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Filipino Komiks and Japanese Sex Tourism: Joe Gatchalian’s Clone Woman

An okay story in itself, more interesting because it’s in Japanese. Knowing next to nothing about Filipino komiks, I cannot say whether or not other Japanese-language komiks exist. I don’t know if English or Tagalog komiks carried comparable stories. About the artist Joe Gatchalian, all I have been able to gather from online sources is that he was a prolific and well-established artist, active at least since the late 50s for magazines like Extra Komiks, in the 60s for Pag-ibig Komiks, and edited the short-lived Mars Komiks in 1970.

However, I do have an idea as to why this comic book was published. Hypothesis: it was designed for sale to Japanese male businessmen and sex tourists, who were sometimes one and the same. This makes sense not only time-wise, but also content-wise.

Tourism exploded amongst the Japanese in the 1970s. Thanks to increasing affluence and a strong yen, more Japanese had the ability to travel both domestically and overseas. In Japanese studies, one often reads about the “Discover Japan” campaigns initiated in 1970, targeted primarily at young women, urging them to find themselves through trips to exotic corners of their country. This is also the period that young artists and middle-class Japanese began flying to the centers of European civilization, or hopping across America from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon and over to the Big Apple. In the pages of Tezuka Osamu’s COM circa 1970, there are a couple of articles about its artists visiting the States, Nagashima Shinji in New York, Fujiko Fujio meeting Roy Thomas. Meanwhile in Garo, Tsuge Yoshiharu was becoming famous with literary versions of his solitary sojourns to fishing holes and hot springs in the Japanese countryside – not organized tourism, obviously, but a sign that the romance of travel was beginning to grow in various corners of Japanese culture.

Tsuge Yoshiharu, Master of the Yanagiya Inn, Garo (February 1970). The protagonist at a type of strip joint known as a “nude studio.”

It was not for the landscape and food alone that Japanese travelled, however. Sex was a strong draw, primarily if not wholly for men. Even domestically within Japan this seems to have been the case, though on a limited scale. Red light districts in the cities existed, but their activities had been strongly curtailed by legislation in the 1950s. The association between hot spring towns and prostitution was strong enough in the 60s and 70s to be expressed in various ways in Japanese art. (Again, think Tsuge Yoshiharu.) Still one imagines that the pleasures available in the home market were limited. In addition to laws limiting sex work, rising affluence also meant that fewer Japanese women had to rely on prostitution for a living. In a rich country, moreover, “paying for it” can be quite expensive. Hence today’s Japan, where prostitution is kept reasonably affordable by hiring foreign women. One imagines it also keeps the issue an arm’s length from issues of national pride since it is not primarily Japanese women who are compromised.

Fortunately for Japanese men so disposed, the rest of Asia still lagged in economic development. As sex tourism inside Japan depended on economic imbalances between city and countryside, so that beyond the country’s borders exploited disparities between Japan (at the time the only first world country in Asia) and its struggling neighbors in the Pacific. The first destinations were Taiwan and Korea, which Japanese men began visiting specifically for sex in the 60s. Of the 650,000 Japanese tourists to these countries in this period, 80 percent of men went for so-called “kisaeng parties,” opulent feeding and eating frenzies, ending in sex with the attendants, young Korean women dressed in traditional garb. “Picking out a slave in a slave market” is how one Japanese participant described it in a Japanese magazine article (see C. Sarah Soh, The Comfort Women, 2008). By the 70s, economic and political developments forced the market’s shift toward Southeast Asia. Airline companies began offering “sex tour” packages to Manila and Bangkok, as they had for Taiwan and Korean in the previous decade.

David Kaplan and Alec Dubro have touched on the subject in their famous book about Japan’s organized crime network, Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld (1986). The yakuza’s power was strong within the sex tourist industry, especially in the Philippines, involved as they were in sex trafficking, the operation of nightclubs, meth production, and the smuggling of various contraband goods, especially drugs and handguns. Sex tourism served as both a further source of income, as well as legal cover for many of these operations. In contrast to the fairly even gender split in those that went to Europe and the United States, the vast majority of Japanese tourists to Asian countries in the late 70s were men. Kaplan and Dubro: “Much of the market lies only a four- to five-hour plane ride from Tokyo, and the ravages of Third World poverty, combined with the power of the Japanese yen, fostered the massive sex trade, possibly involving as many as 80 percent of the 1 million Japanese men traveling abroad each year during the late 1970s.” This influx would help shift, in the course of a single decade, by the 80s, the primary market of sex slave traders from Western Europe and the Middle East to East Asia.

Since I have not done any real research on the topic myself, let me quote some more from Kaplan and Dubro. “But few travelers saw tourism as a means of building cross-cultural bridges. Instead, men from around the country lined up for prostitution junkets around much of East Asia. As many as two hundred Japanese men at one time would descend from their jumbo jets into these cities, on prearranged three-day junkets whose sole purpose was an orgy of drinking and whoring. The ‘sex tour’ was born.” Japanese men were notoriously drunk and rowdy with girls in the streets. The famed image of the Japanese “economic animal” was superseded by that of the “sex animal” – a return of Japanese imperialism to the region, with its associations of violent sexual aggression, in a new non-military guise. In a survey of workers at massage parlors in the 90s, Japanese ranked last amongst the preferred nationality of customer. “In much of Asia,” write Kaplan and Dubro, “the Ugly American had found his match.”

Arai Hideki, Beloved Irene (1995).

With vigorous government support for tourism in general, the Philippine sex industry reached its peak in 1980, the year of Clone Woman. One study puts tourist income from that year at more than $319.74 million USD. Two-thirds of visitors were male, with only a fraction of them (12%) on business. The ultimate expression of this growth was the proposed development of Lubang, announced in 1979. An island near Manila, Lubang was to become a self-sufficient “tourist paradise” on which there were to be a network of first-class accommodations with extensive sex services. In 1981, due to political pressure in the Philippines, however, and a decrease in sex tour packages after protests in Japan, the Lubang project was scrapped. In most cases, however, sex tourism simply became less overt and more disperse across the country. By the late 90s, the Philippines had surpassed Thailand as Japan’s primary sex paradise, with approximately half a million visitors versus the latter’s quarter million. At the same time, Filipina “entertainers” began migrating to Japan, again with government support. “Instead of exporting men,” writes Kaplan and Dubro, Japan began to “import women” – something one can easily see today with a jaunt through big city “love hotel” districts, or a drink at a service bar “cabaret,” especially in small regional towns.

Arai Hideki, Beloved Irene (1995), cover of 2011 edition.

I do know of one manga that depicts this situation directly: Arai Hideki’s Beloved Irene (1995). Unfortunately I do not have the book on hand to scan and show the appropriate images. (The ones here are plucked from online.) Let me see if I can remember the story. One overgrown thirty-something virgin named Iwao lives in the countryside and works at the local pachinko parlor. His old nagging hag of a mother desperately wants him to marry. The girl he really likes does not seem available. The one that likes him (and that his mother likes) is the “perfect Japanese girl” and an obsequious halfwit. In the meantime, Iwao hears about a mail-order bride service, from (if I remember correctly) one of the clients at a local “cabaret,” employed fully with immigrant Filipinas.

Iwao’s mind is made up. Within days, he boards a plane bound for Manila, filled with Japanese men boozing it up in preparation for the orgy to come. After a few round-trips and many 10,000 yen notes exchanged, he brings back spunky and petite Irene. She’s a virgin. Two problems: his mother hates the colored girl, trying even to kill her. Irene believes in true love and will not allow penetrative sex. Iwao has to settle for hand-jobs. Despite his mind-blowing frustration, he vows to protect the girl both from his mother and from predatory yakuza. The manga begins as a promising inquiry into the Japanese sex industry and the demographic shifts it has spurred. It slides disappointingly into an absurd theatre of male frustration, anger, and violence.

(cont’d)


2 Responses to Filipino Komiks and Japanese Sex Tourism: Joe Gatchalian’s Clone Woman

  1. Adam! says:

    That’s a very very good find, and a great analysis of it, too, although one major point you missed out on is the more important (maybe most important) historical context: that of WW2 Japanese soldiers assigned here in the Philippines rounding up all the local women and putting them in rape camps all over the country, labelling them as “comfort women.” Granted, this piece of history only reared up ten years after the publication of CLONE WOMAN, but there had already been stories about them making the rounds by way of urban legends. Much denied by Japan still today, even though there are historical records of it actually happening not only in the Philippines, but in Korea and China, too.

    That said, you give a good briefing of how our contemporary relationship with Japan has been these last thirty years: I was born in 1982, and had a lot of classmates who were Japanese-Filipino, illegitimately conceived with Filipina entertainers and domestic workers. Japan’s culture of denial continues here, as these kids – the oldest of them being in their early 30s on average – are denied by their fathers in Japan’s official registries of genealogy, thus denied of certain benefits that mixed race people have in most places (dual citizenship, for one), but all of the burdens (shame, disgrace, racism).

    Most of our komiks of the time were either soap opera stuff or sex stuff, with some horror and scifi stuff rounding it all out, and a couple of stuff for the kiddies. Some of the soap opera stuff proved to be complex enough to enjoy film adaptations, starting from the 1950s til probably the late 1980s (I’d describe them as a mix of Eisner’s superficial sappiness mixed with some Catholic moralising and Kirby’s bombastic melodramatics, only with mestizo hacienderos and country lasses). A great great great majority of these books are now gone forever, the komiks’ production values’s fault (as you may know first hand with your copy of CLONE WOMAN).

    Sadly, the majority of remembrances made of our local komiks are all focussed on the superhero and fantasy stuff, but a cursory viewing of local telenovelas would prove that komiks’s soap opera tradition and aesthetic are still pretty much alive and well.

  2. ryanholmberg says:

    Yes, thank you. The history of Comfort Women definitely something I should emphasize more strongly.

    Do you find Filipino comics dealing with, or even just touching on, either the comfort women issue, or the mixed race children issue that you mention?

    This reminds me: there is an early work by Shirato Sanpei titled “Ghost” (Shirei) from the late 50s. Unless I missed a recent reissuing, it is one of the few of his manga never to have been republished. If I remember the story correctly: it is set in contemporary Tokyo. A middle-aged Japanese man is being hunted by a “ghost,” who actually turns out to be a Filipino man he wronged during the war. I believe the Filipino man eventually kills him. The son cracks the case.

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