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Japanese Cartoons During the Occupation

Earlier this month Dr. Elisheva A. Perelman, from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, graced Siena as the history department’s 2019 distinguished speaker. Dr. Perelman’s research focuses on gender and labor in Japan and popular culture in history. She obtained her Ph. D at the University of California, Berkeley and currently teaches history at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.  Her presentation on September 20th focused on the cartoon story by Bill Hume, Babysan, which focuses on an American solider stationed in Japan during the 1950’s.

Dr. Perelman’s collection originally started out as a newspaper comic that Hume wrote while he was stationed in Japan to boost morale during the war. However, after returning home, the collection became such a hit that it was published as a four book collection. Dr. Perelman touched on topics such as the intersections of American and Japanese cultures and life in Japan as a GI postwar.

In Babysan, the main character, named as such, is a Japanese women who has transformed her identity to fit in with western culture in order to form relationships with the American soldiers who were stationed in Japan. She dresses like Americans and is described as “culturally flexible.” The comics focus on her relationships with the American soldiers as she forms companionships with the men in exchange for payment. Although many might think of her as a prostitute, Babysan was actually very sophisticated and acted more like a replacement wife for the soldiers until they returned home.

Throughout the comic, the soldiers who interacted with Babysan were introduced to a much broader Japanese culture than those who were not. This was due to the fact that Babysan introduced them to new places and people. In these relationships, each party was able to attain more knowledge from the other as Babysan taught them the Japanese way of life while the American soldiers taught her the American way of life. Ultimately, both were able to take what they learned home with them. 

The students who attended this event were able to see the comics while Dr. Perelman elaborated on why they were so important in the time. The event described the way in which American and Japanese cultures were mixed during post war time in Japan. Dr. Perelman explained to the audience that the reason is was so important was that it spread new ideas across the globe while easing the tension between the Japanese and the Americans via comic literature.