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.
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."
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.
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.