pleased to announce the 2019 prize honoring the life and work of our colleague, Kyoko Selden. The prize will pay homage to the finest achievements in Japanese literature, thought, and society through the medium of translation. Kyoko Selden's translations and writings ranged widely across such realms as Japanese women writers, Japanese art and aesthetics, the atomic bomb experience, Ainu and Okinawan life and culture, historical and contemporary literature, poetry and prose, and early education (the Suzuki method). Recognizing the breadth of Japanese writings, classical and contemporary, and with the aim of making such materials more widely available, we ask that prize submissions be of unpublished translations. Collaborative translations are welcomed. In order to encourage classroom use and wide dissemination of the winning entries, prize-winning translations will be made freely available on the web. The winning translations will be published online at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.

Prize selections will take into account both the quality of the translation and the significance of the original work. In cases where a text already published in English is deemed worthy of retranslation, new translations of significant texts are accepted (please provide date and place of earlier publication). Applicants should submit the following hard copies to the Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize, Department of Asian Studies, 350 Rockefeller Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853:

  • 1 copy of an unpublished translation
  • 1 copy of a statement of up to 1,000 words explaining the significance of the text. Although we do not require that the translator has already obtained permission to publish the translation from the copyright holder, please include in the statement information about whether preliminary inquiries have been made or whether or not the work is in the public domain.
  • 1 printed copy of the original Japanese text
  • A brief c.v. of the translator
  • In addition, please send electronic copies of all the above as attachments to

The maximum length of a submission is 20,000 words. In case

of translation of longer works, submit an excerpt of up to 20,000 words. Repeat submissions are welcomed. Please note that

the closing date for the prize competition this year will be August 1, 2019. For the 2019 competition, one prize of $1,500 will be awarded in two different categories:

1) to an already published translator; 2) to an unpublished translator. The winners will be informed by November 1, 2019.

For further information, please visit the Asian Studies website or send questions to